Governor unveils new education initiatives

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By Ralph Damiani

I must state up front that with many issues, I am generally not on the same side as the governor, but this time, I think he is right on.

Recently, Gov. Richardson and Education Secretary Veronica Garcia announced six new statewide education initiatives.

The plan, as stated by the governor, is to fulfill his pledge “to be New Mexico’s educational governor – giving our students, teachers and schools the opportunities and tools for success.”

While we can debate his claim that the state is “seeing tremendous payoffs on our investments,” it does seem like his new initiatives do seek to find a creative way to “improving graduation rates, classroom instruction and student and community involvement.”

The six new initiatives follow:

• Education is the key to a New Mexico’s driver’s license

Beginning next year, eighth-grade students will need to demonstrate nearing proficiency or proficiency and beyond on the eighth grade New Mexico standards, and ninth-graders will have to have 90-percent attendance record to be eligible for a New Mexico driver’s license.

This one is my favorite one. Want to hold something meaningful over their heads? This is it.

Failure to attain either benchmark will result in a six-month delay in eligibility. Failure to reach both benchmarks will result in a one-year delay.

Students who drop out before the driver’s license eligibility age of 16 will also have to wait a year to receive their driver’s licenses.

Garcia said the prospect of a driver’s license provides the perfect motivation to keep teenagers on the right track when it comes to school.

I totally agree. This is a really good idea.

The Public Education Department still needs to work out many details, including options for special education and homeschool students as well as how private schools would participate.

The department also has to develop a system to communicate student performance and attendance to the state Motor Vehicle Division, which issues driver’s licenses.

Officials say they are not aware of any states that have tied the privilege of a driver’s license to a student’s academic performance.

• Elective credit for environmental protection community projects

I’m not too sure on this one – seems to help those at better schools. Still, high school students could earn up to one credit, a half-credit per semester, by engaging in environmental conservation service learning projects like community recycling, water conservation, xeriscaping and research.

There is potential here.

• Electronic teacher encyclopedia of exemplary math and science lessons

The Public Education Department (PED) will create and maintain a databank teachers can access demonstrating how to teach key math and science concepts. Exemplary teachers will be selected to be videotaped teaching demonstration lessons.

The result will be low-cost renewable professional development.

This is a good idea for sharing knowledge.

• In-residence international benchmarking initiative

New Mexico will bring international math and science education experts from Asia/Pacific Rim to be resident advisors to the PED for one year. Paying these residents a salary will be far more cost effective than sending staff to foreign countries.

The initiative will allow hands-on expertise and support to the PED to bring the best and most up-to-date effective teaching practices to New Mexico.

Again, not to sure on this one but may be worth a try.

• PED “Parents College”

The PED will provide seminars to parents, on weekends or evenings, on practical hands-on strategies for helping their children succeed at age appropriate levels. The training sessions will be videotaped and put on the PED website for sustained parental support.

The sessions will be made easily accessible to principals and parents statewide as a renewable training resource.

Again, this seems like a good idea. It all starts at home and if you can involve the parents, that can only be a good thing.

• Exemplary educators network

The network will bring together New Mexico’s award-winning educators to inform education policy development and best practices. The proposed board will consist of 12 members who serve a two-year staggered term. Members must have received a State Award or Recognition or be National Board Certified Teachers in good standing.

Our education in this state is falling behind, and anything that can help us kick-start the machine I think will win support.

E-mail Ralph at ralph@lamonitor.com.