2022 Governor's Race

‘A Couple Years’ Before NM Student Test Scores Return to Equally Dismal Pre-COVID Levels

State senator Mimi Stewart (D-District 17) recently told Fox News that that while New Mexico’s test scores show barely a third of students are proficient in English and science, and a quarter in math, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is on the right track with education.

“Yes our scores are down. Every other state’s scores are down. They’re going to go back up. It’ll take us a couple years. You never do anything fast in education. It always takes a while to get programs in place. That’s why I’m sticking with Michelle Lujan Grisham.”

Grisham has dumped hundreds of millions into education at all levels, from early childhood education to infrastructure to pay raises for teachers and quote-unquote “free” college. But even beyond COVID, the results haven’t made a dent. New Mexico continually ranks among the lowest performing states in the country in education.

Grisham’s plan: more taxpayer funding.

Her challenger, Mark Ronchetti, is taking a different approach.

Last week, the Republican candidate for governor unveiled his plans to reform education, which includes capping administrative spending, giving more local freedom to schools, increasing principal pay, offering apprenticeships to seniors, and providing low-performing students a $1,500 stipend for private tutoring.

Noting that general and administrative spending increased 55% from 2007 to 2019, versus just 19% for in-class instruction, Ronchetti has proposed a cap on administrative spending and a renewed focus on classroom resources.

Mark would change state law to limit the growth of administrative spending in education, directing the lion’s share of new education dollars into classrooms–including additional instructional coaches, teacher leaders, academic resources, and interventions for struggling students.

–Mark Ronchetti, “Putting our future first

Ronchetti first must win the election, which is looking increasingly difficult. Last week, a poll found that Grisham holds an 7 point lead over Ronchetti, 47% to 40%. And poll released Tuesday put Grisham’s approval rating at 53%, a big improvement over early polls showing a much closer race.

Fox’s John Roberts posed the question, “We saw how big an issue education was in the Virginia gubernatorial election last year. Is that going to drive people to the polls there in New Mexico in November?”

Mark Meredith responded: “That’s what Republicans are betting on. They believe parents in New Mexico will be so outraged at some of these recent test scores that they’ll want to see some changes inside the governor’s mansion.”

“Betting on” may be a stretch–betting odds have drastically shifted toward Grisham in the last month–but even “hoping for” may not offer much comfort.

Virginia’s focus on education last year centered around Critical Race Theory, not underperformance of students. CRT is a hot-button issue that swung the election toward the Republican. New Mexico’s education problem is a different animal, and it’s a persistent one regardless of who’s in the governor’s mansion.

The governor seems to have accepted the fact that New Mexico parents simply aren’t engaged in their children’s education. As enrollment falls and graduation rates (both high school and college) have continued to lag, the governor has made notable strides to expand state control over students. This includes repeated efforts to extend the school year (even before COVID) and spending increases both for daycare and after-school programs.

Extra-curricular activities are important, but increased spending hasn’t seemed to make a difference–perhaps because the state isn’t the problem. Home is.

If parents don’t care what their kids are doing (in or outside the classroom), spending more money every year on programs that keep parents in the workplace and students in government care won’t help.

For a state that spends $27,000 per student, we might see better results cutting a check to parents and taking the state out of the equation entirely.

That’s not going to happen, of course. The education bureaucracy is too big. And even if Ronchetti pulls off an upset this November, Democrats in the Roundhouse won’t be quick to rebuild a system just because a Republican says so. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result may be the definition of insanity, but in a state that doesn’t seem to care about education, insanity is the norm.

Journal Poll: Inflation now main concern of NM families“–education takes fifth place

Which is why Mimi Stewart’s comments are neither shocking nor unrealistic. She’s probably right that it will take New Mexico “a couple years” to get student test scores back to where they were before the pandemic. The problem is, before the pandemic test scores were dismal.

New Mexico’s gubernatorial election has nothing in common with Virginia, and education is unlikely to be the harbinger of change some might hope, let alone bet on.

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