Posts Tagged 'Hanna Skandera'



A Response to Joe Teacher

Joe Teacher’s editorial in the May 5-15 Santa Fe Reporter, “Evaluating The Evaluating” was a plea for reasonableness on the part of those who will be evaluating teachers in the coming school year. The evaluations will be in accordance with the requirements of Arne Duncan, President Obama’s hoops buddy cum Secretary of Education, and the New Mexico Secretary Designate of Education. Mr. Teacher, a non de plume one must imagine, makes an excellent and logically irrefutable case on behalf of teachers, teaching, and learning. But, sad to say, logic and reasonableness have nothing to do with logical irrefutability and the impending collision of private interests and public education.

In his essay Teacher gamely holds Governor Martinez harmless for the plans now about to unfold for New Mexico’s teachers. This, like much of his essay, is based on a false premise. In the first case this is not at all about Susana Martinez, who knows nothing about the process of teaching and learning and wouldn’t give a fig, except her political future is harnessed to it. What the Governor knows is how to get ahead in today’s Republican political milieu, how to toe the party line, and climb the ladder of success. What Mr. Teacher seems not to understand is that the Secretary Designate of Education is not really subordinate to the Governor but only to those who pushed her into that office by way of significant campaign donations with the ultimate mission of privatizing public education.

What Mr. Teacher seems not to grasp is that his personal experience with and caring about students is not part of the privatization big picture. Eventually, Mr. Teacher, all classroom teachers will be deemed ineffective as they have been and are so deemed in states across the country where Republican governors are paying off their campaign debts by putting working-class labor unions out of business, and putting private school operators like Rupert Murdoch into business. Mr. Teacher is correct, however, in saying “New Mexico teachers are in for some big changes. ” You bet they are, my friend, and so are parents when they discover they have been locked out of the schooling process, and so too are students who will be treated like Skinnerian pigeons and pawns in a game of education Monopoly.

In Wisconsin the proletariat are pushing back against the Koch boys’ puppet, Gov. Scott Walker. A recall election is being held to dump Mr. Walker and a few Republican legislators by gathering several times the required number of signatures needed to call for the new election. Democracy in action, folks! Wisconsin Democrats have just settled, via a primary, on their candidate, and the Koch brothers are sparing nothing to fund their boy Walker. Walker has been on the road for weeks recently, speaking around the country to Republican loyalists about his short career as Wisconsin governor, no doubt pocketing hefty speaking fees to help pay for his re-election efforts. I suppose this could be construed as a contemporary version of American Democracy, the People vs. the Money.

In his essay, Mr. Teacher points out the unreasonableness of the pending teacher evaluations, and all of his points are  well taken. No evaluation will take into account kids from homes with one or no parents, kids from homes where parents don’t give a damn about learning and schooling, except as a place to hold kids for part of the day. No account is taken in the teacher evaluations of kids from homes where three square meals a day are not the norm, where parents have drug habits, and the evaluation approach thus punishes teachers for these realities over which they have no control. As I have pointed out earlier, Mr. Teacher, this is not about you, pal. This is not about kids. This is not about teaching and learning. This is about profit and political ambition on both sides of the political aisle. This is the ALEC assault on public education and what’s left of American democracy.

This post first appeared at: Light of New Mexico

Worlds of Belief

In an odd paradox we live in a world which is simultaneously propelled and constrained by belief. More often than not, believing also means not seeing what is actually there. While it is said that “seeing is believing” that  isn’t always the case. Unfortunately, what is believed is taken to be true. True believers and other zealots of every stripe “see” the world in terms coinciding with their beliefs, refusing as unnecessary and irrelevant, any facts contradictory to what they believe; cognitive dissonance be damned. This conundrum is true across human experience whether about food, sexuality, education, race, religion, or politics; it’s a very long list, sometimes benign and sometimes dangerously destructive. Consequently this equation factors to what you believe is what you get and, perforce, what the rest of us get as well. This aspect of the human condition makes social progress, among other things, excruciatingly difficult and has been doing damage to social justice for millennia.

