Monday, February 17, 2014

The Fox and the Hounds: Hanna Skandera and the Attack on New Mexico's Schools

Copy of an e-mail I sent February 17, 2014 to the New Mexico State Senate Rules Committee concerning the confirmation hearings for New Mexico Secretary Designate of Education Hanna Skandera.

Honorable Senators:

My name is David Aram Wilson.  I was born right here in Santa Fe, just a few short blocks north of this great building.  I am speaking to you this morning as a teacher of 34 years; a 27-year veteran of New Mexico's public schools; a Tier III teacher for 12 years; a PhD student in Bilingual Education at the University of New Mexico; a part time instructor in UNM’s College of Education; a husband of a teacher; a brother and son of a teacher; a brother-in-law and son-in-law of teachers; and the father of two public school students.  In a word, I was born New Mexico and I am a qualified, licensed, and experienced educator. 

The same cannot be said of the secretary designate.  As you know, she possesses not even the minimum credentials for this office.  State law mandates the secretary of education be highly qualified and experienced.  She is neither.  She does not have a degree in education.  She has never been a teacher.  She has never been an educational assistant.  She has never been a school administrator.  In fact, she has never worked in any school in any capacity for any meaningful length of time.

Yet, despite these astonishing lack of credentials, she has been in Santa Fe for the last three years, unconfirmed, making educational policy as if she knew what she was doing.  Honorable Senators, she does not know what she is doing.  And for that reason the students and teachers in our public schools suffer more each day due to the misguided and damaging policies she promotes, often by circumventing the legislative process. 

Last year you heard testimony from the secretary designate’s advocates in the business community.  They claimed that everyone, including her, is essentially a teacher, and therefore has the right and even the duty to determine education policy in New Mexico.  Senators, I am a teacher and I know teachers.  The secretary designate is not a teacher. Instead, she is an impostor whose illegitimate actions should not be validated by an affirmative vote of this committee.  

The secretary designate has stated recently that, contrary to the perceptions of thousands of educators in New Mexico, she is not their enemy but their friend.  Senators, she is not a friend of education and here are some of the reasons why:

No friend of public education would advocate assigning letter grades to schools based primarily on invalid and illegitimate test score data.  Some schools considered excellent by their students, parents, and teachers received Ds and Fs while others, considered no better or worse by their "constituents," received As and Bs.  What’s more, many of the A schools tend to have extremely low rates of poverty while all the F schools have the highest rates of poverty in the state.  The B, C and D schools tend to have rates of poverty commensurate with their letter grade.  If this isn’t blaming the victims, I don’t know what is. 

No friend of public education would advocate the wholesale retention of third graders who, according to dubious and subjective measures, are deemed "below grade" level in reading.  Nor would any friend of education deny parents the right to challenge a retention based solely on whether their child reads on grade level at an arbitrary point in time.  

No friend of public education would base teacher evaluations primarily on their students' standardized test scores.  The test companies themselves have emphasized that their tests were NEVER designed to evaluate teachers and should never be used for that purpose.  

No friend of public education would instruct principals to artificially evaluate teachers lower in the fall and higher in the spring in order to demonstrate growth over time and to prove that the growth occurred because of the evaluation process. Nor would any friend of education instruct principals to place the teachers in their schools on a bell curve so that the results of the evaluations correspond to the erroneous and ungrounded assumption that most of the teachers in the school are either merely “effective” or “minimally effective.”

No friend of education would advocate for merit pay for teachers based primarily on student test scores.  In Tennessee, where the only large scale, longitudinal study of merit pay was conducted, researchers found that, after the first year of implementation, teacher effectiveness actually decreased in successive years as teachers realized that the process was rigged in favor of teachers who cared not about teaching, but about teaching to the test and gaming the system. 

No friend of education would neglect, ignore, and disparage the educational needs of New Mexico's Hispanic, African American, Native American, immigrant, and non English speaking students. In a state that was the first minority-majority state and has the largest minority population per capita, her negative attitude and damaging actions toward these majority populations is astonishing.

