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THE LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF SOUTHERN NEW MEXICO

Education reform must be achieved by legislators

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The League of Women Voters of Southern New Mexico believes every student should have access to a high-quality, equitable public education system regardless of ethnicity, ability, age, family income or location. The league believes accountability, transparency and education policies that promote student success strengthen New Mexico’s economy and well-being.

A high-quality, equitable education system includes several elements: meaningful multicultural learning goals, knowledgeable and skillful educators, integrated support for students (such as those found in community schools), high-quality early-learning opportunities and adequate, equitable funding.

With the legislative session underway, there are many education-related bills aimed at strengthening the New Mexico public education system to better provide equity of learning opportunities for students.

One of those bills that holds potential is House Bill 83, “Changing Graduation Requirements.” The bill was introduced by Rep. Andrés Romero, a social studies/history teacher. It passed out of the House Education Committee Feb. 1. A primary goal of the bill is to give students more choices and greater responsibility for their own educations to better engage them in learning.

An important change to the graduation requirements would be a capstone course developed by juniors and seniors, meeting academic content and performance standards and guided by highly qualified teachers. The projects could be structured to be culturally and linguistically relevant to the students’ lives. The capstone course would incorporate a final product, performance and/or public presentation.

Other changes with the potential to better engage students in learning are more choices for core courses and the expansion of government and civics education. Some topics, such as New Mexico history, are to be integrated into other courses, in this case into U.S. history.

Several issues need to be revisited. The number of mathematics credits should remain at four, with more options for courses that meet the requirements, such as financial literacy, discrete mathematics and computer science. Health, physical education, digital technology, music and other arts need to be required in high school also. Some subjects could be integrated and team taught to make them practical for use in life. A language other than English is an option. Being able to communicate in more than one language gives students an advantage in the 21st century.

One of the biggest issues in HB 83 is the need for high-quality professional development for educators and counselors who would have responsibilities to assure the capstone courses meet the intended learning goals. Educators who value the influence of social and emotional learning on academics could best support students and guide them to assume more responsibility for their own education.

Whether this bill becomes law, changing graduation standards to better engage students in learning, expand civics education and provide a capstone course has the potential to result in higher graduation rates and improve readiness for college and careers. In turn, increasing the graduation rate from postsecondary institutions would strengthen the economy of the state and lead to improvements in well-being in the Land of Enchantment.

Kathy Brook and Eileen VanWie are co-presidents of the League of Women Voters of Southern New Mexico.