Belief systems are powerful and their effect on the social contract is both a phenomenon and a constant. Consider the common clichés in the pledge of allegiance mouthed by nearly everyone as they grow up in the United States, “ … one nation …, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” Just what does that mean in light of the social behaviors we witness today and, for that matter, throughout the history of the United States? Is the declaration of justice for all merely a slogan and not a shared belief? Where does belief in justice for all fit into comparing women to pigs and cows or caterpillars? What does an seemingly senile congressman believe when he publicly declares the president “stupid”?

If President Obama were a white Caucasian, would Congressman Grassley of Iowa believe he could make such a remark publicly? In the case of the recent fatal shooting of a young black man, Trayvon Martin, in Florida by a self-ordained vigilante who was up to his ears in beliefs about wardrobe, black people, and his own role in society. would we have had the same scenario if the roles been reversed or would a lynch mob have been quickly formed?

As an example of political belief betrayed, voters in New Mexico, particularly business people, believed the Republican gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez would be pro-New Mexico business. Yet as governor, she vetoed Senate Bill 9, the “Corporate Fair Tax Act”, a truly pro-New Mexico business law. Looking at the roster of donors to Republican political campaigns you will find out-of-state corporations such as Wal-Mart that will now continue to enjoy paying low wages and no taxes on their New Mexico income at the expense of New Mexico businesses. Obviously the belief that their campaign contributions would protect their profits was well founded.

Do you believe, as apparently the majority of US Supreme Court justices claim they do, that corporations are “people”? Are corporations called to jury duty? Of what gender are they? Can a corporation marry a woman or a man? Can corporations be drafted into military service? Do you believe the justices truly believe corporations are people? Of course they don’t, but they did believe they could get away with the outrageous ruling.

US Senate Republicans recently blocked what was called the “Buffett Rule” which would have disallowed loopholes permitting lower tax rates for the wealthy than those imposed on middle and lower class taxpayers. Why would they betray the majority of American taxpayers in such a blatant manner? Because they believe they can get away with it, that’s why. In Michigan, using a questionable and now legally challenged tactic to circumvent hearings on bills before passage, the Republican legislature repealed a law which provided health care for domestic partners. There is obviously an underlying autocratic belief system that emboldens these guys.

My favorite belief canard of late was when the Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives, sounding a bit like a peeved Marie Antoinette, whined about “class warfare”. It was rather revolting to witness one of the leaders of, arguably, the most corrupt legislative body in the history of civilization complain to the press that the #occupywallstreet demonstrators were engaging in class warfare. Well, of course they are and why not? Class warfare has been going since time immemorial, Mr. Speaker, except it has been working in yours and your sponsors’ favor, which is why you wish the unwashed masses would’t notice and call attention to it. And you did believe you could get away with such a declaration, didn’t you?

When people’s beliefs and experience don’t add up they have nothing left to lose. As with any social revolution in history the populace becomes problematic for the status quo and consequently for the extant social contract. The #occupy activists apparently continue to believe in something resembling the propaganda of equal opportunity and justice for all and refuse to accept being drafted into a society of drones serving the 1%. Young people are refusing the status quo because they perceive they have nothing to lose but are defending their dignity as human beings by objecting, demonstrating, and forcing change. In their perception everything, including the future, is being gobbled up by greedy sponsors and politicians of the 1%. The propaganda of equal opportunity and equal social justice isn’t working because opportunity is perceived to be already owned, patented, and monopolized; reality and the promise don’t add up.

No social contract has ever been viable except when the beliefs and the experience of the society and individuals have been in accord. That’s a belief to live by.

