February 5, 2018

Time to act

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New Mexico, like most states, struggles to create an education system that can compete nationally and internationally and prepare our children to succeed in a global economy. My thirty years as an educator have taught me, just as importantly, the best of our schools can transform our children with positive experiences that lead to emotional well-being and resiliency. No child should be denied access to these best schools. We need every school to be a great school, and by learning from the best educational systems, we can make that happen.

The National Conference of State Legislatures, as an outgrowth of a dynamic forum with education experts and state policymakers about the poor showing of the United States on the Programme for International Student Assessment, launched a study on the world’s top education systems. While U.S. students were scoring about the same on the test administered to 15-year-olds in 72 countries, students in other countries were improving, leaving the United States behind. Members of the conference’s study group visited the top-performing countries and met with their education leaders. They consulted with national and international education experts to analyze the research. The result was the 2016 publication No Time To Lose: How To Build a World Class Education System State by State.

The study identifies four elements common to the best education systems: (1) Children come to school ready to learn, and extra support is given to struggling students so that every child has the opportunity to achieve high standards. (2) A world-class teaching profession supports a world-class instructional system, where every student has access to highly effective teachers and is expected to succeed. (3) A highly effective, intellectually rigorous system of career and technical education is available to those preferring an applied education. (4) Individual reforms are connected and aligned as parts of a clearly planned and carefully designed comprehensive system. In many ways, nothing about the findings are new – indeed, many education leaders in these countries reported they had adopted successful approaches from the United States. But while education administrators in the United States have taken a piecemeal approach to reform, the countries with the best systems have just that – a system – bound by a commitment to providing the best education to all children.

Over the past year, using No Time To Lose as a guide, the Legislative Education Study Committee dove deep into each of the common elements, hearing testimony from many of the same experts. We were determined to establish a foundation of knowledge on the common approaches of the best systems and an understanding of the intricacies of each element and how the elements work together to create successful education systems. Now, we’re ready for the next step. The National Conference of State Legislatures has launched a second phase of its study – I’m proud to have been appointed a member of the study group for this chapter – that will create a policy roadmap that states can use to start reforming their education systems.

Every state has an obligation to provide its children with great schools. New Mexico, a poor state with great need, perhaps has an even greater responsibility to create a stable and highly effective education system that can help our children overcome the socioeconomic obstacles many of them face and prepare them to build a healthy and economically strong future.

This is New Mexico’s opportunity. We know what works. As soon as the legislative session ends, the Legislative Education Study Committee will convene an education stakeholder group to develop our next steps. With that and the roadmap being developed on the national level, we will have the tools to build the education system our children deserve. It’s time to act. With commitment, we will succeed and so will our children.

Mimi Stewart is a Democratic Senator who represents Senate District 17. She is the chair of the Legislative Education Study Committee and Senate Majority Whip.

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