According to a July 2018 story in Forbes (tinyurl.com/y5da43q7), New Mexico ranks 51st in the quality of its public education, falling below the District of Columbia (49th) and Louisiana (50th). This trend of being at or near the bottom in national ratings has plagued New Mexico for decades.

Politicians campaign every election on “fixing New Mexico’s public education ratings.” The solution most often given is just to pour more money into the enterprise. Been there, done that, and the national ratings still hover at the bottom. We need something different.

There is a problem in understanding how comparisons were made. We must explore if we value factors such as class size, overall funding, instructor credentials, campus safety, dropout rate, scores on national tests, advancement into prestigious universities and individuals being awarded scholarships. And New Mexico students having to leave the state to get a “good job.”

More so, what is the weighted result of each possible category on the overall score? New Mexico is not in the top 10 public education systems in our country by any measure. However, despite being ranked at the bottom, New Mexico is turning out educated citizens.

I know from graduating high school in New Mexico and later getting a doctorate, it is not a political problem, it is an educational problem. That is not to say the politicians should be held blameless in this ranking. They are in control of public education funding and the management of the Public Education Department.

Never use a political solution for a nonpolitical problem, be it education, medicine, finance or the military. For concerns about education, use education solutions. Example: To establish in the minds of students the system of finance in our country, we need to use free-market approaches when applicable.

School vouchers let parents guide the choice of schools to attend by the individual needs of their students, not the needs of the entire student population in New Mexico as a whole. What is the lesson here? The only good choice is when both the school and the student prosper.

If a student does not prosper, then that student may select a different school. The school that the student leaves will suffer the loss of finance. The school losing then must innovate to attract students. Doing what they have always done will not provide the funding. This is the free-market lesson in our country. Be it restaurants, stores and automotive dealerships, continued innovation is what attracts clients.

Margaret Mead wrote, “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” This goes against some of the philosophy in New Mexico public education, where most of the effort is to juke the national tests so the school will appear better. Day after day, students practice taking tests to which they hold no interest. So, they drift away.

The rub in New Mexico is the entire system is set up as win/loss. With school vouchers, of which about half the states in our country are embracing, the problem is the school not getting the student loses money. Or should they? Perhaps there should be full funding for three years so the school losing students to other public or private schools will have the full funding while they innovate to attract students to return.

That would be a win/win, because our system of public and private education would increase innovation, which should increase student achievement and success. As we are dead last and have been for a generation, perhaps it is time to try something different.

Michael Swickard, Ph.D., lives in Las Cruces.

(1) comment

Annie Oakley

Margaret Mead wrote, “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”

If only this was common practice in our country ~ from Kindergarten to University. Instead, we indoctrinate our young people and tell them what to think and what to believe - rewriting history along the way. Young minds are being wasted......

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