Monday, October 26, 2015

Hillary and Bernie: No Hope for K-12 Public Education

          I did not watch the first Democratic debate on October 13, 2015.  However, I did read and listen to some of the analyses that followed.  Among the topics analyzed were income inequality, health care, the Iran nuclear deal, gun control, Black Lives Matter, foreign policy, Benghazi, health care, bank bailouts, the economy, and more. 
         But one thing I did not learn from the analyses was the candidates’ thoughts and proposals regarding K-12 education.  Why?  Because the topic was never addressed.  And why was it not addressed?  Because, incredibly, ever since No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was passed in 2001 with overwhelming bipartisan support, there has been virtual unanimity among both Democratic and Republican politicians on governmental and corporate education policy and “reforms.” Debate topics on which everyone already agrees tend not to contribute to an interesting and fruitful debate. 
         Nonetheless, I remained curious as to how the Democratic candidates stood on K-12 education, especially since millions of students, parents, and educators across the country have been extremely disappointed with the direction of K-12 education policy during the Obama years.  In the interest of time, space, and sensibility, I looked into the education proposals of only the Democratic frontrunners, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.  Specifically, I wanted to know if the election of either of them would hold any promise for a change of direction in national education policy over the last seven years.  The short answer is “no.”  
         Here is what I found.

Hillary Clinton

         Clinton’s website (www.hillaryclinton.com) lists three main objectives concerning K-12 public education.  I have read and re-read these objectives.  If anything stands out with her policies, it is her embrace of the corporate “reform” agenda and her ability to speak in codes coated with liberal rhetoric so as to cast that agenda as something any good and obedient liberal would support.  Here in a nutshell is the Good and mostly Bad Hillary on K-12 public education.

         Clinton “believes in making high quality education a priority for every child in America.”  Hillary supports continued annual high stakes tests.   She rationalizes this support as a civil rights issue.  As the “liberal” logic goes, high stakes tests are the only guaranteed way to bring to light and address the achievement gap between our most privileged students and our most non privileged students.  At the same time, however, she says there is too much testing, test prep, and narrowing of the curriculum due to the fact that only math and language arts are consistently tested.  Madame Secretary, you can’t have it both ways.  You cannot simultaneously support and assail high stakes tests and expect to be taken seriously by enlightened public school students, parents, and teachers.
        Clinton also supports “high academic standards for all children.”  This is code for the Common Core.  The Common Core are elite, inflexible, universal, whitewashed standards that address only math and language arts, and in a very narrow and prescriptive manner.  What’s more, the Common Core are tailored to the cultures and academic needs and interests of white, English speaking, middle class Americans and are therefore far removed from the academic needs and interests of bilingual children and children of color, many of whom are the very children Hillary purports to want to help with continued high stakes tests that are now linked directly to the Common Core standards.  Hillary’s support of the Common Core, therefore, demonstrates a lack of support for the 51% of children of color who now populate our public schools.

         Clinton “wants to support educators.”  Hillary believes we need more high quality educators.  This rhetoric plays directly into the unsubstantiated myth of the Super Teacher promoted by Bill Gates and other corporate reformers.  Those who believe that Super Teachers are the solution to the education “crisis” and the growing teacher shortage assume that it is bad teaching that led us to this perceived education crisis and this very real teacher shortage in the first place, and bad teaching that has kept us there. 
         Where will these Super Teachers come from?  Apparently, Clinton is convinced they are not currently teaching in our public schools.  She believes in recruiting the “best and the brightest” into the profession.  This is code for Teach For America and other teacher preparation programs designed more to enhance the resumés of their graduates than the scholastic achievement of the “at risk” students they attempt to teach for an average of two years before leaving the profession permanently for law school, medical school, or Wall Street. 
         According to teacher workforce expert Richard Ingersoll, recruiting new teachers from the best and the brightest college graduates—or from the worst and dimmest graduates, for that matter—misses the mark when it comes to addressing the chronic teacher shortages now sweeping the country.  Ingersoll has stated emphatically to anyone who will listen that it is far more effective to find ways to retain knowledgeable and experienced teachers than it is to recruit new teachers who, by definition, are far less experienced and knowledgeable and who have historically left the profession at rates of 50% before their first five years.  But the myriad school reforms begun under Presidents Reagan and Bush I with a Nation at Risk, continued under Hillary’s husband with Goals 2000, and under Presidents Bush II and Obama with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, have done more than anything else to drive the best, brightest, the most expert, and the most experienced veteran teachers from the profession.  If Hillary continues the education “reforms” of the past five presidents, there will be few knowledgeable and experienced veteran teachers to retain. 
         Hillary also supports more teacher “training.”  This is code for reformist brainwashing.  As any public school teacher can tell you, what used to be called professional development or collaboration is now called training.  Unlike professional development and collaboration of the past, which was controlled almost entirely by teachers, today’s “trainings” consist of school administrators and representatives from the corporate world taking over the agendas of teacher meetings and indoctrinating teachers with the latest corporate “reforms.”  Some really smart person once said:  Training is for animals; education is for people. 

