Vote 4 NM: Could the solution to fixing NM education be found in Massachusetts? | KOB 4
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Vote 4 NM: Could the solution to fixing NM education be found in Massachusetts?

Colton Shone
October 08, 2018 10:25 AM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – It seems like year after year, we're dealt a blow with education rankings. New Mexico is not winning. In fact, we're dead last. So how do we move forward? 

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Let’s think of education as a board game. If New Mexico students started at "Go," depending on the cards drawn making it to the end might require some tough, strategic moves.

According to the Public Education Department, only seven out of ten New Mexico students will win the game and collect that high school diploma. That's the lowest graduation rate in the nation.

So how do we help more of our students win?  What are the best players in this education game doing to succeed? We rolled the dice and moved 22-hundred miles to the land of Massachusetts.

The Bay State is known for consistently ranking at the top for education, but key players say it wasn’t always that way.

A lawsuit filed in the 70's on behalf of low-income students said those students weren't receiving an adequate education. The Massachusetts Supreme Court agreed.

Sound familiar? A New Mexico judge made a similar ruling in our own state earlier this year.

In 1993, the Education Reform Act was passed in Massachusetts. It gave more money to schools; it made student standards much higher; it also promoted accountability. Two decades later the students are ranking internationally.

We find the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, Jeff Riley, at Crocker Elementary School in Fitchburg. A small city 50 miles west of Boston. He’s on a tour of schools across the state. KOB asked him what the Education Reform Act did for schools that weren’t being done before.

"What this did was infuse a tremendous amount of capital into the school systems to bring that funding back up to a level where people felt like kids could get an adequate education,” Riley said.

Over the years, hundreds of millions of extra dollar went to the schools with a major focus on poor communities.

"Probably about 20 years ago we started seeing demonstrable gains. Massachusetts was not at or near the top prior to that,” he said.

Of course, that money came with a few conditions:

  • student standards would be higher than national expectations and improved every few years.
  • test scores are a check on the system; not a driver in teacher evaluations.
  • the state will take over school district operations if necessary.

Satisfying those conditions is not easy.

“It's challenging. There are many new initiatives and mandates that come from the state mostly positive and designed to improve outcome and instruction for students. But at times, it can be as I said overwhelming and frustrating,” said Crocker Elementary Principal Adam Renda.

Renda says his school is at the bottom 10-percent as far as family income goes but it is outperforming wealthy suburban communities.

"So, first we look at the physiological, food, water, shelter, clothing, if our students need those, they're not going to really worry much about learning, math or reading. They're going to worry about eating an where they're going to sleep tonight,” Renda said.

Massachusetts leads the way right now but education officials say they're about to change the game rules again.

“Massachusetts is kind of in an inflection point right now. We have had 25 years of education reform. What I've said to folks in the field is we need to kind of close that chapter and figure out what's next,” Riley said.

With changes looming,  it’s unclear if Massachusetts will stay ahead of the game.

But knowing how Massachusetts has played so far, we have one big question: Will our next state leaders see Massachusetts’ moves as a potential game changer for New Mexico? Or come up with a better plan to move us ahead?

Soon it will be our state’s move.

Credits

Colton Shone

Copyright 2018 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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