Reader View: Retention an expensive use of education dollarsBy Edward Tabet-Cubero | Posted: Saturday, November 23, 2013 7:00 pm
The New Mexican’s Nov. 13 editorial, “Focus on reading, not just retention,” was on target and merits further discussion with additional consideration of our unique New Mexico context.
The current administration’s relentless focus on bringing Jeb Bush’s failed Florida reforms to New Mexico is questionable at best. As Lew Wallace once wrote, “All calculations, based on experience elsewhere, fail in New Mexico.” Seventy-one percent of New Mexico public school students are linguistically and/or culturally diverse. The English learner and Hispanic student populations are the fastest-growing sub-groups of students in U.S. schools, and as a minority-majority state, New Mexico looks today what much of the country is projected to look like in the near future.
Therefore, New Mexico has to get it right when it comes to educating these students. We have supportive legislation such as our Hispanic Education Act and Bilingual Multicultural Education Act, both of which call on the Public Education Department to build upon our students’ linguistic and cultural assets. An educational approach that builds on our state’s diverse assets has the potential to position New Mexico as a leader in minority student education. Unfortunately, the Martinez administration, under the leadership of Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera, continues to take not only a deficit approach but a punitive one as well toward our state’s diverse students.
The research is clear. Mandatory retention does not work. It punishes students for a system that failed to meet their needs in the first place and has an inequitably detrimental impact on students of color. Recent publications by the RAND Corp. as well as the American Association of School Psychologists make these negative effects resoundingly clear:
1) Retained students are more likely to be male, minority, live in poor households and come from single-parent families.
2) Some studies showed brief academic improvement in the years immediately following retention, but those gains were “short-lived and tend[ed] to fade over time.”
3) There is a negative relationship between retention and subsequent academic achievement for all demographic groups.
4) Retained students are much more likely to drop out of school, less likely to attend college, and have lower overall earnings than their non-retained peers.
5) Grade retention is a very costly intervention.
A quick analysis of New Mexico Standards Based Assessment data shows that mandatory retention is sure to impact minority students at unequal rates, with only 11 percent of Anglo students scoring at the lowest level of proficiency on the Reading NMSBA, compared with 25 percent to 35 percent of Hispanic, African American, American Indian and English Language Learner students scoring at this level. The governor’s proposal would only perpetuate the achievement gap for these underserved students, and with higher numbers of minority students being retained, it would result in de-facto segregation.
One only need to look as far as Chicago Public Schools, where a mandatory retention policy’s impact on students of color drew a federal Department of Justice investigation, or to North Carolina, where the state completely did away with the policy because it did not have “the intended effect.”
Forcing struggling readers to repeat a year of the same instruction that didn’t work for them in the first place seems like a poor use of our limited education dollars. An alternative to punishing 8-year-old children for the “failure” of the state education system would be to invest the funds in early childhood education, provide additional training and support for teachers to improve their practice, teach students to read in a linguistic and cultural context they can relate to, engage parents in their children’s literacy development, and provide early culturally and linguistically appropriate interventions.
It’s time the governor and the secretary-designate stop politicizing the education of our youth by acquiescing to outside influences and begin engaging local experts and educators with experience in New Mexico to identify solutions that work for our unique context.
Edward Tabet-Cubero, a dual-language expert, is with the Coalition for the Majority and lives in Santa Fe. The group advocates for the rights of all children in eduation.
01Wed Dec 25 16:14:39 MST 2013