         Clinton “wants to improve student outcomes.”   Yes, this is code for “outcomes based education,” the corporate reformers’ model for education.  Think widgets on an assembly line where all widgets are identical, proceed along the assembly line at the same speed, and all end up on the same shelves of Target or Wal-Mart.  Outcomes based education means curriculum is narrowed to include only subjects and lessons that produce finite and discreet quantitative answers that can be measured using standardized methods, such as high stakes tests.  What’s more, the outcomes are directly linked to teacher effectiveness, the assumption being, the greater the student achievement on standardized tests, the more effective the teacher, and vice versa.  No other factors are considered when it comes to determining student outcomes and teacher effectiveness; not poverty, language, immigration status, domestic violence, parents’ levels of education, the quality or existence of a school library, environmental dangers, school nutrition, length of daily recesses, etc.  It is all about teacher effectiveness as determined by standardized measures of student achievement.

Bernie Sanders

         Bernie Sanders’ main web page (www.berniesanders.com) lists the following as major campaign topics.  As you can see, K-12 pubic education is nowhere to be found.

Income and wealth inequality
College tuition debt
Big money and politics
Decent paying jobs
A living wage
Climate change and the environment
Racial and social justice
Fair and humane immigration policy
LGBT equality
Fighting for our veterans
Reforming Wall Street
Real family values
The Iran nuclear weapons deal

         After posting this list online, I received a tip from an educator and Sanders supporter who directed me to www.feelthebern.org.  Who knew?!  On that site, I found a rather in-depth discussion of K-12 public education that contained positions I, as an educator for over 30 years, both support and oppose.  I have therefore decided to discuss Sanders’ education proposals in terms of the Good Bernie I would support as opposed to the Bad Bernie I would oppose.

         Good Bernie.  Among the positions I support is Sanders’ opposition to the excessive testing and punitive practices of NCLB.  In his own words:
“I voted against [NCLB] in 2001, and continue to oppose the bill’s reliance on high-stakes standardized testing to direct draconian interventions. In my view, [NCLB] ignores several important factors in a student’s academic performance, specifically the impact of poverty, access to adequate health care, mental health, nutrition, and a wide variety of supports that children in poverty should have access to. By placing so much emphasis on standardized testing, [NCLB] ignores many of the skills and qualities that are vitally important in our 21st century economy, like problem solving, critical thinking, and teamwork, in favor of test preparation that provides no benefit to students after they leave school.”
Sanders’ website goes on to say “Instead of NCLB, Bernie has called for a more holistic method of education that gives teachers more flexibility and students more support systems.”
         Sanders also supports teachers’ unions, collective bargaining, and increased teacher pay.  He opposes all right-to-work legislation. 
         He is strongly opposed to private school vouchers which, as he correctly points out, redirect public funds to the private sector.  Furthermore, Sanders opposes income disparities between rich and poor districts and will work to reduce or eliminate those disparities, though he doesn’t say how the federal government might do this. 
         Sanders opposes the Student Success Act (SSA) which can be construed as a warmed over version of NCLB that includes many of the worst elements of RTTT and other Obama era “reforms,” including annual high stakes testing and the redirection of public funds to the private sector. 
         However,  like all complex bills in which political compromise is operative, the SSA contains many provisions my like minded colleagues and I would consider positive, such as alternative assessments for students with severe disabilities, relabeling “limited English proficient students” as “English language learners,” and a prohibition on federal government coercion as a means to force states to adopt national standards and curricula.  In opposing the SSA, Sanders is also opposing provisions within it that address elements of NCLB he finds the most objectionable. 
         Finally, Sanders supports the expansion of after school programs.

