Categories
Education

Is the New Mexico Legislature Happy with 49th?

rgf_media_las_cruces_sun-news

When Gov. Martinez came into office back in January, among her top priorities was to turn New Mexico’s failing educational system around. To say that it is “failing” sounds harsh, but it describes reality. The problem is that, having had two opportunities to move towards fixing the problem, the Legislature has thrown up roadblock after roadblock in a (so-far successful) attempt to keep the status quo in place.

First, the problem: According to the “Diplomas Count 2011” report from the Education Research Center, New Mexico’s real graduation rate is 57.1 percent. This is 49th in the nation. Only Nevada has a lower rate. The results are similar on the respected National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a respected national test. On the 2009 reading version of that test, New Mexico 4th graders again beat the scores of only one other state.

Some attribute these poor results solely to poverty. While New Mexico is indeed a relatively impoverished state (it has the 5th-highest poverty rate in the nation according to the Census Bureau), this is no excuse for poor educational outputs. In fact, New Mexico’s graduation rate is more than 10 points lower than the other nine poorest states in the nation. These states average 68.5 percent, despite similar, low income levels.

This is all very depressing. So, what can be done? Well, Florida has had tremendous success in raising reading scores on the NAEP. In the last decade, Florida’s 4th graders saw their reading scores improve by approximately two full grade levels.

That is the model that Gov. Martinez brought to New Mexico, but that many in the Legislature seem hard-wired to oppose any reform effort. Yes, A-F school grading passed in the 2011 legislative session on a bi-partisan basis, but bills receiving bi-partisan support that would have banned “social promotion” stalled in both the regular and special sessions. Legislation that would have rewarded public school teachers based on student achievement also got nowhere in the regular session.

Gov. Martinez isn’t the only one pushing for reforms that succeeded in Florida. In addition to accountability measures for traditional public schools, Florida also has the most robust system of school choice in the nation. This consists of tax credits, vouchers, charter schools, and “virtual” or partially-online schools.

In keeping with the bi-partisan, cross-ideological nature of these education reforms, Liberal Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino introduced a “special needs” school choice bill in the last session. Liberal Rep. Moe Maestas introduced a similar bill that would have provided school choice via a system of tax credits. If passed, the bills would have enabled the parents of special needs and low-income students to choose their own schools rather than having schools chosen for them on the basis of geography. Both bills died silent deaths with minimal fingerprints from the education establishment.

This is not the first time that a Governor has attempted to push much-needed educational reforms through the Legislature only to be blocked at every turn. When he was Governor, Gary Johnson pushed for vouchers for the better part of his eight years in office, to no avail. Vouchers have been used in countries like Sweden and cities like Milwaukee and Washington, DC with some success, but aren’t even seen as an option here in New Mexico.

Simply put, the education establishment in New Mexico is not really interested in new ideas. It would seem that their preference is to simply increase education spending whenever possible. The claim of many is that reforms that have worked elsewhere simply won’t work in New Mexico, but that defeatist attitude won’t help our kids. Unfortunately for them, education spending has been tried and hasn’t worked. Spending increased rapidly during both the Johnson and Richardson Administrations, but to no avail in terms of results.

New Mexico children can’t wait for their legislative supermen (and superwomen) any longer. Every year that goes by without serious, broad-based reforms that provide real accountability for the schools and real options for children, we fail another group of children. It is time to give reforms that have worked elsewhere a chance here in New Mexico.

Paul Gessing is the President of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.

Categories
Education

Time to End Social Promotion in New Mexico Schools

rgf_media_las_cruces_sun-news

A few years ago, we at the Rio Grande Foundation brought the “Florida Model” for K-12 education reform to New Mexico. The reforms enacted by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in Florida led to dramatic improvements in reading performance among Florida students.

Gov. Martinez has been pushing for some of the Florida-style reforms including the A-F school grading system which passed the Legislature earlier this year and is in the midst of being implemented. Bi-partisan legislation that would have prohibited social promotion (the passing of students from grade to grade regardless of their grasp of the material) of 3rd graders was held up in the waning hours of the session by Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.

Why has the elimination of social promotion for 3rd graders had a positive impact in education results? The idea behind it is that until 3rdgrade, students are learning to read. After that, they are reading to learn. So, a 7th grader who can’t read is more highly-likely to drop out because their inability to read makes them unable to understand everything from their science book to the word problems on a math test.

