The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

By Paul Gessing
Guest columnist 

Opinion: Increased choices, accountability key to school reforms

 

Last updated 8/21/2021 at 2:56pm



While every school year is different, this year is certainly more different than most. For starters, students are returning to “semi-normal” classrooms after 1.5 years of remote learning and relative chaos. Unfortunately, as of this writing schools in Rio Rancho, Carlsbad, Los Lunas, and Roswell have “temporarily” had to again go “virtual.”

Lost classroom time has had a big impact on academic outcomes for New Mexico students. According to the Legislative Finance Committee, the Legislature's “in-house” think tank, K-12 students in New Mexico have fallen behind anywhere from six months to two years. Furthermore, lost classroom time will widen existing learning gaps, particularly for low-income families.

Many New Mexicans likely assume that students across the nation, not just in New Mexico, spent most of the 2020-2021 school year doing remote learning. That is not the case. According to the Burbio website which tracks various COVID-related policies, Utah students spent more than 80% of the year in their classrooms last year and Colorado students were in their classrooms nearly 65% of the time. New Mexico students were in their classrooms only about 33% of the time. According to Burbio, New Mexico students lost more classroom time than students in all but five other states last year.

Even prior to COVID, we knew that New Mexico students perform worse than students in virtually any other state. Catching up from both the preexisting learning gap and the one created last year is going to be a serious challenge. Unfortunately, New Mexico's Public Education Department (PED) is in chaos. After just 2.5 years in office, Gov. Lujan Grisham is now on her fourth education secretary with the recent departure of Ryan Stewart.

At a July LFC meeting several legislators and tribal leaders raised some difficult questions about the ability of the state's education system as it currently exists to improve student outcomes.

Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said he had, “started to question whether more money is actually needed beyond what we've invested. I think we're losing steam,” Martinez said, “I'd hate to be back here in 20 years talking about how nothing has changed.”

We at the Rio Grande Foundation have long held that robust reforms including both increased choice and accountability are critical to improving New Mexico's educational performance.

Of course, talking about a problem and taking action to solve it are two very different things. In this year's 60-day legislative session several “school choice” bills were introduced only to be killed immediately.

Will the upcoming 2022 session be different? That is ultimately up to voters. Across the nation school choice is spreading rapidly in states where education policy is not controlled by unions. Unfortunately, New Mexico's Legislature is not one of those states. School board elections are coming this fall. If you are concerned about education policy in New Mexico, educate yourself on school board candidates and vote this November.

— Paul Gessing

The Rio Grande Foundation

 
 

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