The following appeared at KRWG and in numerous other media outlets.
In October of last year, results for the Nation’s Report Card (NAEP) placed New Mexico dead-last in education among all states, the District of Columbia, and DoD schools. The test covered reading for 4th and 8th graders and math for the same age groups. New Mexico was last across all categories. These results should have been a wakeup call for Gov. Lujan Grisham and the Legislature.
Bold solutions are needed and there’s no time like a 60-day session to enact big reforms. Unfortunately, as the legislative session hurtles onward, neither serious education reform nor prevention of future mistakes like those made during the COVID pandemic are likely to come to pass.
As a parent, I know first-hand that the Gov.’s COVID 19 lockdowns and chaos had a major, negative impact on young people. Kept out of their classrooms for over a year, often in rural areas with poor broadband service and working parents, it is no surprise that New Mexico students suffered more during the Pandemic than those living in wealthier “blue” states. Locking kids out of school is now widely seen as a mistake that had no noticeable impact on the spread of COVID.
Sadly, efforts to give the Legislature a seat at the table in future emergencies, HB 80 and HJR 3 (one was a bill, the other an amendment), both failed on party lines in the House Judiciary Committee. They would have simply required the Legislature to approve declared emergencies lasting longer than 90 days, but that was too much for the majority Democrats.
Having the Legislature debate and vote on whether to lock kids out of their schools for over a year shouldn’t be a partisan issue.
COVID is hardly the only reason for New Mexico schools’ poor performance. The system has always been near the very bottom in producing student outcomes. Sadly, aside from continuing to spend more and more money, the Legislature and Gov. remain unwilling to shake up the system in ways that would improve outcomes.
My organization has long pushed for “money to follow the student.” The best single bill attempting to do that was Sen. Craig Brandt’s SB 109 which would have set up a system of “education savings accounts” similar to the one adopted last year in Arizona. The bill was killed on partisan lines in its first committee (Senate Education).
Though necessary, school choice remains a dirty word among New Mexico’s education establishment. But choice isn’t the only way to improve education results. Just ask the folks in Mississippi where simple reforms to how reading is taught have resulted in massive learning gains, especially in 4th grade reading.
What did Mississippi do to achieve success? It pushed teachers to teach reading through phonics, it invested resources into teaching teachers how to teach phonics effectively, and it made sure that students understood the subject material before passing them on to the next grade (they ended social promotion).
If that sounds familiar, it’s because Mississippi’s initiative broadly reflects the reform efforts of former Gov. Susana Martinez. Sadly, union-backed Democrats in the Legislature prevented those efforts from being codified into law. Her reforms were immediately undone by Gov. Lujan Grisham.
But, as the New York Times notes, Mississippi went from 49th on 4th grade reading in 2013 to 29th in 2019. Mississippi further increased its already substantial lead on New Mexico in the first post-COVID NAEP test in 2022. Notably, Mississippi spends about $10,000 per student while New Mexico spends $15,000.
New Mexico’s children (and its employers) desperately need a high-performing education system. Unfortunately, without the Legislature and Gov. embracing bold reforms that upset the status quo, improvement is unlikely to occur anytime soon.
Doing the same thing and expecting a different result is a worthy definition of insanity. It also appears to describe New Mexico’s education policy.
Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility