August 6, 2009

Cash for Flunkers

NEA GovernorThis week the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) announced its progress, or lack thereof, on improving the State’s high school graduation rate.  The measure, called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), shows New Mexico’s 54% success rate is one of the worst in the United States, which has an average graduation rate of 70%).

There are a number of reasons for the low scores.  For example, culturally, there isn’t a rich history of formal education.  It isn’t uncommon for some graduates to be the first in their family to get a diploma.  Plus there are changing family dynamics that find grandparents raising their children’s children.   Some would see those reasons as excuses… it is just reality.

The sad reality that the PED has failed is seen in many ways.  The most glaring is how it has left behind the most vulnerable special needs children. Looking at the 2008-09 school year only 4% of the State’s special needs population were proficient.  As a benchmark, the same group had 6% proficiency just four years earlier… aren’t you suppose to improve over time?

So, now that New Mexico’s chief executive officer has received the coveted “America’s Greatest Education Governor Award”, presented last month by the National Education Association, it is good to know we are finally seeing some measureable initiative to combat this problem that “suddenly” appeared.

Two days after the PED released the information, the Governor announced a plan to recapture as many as 10,000 drop outs, establish committees/taskforces and create brochures.  The Reader’s Digest version, it is an aggressive truancy and top heavy bureaucratic approach which is the same as trying to get toothpaste back into the tube.  He is focusing on the students who don’t want to be there instead of giving attention and resources to those who are in school.  The squeaky wheel isn’t even getting the grease (and it is $2.4 billion of taxpayer grease each year)!

Terry Abbott, when he served as director of communications for Houston ISD (and later US Secretary of Education) Rod Paige, would have an approach he called the “its much worse” strategy.  In this particular case, the approach would acknowledge the low graduation rate but then focus on something that was “much worse”, like the fact that after years of hard work only 4% of 11th grade students with disabilities are proficient in math.  He would then outline the plan to increase proficiencies and “define” the issue, instead of a headline writer setting the agenda.

Delivering “bad” news is expected when State government is involved.  The lesson learned here, provide workable and reasonable solutions when the problems are first identified, not four years after the fact.

Image: New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson accepting the NEA’s “America’s Greatest Education Governor Award”… thank you NEA for this “priceless moment”

Credit: Thanks to twitter for coining “Cash for Flunkers” on this issue

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