This essay first appeared at: The Light of New Mexico

Fundamental Disrespect

The latest example of disrespect for the legislative process and public education to drop from the Governor’s office was the announcement that a teacher evaluation process would be implemented in the face of legislative disapproval. Let’s face it, the Secretary-designate and the Governor have nothing to lose and nothing to fear. So what if the legislature fails to take up the unqualified Secretary of Education candidate’s appointment to office? Skandera, nonetheless, remains the Secretary-designate and has the power to pursue her relentless ALEC agenda to destroy public education with the ambitious governor’s full support. The legislature has, it believes, made itself blameless in not taking up the appointment but in reality they have enabled the Governor’s war against the legislators themselves, teachers, students and public education. This is what I call the Pontius Pilate delusion – my hands are clean! Oh yeah….

In a seemingly unrelated but not necessarily so revelation, Independent Source PAC has published news about an application by the so-called Rio Grande Foundation, a far right-wing front organization funded by, among others, Wal-Mart, to establish and run charter schools in New Mexico. The application for the New Mexico Connections Academy lists Paul Gessing as the applicant on behalf of the schools. I have previously exposed Mr. Gessing’s relationship to many far-right organizations including ALEC as well as his so-called foundation’s sources of funding. One of Gessing’s listed “advisors” in this enterprise (and it is an enterprise before it is anything else) is also the vice-president and co-founder of Connections Academy; Mickey Revenaugh was formerly co-chair of the ALEC Education Task Force. ALEC is the Washington DC body funded by multi-national corporations that created the education bills submitted, without disclosure of their provenance, to the New Mexico legislature this past January.

It looks like the Secretary-designate’s unremitting agenda to ALECify  New Mexico schools now has it’s follow-on team on tap. Here comes the ALEC cavalry, Connections Academy, ready to fill the breech Ms. Skandera’s public policies are creating. “It’s going to happen,” she told a Santa Fe New Mexican Reporter correspondent, New Mexico will have a new teacher evaluation system in place “by the end of summer.” Bernice Garcia-Baca who is a counselor at the Aspen Community Magnet School and who also serves as the Santa Fe representative to the NEA characterized the teacher evaluation as “pretty ludicrous”. Sorry to say, I think, it far from ludicrous. On the contrary it is well planned, deliberate and will probably succeed in its long-term goals unless the public and teachers combine their efforts to rescue public schools from this unrelenting attack.

 

It isn’t hard to imagine the ambitions of the local political operatives like Skandera and Gessing fantasizing about a Republican sweep in the upcoming November elections and their own all but inevitable apotheosis to national positions appointed by a grateful victorious president. They would thus be rewarded for the privatization of public education in New Mexico. Ambition beyond the dreams of mere mortals – elevation to divine status as actors on the national stage! Privatize – Privatize – let no other ambition evade your eyes! Dream Baby, Dream!

Occupying The Narrative

OK, folks, today’s assignment will be to explore the influence in your home state by an organization called ALEC, or American Legislative Exchange Council, and what to do about it.

Let’s begin with a little quiz:

1. Are you aware of the Washington DC-based organization, ALEC, which is funded by the largest corporations and wealthiest individuals in the U.S.?

2. Are you aware that ALEC exists to write what they euphemistically call “model legislation” to hand to your elected officials for them to introduce to your legislature for the purpose of passing business-friendly laws which will govern your life and the education of your children? No mention will be made that these new laws were created in Washington DC and not by your legislator.

3. Do you know that New Mexico’s ABCD-F Act is based on ALEC model legislation and that every bill having to do with education in the 2012 Legislature was originated by ALEC as “model legislation”?

4. Are you aware that the highly publicized Occupy-crashed banquet in Santa Fe was hosted by ALEC for sympathetic legislators?

5. Do you know about the all-expenses-paid sojourns at exclusive resorts to encourage legislators to introduce and pass ALEC-provided “model legislation”?

Does any of this trouble you? I hope so. It certainly bothers me.

