Think tank discusses improving academic performance in New Mexico schools

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The folks at Think New Mexico say there’s no one perfect solution to improve academic performance in New Mexico. 

They say it’s going to take changes at all levels – from the classrooms all the way up to the school board. But they have five ideas where state lawmakers can start.

“One of the things that we would like to see is smaller class sizes for in the early years, for grades K to three,” said Mandi Torrez, an Education Reform director for Think New Mexico.  

Torrez says those smaller class sizes – ideally around 18 children – will give teachers the time they need to make sure every student starts their academic journey on the right foot.

“We’re too often sending our students to middle school who can’t read, who can’t do basic math,” said Torrez. “So we really just have to focus on building that foundation.” 

Building that foundation also includes preparing new teachers. Torrez wants all colleges of education to provide a yearlong residency program for future teachers. 

“When they get that hands-on experience, they’re better prepared. They know what to expect, and then they’re more likely to stay in the profession,” said Torrez. 

Torrez adds better preparing high school students for the real world could also convince more of them to attend school.

“If we want kids to graduate, they have to be there. And so, we have to, again, we have to make it relevant,” Torrez said.  

She says that means requiring financial literacy, civics education, foreign languages, and potentially offering basic cooking classes.

But, improving education isn’t limited to the classroom.

“We think there needs to be more training around the roles and responsibility of school board members,” said Executive Director and Founder of Think New Mexico Fred Nathan.  

Nathan believes that increased training should focus on ways to improve academic performance, but also how to properly budget money coming in from the state.

“When we talk to teachers, they say that the money’s not getting enough of it isn’t getting down to the classroom,” said Nathan.  

He says in some districts, administrative spending is growing three times as fast as classroom spending.