State must stay course on education reform

There are common, underlying reasons why two out of every 1,000 New Mexicans files bankruptcy annually, why not even a third of residents have an associate’s degree and almost a third of students don’t graduate from high school on time.

And despite the conventional wisdom, those reasons have less to do with being poor or of color and more to do with not having the proper educational foundation.

Because according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (considered the nation’s report card), New Mexico’s Hispanic kids are worse off than Hispanic kids in other states. Its poor kids are far worse off than poor kids in other states. And even its well off, white kids are worse off than their counterparts in other states.

That presents a compelling argument that the system, not the types of kids going into it, is the real problem.

Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a nonprofit that advocates for closing achievement gaps among poor and minority students, says she has been coming to New Mexico for 15 years and the state “has always blamed its demographics.”

Until recently, she explains, she “always got back on the plane depressed” because there was never a sense of outrage that our children can do, and deserve, better.

However Haycock, a staunch Democrat whose group is funded by left-of-center foundations, says a sense of urgency has replaced the lackadaisical attitude she was used to encountering here.

She says the fact the state has adopted a grading system to hold schools accountable and other initiatives bodes well for the future of our students and state.

Haycock calls it “productive anger” in the face of unacceptable results.

Credit also goes to the Obama administration, which early on advocated for education reforms and has stood behind them, last week yanking Washington state’s waiver to No Child Left Behind because its Legislature failed to factor student test scores into teacher evaluations. That will affect millions in federal funding and label almost every one of its schools as failing.

Haycock says delaying or abandoning reforms, as Washington state has, takes the system back to the place where “everyone is fine.” Even when they aren’t.

New Mexico has already seen incremental improvements in student achievement in the grades and subjects that have been targeted for reform. It is vital the state stay the course.

For its students now, and for their futures.

— Albuquerque Journal