A Multicultural framework can improve outcomes for NM schools

by Rosemary Carasco, published in the Carlsbad Current Argus

The most notable part of the legislative debate on education funding this year was not the typical partisan bickering but the universal agreement that we can’t keep spending money on the same things that haven’t been working.

We must do better for all students in New Mexico, and from my perspective as an educator in a public school classroom, the solution is not a mystery. We know what works – it’s an approach to education that reflects the diversity of cultures, languages and identities in New Mexico. We have classrooms and schools across our state that are succeeding, where all students, regardless of their family’s economic situation or cultural background, are learning and having their needs met. The answer is to replicate these successful models by ensuring that all schools, educators and students have access to the resources they need to improve outcomes.

Two-thirds of New Mexico students are Hispanic or Native American and many speak a language other than English at home. My training in teaching English and Spanish to speakers of other languages is an asset to all my students. I’m better able to meet students where they are, and I strive to bring diverse cultural references into my lesson-planning. Adopting a more culturally relevant approach to teaching has been shown to be a win-win for all students. Numerous studies have found that a multicultural curriculum benefits both non-English speaking and English-speaking students.

My classroom is a learning environment, centered upon the cultural and linguistic assets of my students. But in reality, not every student in our state has access to a bilingual program, and they may not have language role models when learning Spanish. I want every classroom across our state to be a place where being bilingual is the norm. Studies show that being bilingual has many cognitive benefits, why wouldn’t we want this for our students.

The legislature took a step in the right direction this year by boosting funding for public education, channeling more funding toward students from economically vulnerable families, increasing teacher salaries and providing more professional development opportunities for educators on culturally and linguistically responsive education.

But there is much more to be done. The legislature did not go nearly far enough to ensure success. New Mexico needs to take a comprehensive approach to funding a range of programs and services proven to improve student outcomes, including: ensuring teaching is tailored to the unique cultural and linguistic needs of our students;

covering culturally and linguistically appropriate instruction materials for the classroom;

investing enough in our educators to attract and retain new teachers and expand their qualifications; providing preschool to all four-year-olds; providing extended learning opportunities to all children who need them; ensuring social services, counseling, health care and literacy specialists are available to all students who need them and providing enough buses and removing other barriers so all students have the opportunity to participate in after school and summer programs.

Transforming New Mexico’s education system and providing better outcomes for all students means investing in programs that we know work. We have wonderful examples of success across our state. Scaling that success will require an ongoing commitment across communities and school districts, the state administration and legislature to live up to our responsibility to all of New Mexico’s children.

Rosemary Carasco is a bilingual teacher at Carlsbad Municipal Schools.