A great, real-world example of this is the story of Michael Oher in the book and movie The Blind Side. Oher, now an outstanding left-tackle in the NFL, was passed along in the Memphis Public Schools despite not attending class and being homeless. While I’m not asserting that ending social promotion would solve all of our societal and educational problems, the fact is that ending social promotion can function as a warning bell for parents, teachers, and students alike who may be alerted to the fact that some children are having problems learning.

Whether the response to that warning is heeded or not is ultimately up to parents, teachers, and students, but it is better than nothing.

So, ending social promotion is a no-brainer, right?  From listening to the concerns of New Mexico legislators who are dedicated to preserving our state’s 49th ranking in K-12 education, one might think that Gov. Martinez’s plan to end social promotion was part of a harsh right-wing agenda to keep kids trapped in 3rd grade.

Nothing could be further from the truth and it is not just conservative Republicans (and the Rio Grande Foundation) that support ending social promotion. How about that noted right-winger, former President Clinton? In the introduction to a Department of Education report on the issue, he said “I have fought for excellence, competition, and accountability in our nation’s public schools, with more parental involvement, greater choice, better teaching, and an end to social promotion.”

And then there is the American Federation of Teachers which said in a union-published report, Passing on Failure: District Promotion Policies and Practices:

The practice of social promotion contributes to the very problems that can make it seem necessary. Promotion, in the absence of satisfactory academic performance, perpetuates academic failure by teaching students that effort and achievement are not important and that objective standards can not and will not be enforced. It forces classroom teachers to deal with an impossibly wide range of student knowledge, background, and readiness. And it denies students both the classroom and remedial resources that could help them reverse the pattern of academic failure.

The special legislation provides a great opportunity for the Legislature to move our state one big step closer to educational success. Certainly, redistricting must be the first priority, but it is hard to see that turning around New Mexico’s dire education results can be anything but a top priority for legislators.

Paul Gessing is the President of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.

Categories
Education

We Can Be Leaders in E-Learning

abq_journal

Expanding virtual learning opportunities is a critically important step for New Mexico. Virtual schooling was a critical component of the “Florida Model” for education reform, which helped transform achievement across student sub-groups there from nearly worst to first within a decade. The Florida Reform model has since been adopted by Gov. Susana Martinez—with good reason.

Academic outcomes indicate the state’s traditional schooling system is not up to the task. New Mexicoranks 49th in fourth-grade reading proficiency; 48th in eighth-grade math proficiency; and 50th in graduation rates. Poor funding does not explain such poor performance.

Per-pupil education spending has increased 54 percent faster than the rate of inflation since 1991-92. With a $400 million budget deficit, such performance is no longer tenable—and state policymakers know it.

New Mexico has already taken nationally recognized strides to transform the provision of high-quality, cost-effective education to a diverse and growing population of students through virtual education. In particular, this includes the award-winning Innovative Digital Education and Learning New Mexico (IDEAL-NM) program.The results are impressive.

Rural school district superintendents report a 96 percent passing among students taking hundreds of online courses. Statewide, IDEAL-NM students have a pass rate that is higher than 95 percent in credit-recovery courses and advancement courses. These results have helped increase the statewide graduation rate 11.4 percent over the last two years.

The challenge now is fostering a competitive online learning landscape to promote continuous improvement, innovation, and efficiency among a variety of online education programs—not just state-led initiatives. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools documents only six charter schools that include virtual education components in New Mexico, even though applications for such charter schools are on the rise. Moreover, as of the fall of 2010 the New Mexico Public Education Department had not approved a single application for full-time, multi-district virtual schools.

Policymakers should monitor this state of affairs to ensure public – and private-sector providers – have the opportunity to serve students. They can begin by following five promising practices used in other states and abroad.

First, fund for success using a student-centered, results-based financing structure. Funding follows students to the virtual schools of their choice, and schools receive funding only after students successfully master their course material.

Next, implement expansive enrollment policies that do not cap the number of students who may enroll in virtual schools part- or full-time. It makes no sense to stifle successful programs; and unsuccessful programs will suffer natural attrition as parents enroll their children elsewhere.

Third, eliminate rigid teacher certification mandates and allow full teacher licensure reciprocity to maximize students’ access to the teachers that are best for them. Talented individuals with advanced degrees or industry-specific skills should not be barred from teaching. Likewise, students should not be denied access to top quality educators simply because their licenses are from out of state.