         Bad Bernie.  One area in Sanders’ education policy where I have some concerns is his support of privately run “public” charter schools, although he tempers his support of them with admonishments regarding accountability and transparency, two areas where many charter schools are woefully inadequate.  
         Another area of concern is Sanders’ continued support of annual high stakes standardized testing.  While he does say that testing has become excessive, he does not question the validity of the tests for measuring student achievement.  Nor does he question their usefulness to classroom teachers.  Educators across the country see no good at all in privately funded, off-the-shelf, standardized measures of achievement and would prefer they be abolished altogether.  There is no indication on Sanders’ website that he would support the abolition of high stakes standardized tests.
         The Bad Bernie becomes more evident in a recent vote on the Senate floor.  In July of this year Sanders and most of his Democratic colleagues voted in favor of the Murphy Amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act.  According to education expert and blogger Mercedes Schneider, this amendment would have revived or worsened the worst and most punitive elements of NCLB.  Needless to say, this does not square with Sanders’ vociferous opposition to the legacy of NCLB.  At the very least is represents political ignorance; at worse, hypocrisy.
         But perhaps my greatest concern about Sanders’ education policy is his support of the Common Core.  His own website states,
While Bernie has neither outright endorsed nor opposed the Common Core, he voted in early 2015 against an anti-Common Core amendment that would “prohibit the federal government from ‘mandating, incentivizing, or coercing’ states into adopting Common Core or any other standards.”
Without going into a discussion about the Common Core, let me just say that his opposition to the anti-Common Core amendment is indeed an endorsement of the Common Core.  What’s more, his support of the Common Core stands to undermine many of his other positions on education, including his support of children living in poverty, an expanded curriculum, reduction in standardized testing, and so on.  Like the opt-out movement, opposition to the Common Core cuts across partisan lines:  it appeals as much to Tea Party conservatives as it does to those on the liberal left, albeit for very different reasons.  If Sanders’ were to oppose the Common Core, he could win votes from across the political spectrum.  The Common Core is a rapidly sinking vessel.   Sanders would do well to jump ship now.

Conclusion


          My liberal, Democratic colleagues and I have been very, very disappointed with President Obama’s education policies and have spent most of his presidency fighting them.  Neither Clinton’s nor Sanders’ education proposals differ much from those of Obama (or from those of most of the Republican candidates, for that matter). We are equally disappointed with the myriad issues neither candidate addresses or on which neither takes a stand:  the growing parent-student opt out movement, punitive teacher evaluations, school grading, teacher "merit" pay, the needs and rights of English language learners and bilingual education, culturally responsive curricula, and so on.  These are the issues teachers, parents, and students are most concerned about.  These are the very issues that the candidates seem to be ignoring even in their inchoate attempts to address K-12 education.
          Consequently, if either of Clinton or Sanders is elected president, we cannot expect much change from Obama's education agenda.  Instead, we will very likely have to prepare ourselves for at least four more years of the same punitive, corporate education “reforms” their predecessor has so shamelessly promoted over the last eight years.  And while it is true that Sanders’ proposals hold more hope for public education that do those of Clinton, we should know by now what to expect of promises of Hope.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

New Mexico Public Education Department: INEFECTIVO

The image below is a flyer sent by New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera to Spanish speaking families across the state.  This was her attempt to explain the high stakes PARCC test results to families just weeks prior to the publication of the results of last spring's tests.  The majority of New Mexico's public school students are expected to fail.  We give the New Mexico Public Education Department and its secretary a score of "ineffective" in Spanish language arts and in communicating effectively with New Mexico's families.   

Thursday, September 10, 2015

No se habla español

Good morning Superintendent Reedy and members of the Board:

I have attached to this e-mail a two page document I downloaded today from the APS website.  It is the Spanish version of the elementary mid term progress report and explanation to parents.  It is signed by you.  

