Proven Education Reform

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and Hanna Skandera, her education secretary designate, have pushed heavily to incorporate the “Florida Model” of education reform in New Mexico.

The Florida Model has come upon hard times recently as major media outlets including the Miami Herald, New York Times, and Reuters have dug deep and found numerous and significant problems with the approach as implemented on the ground.

Since Governor Martinez is now showing signs of warming to compromise on other issues it is time to highlight other education reform models that have proven effective. Governor Martinez should not compromise on the goal of improving education. The place to compromise comes in the approach taken to reach this goal.

In 1993, Massachusetts implemented statewide education reform. That reform has proven to be more effective than the Florida Model.

Massachusetts started with a massive injection of funding for early and elementary education. Massachusetts injected upwards of $2 billion dollars in 1993 dollars above its usual spending just to improve early childhood education. Billions more went to elementary education too. Massachusetts raised taxes to fund education improvements.

New Mexico already has excess funds sitting in the permanent fund. We can boost funding on a massive scale without increasing taxes.

Massachusetts implemented mandatory testing for third-graders to assess reading proficiency. It did so not to retain those students reading below grade level. Rather it used the results of the testing to determine where to direct the resources necessary for remediation. With additional funding going to the schools that needed the help the most those schools were able to expand remedial reading programs.

The result of the increase in remedial reading programs was a significant improvement of the number of students reading at grade level. Proving that it is the remediation not the retention that actually improves reading.

Massachusetts developed a statewide curriculum standard, which in 1993 was dubbed “common core”. This approach did have benefits; just as the national efforts now under way that derived from Massachusetts’s early approach also has benefits.

However, Massachusetts let district superintendents with the help of school councils determine the best approaches to achieve these standards. Combining local control with high expectations. This approach too has succeeded.

To address teacher burnout, Massachusetts funded an early retirement program that allowed teachers no longer motivated to teach to be able to retire. Making room for new teachers with a strong desire to teach.

To improve the quality of new teachers, Massachusetts funded a student loan forgiveness package. But unlike Teach for America, which attracts students who intend to work in entirely different fields and leave teaching at a high rate, Massachusetts’ program was set up solely for those who chose teaching as a career.

Massachusetts also implemented better teacher training through an extensive continuing education program for all teachers.

It is time for Martinez and Skandera to broaden their horizons. The Florida Model relies heavily on punishment of students, financial rewards to school districts that don’t need it and worst of all a redistribution of public school funds to for profit companies. The Florida Model has failed to deliver in the manner promoted by the companies who benefit most from its implementation.

There is nothing wrong with studying approaches used in other states and adopting proven methods. The trick is to find the states where the implemented reforms have genuinely been effective.

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