I have a one-point plan for No Child Left Behind: Scrap it.It's only been about five years since NCLB has been enacted, yet Richardson has seen all he needs to in order to determine that NCLB has failed. Fair enough. But let's use that same standard to judge Richardson's tenure as governor to see how well he's run New Mexico's schools.
NCLB has failed. It has failed our schools, it has failed our teachers and it has failed our children.
According to NAEP data, New Mexico is not what most people would call a stellar academic performer.
In 2002 when Richardson became Governor, NM's reading scores were in the doldrums. A hearty 21% of 4th graders and 20% of 8th graders scored proficient or above. After 3 years of Richardson's fine stewardship, reading scores skyrocketed to 20% of 4th graders and 19% of 8th graders scoring proficient or above. Now that's the kind of educational leadership we need.
Of course, those tests are given in English and New Mexico has a lot of Hispanic immigrants who don't don't know English. Why don't we look at a subject in which language shouldn't be as large a factor? How about math? In 2003, a whopping 17% of 4th graders and 15% of 8th graders scored proficient in math. By 2005, 19% of 4th graders and 14% of 8th graders scored proficient.
New Mexico's state motto is "Crescit eundo" ("It Grows as It Goes"). Based on those math scores they might want to consider changing it to "Better Count Your Change Twice."
Last I checked, New Mexico ran its own schools, in its own way, using its own money (with a little help from the Feds). Richardson, as governor runs the state and its education system, so he's responsible for New Mexico's academic performance which is miserable. So using Richardson's own standard for NCLB, I think its safe to say that Richardson "has failed New Mexico's schools, has failed New Mexico's teachers and has failed New Mexico's children."
Richardson has especially failed New Mexico's Hispanic children. There is a a 19 point and a 29 point achievement gap in reading and math respectively between Hispanic and white students in New Mexico by the 8th grade.
The Bush administration claims victories, but upon closer scrutiny it becomes clear that the White House is simply dressing up ugly data with fancy political spin. Far from leaving no child behind, President Bush seems to have left reality behind.
Apparently, he's not the only executive who's left reality behind.
Review the figures, and you will see that our schools are not failing NCLB; the program is failing our schools. In some grades, reading and math scores have actually declined for Hispanics, African-Americans and others.
Like in New Mexico.
With the overheated rhetoric out of the way, Richardson gets down to his plan for improving education.
The key to this improvement is respecting teachers. I signed a law in New Mexico that pays teachers a professional salary. As president, I will fight for national average starting pay for teachers of at least $40,000 a year.
And, quite the improvement we've seen as a result of that law. This is merely a variant of throw more money at the problem. We've been doing that for a long time now with little success to show for it.
Teacher salaries are just the beginning. Quality pre-K programs allow children to show up in first grade ready to learn. These programs must be available to all children.
One only needs to look at the dismal track record of Headstart to see that such pre-K programs tend not to provide any kind of significant academic headstart. And, to the extent that any gains are made, those gains will wash out quickly once the child enters the dismal public school system, like that found in New Mexico.
Finally, we need strong academic standards aligned with the needs of today's workforce. America's schools were designed for the 20th century economy — this is no longer sufficient. Our children need to graduate ready to engage with the New Economy, not the old one.
Ironically, Richardson was supposed to institute these "strong academic standards" in accordance with NCLB. Here's what the Fordham Foundation said about New Mexico's Reading standards:
While New Mexico's English standards may have some fine features, those of less polished pedigree are in far greater supply. Put simply, a good deal of these documents are unintelligible and not measurable. For example, in first grade students are expected to "describe events related to other nations and/or cultures," and in eleventh grade to "analyze the clarity and consistency of literary works or essays on a topic." These are empty words and they don't really make much sense. The topics of New Mexico's content sections are similarly inscrutable. Coherent subcategories are eschewed for vague, overarching topics that could, in fact, include almost anything: "writing and speaking," or "literature and media." In truth, they do address almost anything. The first category covers both literary and non-literary reading in many of its performance standards, and those standards are further divided into subcategories not clearly defined. The benchmarks are superfluous and literary study is given an unacceptably light survey. Were it not for New Mexico's English standards' fine set of guiding principles and good primary grade components, an F would be warranted.
Way to go Bill with your fancy "unintelligible and not measurable" 21st century standards.
True education reform requires more than a set of unfunded mandates and a list of failing schools. It requires a vision for success, the state and federal funding to match, and the experience to bring real reform to America's failing schools.
Vision and Experience that Bill Richardson seems not to possess. But, I'm sure he'll have no way problem reaching into your pocket to fund his crackpot education schemes.