This story is a staff report from The Paper.

The Public Education Department has adopted a rule to replace the state’s outdated social studies standards for public schools, concluding a months-long process involving hundreds of New Mexico stakeholders to update what students learn about the changing world.

The rule, which establishes academic content and performance standards for social studies for kindergarten through 12th grade, was adopted on Feb. 10. The new standards will not be implemented in classrooms until the 2023-2024 school year. 

Goals were to include historic events and social changes that have occurred since the last update in 2009 and to ensure that all children see themselves reflected in culturally and linguistically responsive classrooms where the rich backgrounds and perspectives of all New Mexicans come alive.

“The new social studies standards are a celebration of the best in public education. They demonstrate historical accuracy and, most importantly, provide the framework for educators and students to engage in meaningful discourse about the story of ourselves and our future,” said Deputy Secretary Gwen Perea Warniment.

The adopted changes incorporate updates based on feedback received during a 45-day public comment period, including 2,900 pages of written feedback and more than five hours of oral comments given during a public hearing on Nov. 12 which got quite heated.

“We are incredibly grateful to the many New Mexicans who got involved in this important process. That includes the teachers from across the state who stepped up to write and edit the standards and the many parents and community members who provided valuable feedback that we’ve incorporated into this final, improved version,” Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus said. “Together, we’ve given our kids what they deserve, which are the highest standards possible.” 

While the state establishes standards that serve as a framework for academic instruction, local school boards and governing boards will determine how students achieve the learning goals.

Standards for academic disciplines are typically updated every 10 years to keep up with new discoveries and developments in the discipline as well as historical events. For example, the new social studies standards include – where age-appropriate – three presidential administrations since 2009, the death of Osama Bin Laden and a worldwide recession.

“These revisions provide a structure for introducing historically accurate information in our social studies classrooms that values the perspectives and backgrounds of all New Mexico students,” said Jacqueline Costales, the Public Education Department’s director of Curriculum and Instruction. 

Public feedback resulted in three major changes to the standards: the inclusion of personal financial literacy; language revision throughout to be more concise, cohesive and balanced; and editing throughout to assure the standards describe high-level expectations without suggesting curriculum – the strategies educators employ to teach standards. 

“New Mexico will now join 45 states that have adopted strong personal finance standards,” said Abenicio Baldonado, Education Reform director for Think New Mexico. “Our students will not only benefit from learning how to manage their own finances but will also bring these skills home to their parents, grandparents and other family members, helping to combat intergenerational poverty.”

The revision process began in July 2020, when the Public Education Department convened a committee of statewide stakeholders, including experts in the social studies disciplines, representatives from New Mexico higher education institutions, and tribal and Diné education representatives, to identify areas that needed updating and establish core principles for the work. 

The department then appointed a writing committee of 61 New Mexico social studies teachers in K-12 schools from across the state who responded to an open call to participate. The writers completed their work in late summer and the proposed rule was submitted Sept. 1, followed by the 45-day public comment period.

“During the revision work, I, alongside amazing educators from all walks of life, took the time to dig deep into the feedback we received from the public,” said Janisse Vasquez, a teacher at The ASK Academy in Rio Rancho who served on the writing and revision teams. “We appreciated hearing from all viewpoints and taking into consideration everything the public and fellow educators had to say about what makes strong standards. In the end, with much work, we were able to revise the standards and create a product all stakeholders are proud to implement.” 

The Public Education Department next will work with school boards, governing councils and tribal education leaders to develop and implement site-specific curricula and professional development for classroom teachers.