To understand why students drop out of high school, researchers funded by the Gates Foundation hit upon a novel idea several years ago: Why not just ask the dropouts?
So they did. Nearly half (47%) of the respondents reported dropping out because they were bored. Their top suggestion to help students stay: make school more engaging and enhance the connection between classroom and work. In other words, make the curriculum relevant.
Given that New Mexico’s graduation rate is more than 10% below the national average and that 40% of our students miss more than 10% of school days, it would be wise to listen and provide students with opportunities to learn real-world skills.
Core requirements in English, math, science and social studies offer a solid foundation of knowledge that all students should have, but students also need opportunities to engage in learning that is both practical and motivating, setting them up for post-secondary success. Required courses should include:
- Personal finance. A 2022 poll found that 89% of New Mexicans believed that completing a personal finance course is urgent for students. Twenty-three states – including six this year — have passed legislation requiring a one-semester course focused on basics like budgeting, savings, credit scores and investing. Every student will need these skills upon graduation, if not before.
- Civics. Public schools should prepare students not just for college and career but also should empower them to participate in civic life.
- World language. New Mexico does not require a class in a language other than English even though bilingualism is a highly sought-after skill in today’s workforce. The Center on American Progress conducted a 2018 state-by-state comparison of graduation requirements and graded New Mexico as “deficient” in language requirements. Forty-nine state flagship universities require two years of language study, including University of New Mexico.
- Career and technical education (CTE). The U.S. Department of Education found that New Mexico high school students who take at least two CTE courses in a program area graduated at rates above 90%. Within CTE, students can explore everything from health care and film to teaching, journalism and culinary arts while gaining skills relevant to their home and work lives.
- Statistics and data analysis as an alternative to Algebra 2. New Mexico is one of only 11 states that requires Algebra 2 even though few adults use this knowledge. As recently as 2010, 20 states required Algebra 2, but many like Texas and Florida, have abandoned the requirement. We agree with Senate Education Chairman Bill Soules that a more useful course would be statistics or data analysis, although Algebra 2 should still be offered in every high school.
- Health and physical education. More than half of U.S. parents report having concerns with their child’s health and well-being. We can support students’ needs with at least one full credit of both.
Current state requirements include 24 total credits, which can be maintained by reducing the number of required electives from 7.5 to four, still allowing students variety and flexibility to explore different careers or to follow a career pathway such as information technology, the arts or health science.
Students should be provided with a well-rounded, comprehensive curriculum that exposes them to a diversity of subjects and gives them a strong foundation for life after high school.
If you agree, visit thinknewmexico.org, where you can easily contact the governor and your legislators and urge them to make New Mexico’s curriculum relevant and engaging while maintaining high standards.
Mandi Torrez is Think New Mexico’s Education Reform Director and New Mexico’s 2020 Teacher of the Year.