Newsrooms across the nation have been churning out stories on two recent topics over the past couple of weeks, the first being the release of nationwide math and reading scores and the second being Tuesday’s election.
To many, these headlines may seem disconnected, but I believe they are the opposite: One impacts the other.
Fourteen years ago I, along with 715 classmates, walked across a temporary stage at The Pit to receive my high school diploma. As a proud graduate of Rio Rancho High School, one of New Mexico’s best public high schools, I set off for the University of Tulsa.
When I arrived in Tulsa, I quickly found four other New Mexico graduates and together, we struggled through our first semester of college, often asking ourselves why our peers were not struggling as much as we were.
At that moment I realized, “Oh, this is the impact of being educated in a state that ranks near last in education.”
Even with that experience, I never imagined that I would one day be compelled to work in education policy, fighting daily to improve the educational experience for New Mexico’s 330,000 students; working to ensure their transition to college or career would be easier than my own. But here I am.
That is precisely what makes this year’s National Assessment for Educational Progress results all the more disappointing. In the 15 years since I’ve walked across that stage, New Mexico’s performance on NAEP has remained nearly flat in both reading and math.
In the wake of the results, I’ve read many reaction pieces and a few have left me enraged.
Some education leaders have called for celebration in the wake of the results, noting that it is impressive that the poor and minority students that make up the majority of our student population only lag behind the national average by 12 percentage points. While I find the insinuation that poor and minority students are less capable academically than their peers offensive, it is also incorrect.
Do you know which state had the largest improvement? Mississippi. Last I checked, there is plenty of minority students and poverty in Mississippi.
It’s time we stop making excuses about why we can’t. It is time we start treating our poor educational outcomes like the crisis they truly are.
There is only one way out of this decades-long stint of educational mediocrity: belief. In every classroom, principal’s office, superintendency, school board room and legislative district across the state, we need leaders who have an unwavering belief in the potential of every child.
We need leaders who will make every decision with our students at the center, regardless of the political battles that may arise. And we, as a collective community need to demand it.
You may choose to celebrate or even accept a world in which only 24 percent of our fourth-graders can read on grade level. Or, you can choose to demand more.
I invite you to join me in the latter.
(Amanda Aragon is the executive director of NewMexicoKidsCAN, which advocates for community-informed, student-centered and research-backed education policies.)