Four years ago, proposed educational standards that would have eliminated topics such as evolution and mentions of events involving civil rights icons such as Rosa Parks and Malcolm X were sent to the Legislative Education Study Committee for discussion.
Last week, committee members heard about K-12 social studies standards that would go in the opposite direction, greatly expanding the amount of information students are expected to learn.
“What I see you all doing here four years later is being inclusive,” said committee Vice Chairman and state Rep. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, adding the new standards would move social studies beyond just a “set of events that happened.” The 2017 proposal came from then-Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.
Lawmakers questioned the Public Education Department at the Wednesday hearing about the contents and implementation of newly proposed K-12 social studies standards for public schools. If implemented, the standards would constitute the first update of its kind since 2009.
Cabinet Deputy Secretary Gwen Perea Warniment said the Public Education Department received more than 2,700 pages of public comment — at least triple the amount of input compared with any other recent rule-adoption process.
But even a lawmaker and educator like Romero, who is enthusiastic about the proposed standards, is worried about their sheer volume.
Educators would need to prepare students for more than 1,000 individual standards under the proposal, policy analysts at the Legislative Education Study Committee recently wrote. In high school, the number of standards would triple from 129 to 387 — and teachers would be expected to accommodate the additional educational requirements in the same amount of learning time.
Perea Warniment said the expansion is a concern at the Public Education Department as the standards-writing team prepares revisions this month.
“A lot of what we’re seeing is that maybe there are elements that don’t belong in overarching standards,” Perea Warniment added.
Standards referencing specific historical events could wind up instead in the curriculum materials the department will recommend to local schools ahead of the 2023-24 implementation year.
Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park, criticized the standards’ framing of Spanish colonialism and the history of police violence in the United States at Wednesday’s meeting.
Lord also pressed the department on local control over teaching the new standards.
While the state education department sets the standards, districts receive direct money for instruction materials and have the last say in how standards are reflected in the curriculum and lesson plans.
Meanwhile, Rep. T. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, said he was concerned the standards would ask teachers to educate kindergartners on how to discuss their own identities.
He added under the standards, U.S. history would be taught without “global perspective” on issues such as voting rights in America.
“We’re imposing a 2021 ethic on our history,” he said. “It’s important to do that, but at the same time I think it’s very helpful for a child to have a comparison with what was going on in the rest of the world during that time.”
Also Wednesday, the Public Education Department presented information about the state’s new accelerated learning plan. The plan is to shift teaching away from remediation and toward grade-level learning, even for students who are behind, starting this school year.
“Grade-level standards should be the floor and not the ceiling,” Perea Warniment said. “For a long time in New Mexico ... we worked to get kids to grade level.”
The shift comes as, according to the Public Education Department, K-12 students saw an 8.4 percent dip in already-low statewide math proficiency among schools that collected the data between 2019 and this fall.
The department is pushing for lawmakers to steer more funding toward teacher salaries, in part to account for the increase in professional development they’d need to execute the accelerated learning model.
Initial analyses from the department estimate boosting wages 5 percent across the board and raising starting salaries in the state’s three-tiered teaching system could cost roughly $140 million to $150 million.
The Legislative Education Study Committee also heard a presentation from Samantha Waidler-Jaramillo, who teaches at Dixon Elementary School in the Española Public School District.
With the legislative session nearing, she said lawmakers should consider teachers’ pay and the advancement opportunities available to teachers through the current three-tiered salary system, which she said are limited. She also noted the high number of new initiatives set by the Public Education Department this year.
“This pandemic is still impacting teaching and learning,” she said. “This should be a time to re-evaluate our educational system, not to push teachers to their breaking points in order to pretend that nothing happened.”
On Thursday, lawmakers on the Legislative Education Study Committee discussed possible endorsements of legislation ahead of the 2022 session, covering issues such as teacher pay and insurance costs for educators.
“This is a time when we ought to ask for what we want,” said Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, in calling for a $15 minimum wage for all public school staff. “I think as a committee we should ask for everything we want right now.”