State's education initiative gets high marks

Nonprofits call federal proposal 'ambitious...but achievable'

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A new review by an independent panel of education experts places New Mexico's plan for adopting the federal Every Student Succeeds Act at the top of the list of 17 states that have submitted proposals so far, saying it has provided clear goals for success over the next five years.

The review, overseen by two education-policy nonprofits, the Washington, D.C.-based Bellwether Education Partners and the Alexandria, Virginia-based Collaborative for Student Success, called New Mexico's education proposal an "outstanding plan" to meet high standards, such as raising its graduation rate by 14 percentage points and doubling the number of English-language learners who achieve proficiency in math and language arts.

Chad Aldeman, a policy analyst and principal at Bellwether, said based on New Mexico's data, its goals are "ambitious ... but achievable."

The state Public Education Department submitted its proposal to the U.S. Department of Education in April, along with 16 other states. Remaining states have a September deadline to turn in their plans.

The independent review, which will have no effect on whether the federal agency approves New Mexico's plan, comes as federal education officials have asked the state to revise and resubmit the plan, citing missing and incomplete data. Democratic state lawmakers also raised concerns about the proposal earlier this month, questioning how the state would pay for initiatives to help schools meet the lofty goals.

The plan has come under fire since April from teachers union leaders, who say it differs little from controversial policies already in place and relies too heavily on student test scores to evaluate teachers and schools.

Aldeman said the independent panel did not take into consideration the federal government's feedback. But the panel had similar concerns as U.S. education officials, criticizing New Mexico for not supplying enough information regarding certain subgroups of students and how their performance could affect school evaluations.

The review also said, "New Mexico's plan provides little detail about the interventions that will be initially implemented in low-performing schools."

Unlike teachers unions, however, Aldeman said the panel liked the fact that New Mexico's plan to comply with the federal law incorporates measures already put in place by Gov. Susana Martinez and former Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera, who resigned last week after 6 1/2 years on the job.

"New Mexico is unique in that the plan clearly builds off of the work that has been going on for the past few years," he said.

New Mexico also scored high points from the panel for its goal of ensuring that 66 percent of working-age adults earn a college degree or post-secondary credential by 2030 - and for maintaining a requirement that schools meet a 95 percent participation rate on statewide standardized tests.

Bellwether, which focuses on policies to improve outcomes for low-income students, contracted last year with a regional nonprofit, the Daniels Fund, to hire the leader of an organization hoping to open several charter schools in New Mexico.

Earlier this year, after President Donald Trump chose Michigan activist, philanthropist and Republican fundraiser Betsy DeVos as his education secretary, Bellwether published a widely cited analysis of Michigan's education system, which DeVos helped shape as the leader of an education reform advocacy group. The data-based analysis showed stagnating proficiency rates in the state and wide achievement gaps for low-income students and racial and ethnic minorities.

Contact Nott at (505) 986-3021 or rnott@sfnewmexican.c­om. This story published first in the Santa Fe New Mexican, a sister publication of The Taos News.

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