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Give credit where credit is due on education reform

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By Michael Sanchez

Last year, high school graduation rates in New Mexico improved 10 percent over recent historic rates, from the low 60 percent range up to 70 percent.
For the second year in a row, Hispanic New Mexican students enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) classes have the highest completion and graduation rates of all AP students in the country.
These are fantastic developments that are justly lauded, and which the current governor is rightly touting — for which she is incorrectly taking credit.
The fact is, these recent developments are the product of programs the legislature and previous administrations put in place years ago, including:
• Statewide Pre-K and early childhood development programs.
• Increased teacher compensation including salaries, cost of living adjustments and tax credits to entice the best people to enter and remain in the field, and aid in teacher recruitment.
• Increased AP and dual-credit courses, which allow students to earn college credits while still in high school.
• Teacher-student mentorship and tutoring programs.
• Programs to lower the truancy rate and encourage parental involvement.
By definition, these programs take years to pay off as students move through the system from grades Pre-K through 12. The students graduating now are the first cohort of those to move through the enhanced system we began more than 10 years ago. And it looks like it’s working, so I’m glad the governor is highlighting these improvements. I just hope the lesson the administration takes from this is that snappy sounding, but simplistic solutions aren’t the way to achieve meaningful systemic reform.
Education is a complex, long-term issue that demands a broad approach over time. “Grading” schools and teacher performance and instituting massive rote testing regimes, while easy to tout out in political speeches, really don’t get at the substance of the challenges we face.
In the parlance of the West, they’re mostly hat and no cattle. And this is the message we in the legislature are trying to convey to the administration: We’re starting to see the payoff of reforms instituted many years back, so stay the course while continuing to improve.
Demonizing teachers; putting in place a “shaming” mechanism of grading schools based on year-over-year student improvement (a laudable sounding idea but one which, in Orwellian irony, results in a high-performing school getting an “A” two years in a row and then receiving an “F” for “student improvement”); almost insufferable standardized testing that results in “teaching to the test” as opposed to “teaching to understanding” — these don’t do any of us any good, except those in the business of selling products that support this kind of regimen, which is a whole other subject. Most dishearteningly, it short changes the very kids it purports to help.
There are major challenges in improving our education system, and no doubt there is room for serious improvement. On the other hand, let’s make sure we take an intelligent approach to changing what needs to be changed, and support that which is working. Nothing worth doing is quick and easy, and ideological cures and sound bites are not enough where long-term work is required. Our children deserve nothing less.