Guest Blog by Josh Lujan, Viante Board Member

 We have all seen education in our news lately with reports ranging from poor test results to teacher evaluations and of course, the recent firing of Public Education Department (PED) Secretary. New Mexicans constantly hear that our state is at the bottom of just about every possible statistical category in education. I know many of us are tired of hearing this and want to know what’s being done to fix this problem in order to turn New Mexico around. We owe that answer to our kids in our public-school system and to every New Mexico citizen.

A Lack of Education Strategy

One of the things that most frustrates me when I look at our education system is the lack of strategy. We constantly hear people placing blame on one another for the problems our education system is facing – like poverty and crime. But, with all this blame being placed it doesn’t appear to me like those involved are ever working together to come up with a strategy to fix it.

What is our Education Goal?

The goal of education should not be a partisan topic. The goal should always be to give the children of this state every opportunity to succeed.

I‘m fortunate to work with many different business owners who choose to operate their businesses in this state. Regardless of industry, there is a common issue: we cannot find enough qualified people here. I’m deeply frustrated by this because I know we have qualified people in our state. I truly believe we have the capability to compete on a national level economically. Our problem is that our state’s education system has failed our citizens for too many years. As a result, employers have to remediate an employee’s ability to perform because our state’s education system never set its students up for success in the first place.

We have been told that the state’s new leadership will ensure that teachers receive a higher salary, that they’ll get rid of PARCC (our state’s current standardized test), and that they plan to remove the student growth part of a teacher’s evaluations. All of these can be argued as either beneficial or detrimental to the overall health of New Mexico education system.

My wife is a New Mexico teacher, so of course it would be beneficial for our household to receive a raise. However, what I would like to see instead are raises that are implemented in a way that reward teachers who excel in the classroom. In my line of work (in the private sector), we are paid based on our performance. Most industries operate this way and I find it strange that we fight this when it comes to teacher pay. Where is the motivation for teachers to go above and beyond if, at the end of the day, they will be paid the same as the teacher across the hall who isn’t as engaged and who does just enough to get by?

How to Measure Progress

My recommendation to fix this issue using the proven, private sector way – incentive pay based on how well students are progressing.  The only way I know how to measure progress is through testing.  Our students are expected to compete with students from all over the country and if we aren’t testing, how can we know where they stack up to their peers in other states?

I understand that many opposed the PARCC test for different reasons, but I believe that eliminating that test before we had a reasonable replacement was premature and perhaps even irresponsible to our youth. How do we expect to measure our kids if we are not testing them? How can we prepare our youth for the next journey, whether it’s college or a career, if they don’t know where they are proficient?

Changing Our Education Mindset

Another common theme I hear is that our education system can’t succeed because we have too many “at risk” children who are either a minority and/or are subject to family issues and poverty. While these are all serious issues we need to address, I believe those children are just as capable to learn as other children. This is why we need sustainable, long-term reform instead of having each administration coming in and undoing whatever the previous administration had set in place. Education is a non-partisan issue. Let’s find what’s working in our state and discover ways to continue that work while adopting solutions that work for other schools and districts.

This past year, there was proposed legislation that attempted to limit the number of school choices we have in the state. I don’t understand why our lawmakers would rob resources from areas that are showing success.  Many of our charter schools are outperforming our traditional public schools in this state. For example, MAS Charter School in Albuquerque has a student body that mirrors the demographics of Albuquerque Public Schools (APS), but has an 86% graduation rate, which is 17% higher than APS. I don’t agree with the special interest groups who are trying to minimize the choice of charter schools by limiting how many there are and their funds.

Where Do We Want to Be in Five Years?

I’d like to leave you with a question I think we all would like answered: “Where do we want to be in 5 years?” For myself, I know I’d like the state to have a thriving locally grown work force. I would like to see more of our home-grown talent staying in New Mexico because I believe there is plenty of opportunity for folks to grow professionally. I would like to us move the needle towards being at the top of Education Nationally, where our youth deserve to be.