I am writing to recommend you not sign anything you have not read over carefully, especially documents that will be distributed to hundreds if not thousands of APS families.

Why?  Because I found and corrected no fewer than 63 serious errors in the text.  I don’t need to tell you how embarrassing this may prove to be to you, personally, as well as the district.  

From the perspective of Spanish speaking families, with whom I have been working for nearly 30 years, error-filled documents like this can make the district look ignorant, incompetent, and insensitive to their language needs.  They can also make the district look hypocritical.  How can a district that purports to accurately evaluate the academic abilities of its students maintain credibility when it distributes to families a document replete with errors that many of our 5th graders would not make?

From the perspective of teachers, this document constitutes yet more evidence of the double standard that exists between the accountability applied to teachers, on the one hand, and the accountability applied to administrators and others at central office, on the other.  If the folks in the Assessment Department were subject to the TeachScape evaluation rubric, documents such as this could serve as evidence that the employees were operating at a level consistent with the designation of “minimally effective,” if not “ineffective.”  

As someone who has translated hundreds of documents between English, Spanish, and French, it seems to me as if the document existed first in English and was rushed through Google Translate.  Any bilingual educator or translator can tell you that Google Translate is about 60% accurate, if that.  If the English version of this document had been sent to APS's Translation Services, which over the years has done an excellent job of translating important, district-wide documents, I would not be writing you today.

Please fix this document and upload it again to the APS website so that schools and teachers, if they choose to do so, can use it as a tool for reporting to parents.

I look forward to hearing from you.






Friday, August 21, 2015

Roughshod Rookie

I found it interesting that the authors of the majority of the letters published in the August 18th edition of the Albuquerque Journal were put off more by APS Superintendent Dr. Luis Valentino’s spelling and texting errors than by what I believe to be more serious transgressions.

So he discovered it’s “roughshod” and not “roughshot.”  So he sent an embarrassing and potentially incriminating text to the wrong person.  How many of the letters' authors have not committed similar errors at one time or another?  

Like all public officials who use publicly funded devices, the superintendent should exercise the utmost care when using them.  However, the spelling and texting errors made by Dr. Valentino pale in comparison to at least two others.  

First, the superintendent’s misspelled and misdirected texts unwittingly divulged the fact that he has quickly cultivated a cozy and conspiratorial relationship with state education secretary Hanna Skandera.  Ms. Skandera is considered by many in New Mexico’s education establishment, including several APS board members, as public enemy #1 of public education.

Second, the superintendent’s texts revealed a penchant for head hunting among his own administrative team.  Apparently, the superintendent was asking Skandera for help in obtaining the head of APS chief financial officer, Don Moya, who, from all appearances, seems to have been doing his job just a little too well.  

District e-mail exchanges recently made public seem to show that Moya was trying to prevent new Deputy Superintendent Jason Martinez from engaging the district in a redundant and potentially wasteful business deal with a former Martinez associate known for his shady and unscrupulous behavior.

And now a third.  After admitting he never completed the fingerprinting and criminal background check required for employment, Martinez has resigned.  That he resigned because his upcoming trial in Colorado on child sexual abuse charges may have been revealed in the vetting process is easier to believe than leaving for “personal and family commitments.”  

In the wake of Martinez’s resignation, several questions remain.  

First and foremost, why was Martinez’s background check placed on the back burner?  What role did Superintendent Valentino play in helping Martinez delay or evade a required criminal background check?  What role did Human Resources director Karen Rudys play?  A teacher cannot even set foot in a classroom until he or she has been fully vetted and a criminal background check completed. 

Who is Toni Córdova, Valentino's chief of staff, and what were the circumstances surrounding her hiring?  There is evidence she was instrumental in the hiring of the superintendent and had close ties to the firm that was paid $25,000 by the board to conduct a nationwide search to replace interim superintendent Brad Winter.  

And what of the hiring of associate superintendent Dr. Gabriella Blakey?  She was appointed to her new post just days after Valentino assumed his role as superintendent.  Coincidentally—or not—Blakey is the daughter of the president of the Board of Education, Dr. Don Durán, who supported Valentino’s candidacy.  

