We need multicultural approach to transform education in New Mexico

by Victoria Tafoya, published in the Las Cruces Sun-News

LAS CRUCES – The Legislative Education Study Committee roadshow heads to Santa Teresa High School this week where it will hear from educators and researchers about the benefits of a multicultural approach in improving student outcomes.

This year, the legislature has a chance to get us closer to the moonshot that we all want by designing an education system that puts student learning first. The system must be rooted in the linguistic and cultural assets of our New Mexico communities and provide the teaching environment and resources necessary for our students to succeed in school.

There is much work to do. The 2019 Kids Count Data Book released last week ranks New Mexico last for child well-being. Our education system fails our kids for two primary reasons. First, the state does not provide the resources necessary for teachers and students to succeed. And second, the state has not shifted investment to the programs and services we know work for improving outcomes.

Earlier this year the legislature failed to pass critical bills, including legislation to establish universal Pre-K, address the unique needs of English language learners, Native American students and children from low-income families, and provide the funding, wraparound services and instruction students need to be ready for college and careers.

Two-thirds of New Mexico students are Hispanic or Native American and many speak a language other than English at home. 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.

Most importantly, we need teachers who can tailor their approach to the unique cultural and linguistic needs of our students. That means more bilingual teachers and teachers trained to teach speakers of other languages to meet students where they are. It means investing in workforce development to attract and retain more teachers ready to provide culturally and linguistically responsive education. It means promoting bilingualism, because we know the many cognitive benefits for all students, English-language learners and English-speaking students alike.

My hope for the legislators who travel to southern New Mexico this week is that they will really listen. That they won’t settle for the same old approach to education in New Mexico or look for excuses for the shortcomings of our education system. Our children are too important.

Especially at this moment, when state coffers are full of oil and gas tax revenue, we need to live up to our responsibility to the next generation. We must invest in what works: a new approach to education that reflects the diversity of cultures, languages and identities in New Mexico.

Here’s a starting point for the legislature to demonstrate its commitment to kids and a prosperous New Mexico for all:

  • Provide preschool to all 4-year-olds.
  • Provide extended learning opportunities to all children who need them.
  • Ensure social services, counseling, health care and literacy specialists are available to all students who need them.
  • Invest enough in our educators to attract and retain new teachers and expand their qualifications.
  • Cover culturally and linguistically appropriate instruction materials for the classroom.
  • Provide enough buses so all students have the opportunity to participate in after school and summer programs.
  • Ensure teaching is tailored to the unique cultural and linguistic needs of our students.

Victoria Tafoya is the project manager for Transform Education NM.