Hanna Skandera’s Reforms Cause More Than 'Discomfort'

Education Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera recently wrote an editorial to the Albuquerque Journal stating more untruths, vague ideas, and plenty of blame against those who are questioning her initiatives.  She suggests that there will be some “discomfort” during her period of reforms.  I suggest that discomfort isn’t the problem; what we’re fighting against is the actual damage being done.

She does have the politician thing down pretty well.  She takes all the credit for gains in New Mexico (which were beginning to happen before she chose to grace us with her presence), she touts her ideas as the only things that can possibly work (although they are all based on shoddy research), and she calls parents and teachers “special interest” groups that care more about themselves than we do our own children.  This is nothing new; parents in New York State were recently insulted in much the same way.  Skandera just seems to be a little softer-spoken.

I won’t respond to the first half of Skandera’s editorial, since it mostly cherrypicks test data that she cites to point to her victory.  I will speak to the following statement she made toward the end of the data-worship:

“...as long as everyone can agree the primary goal is to improve student achievement, there is no reform that should be dismissed.”

First of all, we don’t all agree that “student achievement” should be the primary goal; we believe that student personal growth and student success are the primary goals of a public education, and not in terms of only test scores.  “Achievement” is a word that has changed meanings in order to make it sound as though more and more testing can actually make kids learn more.  It can’t.  It doesn’t.  Skandera uses student test scores for one purpose only: to make sure that teachers are teaching to her tests.

No, parents and teachers want our kids to be happy, thoughtful, collaborative, well-spoken, literate, deep-thinking, and problem-solving people who are ready to join the world and move things forward.  Skandera’s system seeks to make sure our kids are trained to fit into a world that has been preset for them, based on their “achievement” scores against narrow standards.

There is no true debate here, folks.  Parents, teachers, and students -- the people who live public education and are increasingly feeling the lashes of Skandera’s initiatives every day -- know that this isn’t working and is harming our kids’ future outlooks.  And then there’s Skandera, who refuses to talk to any of us directly, and instead uses public media to attempt to discredit us.  That’s not debate.  Seeing that her budget calls for increasing state control over education, rather than local district control, we can see that she doesn’t want to or need to listen or debate.  She’s just there to control.

It won’t work.  We are on the side of right because we are on the side of kids.  Despite all of her feel-good language and talking points, Skandera has no idea what good education or strong learning looks like.  She was trained and paid to do a job--rank our kids in preparation for a corporate workforce and slowly work to close our public schools and get rid of our public teachers.  And it is an important fact that she has never been a classroom teacher.

Skandera’s final point is that New Mexico should be worried since we are “at the bottom.”  There’s one major factor that she will never talk about, regardless of the research and data put in front of her: we are on the top of the kids-living-in-poverty scale.  According to a recent report, 68% of NM public school students are living in poverty.  For a state education chief to call that an excuse for not getting great test scores shows just how short-sighted, naive, and unqualified she really is.

During her photo-op visits to schools around the state, the heat is on teachers to look their best.  Unfortunately, Skandera has no idea what to look for in order to see real, effective teaching and real, authentic learning.  She doesn’t have that background.  I do.  When I speak to teachers and visit classrooms (they still let me in!), I see dysfunction and stress as teachers and kids try to maintain under a crushing system of standardized and one-size-fits-all “achievement.”

This has gone on long enough.  Much of the damage that has been done will already take time to repair.  Some damage may be irreparable for many kids.  We can’t afford to allow people who know nothing about education to continue harming our children and the future of our state.  

Not only should we worry about our kids, but also the economic stability of our schools and state, as Skandera hemorrhages millions of dollars of state funds to outside vendors and corporations.  We don’t need that and we can’t afford it.  We have all the resources we need right here.  Let's educate our kids using the plentiful expertise and power we have as New Mexicans.  

Some may say that it hasn’t worked in the past and we need outside help.  I would argue that since 2002, all of the outside help to get all of our kids to “achieve” on standardized tests have done much more harm than good.  Teachers tried throughout this outside interference to stay on point, on task, and do what was best for kids.  Now, teachers are being punished by Skandera’s beloved NMTEACH program for continuing to care about their students, rather than invalid test scores.

We’re done.  We are parents, we are teachers, and we are students, and we want it back.  It’s time to put the “public” back into public education and kick out the corporate henchman that have come here to sell us off.

Our kids, our culture, and our future depend on it.

Please be sure to sign the petition here, asking state senators to vote against Skandera’s upcoming confirmation.

And contact your senators to let them know that she needs to go.

And then, refuse to let your kids take Skandera’s meaningless tests.


Views: 1141

Comment by shotsie on January 8, 2014 at 4:51pm

Actually, the best thing to do is to vote out Gov Martinez.... 

Comment by Kris Nielsen on January 8, 2014 at 4:56pm

You're right!  And getting Skandera (Martinez's pick) kicked out due to failed and harmful policies will make that just a bit easier.

Comment by Patrick on January 8, 2014 at 7:09pm

And vote in Alan Webber!  He has the most intelligent, pragmatic, optimistic solutions for addressing New Mexico's problems.  Calls it the iron triangle- better jobs/economy, improving education by supporting teachers, not scapegoating them, and addressing the huge issue of poverty, which is the elephant in the room no one wants to acknowledge, but majorly impacts our state:  http://alanfornm.com  Check out his campaign.  He also has a great interview on line with VB Price!

Comment by cc on January 8, 2014 at 8:02pm

Oh, thank you, thank you Kris Nielsen for this step by step analysis of the Skandera opinion article. You tell it like it is. This puts us further on our road to stopping this madness.

"When I speak to teachers and visit classrooms (they still let me in!), I see dysfunction and stress as teachers and kids try to maintain under a crushing system of standardized and one-size-fits-all “achievement.”"

Comment by cc on January 8, 2014 at 8:07pm

I also want to bring up Jack Bobroff, former APS Superintendent, who passed on a couple days ago. He was our very successful home-grown New Mexican. Your piece here Kris reminds us of the times pre-NCLB when love of learning was at the forefront, not test score achievement. Thanks for pointing out we have everything we need here in our own state to take care of our own.

Comment by Kris Nielsen on January 8, 2014 at 8:11pm

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, cc!  

Comment by bg on January 9, 2014 at 7:39am

Skandera's only goal is to rob the education budget and shift the money into the coffers of her friends (Jeb Bush et al). This is an ongoing plan to continue to gain access to the last big pots of public monies that have not yet been pried free by this band of crooks who have already stolen pensions, life savings and every other fund they have been able to sequester in their money grab. "Testing" is a means to that end. All the happy talk about children is her cover story. Don't be fooled.

Comment by K on January 10, 2014 at 8:46am

Yes . . . I firmly believe that the so called "reform" efforts via NCLB pushed by Skandera and Martinez are an attempt to destroy public education as we know it.  This has been a underlying strategy of the GOP through NCLB which blames teachers and their unions.  Through school grading based on test scores alone, they denigrate low performing schools ultimately promoting the avenues of charter schools, online internet schools and home schooling as an answer.  Also there is very little talk about spending $$ on very early childhood education programs for all which have proven to be effective(Oklahoma's model).  These programs can be effective in a state such as ours which has a high poverty rate.  Unfortunately, we dont have strong leadership on the other side of the isle to push back, make a stand, and take back our public schools for New Mexicans.  Thanks Kris for speaking truth to power.


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