What did Skandera and Governor Susana Martinez know about Jason Martinez? How well did they know him? And just what is the nature of the relationship between Skandera and Valentino such that the superintendent feels comfortable texting "Mrng Hanna" to her private cell phone first thing in the morning to discuss serious personnel matters that he apparently was not going to discuss with the Board?

Finally, what does the future hold for Superintendent Valentino, who came so promisingly to our district this summer?  Will he survive a series of scandals that has essentially spoiled any honeymoon period he may have hoped for?  Or will the enormity of the responsibilities he carries and the serious errors he commits continue to run roughshod over his rookie year?

Friday, August 14, 2015

"Mrng, Ms. Secretary!"

On May 26 of this year, several members of the Board of Education and I joined nearly one hundred other community members at a meeting at Central Office with the incoming Superintendent.  The meeting was sponsored by Families United for Education (FUE).  

At the time of the meeting, I was still in a state of disbelief.  Just a few weeks before, the Board had actually chosen a native Spanish speaking person of color, and the number one choice of teachers, as the next Superintendent.  

During the meeting, I was impressed not only with the testimonials addressed to the Superintendent—in English and in Spanish—but with his responses to them.  He seemed compassionate, intelligent, insightful, and conscious of the education context and climate he was entering.  I was also intrigued to learn he was the father of an kindergarten student.   

I left the meeting feeling hopeful. But because I have been teaching in the district for nearly thirty years, I tempered my hope with a healthy dose of reserve.  I have felt good about many past superintendents as well only to be sorely disappointed with their governance or their behavior. 

My hopeful outlook was partially validated on Monday, August 10, when I read the Superintendent's column in the daily newspaper.  He began by stating that his administration would be “vision-driven and data-informed,” instead of the other way around.  This I liked.  

He went on to say, however, that students "need to know that our interest is to afford them meaningful opportunities here in [the state], whether it’s in STEM, finance, manufacturing, the film industry or in a corporate setting.”  No mention of Art, History, Literature, Music, Dance, Theater, the Social Sciences, or any number of other occupations or non fiscal pursuits that do not rise out of a STEM-based national curriculum bent on an “education” whose sole purpose is to prepare students for college and career. That is, no mention of education for education’s sake.  It was clear the new Superintendent aligns himself with the “reformers” who believe education is little more than job training.

Near the end of his column the Superintendent mentioned the fact that he was interested in “re-imagining” the relationship between the district and the Public Education Department.  Little did we know how well that relationship had already been re-imagined.  In Tuesday’s paper we learned that the Superintendent not only has the state Secretary of Education's personal cell phone number on speed dial, but he uses his access to her phone to plot the professional demise of those in his own administration; in this case, the Chief Financial Officer who apparently was blowing the whistle on the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent regarding what appears to be, at least initially, a potentially shady IT business deal between the district and an individual recently fired from the Denver Public Schools for corruption and unethical behavior. 

The former Superintendent's means of expressing his displeasure of the Secretary of Education left much to be desired.  But at least he got the sentiment right:  the Secretary of Education is public enemy #1 of public education in our state.  The rapidly formed and apparent cozy relationship between the new Superintendent and the Secretary is disturbing.  It threatens to undermine and even destroy the trust teachers, parents, and students have established with him during his short tenure in our district.

I urge the Board to call an emergency meeting to look into this matter.  While convened, the Board might also look into the Superintendent's decision to promote the daughter of the President of the Board to the position of Assistant Superintendent.  This questionable action is especially suspect now that we have evidence the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent may have been encouraging a business relationship with an individual who was fired from DPS in part because of kickbacks and favors granted him by private enterprises—favors that apparently included a choice job for his father.  

Please do your best to restore or establish transparency, trust, respect, and professionalism to our district.  Your constituents deserve at least as much.  




Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Road Warrior

Note:  D'Val Westphal is an assistant editor and columnist for the Albuquerque Journal.  She is best known as The Road Warrior, a monicker she adopted for a column she writes about road conditions in the city.  After the departure of Leslie Linthicum, a front page columnist whose tastes and perspectives were often diametrically opposed to Westphal's, she (Westphal) was promoted to the front page and began writing about topics that had little to due with potholes, orange barrels, and traffic jams.  One of those topics was education.  The e-mail below was written in response to articles she wrote in March and May of 2015.  The most recent article was about a middle school teacher who was retiring in disgust due to irresponsible and misguided school "reforms" that Ms. Westphal supports.  The article appeared on the front page on the last day of the school year.  

