Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Public Education in NM:
What the Bottom of the Barrel Looks Like

 Note:  The NCES does not provide data for NM for the period 1998-2002

In July 2009, after six years of the Richardson administration, LaPoliticaNewMexico looked at the bottom line in education in New Mexico, student scores in comparison with other states.  In 2009 Richardson received an award from the NEA for being the "greatest education governor."  But the evidence (click here for the post) indicated New Mexico was very near the bottom among states in student performance in math and reading, in spite of a huge increase in teacher salaries earlier in the administration.

How has public education fared under Governor Martinez?  The short answer:  poorly

Here are several recent rankings of the NM educational system by reputable national organizations:
  • Kids Count:  2016 ranking shows NM at the bottom:  50/50, down from 49 during 2013-15.
  • Wallet-Eye:  2015 ranking of "school system quality," NM 51/51 (with Washington DC included) on a composite of 13 weighted elements.
  • Education Week: 2016 ranking shown NM "overall" at 48/50; 49/50 in "chances of success," and 36th "school finances."
  • NAEP Fourth Grade reading scores:  2015 ranking shows NM at 50/50
  • NAEP Fourth Grade math scores:  2015 ranking shows NM at 49/50
When confronted with the disaster of NM student achievement scores, members of the NM educational establishment (principals, superintendents, teacher unions, and too many legislators) tend to argue that New Mexico being poor, we simply don't spend enough money on education to close the gap or, worse, lapse into excuses about the high presence of "minority students" as though Natives and Hispanics, who comprise more than two out of three of our students, all have learning disabilities.  Accountability for this poor record, stretching back over more than two decades, cannot be laid solely at the feet of the governors.  As Secretary of Higher Education of New Mexico from 2011-2014 I witnessed first-hand the strong tendency of legislators to favor the entrenched interests of the educational establishment--typically they want more money and less accountability--far more than the pleas of those willing to step on entrenched toes for better system performance.  The highly partisan conflicts within the legislature and between the legislature and the governor's office also kept issues of system performance out of the public eye, in part because of the media's insistence on covering partisan conflict rather than the substance of policy reform.

How true is it that we don't spend enough money on education?
  • NM ranks 36th in expenditures per pupil ($9734) but scores 50/50 in student achievement
  • Arizona ranks 48th in expenditures per pupil ($7528), but scores 36th in student achievement
  • Utah ranks 50the in expenditures per pupil ($6500) but scores 13th in student achievement
  • NM taxpayers would save $1.1 billion per year if we spent what Utah spends per pupil
  • NM taxpayers would save $746 million per year if it spent what Arizona spends per pupil
The problem is not a lack of money.  The problem is that we NM taxpayers don't get our money's worth for our education dollars.  Saying it differently, state government has not had the will to improve.  Fixing this is in our power without spending more money.

Is it possible for a state to make significant improvements in student scores in a relatively short period of time?  Consider this:
  • Texas moved from a ranking of 43 to 29 between 2002 and 2008
  • New Jersey jumped from 26th to 9th between 2002 and 2008
  • Pennsylvania jumped from 41 to 17 between 2001 and 2008
  • South Dakota jumbed from 35 to 5 from 1999 to 2008
  • Virginia jumped from 27 to 11 from 1999 to 2008
  • California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah are among 22 states making significant improvement in math and english scores from 2003 to 2013
The Good News:  One of the few significant accomplishments of the Martinez administration's efforts in education is the adoption of "grading" school and district performance each year.  While some object, perhaps with good reason, about the details of how this is done, at least it gives parents a way to know, with real data, not gossip, how well their schools are performing in comparison with all other schools.  Parents now have access to information they need in order to hold schools accountable.  All you have to do is click here to find a school and its current grade.  While the chart below isn't necessarily good news, since the gap is just as wide as it was a quarter century ago, at least it doesn't seem to getting wider.

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