Fourth, eliminate anachronistic regulations including class-size mandates, compulsory education codes, and seat-time requirements. Inflexible mandates are symptomatic of a system-centered approach to schooling that puts virtual schools at a disadvantage because they are structured around students’ mastery of subject material. Since virtual schools also do not have the geographical or time constraints of bricks-and-mortar schools, such mandates are unnecessary obstacles to student-centered, individualized learning.

Finally, protect parents’ rights as educators by exempting them from state licensing requirements. A high level of parental involvement is vital for virtual learning to succeed because parents oversee course assignments, check home work, and supervise their children’s progress. Some national teachers union leaders consider these activities “an excess of parent involvement,” and at least one state teachers union affiliate sued—unsuccessfully—to limit parents’ roles as educators.

The opportunities online schooling offers, including transformed incentives for schools and teachers to meet students’ unique, individual learning needs, have made the expansion of virtual education a cornerstone reform across the country and the world. Now is the time for New Mexico to expand on its successes and lead the way.

Lance T. Izumi, J.D., is Koret Senior Fellow in Education Studies and Senior Director, Education Studies, at the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento, California. Vicki (Murray) Alger, Ph.D., is PRI Education Studies Senior Policy Fellow. Izumi and Murray are co-authors of the new Rio Grande Foundation report, “Enchanted Future: The Promise of Virtual Education in New Mexico,” available at http://www.riograndefoundation.org/.

Categories
Education

New Paper Details Benefits of Virtual Education for New Mexico Students

(Albuquerque) In 2010, in the midst of a heated election campaign, the Rio Grande Foundation brought the “Florida Model” for education reform to New Mexico. Gov. Martinez adopted many of the ideas contained in the plan and has set about reforming New Mexico’s K-12 system to be more innovative and more responsive to student needs.

One component of the “Florida Model” is virtual schooling. The term describes an institution that teaches courses entirely or primarily through online methods. It is a tool that, if used correctly, will be a “game-changer” for New Mexico’s schools in terms of flexibility, incentives, and ultimately, educational output.

Nationally-recognized education expert Lance Izumi, JD, along with Vicki Murray, PhD, have produced a new paper, “Enchanted Future: The Promise of Virtual Education in New Mexico,” (available online here) that outlines a path forward for virtual education in New Mexico while acknowledging some of the positive steps that have already been taken by state leaders to spur this educational revolution.Izumi’s work is being shared with legislators and other leaders throughout New Mexico.

Izumi will be presenting his findings at a Rio Grande Foundation luncheon at Hotel Albuquerque on Friday, July 29 from noon to 1pm. The luncheon is being held on the 29th in celebration of what would have been Dr. Milton Friedman’s 99th birthday.

Virtual schools have proven popular with parents and students alike wherever they have been tried. Elected officials of both major parties have also embraced the use of computing technology to bring increased educational options and accountability to K-12 education.

Public Education Department Secretary Hanna Skandera has confirmed attendance and will be introducing Izumi. The Foundation will also be presenting a cash prize to Albuquerque-area student Noah Rodney for his essay on why school choice is important.

To schedule an interview with Lance Izumi on the topic of virtual schools, call Paul Gessing at: 505-264-6090 or email him at: pgessing [at]riograndefoundation [dot] org” data-scaytid=”1″>pgessing@riograndefoundation.org.

Categories
Education

Reforms, Not More Money Needed to Improve Education Results

Bill Soules misses the mark completely in his article on New Mexico’s supposedly inadequate education spending and the supposed fact that education is not a priority. Rather than shedding light on ways to improve New Mexico’s educational system, he simply points an accusatory finger at parents and those who he claims aren’t making education a “priority.”

The truth is that education spending has risen dramatically both in New Mexico and nationally in recent decades. This shows that education is a “priority,” but in terms of results, the spending has not helped.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual “Public Education Finances” report, K-12 spending per-pupil has risen far-faster than the rate of inflation since the late 1990s.

Back during the 1994-95 school year, New Mexico schools spent $4,100 per pupil annually. Quickly, that number started to rise at a rate that was far faster than inflation with both Gary Johnson and Bill Richardson approving ever-growing education budgets. By the 2007-08 school year, the last year available, New Mexico was spending $9,068 per year, per-pupil, according to the census. If per-pupil spending had grown at the same rate as inflation over that time period, we’d be spending less than $6,000 annually to educate that same student.