A group of legislators in Wisconsin have now introduced a bill that would require that organizations which introduce legislation through compliant legislators register themselves as lobbyists. I would call it the “Truth in Legislating Act.” The story, reported in the Madison Capital Times on Feb. 17, quoted the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Mark Pocan:  “ALEC is like a speed dating service for lonely legislators and corporate executives. … The corporations write bills and legislators sign their names to the bills. In the end, we’re stuck with bad laws and nobody knows where they came from.” It goes without saying that this form of legislative monkey business is patently dishonest and it seems to be endemic across the U.S. as legislators are wined and dined by ALECian lobbyists, fat-cat donors to their political campaigns who also designate individuals to be appointed to critical positions of authority (e.g. our very own Hanna Skandera) at the state level. This same pattern has been seen in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and other states, as well as New Mexico.

The authors, of a March 2012 Phi Delta Kappan article, Julie Underwood and Julie Mead, both of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wondered how such a consistent pattern of legislation could appear across the country. “How could elected officials in multiple states suddenly introduce essentially the same legislation?” they asked. Their conclusion after considerable research shows ALEC to be behind it. The UW-Madison professors, no fans of the organization’s motives, wrote that “ALEC’s positions on various education issues make it clear that the organization seeks to undermine public education by systematically defunding and ultimately destroying public education as we know it.”

For your edification, here is a list of New Mexico legislators with published ALEC ties:

House of Representatives

Senate

And here is a list of New Mexico legislation inspired by ALEC:

HB 386 (introduced 2/7/11) “Transparency in Private Attorney Contracts” is similar to ALEC’s “Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act”

HB 318 (introduced 2/2/11) “Crime of Organized Retail Theft Act” is similar to ALEC’s “Organized Retail Theft Act”

HB 45 (introduced 1/10/11) “Eminent Domain Federal Property Condemnation” (Sponsor: Rep. Paul C. Bandy) is based on ALEC’s “Eminent Domain Authority for Federal Lands Act”

SB 324 (introduced 1/31/11) “Licensure of Secondhand Metal Dealers”[8] is similar to ALEC’s “Responsible Scrap Metal Purchasing and Procurement Act”

House Joint Memorial 24 (introduced 1/27/11), “Requesting Governor to Withdraw New Mexico from the Western Climate Initiative” is similar to ALEC’s “State Withdrawal from Regional Climate Initiatives”

HB 229 (introduced 1/27/11) “Parental Notice of Abortion Act” is similar to ALEC’s “Parental Consent for Abortion Act”

SB 195 (passed 2/17/10) “Sunshine Portal Transparency Act” is similar to ALEC’s “Transparency and Government Accountability Act”

HJR 5 (introduced 1/20/10) “Resolution to Allow Health Care Decisions” is based on ALEC’s “Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act”

HB 105 (introduced 1/19/05) “Income Tax Deduction for Organ Donation” is similar to ALEC’s “Organ Donation Tax Deduction Act”

This is a list of ALEC education “model legislation” which became bills introduced in the New Mexico Legislature.

ABCD-F Act — passed

Education Accountability Act

Having to do with schools, teachers and administrators:

Career Ladder Opportunities Act

Teacher Quality and Recognition Demonstration Act

+ Great Teachers and Leaders Act

A further report on legislation introduced by New Mexico legislators on behalf of ALEC can be found at: ALEC inspired bills in the 2011 legislative session.

How we deal with this legislative infusion for the benefit of powerful corporate and financial interests is a question that must be answered before our entire body of law has been replaced by laws written by those interests and for their benefit How do we deal with legislators who are willing to sell out their constituents in return for an expenses-paid trip to an exclusive resort or a fancy meal?

Strategy vs. Tactics

I think attacking ALEC, which has millions of dollars in its war chests donated by the largest corporations in the world, is a futile strategy. Also, attacking the legislators who so willingly surrender their responsibilities for paltry rewards—“atta boys” and banquets from ALEC and its sponsors—will not pay off; what will work is to identify them as such publicly.