Hello D’Val:

I wrote to you last week after your article on [retiring middle school teacher] was published.  My e-mail was returned, so I thought I would write to you again.

After reading the article, I called Ellen Hur to see if she was really a teacher, as you state in your article.  As it turns out, she is not.  She was a teacher from 2001-2004 in a private school in Colorado.  She never made it past what in NM is considered beginner, probationary teacher status.  I don’t believe she is certified to teach in New Mexico.  She was never subject to the punitive regulations of NCLB or RTTT and was never evaluated by NMTeach or anything like it.  She has a masters degree in education, but she also has an MBA, the latter likely being the degree that got her the job at the NMPED.  She is a product of Michelle Rhee’s TNTP, a right wing group that promotes private and charter schools, fast-track teacher certification, and other practices antithetical to public education in the U.S.  She also worked for McKinsey & Co., a global financial management company for which David Coleman, principal author of the Common Core ELA standards, also worked.  Coleman is associated with some of the most destructive elements of the “reform” movement, including invalid and excessive high stakes testing, teacher evaluations linked to that testing, school privatization efforts, the PARCC consortium, and so on.  

I inform you of this because I believe your statement that she is “also a teacher” is disingenuous, misleading, and deceptive, at best.  Instead of referring to her as something she is not, perhaps to lend her credibility she does not have, an accomplished journalist of your stature should have taken five minutes to investigate her background and include what you found in her story.  Five minutes is all it took me to discover the information above.  If you had done that, you could have presented a more honest portrayal of Ms. Hur to your readers.  

After your story was published, [retiring middle school teacher] wrote me an unsolicited e-mail.  In that e-mail he made it clear that he felt you twisted his story in such a way as to make him and other teachers appear less favorable and the PED to appear more favorable to your readers.  He stated that he had written a letter to the editor in which he was critical of NMTeach.  Instead of publishing his letter, the Journal decided to do a story on him that essentially turned his critique of the system into a validation of it.  He was not happy about it, and I don’t blame him.

In addition to telling the truth about Ms. Hur’s credentials, I believe it is incumbent upon you to tell the truth about your own credentials, especially as they concern the field of education.  You are known in Albuquerque as “The Road Warrior,” a self proclaimed expert on road conditions and traffic issues.  Indeed, over the years you have earned some credibility in that area.  However, your lack of credibility in the area of education becomes more evident with every column you write.  

This was perhaps most evident in the column you wrote for the March 13, 2015 edition of the Journal.  For that column, you cherry-picked letters written in English to the PED by Santa Fe high school students.  It seemed to me and many other bilingual educators that many of the student letters you chose were written by English language learners.  They therefore contained errors the students may not have made had their first language been English.  To many of your readers it was apparent you used your position and power to publicly humiliate these students and their parents.  Could you write as well in Spanish?  Other educators and I considered the publication of these selected letters a malicious attempt to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of New Mexico teachers and to make fun of hard working students even as they demonstrated through their letters their desire to be educated.  In their letters they made it clear that excessive testing, not their teachers, was impeding their access to a quality education.  

In an e-mail to me recently, Mr. Walz stated that the Journal editorial board was not anti-teacher; it was pro student.  What you did to these students and their teachers makes a mockery of his assertion. 

Furthermore, I would be interested in knowing if you obtained the student letters from the PED by means of a FOIA or IPRA request?  If so, would you please send me copies of the correspondences between you and the PED in which you requested the students' letters?  How many student letters did you obtain and read?  What were the criteria you used to select letters to critique and publish in your column?  Did you contact the students whose letters you reproduced in the article?  If so, what sorts of questions did you ask them?  Did you ask their consent to publicly display their letters in your newspaper?  

Finally, I urge you to issue a correction or retraction regarding your portrayal of Ms. Hur as well and [retiring middle school teacher] in the May 22 article.  I requested as much of Mr. Walz over the Memorial Day weekend.  He stated that no correction or retraction was in order.  Since you are a member of the editorial staff and must therefore bow to his authority, I doubt you can overrule him.  Nonetheless, he did promise me you would respond to me as soon as you returned from your vacation.

