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A Close Call

I read an article today and thought, “My blogging days are over.” You see, less than twenty-four hours had lapsed since I expressed my disbelief that Governor Richardson was taking credit for improving education. At the time, I had been reasonably confident in my criticism. I just didn’t see how Richardson could get away with proclaiming a better education system during the same year it was announced that New Mexico had clinched the title of the Dumbest State for third year in a row. Granted, his ability to spin is right up there with the best of them, but I have to believe that even Governor Bill Richardson has his limits. That was until I read this in the New Mexico Business Weekly:

Governor Bill Richardson has praised a new national report card that rates New Mexico’s standards, assessments and school accountability as among the best in the nation.

The Quality Counts 2005 report, an Education Week/Pew Charitable Trusts report on national education released this week, shows that teacher quality in New Mexico has improved for the last two years — and has jumped from 30th to 17th since Gov. Richardson took office.

There it was in black and white — improvement. Maybe I was all wrong about the guy on the fourth floor. I was starting to feel somewhat Ratheresque, but I knew I must keep reading.

The report also found that New Mexico ranked 7th for its academic standards and received a grade of A, with an overall score of 94 out of 100. The state ranked 17th for its efforts to improve teacher quality, the report said. In this category, New Mexico received a grade of B-, with an overall score of 81.

There were no “emerging” grades here. A’s and B’s are the stuff that make parents proud. I remember that from my school days. It was definitely looking bad for me. My dreams of blogger glory were beginning to fade away. The 21 days spent pounding on an unforgiving keyboard would haunt me into the sunset of my life. As painful as it was, I could not stop reading.

Other categories of assessment included equity of resources, in which the state ranked 12th nationally, with a score of 83, and education spending, in which the state ranked 19th in the country.

The report also credited New Mexico for its new three-tiered licensure system, signed into law by Gov. Richardson in 2003. It noted that New Mexico is one of only three states to require that parents be notified in writing if their child is taught by a person who is not qualified to teach the grade or subject.

Well, that seemed to settle it. I was finished. I was confident that it would not be long before a rapid succession of posts in the blogosphere would extinguish what little dignity I had left. I pushed away from my computer a broken man.

Fourteen and a half minutes later the shock and remorse had passed, and I began to embark on my new life. A life without blogging. Yet, something from my past was gnawing at me… At first I couldn’t figure out what it might be. I decided to do a little online research. You know, one last hurrah for old times sake.

First stop was the Education Week (registration) website. Yes, I had decided that to achieve closure I needed to come face to face with the study which was the cause of my untimely blogger demise. I clicked through to the New Mexico summary, and I saw that the NMBW staff had not erred. I was about to finish when something caught my eye. Could this be right? I downloaded the Excel worksheet and sorted the numbers. On fourth and eighth grade math scores New Mexico was 49 out of 50 states. On fourth and eighth grade reading scores New Mexico was 50 out of 50 states.

It was like a great weight had been lifted. Now I understood the confusion. The Governor, Education Week and the Pew Charitable Trusts consider education improvement to consist of:

  • spending more money
  • creating standards, assessments and accountabilities
  • letting parents know that unqualified people are teaching their children
  • devising a new three-tiered licensure system

On the other hand, every New Mexico parent and employer considers education improvement to occur when students perform better in school. I am a parent and a business owner, so it is not surprising that I was unfamiliar with the Governor’s metric for measuring success.

Now I would be remiss if I did not point out that two of the state’s failing grades were considered “statistically significant” improvements by the “Quality Counts” standards. This made me chuckle as I pictured my kids in eighth grade coming home to declare, “Hey Dad, I got another “F” on my math test, but Governor Richardson said you should be proud of my statistically significant improvement.

Looks like I’ll live to blog another day.