Shouting and chanting and storming meetings are tactical; educating is strategic. It is imperative that the narrative high ground be seized, that the narrative be occupied and educative. There is no need to attack ALEC when simply pointing out to the public who they are, what they do, whom they have bought and the effect on people’s lives and well-being would be sufficient. Of course this will take patient, concerted and continuous effort to pull off, but then the 2012 legislative elections aren’t until November. There is hope. There is still time to organize and to keep the narrative going long enough and strong enough to occupy that narrative. And, it is much easier to address these issues from high ground than by slinging mud and thus alienating the public.

It must be realized, I believe, that the general public does not have the interest or faintest clue about the machinations and goals of ALEC. That sort of apathy illustrates the general reality gap between activists and Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public and, if the issues are polarized along political party lines, the gap gets wider. In any event, the ethical and moral issues here have nothing to do with party because there are ALEC toadies with outstretched palms on both sides of the aisle. They are neither Democrats or Republicans but ALECians.

The campaign against ALEC must always, I think, focus on the issues and the impact of those issues on the public For those whose support you seek, the story has to become their personal narrative. If you do this right, ALEC-free candidates will come looking for you. And when they seek your support it wouldn’t hurt to require a solemn pledge to not succumb to ALEC. Think of yourselves as educators, Occupy, and you are on the road to effecting significant social change. The only people you want to alienate are the ones you don’t like, not the ones whose support you need to create change. At all costs avoid becoming the narrative yourselves; remember, it’s not about you, it’s about the truth.

Sources:

ALEC Exposed home page <http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed>

ALEC State Chairmen <http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=ALEC_State_Chairmen>

ALEC model legislation <http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed>

ALEC model legislation – education <http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/Bills_Affecting_Americans%27_Rights_to_a_Public_Education>

list of politicians <http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=ALEC_Politicians>

New Mexico legislators w ALEC ties <http://sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=ALEC_Politicians#New_Mexico_Legislators_with_ALEC_Ties>

Originally appeared at The Light of New Mexico:http://www.thelightofnewmexico.com/

The NYPS Blues

The NYPS Blues

Is the war against public education guerrilla class-warfare conducted through surrogates? It certainly looks like it. I have always believed that if something looks like “it,” behaves like “it,” and smells like “it,” odds are “it” is “it.”

The “it” in New York City came when the anti-teacher/anti-public education mayor and the ever-devolving New York Times published the results of a citywide teacher evaluation. The person who created the evaluation openly cautioned against publication of the results as they are not, in his opinion, a reliable indicator of teacher effectiveness for a number of technical reasons, including that the evaluation system is new and interpreting it at this early date is an inaccurate and uncertain proposition. He ought to know. Yet, the billionaire crusader mayor of New York joined by the New York Times proceeded to do just what was warned against. In such a circumstance the first question that comes to mind is one of motives. In both cases the motives seem abundantly clear.

Teachers are an easy target for political hacks who have an unrelenting agenda to privatize public education and who are looking to make points with a misinformed public. In the case of the NYT, one must wonder why a national newspaper with what were once impeccable credentials is transforming itself into an over-priced upscale version of the National Inquirer or some sort of Murdoch sensationalist rag. You can’t tell me that the sophisticated editors at the Grey Lady are unaware that once something has been published, no amount of self-serving mea culpas and Public Editor penance will undo it. The damage was done and done willfully, and it cannot be undone. Period. The implications and consequences of what is going on in New York are clear for the rest of the country.

