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State residents unhappy with direction of education, leadership of boards

Well over half of New Mexicans feel pessimistic about the direction of the state’s public education system and many aren’t thrilled with the job their local school boards are doing either.

Those are some of the findings of a public opinion poll commissioned by a consortium of education groups and conducted last August.

The poll also showed significant support for school turnarounds that include replacing school leaders and staff, but less appetite for closing schools altogether. 

The generally downbeat assessment about public schools and their governance cuts across racial, socioeconomic, gender, age and geographical lines. More charter school parents, however, are complimentary of the education their children receive (62 percent) than are parents of students in district-run schools (32 percent). 

But charter parents take a dimmer view of district-run schools than do parents whose children attend district schools. That’s the case with Stephanie Porter, a resident of Albuquerque’s low-income International District, whose second-grade daughter attends Whittier Elementary School.

Whittier, until recently one of the struggling Albuquerque Public Schools’ most low-performing schools, has been involved in a turnaround in recent years that is beginning to show strong results. Porter said she is thrilled with her daughter’s educational experience there, even as she is aware of the district’s overall struggles. 

“I am only one of the few parents who is satisfied with APS because I have a fantastic principal and fantastic staff at Whittier,” she said. “But the problem I see is that kids need more social-emotional support. The teachers are having to function a lot of the time as social workers, and it’s disrupting learning. I wish that my school would receive more funding from the district.”

Porter also said she is feeling positive about the APS board, which elected a new majority last year favoring a change in direction. “The new school board members seem to really care about the students and student outcomes and want to refocus on that,” she said.

Here are some poll details:

Asked whether education in New Mexico is headed in the right direction or gotten off track, 61 percent of respondents said it has gotten off track, with just 28 percent saying it is headed in the right direction. One-third of Hispanic respondents gave a positive response, while just 23 percent of white respondents did.

Geographically, the highest negative responses were in northwest New Mexico, where just 15 percent of respondents said education is headed in the right direction. In Albuquerque Metro, only 20 percent said education was moving in the right direction.

Asked on a scale of 1 to 5 whether the local school board was not effective at all (1) or very effective (5) 36 percent of respondents statewide gave their board a 1 or 2, while 23 percent answered with a 4 or 5. Just over a third of respondents ranked their board in the middle – a 3.

There weren’t significant variations across subgroups.

On the issue of improving schools that are struggling, 70 percent of respondents agreed that the state should move aggressively to turn around the lowest-performing schools by replacing principals and staff and providing additional funding. Just 13 percent disagreed.

The strongest support – 79 percent – came from people with a high school education or less. By contrast, 59 percent of people with graduate degrees expressed support.

Only 46 percent of respondents supported more draconian measures, including closing down a school altogether and repurposing the building to meet a community need. Older respondents favored this approach more heavily: 60 percent of people 65 and older were in favor, while just 43 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds approved.

Across the political spectrum, respondents supported an easy-to-understand state school rating system. The system in place in New Mexico was dismantled shortly after Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, took office in 2019. Three-quarters of Democrats (74 percent), however, favor a rating system, as do 73 percent of Republicans and78 percent of independents.

Pollsters conducted phone interviews of 601 New Mexicans in August, and the poll has a margin of error of 4 percent. 

It was commissioned by NewMexicoKidsCAN, Public Charter Schools of New Mexico, Excellent Schools New Mexico, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, and Teach Plus New Mexico. It touched on a range of issues, including perceptions of the quality of education in New Mexico and perceptions of and support for charter schools.

You can read previous NewMexico Education stories on poll results here and here.