I await that response.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Up in Smoke

The fate of all levels of teacher evaluations.
Main entrance, APS Central Office.
May 20, 2015.
[Click to enlarge]
           A day after a large group of Albuquerque teachers made bold statements before burning their evaluations at Central Office, the Albuquerque Journal published an article about a local teacher who was retiring.  He was retiring in part because, in less than a year, the Public Education Department (PED) dropped him from "highly effective" to "minimally effective" on his annual evaluation.  The article, written by editorial board member D'Val Westphal (aka the Road Warrior:  self professed expert on asphalt, potholes, and traffic jams) turned out to be more about Ellen Hur, the chief of staff of Education Secretary Hanna Skandera, than the retiring teacher.  Ms. Westphal (505-823-3858) had contacted Ms. Hur in an effort to explain to readers the discrepancy between the teacher's 2014 and 2015 evaluations.  Her effort was minimally effective, at best.
           In the article, Ms. Westphal states that Ms. Hur "is also a teacher."  Given the fact that Ms. Hur works full time for the PED, I felt this was a dubious assertion.  So I called Ms. Hur (505-827-3817) and asked her myself.  As it turns out, Ms. Hur is not a teacher.  Her entire teaching experience consists of three years in a private school in Colorado between 2001-2004.  What's more, she is a product of disgraced former Washington D. C. school commissioner Michelle Rhee's TNTP (formerly The New Teacher Project).  She also worked for McKinsey & Company, the same global management consulting firm that brought us David Coleman, the main author of the Common Core language arts standards and, by extension, PARCC testing.   Finally, although Hur has a masters in education, she quickly followed that with an MBA. Guess which degree got her the job  at the PED? 
         I wrote to Ms. Westphal and urged her to issue a retraction or correction to her story.  Unfortunately, she had already left town for the Memorial Day weekend.  So I wrote to Kent Walz (505-823-3802) the editor of the Albuquerque Journal (or Jurinal, if you prefer).  He responded, and what ensued was a short exchange of e-mails.  What follows is that exchange.  Read to the very end.

Dear Mr. Walz:

I am writing to ask you to issue a retraction or correction to the article Ms. Westphal wrote recently about the middle school teacher who received an evaluation of minimally effective after receiving highly effective last year.  I have written to Ms. Westphal regarding this matter.  Unfortunately, I received an automated response explaining that she was out of town.

In your retraction or correction, please state that, contrary to what Ms. Westphal stated in her article, Ms. Hur, chief of staff of Ed Sect’y Skandera, is not a teacher.  If you state that she was once a teacher, be sure to include the fact that she taught for only three years, from 2001-2004.  In the state of NM, a teacher with only 3 years experience is considered a beginning, relatively inexperienced teacher, still in her probationary period.  

Please also include the fact that her three years of teaching experience were in a private school, not a public school, and that she was therefore never subject to the high teaching standards historically applied to public school teachers.  Include the fact that she has never been evaluated by NMTeach and has never taught under the requirements of NCLB and RTTT.   

It would also be forthright of you to point out that Ms. Hur has never been certified to teach in the state of New Mexico and may also no longer be certified to teach in Colorado.  

Finally, you might consider mentioning that Ms. Hur worked for Michelle Rhee’s The New Teacher Project (TNTP) and for David Coleman's McKinsey & Co., two private organizations that continue to work feverishly to undermine America’s public schools by discrediting and demonizing public school teachers, privatizing our public institutions, and turning our students into perpetual test takers.   

I urge you do have Ms. Westphal write a follow up article in which she investigates the extent of teaching experience and pedagogical knowledge of other PED staff, specifically those who are instrumental in developing and implementing Skandera’s education “reforms.”  This is what a true American newspaper would do.  Ms. Westphal might also divulge her own lack of experience in education and explain why her alter ego, The Road Warrior—an apparent expert on asphalt, traffic, and potholes—is suddenly an expert on education. 