The “it” moment in New Mexico came when, in a case of NYPS Blues, Edunazis went after teachers and schools in an even more despicable manner. Last Thursday (01/02/12) morning, NM PED storm troopers conducted a raid at Albuquerque’s Sierra Vista Elementary School. The troopers removed teachers from classrooms for interrogation in response to an anonymous tip that irregularities had taken place amounting to cheating on tests. Substitutes had to be found for the teachers being questioned so there would be no interruption in the normal school routine. It should go without saying that a civilized inquiry could have been conducted after school hours or on a Saturday. No one’s life was in danger, the school wasn’t going to be blown up, children weren’t being abused, no one was selling drugs in the corridors; clearly there was no emergency to merit the SWAT team tactics. Taking into account the PED’s trouncing during the legislative session, this was a very deliberate publicity stunt. And to top it off, all of this well-publicized sensationalist melodrama was justified on the basis of an alleged anonymous “TIP”? I smell a rat.

The PED’s persistent hidden agenda would not have been as well served by a respectful and civilized inquiry, now would it? For the second consecutive year the Legislature didn’t hold a confirmation hearing for the PED’s Dear Leader, and her proposed antediluvian new school initiatives went down in defeat as well. Was the dramatic raid was a face-saving acting out? Of course it was.

I think it only fair to ask where New Mexico schools are heading with this police-state behavior by the PED. I can’t imagine a more humiliating and disgraceful treatment of teachers than what took place at Sierra Vista school. What’s next, re-education camps for teachers al la Chairman Mao or perhaps Siberian-type work camps – you know, gulags for those who won’t buy into the PED program? The PED program being to prove by whatever means that public schools are failing in order to justify privatizing them. The tactics appear to be: If you can’t get in the front door, break in the back way.

Remember that New York Mayor Bloomberg’s first Chancellor of the public school system, Joel Klein, took a meat-axe approach to the city’s vast school system. The charge then was that the schools and teachers were inefficient, failing and a budgetary drain on the city. The creation of charter schools would be the answer, the public was told, which prediction ultimately proved to be far from true. Klein moved on, not surprisingly, without any substantial or lasting achievement to become Rupert Murdoch’s main man. You will recall Murdoch as the bloke from Down Under who sees public education as a $500 billion opportunity for entrepreneurs like himself, with the help, no doubt, of Mr. Klein. Mayor Bloomberg next gave the Chancellor’s job to a woman business executive, Catherine Black, who had no background and no experience in education at all except her own schooling and that was likely not at P.S. 101. Thankfully, she lasted only a short time and was basically embarrassed out of office. In New Mexico we have Hanna Skandera who also is unqualified by any measure to be a Secretary of Education anywhere. We also have a Governor whose election campaign received substantial contributions from donors with school privatization agendas and who, no doubt, want their investments to pay off in the form of privatized schools.

While these and other Republicans have not been alone in their persecution of public education – I would include our neoliberal US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, in this mob – there has been a notable transformation from the kind of Republican once represented by Dwight Eisenhower. We now have a new breed, Repugnicans – a group for whom profit in any endeavor reigns supreme and for whom shared social outcomes such as an educated public are but a quaint and dim memory of a more civilized and humane time.  Across the country they are spreading an epidemic of sociopathy and destruction of the American social contract, especially where it comes to public education – a very bad case of the NYPS Blues.

This post may also be viewed at: http://www.thelightofnewmexico.com/

 

 

 

A Momentary Lapse …

A Momentary Lapse of Character

In a moment of uncharacteristic candor and persona, Hanna Skandera, the twice passed over candidate for New Mexico Secretary of Education, had this bit of truth to say about her mission: “I came to New Mexico to do a job, and I plan to do that job.” With the tacit approval of legislators on both sides of the aisle, what a job it is she is doing to schools, teachers and students.

By not taking up Skandera’s confirmation and rejecting her Legislators obtained by default their personal “don’t blame me” licenses. Clearly the “job” she refers to is bringing New Mexico into line with the educational policies of ALEC including their spawn of phony “foundations”, “institutes” and her other corporate sponsors. Nearly verbatim copies of ALEC promulgated educational policies, the ABCD-F Act among them, have been presented and passed into law. This is happening without critical analysis, proper public discussion or truthful disclosure of sources nor an understanding of the strategy, purpose and ultimate consequences imbedded in those new laws.

