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.