[6/19] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

Friends & Colleagues - 

As news of Secretary Skandera stepping aside came across the newswire, the predictable polarity around education made its inevitable appearance. While I am both thankful for the Secretary's service and excited to see what she pursues next, I'd be remiss not to say a few more words about her legacy in New Mexico.

Education is a divisive topic. The stakes are high and nearly everyone of us has attended some sort of school, making us all "experts" - with an opinion. Additionally, as a state we dedicate nearly 60% of our roughly $6 billion annual budget on preK through college education. Despite what many say, we spend about as much as we can on public education in a state which continues to languish economically. Do we spend that money as wisely or effectively as we need to? No. But is there much more blood to squeeze from our high desert stone? Nope; at least not until we modernize our economy, revolutionize our schools and reclaim our independence from the federal government and oil and gas.

Many people I love and respect disagree with the policies and practices of the NMPED under Secretary Skandera. That's all and good - and indicative of a healthy, robust republic. Let's have those policy and philosophical conversations. However, the degree to which Secretary Skandera's personal character has been and continues to be attacked is troublesome. As many of us know first hand, the realm of public leadership is an unending and often thankless one. That comes with the territory so you'll get no sympathy from me.

Though, for those of us who have met the Secretary, it's immediately apparent that she cares deeply about New Mexico and our students. She has relentlessly pursued an agenda to drastically improve education opportunities for all of our babies, regardless of skin tone or zip code. Was there much to be desired with communication from NMPED to teachers and parents? Absolutely. Has she ruffled feathers along the way?  Of course. But that's often what we need in my beloved homeland.

So, as we think about our next Secretary and Governor let's work collectively, in spite of our disagreements on education, to ensure our next leaders are as focused and invested in our students as Hanna has been. My work will be to ensure that no matter the political party of our next state leader, New Mexicans will prioritize education policies and practices to ensure our students become the future community, civic and business leaders we need. Now, here's this week's roundup:

  • [LOCAL: SURVEY] Proving that we have a long way to go in reimagining what's possible from public education in New Mexico, The Leadership Conference Education Fund’s second annual New Education Majority Poll found that three-quarters of Latino parents believe “U.S. public schools are doing a good job preparing Latino students for success,” a 10% improvement over 2016. Optimism is a noble cause though we have a long way to go to equalize a public education system which chronically underserves Hispanic and low-income students.
  • [NATIONAL: NEWS] The future of education is a system based on what our students have demonstrably learned instead of how long they've sat in assigned seats. In a big step away from the "Industrial Education" model of the 19th and 20th centuries, students graduating from Maine high schools must show they have mastered specific skills to earn a high school diploma. Maine is the first state to pass such a law, though the idea of valuing skills over credits is increasingly popular around the country. This approach is highly applicable here in New Mexico where we rely more than most states on homegrown talent graduating high school with the skills needed to create and join local businesses to drive our economy.
  • [NATIONAL: NEWS] As I've repeated over and over, spending money on education is important but it isn't everything. According to the74million.org, "Schools in the U.S. spent $344.3 billion on classroom instruction in fiscal year 2015, accounting for 60 percent of day-to-day expenditures, a figure that includes spending on salaries for teachers and instructional aides, according to the Census Bureau." So, even as spending on students ticks up nationally, our kids aren’t proving to be doing much better academically. Fourth- and eighth-graders across the country did worse in mathematics in the 2015 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) than they did in 2013, the last time the test was given. In reading, eighth-graders again performed worse in 2015 than in 2013, while fourth-graders’ scores remained stagnant. New Mexico is roughly in the middle of the pack for per-pupil spending at $9,725, yet we are dead last for nearly every NAEP category. We see yet again that the "how" of education spending is just as important as the "how much".
Nation Per-Pupil Spending + NAEP Scores