Of course, the massive increase in spending might lead the tax-paying reader to wonder what they got for all of that money. The answer, quite simply is, “not much.” In 1997, according to a report called “Graduation by the Numbers,” New Mexico graduated 56.3 percent of its students. By 2007, that number had actually declined to 54.9 percent. Also, over that time period, New Mexico remained mired at the very bottom of the National Assessment of Educational Progress where it remains today.

Soules does make one important point that I can agree with and that is that teacher quality is extremely important. Unfortunately, teachers’ unions have opposed any efforts – including a merit pay proposal put forth by Gov. Martinez in the 2011 legislative session – that would have increased pay for New Mexico’s best teachers. Merit pay is one means of attracting and keeping the best teachers in the classroom. Along with merit pay, allowing New Mexico’s large numbers of talented technicians and scientists to become teachers through alternative, more streamlined means of certification, would help improve teacher quality.

Such proposals are being enacted or at least considered in other states. Alternative teacher certification has been adopted in Florida where it contributed to the success of the “Florida Model” that has formed the basis for Gov. Martinez’s education reforms. This year, Florida went even further when Gov. Rick Scott signed a merit pay bill into law. New Mexico needs to move fast or be left in the dust.

It seems hard for me to believe that Soules, a teacher, believes that parents and the public are apathetic about improving educational results. It strikes me as more likely that the monopolistic educational systems currently in place stifle choice, lead to a feeling of helplessness and lack of empowerment among parents and their children, and lead to a belief that the best we can do is the status quo.

In addition to merit pay and alternative teacher certification, educational improvements could be made through increased school choice and competition, more rigorous standards, and innovative technologies like those that allow for online schooling.

Teachers, parents, and even administrators usually have the best of intentions. We all want our kids to learn. But pitting these groups against each other gets us nowhere. Instead, we need to change the system. Monopolies have a long track record of failure and they have done so in spades in education. All stakeholders need to demand choice, accountability, and a focus on the educational needs of children to improve educational outcomes in New Mexico.

Paul Gessing is the president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.

Categories
Education

Getting a Grip on Graduation Rates: It’s No Easy Task

With the school year having recently been completed, there has been a lot of talk about graduations and graduation rates. According to state data, New Mexico’s rate is 67.3 percent. But, according to the latest “Diplomas Count” study, New Mexico’s graduation rate is only 57.1 percent. According to this same study, APS’s graduation rate is 55.4 percent (49th of 51 states (including the District of Columbia).

According to the State, however, APS graduates kids at a 64.7 percent rate with the various schools in the City charted here. The problem is that, according to the Albuquerque Journal, 12 percent of those students were not actually qualified to receive their diplomas.

Yes, there is some difference in the years being analyzed here, but a majority of the discrepancy has to do with varying methods of calculation. In a free market or even “choice” environment with competing schools, you can bet that we’ve have a firm grasp on these numbers. Until then, finding out the truth about graduation is a real challenge.

Categories
Education

Education Spending Up; Performance Stagnant

deming_headlight

During her campaign, Gov. Susana Martinez said that she would not cut education. Based on revised budget numbers that were released immediately after she was elected, that went out the window. Now, Martinez is proposing very modest cuts of 1.5 percent for K-12.

It didn’t take long for the unions and other supporters of more spending to draw lines in the sand. Albuquerque Federation of Teachers president Ellen Bernstein said “education can’t take any more cuts,” while Dr. Jose Armas of the Latino/Hispano Education Improvement Task Force recently wrote “Let’s dispel the myth that we’re throwing money at education. New Mexico has been steadily cutting education budgets for decades.”

Instead of being “cut to the bone,” however, New Mexico’s K-12 system has seen funding rise dramatically for the better part of two decades. A new study, “K-12 Spending in New Mexico: More Money, Few Results,” which relies on data from the United States Census Bureau’s annual “Public Education Finances” report, clearly shows that K-12 spending per-pupil has risen far-faster than the rate of inflation since the late 1990s.

Back during the 1994-1995 school year, New Mexico schools spent $4,100 per pupil annually. Quickly, that number started to rise at a rate that was far faster than inflation with both Gary Johnson and Bill Richardson approving ever-growing education budgets. By the 2007-2008 school year, the last year available, New Mexico was spending $9,068 per year, per-pupil, according to the Census. If per-pupil spending had grown at the same rate as inflation over that time period, we’d be spending less than $6,000 annually to educate that same student.

Education budgets have not grown as quickly during the past few years (for which the Census does not have data yet) as they did during the massive run-up of past few decades, but clearly, there is room for modest cuts.

Of course, the massive increase in spending might lead the tax paying reader to wonder what they got for all of that money. The answer, quite simply is, “not much.” In 1997, according to a report called “Graduation by the Numbers,” New Mexico graduated 56.3 percent of its students. By 2007, that number had actually declined to 54.9 percent. Also, over that time period, New Mexico remained mired at the very bottom of the National Assessment of Educational Progress where it remains today.

Obviously, higher spending alone is not going to achieve better results. Real reforms and accountability are needed in order to boost results.

Gov. Martinez has embraced “The Florida Model” which includes a variety of reforms now being considered in the Legislature. She even looked to Florida to hire Hanna Skandera to head up the Public Education Department.

Other specific reforms proposed by Gov. Martinez include grading schools on an “A-F” score, halting social promotion, and focusing a greater percentage of education resources on the classroom instead of bureaucracies and fancy buildings. If implemented correctly, these ideas will go a long way towards raising New Mexico’s poor K-12 performance.

And, although they were not specifically outlined in the Governor’s initial reform proposals, parents and students must have educational options. This should include strengthening and demanding accountability from charter schools, the adoption of educational tax credits to create real choice beyond the government system, and expansion of virtual schooling options.

These and other reforms, not more money, are the keys to improving educational attainment in New Mexico. If cuts are needed in the short-term as part of the effort to close the current budget hole, the schools should do their part. Until dramatic reforms are undertaken, more money won’t save a failing system.

 

Paul Gessing is the President of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.

Categories
Education Research

Channel 7 KOAT Covers Our Education Report

On the 10pm newscast last night (Monday the 7th of January), Channel 7 KOAT did a great story on our report on rising education spending in New Mexico.

Categories
Education Research

K-12 Spending in New Mexico: More Spending for Poor Results

With the Legislature facing a budget deficit during the current legislative session and K-12 education facing at least minor cuts, many in the education establishment are saying that education spending is declining or that the schools have been “cut to the bone.”

In an effort to replace empty rhetoric with actual data, we at the Rio Grande Foundation took a close look at the United States Census “Public Education Finances” report which has tracked education spending by state since the 1991-1992 school years. This data clearly shows that per-pupil education spending in New Mexico has risen dramatically over the past two decades. A chart detailing this dramatic rise can be found below. The full report including chart is available here.

Categories
Education Research

Rio Grande Foundation Applauds Governor-Elect Martinez’s Bold Pick to Head Public Education Department

(Albuquerque) Governor-Elect Martinez faces a multitude of problems when she takes over from Bill Richardson, not the least of which is New Mexico’s struggling educational system.

Said Rio Grande Foundation President Paul Gessing, “Martinez’s pick of Hanna Skandera, who served as the deputy commissioner of education under Governor Jeb Bush, to head the PED, is a strong indicator that the successful reforms Florida enacted under Bush over the past 10 years will be emphasized under the Martinez Administration.”

“The fact that Martinez has named a strong reformer with ties to Jeb Bush is a good sign for New Mexico children and parents who are stuck in failing schools, yet face an ever-more competitive global economy,” continued Gessing.

The Rio Grande Foundation has been a leading proponent of education reform in New Mexico and brought the “Florida Model” to New Mexico during a series of events during the summer of 2010 and a policy paper entitled “Florida’s K-12 Lesson for New Mexico.”

As Gessing noted, “Florida’s students have seen dramatic improvements on tests like the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Back in 1998, before Bush’s reforms, New Mexico 4th graders performed at about the same level as Florida’s 4th graders on the reading portion of the test. As of the most recent NAEP test, Florida’s 4th graders outperform New Mexico’s by approximately two grade levels.”

“Florida’s Hispanics,” noted Gessing, “have seen particularly dramatic improvement with poor Hispanic 4th graders seeing the equivalent of three grade levels of improvement on the NAEP from 1998 to 2009. In fact, poor Hispanics in Florida now outperform New Mexico’s general student population.”

“New Mexico faces a long way to go just to bring student performance up to even the national average, but Martinez’s pick of Hanna Skandera to head up PED shows that she is serious about making needed reforms to our K-12 system. This is an early Christmas present to New Mexico parents and students.” concluded Gessing.