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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Helen Davis Guest Blog: Stop Susana Martinez's So-Called 'Retention' Bill

This is a guest blog by Helen Davis, who is a longtime community leader and neighborhood leader from Las Cruces.

At a time when the New Mexico State Legislature is in special session to address the thorny question of redistricting for the next decade, Governor Susana Martinez has decided to load up the agenda with terrible bills that failed the regular legislative session. Among these bad legislative proposals is a bill that mandates the taking away of parental rights from New Mexico parents. The bill in question, which addresses 3rd Grade retention, is SB 23 -- sponsored by Democratic Senator John Arthur Smith and Republican Representative Nora Espinoza.

This bill, as proposed, is a governmental mandate to take away parents’ rights regarding their 3rd grade children. It mandates the retention of all 3rd grade children who don’t make a specific score on the state-mandated test on the NM Standard Based Assessments, regardless of parents’ desires.

For a governor who claims she was elected to do away with regulations and to reduce the cost of state government, Governor Martinez is working  hard to add restrictive and very expensive government regulations to the taxpayers of our state and to place an additional burden on families and schools. Worst of all, the bill does not help our children. We should not be using this special session of the legislature and be rushing to pass bad legislation that further burdens New Mexico schools and strips parents of their rights.

Demand Answers
New Mexico’s parents and taxpayers are right to question the motives behind SB 23. Among the questions we as parents, voters, and taxpayers should be demanding answers to are the following:

  • Why is Governor Martinez trying to deny parents’ rights through new government mandates?
  • The Governor says that it is unfair to children to pass them on to higher grades if they are not “proficient.” What exactly constitutes “proficiency?” Our proficiency level is set by the Public Education Department (PED) and those numbers and rubric can be changed at a bureaucratic whim.
  • Our current level of proficiency is set higher than 45 other states according to Education Secretary Designate Hanna Skandara, as stated at a meeting with the Las Cruces Board of Education. Is it her intent to punish children who are more “proficient,” according to her statistics, than most children in the US?
  • Years of family and education research have shown that retention is harmful to children; and there is no research to show that it is helpful. Why is Secretary-designate Skandara insisting on pushing harmful laws onto our children?
  • If a child has been retained before 3rd grade and then is mandated, because of one standardized 3rd grade score, to be retained again, how many 10 to 11 year olds will be in 3rd grade, burdening the system?
  • Retaining older students strains the system in terms of class sizes, and contributes to other problems such as bullying.
  • Since mandated retention will mean that more students will reach age 18, the age in New Mexico when they can leave school, in their sophomore and junior year, will our efforts to reduce the drop-out rate be further compromised?
  • There is no state support attached to the bill. Governor Martinez says local school districts will pay for this. Is this yet another unfunded mandate that will cost school districts millions of dollars, already overstretched in the current economic climate, with financial demands on local budgets they don’t have?

There are far too many questions about SB 23, and far too little honest deliberation on its implications to pass such onerous legislation in this special session. Furthermore, if we know something is harmful to children, as SB 23 clearly is, and we mandate this legislation, undercutting the local parents and educators, then is our state simply engaging in a form of child abuse?

Call Legislators!
I think the answer is clear. We should call our state representatives and state senator and ask them not to support this misguided legislation. You can reach them at the state capitol switchboard (505) 986-4600. Ask for their office and leave a message with their secretary. Your elected representatives need to hear from you.

This is a guest blog by Helen Davis. To submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.

September 18, 2011 at 06:41 AM in Education, Guest Blogger, NM Legislature Redistricting 2011, Susana Martinez | Permalink


I also have a couple of questions. Is Skandera's prior connection to Florida and Jeb Bush the real bottom line behind this legislation? How much does Jeb's tutoring business benefit from contracts to be let as a result of this government mandate?

I want children to read well, but I think we need more information about the real nuts and bolt$ of this effort. I think we have been told only a portion of the truth about this plan.

Posted by: bg | Sep 18, 2011 5:14:30 PM

I'm no fan of the Governor, and I agree that the special session is no place to address this issue but I think just passing kids on through the school system without ensuring that they are ready to take the next step does far more harm than good. Where is the evidence that retaining students is harmful? Sure, if the parents are only concerned about the social aspect of school than maybe they'd want their child just promoted without having learned what is necessary but I'm more interested in making sure that our kids are able to participate and succeed in society. There is far more evidence that social promotion leads to even greater problems in future grades and if student educational deficiencies are addressed when they are young they only magnify. NM needs to seriously look at our educational system and the Governor needs to take that seriously, but the kneejerk reaction that retaining students is bad for them isn't helping these students either. And, yes, I'm a former school teacher.

Posted by: Vieja | Sep 19, 2011 7:54:20 AM

There are other and better ways to provide specialized attention to students than holding them back a grade to get them up to snuff on reading level. Holding them back has been proven to have a detrimental affect on students and many often end up as drop outs. These students who need help can be identified and given extra help that studies have proven works better than keeping them back.

If we hold back students and cram them in with kids already in that grade we create classrooms with too many kids and it costs more money than targeted help.

Posted by: Ms. Teacher | Sep 19, 2011 12:09:14 PM