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PED graduation requirements proposal dilutes quality of education

Editor’s note: This article was written by Abenicio Baldonado. He is Education Reform Director of the statewide, results-oriented think tank Think New Mexico. Baldonado is a graduate of Robertson High School in Las Vegas, and a former civics and government teacher at Tierra Encantada and legislative liaison for the Public Education Department.

The Public Education Department (PED) recently unveiled a proposed redesign of New Mexico’s high school curriculum. That plan rejected the ideas of including personal finance and civics as high school graduation requirements, and it proposed to shift courses in government, economics, and New Mexico History from requirements to optional electives.

While students should have space to explore different topics, this proposal raises the question: How does a high school student develop interest in a subject without being exposed to it?

According to an article in the Albuquerque Journal (“New Graduation Conditions Mulled,” 6/16/22), the proposed changes were “developed with the help of working groups made up of around a quarter of PED staff across different bureaus.”

While expert input is helpful, the PED should also involve students, parents, and teachers prior to rolling out recommendations.

These stakeholders might note the value that these courses provide to students, which is reflected in the fact that a large majority of states have made them graduation requirements.

For example, 29 states have made personal finance a graduation requirement, with 21 of them adding it in the last decade. This month, Michigan became the 14th state to guarantee a personal finance course to all high school students prior to graduation. Fifteen other states require personal finance to be taught within another course, such as economics.

Here in New Mexico, personal finance has been offered as an elective for many years, yet only about 11% of students actually take the course. A recent poll conducted by the National Endowment for Financial Education found that 88% of U.S. adults think their state should require a semester or year-long course focused on personal finance education for high school graduation.

Furthermore, 80% of U.S. adults say they wish they had been required to complete a course focused on personal finance education during high school.

Similarly, the PED proposal to move economics from a required course to an optional elective means that many students will not learn the analytical tools they need to understand events in the economy that directly affect them. Twenty-five states require students to take a course in economics to graduate and four integrate economics into another course.

By making civics an optional course, the PED risks failing to teach students about the rights and obligations of citizens, the role of government, and the origins of our democracy. According to the Center for American Progress, public trust in government is at only 18%. Voter participation in June’s primary election was 25%.

Clearly, teaching civics to every student is more important than ever. Civics education is required through some sort of coursework in 41 states.

New Mexico History provides an opportunity to address the findings in the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit by offering instruction that is culturally relevant to Hispanic and Native American students. New Mexico History provides students with a better understanding of the origins and complexity of New Mexico’s contemporary challenges.

Yet the PED is proposing to make this course optional as well.

The value of a New Mexico high school diploma relative to other states has been a longstanding concern, with many graduates finding that they must take remedial courses in college and are behind students from other states. Watering down New Mexico’s high school graduation requirements would take our public schools in the opposite direction from the majority of states, and the wrong direction for student success.

Readers who believe that personal finance, economics, civics, government, and New Mexico History belong in New Mexico’s high school curriculum can go to Think New Mexico’s website at www.thinknewmexico.org and contact legislators and the governor to get their voices heard.