BY TOM WRIGHT
I understand the fear many teachers have regarding returning to the classroom this fall. I also understand the deficiency of adequate learning from teaching remotely. Due to the COVID pandemic, our Public Education Department has requested a reprieve from federal student testing and accountability requirements for the 2019-20 school year.
In January 2018, the Quality Counts Report released by Education Week magazine ranked New Mexico next to last in the nation in education. Kids Count, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation also gave New Mexico a poor grade for its public education system.
With this track record in mind, is it not time to consider creative methods to get kids back in the classroom and improve our student outcomes? With the current and obvious need for new educational solutions, will politics and the teacher’s unions funding of mainly Democrat politicians continue as a restraint on these solutions?
Looking to the future, here are some things to consider: Since 1992, charter schools have flourished. They are mostly privately managed and funded by public money. Any student can apply and the waiting list of potential students is lengthy. Students are mostly selected by a lottery system, without regard to their past academic achievement or economic status. Overall student scores have improved.
Charter schools are a viable option for students seeking a quality, and often specialized education, but teachers’ unions have not taken to the charter concept as the charter faculty are largely not union members. Disregarding improved student scores, the unions’ opposition seems to be over the lack of union membership?
School choice vouchers for private schools are also not on the agenda of unions and therefore, state legislators. A parent can take a voucher for public money once intended to support public education and give it to a private school to enroll their child. Such is a slap in the face of those who steadfastly support public education, even though private school test scores and student achievements are superior to the public system. Fourteen states and the District of Colombia have a school choice voucher system and it works.
Student tuition for private schools does cost more than the per student cost of public schooling and in general, teachers do make more money. Therefore, opponents cite discrimination by separation of the wealthy from the poor who can’t afford private schools. If private choice were better supported by politicians, would not the increase in private school enrollment drive the cost of tuition down?
Poverty is often used as a reason for children not being able to learn. Charter schools and vouchers give them more of an equal opportunity. Would not competition among schools improve overall scores? Private and charter schools already compete with public schools for students. Could our public money in New Mexico be better spent to increase student outcomes?
According to a poll published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, “a solid majority of Americans would be in agreement for the local school districts to shake-up the way they operate.”
If New Mexico had more charter schools and a school choice voucher program, some schools could elect to return to the classroom during this epidemic, instead of teaching remotely. Of course, safeguards would have to be in place to monitor the Coronavirus spread.
With a membership of 2.9 million, the National Education Association is the largest labor union in the country and there is no question it has a voice of influence. If they would embrace creative solutions and support the improvement of educational outcomes in New Mexico, they would be our heroes. If things continue to stay the same, that’s like getting kicked by that mule the second time. There is no education in the second kick.
These are just a few thoughts in the conversation of improving our educational system in New Mexico. Hopefully, New Mexicans will become more engaged in this conversation with our local and state politicians.