No friend of education would submit proposal after proposal that directly contradicts what the preponderance of research has concluded about education policy and practice in New Mexico and beyond.  

No friend of public education would kowtow to business interests, such as Pearson, Achieve, the Gates, Broad, and Walmart Foundations, and the various initiatives of Jeb Bush's Chiefs for Change, of which the secretary designate is a member, that seek to siphon enormous amounts of public money destined for public schools and redirect that money to private or semi private educational institutions in which they may have a financial interest.  

No friend of education would hold artificial, "kangaroo court" -style hearings around the state with the express purpose of promoting her misguided agenda while categorically denying the public the right to speak publicly about their concerns.   

No friend of education would attempt to coerce the state's 89 superintendents into signing a "petition" that would oblige them to uphold her dubious “reforms” known collectively as Students First, New Mexico Wins.  Thankfully, only a handful of superintendents signed the document, which is more evidence of the fact that the opposition to her confirmation extends into the highest reaches of New Mexico’s educational hierarchy.

The secretary designate is no friend of education.  Rather, she is the fox guarding the chicken coop that is Public Education in New Mexico.  We need a secretary of education who is highly qualified and experienced—as per state law—and who, instead of standing in judgment of teachers, stands in awe of them and everything they do.  Senators, I ask you, I implore you:  vote no on her confirmation.


Nuriana said...

Thank you very much Mr. David Aram Wilson, for writing such a Strong Letter!
Senators, we all ask you, vote no on her confirmation.

David A. Wilson said...

Thanks Nuriana!

Annette Hardin said...

Thank you for speaking out. So many of us agree!

David A. Wilson said...

Thanks Annette. Supporters of Skandera like to say that each teacher speaking against her speaks only for him or herself. I keep telling them, no; we speak for hundreds if not thousands of other teachers in NM!

Angelica Lopez said...

Thank you for saying what so many of us are thinking. Knowing that others feel the same gives me hope for change and encourages me to face another day in the classroom.

Unknown said...

Thank you, David, for writing this letter which speaks the truth for many teachers, including Native American teachers. Beautiful, excellently stated!

David A. Wilson said...

Your welcome, Angelica and "Unknown." Your own comments mean a lot to me, especially when I'm being told by "deformers" on a regular basis that I don't speak for other teachers. I know hundreds of teachers who speak for me every time they speak or write, and the same holds true when I speak or write. I speak for me, for you, and for thousands of others. Keep up the fight!

Cheryl A. said...

No truer words were ever spoken. Totally and completely. I invite Governor Martinez, SoE designate Skandera, and any other politician to come take over my job for 2 weeks. Not a publicity stunt, but REALLY do everything that is expected from me. Then, maybe, if they survived, just maybe they would become EDUCATED about education and what teaching REALLY is. Education is the only profession that has outsiders making mandates as "experts". Could I walk into a business and declare myself an "expert" because I shop? Same concept people. I've had surgery before, so does that mean you would trust me performing surgery on you? I doubt it. It shows such disrespect to professionals that have degrees, often multiple degrees, that work with and care for society's youth everyday.

David A. Wilson said...

Thank you Cheryl A.! Your words are encouraging. Speak out!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for saying what I have been thinking. While I have 30 years in New Mexico schools as a teacher with an excellent track record of student success, I NEVER taught the test or to the test as I see others doing. Furthermore, some of us are being evaluated on our absences, If we have a medical issue, and we miss more than 10 days per school year - we are considered highly ineffective. Even though one of our benefits is PTO, we are marked ineffective if we use it? What is going on? Thanks for speaking out . . .

David A. Wilson said...

Thanks Anonymous. I've never taught to the test, either. Teaching to the test is oxymoronic this year since what they're forcing us to teach (the CCSS) is not what is being tested (SBA, not aligned with the CCSS). As for the absences, it's just more harassment and intimidation. These people will not stop short of the complete destruction of the public schools, including their teachers. Keep up the fight!