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Five New Year’s hopes for New Mexico education

December 30, 2018

I have many fond memories from my childhood of tearing open holiday gifts in search of that one desired toy I was convinced I just had to have. Our family tradition was that each individual family would drive around to the homes of aunts and uncles for some holiday cheer and fellowship. Aunts and uncles would ask me and my sisters, “Whadja get?”

In recent years, New Mexicans have asked “Whadja get?” in regard to our educational outcomes from prekindergarten to college graduation. The answers have been disappointing. Open our educational ranking box: New Mexico is consistently near the bottom. Open New Mexico’s graduation rate box. What is inside? Considerably fewer graduates than other states. The box containing funding for programs serving our poorest students is basically empty.

This must change if we are to advance as a state. Toward that goal, I respectfully offer five New Year’s wishes for the education landscape in New Mexico:

A True-type campaign

Many people in other states are familiar with our New Mexico True tourism campaign. They know about our incredible vistas, our beautiful mountains and, of course, the many pleasures of the red or green culinary decision. Many also know about our deep problems in public education.

My first wish for the new year: Let’s devise and implement a statewide campaign stressing the importance of attending school, trying hard, graduating from high school and pursuing some postsecondary option.

Reliable investments

State resources are finite, and no matter how much is in the kitty, it is tough to fund everyone’s requests. But some costs are investments, and education is one of them.

My second wish for the new year is that we see education as an investment and build consistency into those budgets each and every year.

Integrated approach

When outcomes are poor, there is a tendency to attempt to fix one or two segments of the system, usually those in greatest need. However, some systems, including education, are significantly intertwined. Fixing one piece will not necessarily result in improved outcomes overall.

My third wish: let’s think and act in a more unified way. That means more collaboration between all segments of the pre-K- through-college continuum.

Wraparound services

When it comes to outcomes, our students have so many needs. Try to teach children who come to school hungry or distraught due to social and or economic challenges beyond their control. High achievement will not occur under those circumstances.

My fourth wish is to find ways to more fully meet the comprehensive needs of students in our schools. Though this is perhaps most critical for prekindergarten through 12th-grade students, students in our universities also face many daunting social and economic challenges. We must attend to those as well.

Improving outcomes

When it comes to educational outcomes, everything matters. Modern facilities are preferred to buildings in need of repairs, but facilities are hardly the most critical predictor of improved outcomes.

Modern technology is better than old technology. Schools led and managed by progressive administrators are usually better off.

But the thing that matters most — the most powerful predictor of outcomes in any educational endeavor — is the teachers and professors. What they do matters more than anything else.

If these wishes come true, the answer to “Whadja get?” will be a New Mexico that is stronger, more vibrant, a better place to run a business and a better place to raise a family.

Sam Minner, Ph.D., is president of New Mexico Highlands University.

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