As for future articles, I recommend you have Ms. Westphal write her pieces with full disclosure regarding her views on education and how they echo those of the editorial board at the Journal.  Ask her to state that, in addition to being a reporter, she is also an assistant editor who sits on the editorial board and that, consequently, her views on education are consistent with the anti teacher, anti public education views the rest of the board regularly promotes in its editorials.  

Sincerely,

David A. Wilson, MA
APS Teacher and PhD Candidate at UNM
28 years of continuous classroom teaching
505-554-8913

Mr. Wilson, 
Thank you for your letter. Ms. Westphal will respond to you when she returns.
Meanwhile, having reviewed your communication, I do not agree a retraction is in order. You are free to submit a letter for consideration challenging Ms. Hur's credentials.
Nor do I agree with your characterization of the Journal's editorial position as being anti-teacher and anti-public education. We view our positions as pro student and pro student success during a challenging time when many students drop out and many who graduate are woefully unprepared for either college or the workforce.
That is not assigning blame, it is stating fact.
Have a good weekend.

Kent Walz

Mr. Walz:

Thanks for responding.

You and I know we will always disagree on issues related to education.  This is due to primarily to the fact that I have dedicated my life and career to education; you, to journalism.  Thousands of educators in New Mexico and I know what we’re talking about.  Unfortunately, those with money, political power, and disproportional control of the media, do not.  Considering your access to Ms. Skandera and others in the PED, you have all three.  This explains much of what is “wrong” with education:  Those who don't know what we know, nor can do what we do, have the audacity to tell us what to do and how to do it.  This is indeed a shameful state of affairs.

As for Ms. Westphal, well, she is a member of the editorial staff.  She is therefore obligated to toe the editorial line. What’s more, it’s not so much Ms. Hur’s credentials that must be called into question, as you suggest; it is Ms. Westphal’s reporting.  If Ms. Westphal had asked Ms. Hur the same questions I asked Ms. Hur this morning, she would have received the same answers.  Ms. Hur was unabashed about admitting to me that she taught for only three years in a private school in Colorado between 2001-2004; that she never taught under NCLB or RTTT; and that she was never subject to any statewide, quantitative and punitive teacher evaluation system.  Investigating the credentials of the people Ms. Westphal interviews is not my job; it is hers.  And in that, she failed.  Willingly, I suppose.  I would say "minimally effective” would be an apt descriptor for the quality of the reporting displayed in today’s article.

I know half a dozen of your news staff personally.  Their view on the inordinate control the editorial staff exercises over its reporters is not positive.  I know why [former Journal education reporter] left the paper, and I know why others are preparing to do so, too.  It won’t be long before the newsroom reflects the monolithic views of the editorial staff.  When this happens, the “crisis” New Mexicans will be talking about will be journalism, not education.

With all of this in mind, I challenge you, Mr. Herrera, and Ms. Westphal to print letters and op ed pieces that strongly challenge your views.  I have sent at least three letters to the Journal over the last 12 months that did just that.  None were published.  If I have time, I will send another, and perhaps resend others, then wait to see if they pass the test to be printed in your hallowed pages.

Finally, I feel obliged to respond to your assertion that the ABQ Journal is pro student and pro student success.  

The Journal is not pro student when it favors subjecting them to months of abusive and meaningless standardized tests that rob of them of hundreds of hours of the very instruction they will need in order to do well enough to not drop out and to succeed after graduation.  Furthermore, the Journal is not pro student when it abets the PED in its efforts to drive unprecedented numbers of NM’s best teachers out of the profession with its misguided and uninformed corporate education agenda.  Accomplished and dedicated veteran teachers, along with more hours of quality instruction, are what many of NM students need most.  Yet these are the very things you and the PED are attempting to take away from them.  This is unconscionable, Mr. Walz; and deep inside, you know it. 

The smoke from the burned evaluations on Wednesday floated from APS Central Office in a northwesterly direction.  We can only hope they reached the Journal so that at least some of your employees could catch a whiff of what is really wrong with education in New Mexico.

I hope you enjoy your weekend, too.

Sincerely,

David A. Wilson
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
Elevation:  5,220 feet


Mr. Wilson,

           I am well aware of your views.  I could not disagree more. Good night.

           [Kent Walz]