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First Day of Legislative Session: Comments by AFT NM President Stephanie Ly

On the first day of session, the issue of education was front and center, but instead of discussing growing classroom sizes, increasing poverty rates and the struggles that our students and families face daily, Governor Martinez again focused on third-grade retention and rating teachers by student test scores. She was quick to take credit for the increase in graduation rates but took no responsibility for our state being ranked as 50th in the nation for child well-being, nor for the lack of early childhood education, insufficient funding for our schools, and poverty levels that led us there.   

Instead, she touted her same empty education reforms.

For yet another year, she promoted 3rd grade retention as the cure for improving literacy and graduation rates. Showing a fundamental lack of understand of student learning, she stated that schools have already tried interventions and therefore must move to mandatory retention where the state, not parents, decides whether students should be forced to repeat a grade.

Third-grade retention was never meant to be a replacement for intervention. In many cases, third-grade retention can have lasting harmful effects. Research shows third-grade retention increases the likelihood that a student will not graduate and that statistically gains in student achievement are only short term. On the other hand, interventions are effective when they are appropriate and are funded. To date, funding for intervention programs has been allocated on a school by school basis by the PED. In fact, the PED has celebrated that where funds have been directed reading proficiency has increased. It is possible to use interventions to give our students the opportunities they deserve. It is possible for our students to succeed without taking away parent input and choice. And it is necessary in a state now ranked 50th in the nation in child well-being that we do what is right to help our students, not what is politically expedient. 

The governor had little positive to say about our educators. She did acknowledge the need to retain teachers but singled out those teachers whose students do exceptionally well on standardized tests as the only individuals worthy of pay increases. She also pushed to make it easier for these teachers to move quickly into administrative positions making it clear that she does not value classroom experience.

And, she was quick to take credit for the state's four-year graduation rates which climbed to 70% last year. Our students, parents and educators need to be given credit for the rising graduation rates. Graduation rates reflect twelve years of hard work- not just the three that the Governor has been in office. There is evidence the rates were on the rise before Governor Martinez, as they climbed from 60% in 2009 to 67% in 2010.

Last year, after the governor’s annual address I was upset at her lack of understanding of the reality in our schools, upset that her policy was out of touch and upset that she refused to include or listen to educators in developing a vision and policy for New Mexico education. But this year her words made me even madder. This year, New Mexico is ranked 50th in child well-being. This year, poverty levels in New Mexico have again increased. This year, students, parents and teachers have been shouting out with frustration against the high-stakes, high-stress standardized testing that has taken over our schools, poorly implemented new requirements and lack of support.  

We cannot let the governor’s lack of vision for our students determine the course for our state. Yesterday, hundreds of you joined Randi Weingarten and me in Santa Fe as we unveiled our collective vision for education reform. Together we have the opportunity this session to support bills and constitutional amendments to increase funding, stop the obsession with standardized testing and create smaller class sizes. Together we can bring back the joy of learning, time for teaching and professionalism in public education.  

Call and email your legislators and ask them to support this vision of education reform and policies that will support our students’ success.Click here to find your legislators' information and write a personalized letter.  And join me in Santa Fe throughout the session and for our rally and lobby day on February 15th!

In Solidarity,

Stephanie Ly, AFT NM President

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