The same underhanded conspiracy is taking place across the United States and besides New Mexico, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Florida are good examples. State legislators elected by their constituencies in the belief that they would write and pass legislation particular to their constituencies are carrying water for a private organization, ALEC, introducing bills written by ideological trolls in Washington DC. Of course to prepare them for this mission legislators are wined and dined at exclusive resorts sequestered by armed guards to keep out the prying eyes of the public and the press. If a resort isn’t handy ALEC will happily pick up the tab at an expensive local restaurant as it did recently in Santa Fe. Either way ALEC picks up the tab and asks only that you introduce the bills they have written as though they were your own. It sounds a lot like a conspiracy scam doesn’t it? Personally I want my elected representatives to write their own legislation based on what we in New Mexico need and not what some corporate sponsored bill mill in Washington DC is cranking out.

In Wisconsin, Connecticut and Florida state legislatures already have been and are uncritically passing new laws governing schools to enable take-over by private charter schools, the devaluing of teachers, and the mechanized stupidizing of the educative process. What is the motive? Among other things like destroying organized representation for working class people, the end result ALEC and it sponsors want is to take over public education for profit. In some places people are waking up. In Wisconsin for instance they are recalling their recently elected Governor, Scott Walker, who, like Susana Martinez in New Mexico, was sponsored by the Koch boys and the ALEC. This recall business can happen anywhere when people realize they are being sold out by their elected officials. Throw the bums out of office and start over; that’s how it done unless of course you are happy with the idea of uniform laws promulgated across the country written by ALEC and passed by corporate toadies in state legislatures.

What’s at stake here? Well, how about your democratic form of government for starters? How about schools accountable to their communities as opposed to schools accountable to their stockholders and corporate managers. How about honesty and above the board legislative dealings. How about doing your job as a legislator and doing the dirty work that job sometimes requires? If all you think about is being re-elected and not wanting to affront some of your constituency or potential fat cat donors then you are not doing your job and don’t deserve to hold office. In the final analysis it isn’t whether Skandera was approved or not, what matters is that you had the courage to take up the matter and deal with it. We are now into the 2012 legislative election cycle and November will be the reckoning. I’ll bet education is going to be on  the agenda.

It was announced this afternoon, Wednesday February 15th, that New Mexico had been granted exemption from the NCLB business. President Obama’s hoops buddy came through for Skandera on this matter which is by definition, is no more than a straw issue. In fact what has been achieved is exactly no more than this: New Mexico, you no longer have to walk backwards but you will have to walk on your hands and knees. Keep going. Boy whoopee! Such a deal…..

This essay first appeared at: http://www.motivationalbooks.com/thelightofnewmexico/

How Great is Great?

New Mexico Teachers: How Great is Great?

Last week legislators from around the country flocked to an all-expense-paid (including travel) get-together at an exclusive island resort off the coast of Florida—the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island. The tab was picked up by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), leaving one to wonder just what the legislators exchanged in return for the pleasure of their company. The party was labeled “ALEC K-12 Education Reform Academy.” Oh, and the party was closed to the public and the press and protected from intruders by private security guards.

New legislation regarding teacher evaluations now being proposed in the New Mexico Legislature to “evaluate” teacher performance has been derived from examples of “model” legislation provided to legislators by ALEC. The ALEC is sponsored by large corporations and billionaires with visions of new sources of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, and the organization provides legislators with what they euphemistically refer to as “model” legislation. The model legislation is provided to legislators on a number of topics and is written to specifications dictated by the corporate sponsors of ALEC to serve their ends. In the case of public schools the ultimate goals are to privatize public education, eliminate teacher unions and make money for the sponsors. Simple enough.

We have had an example in New Mexico of such ALEC-dictated legislation in the form of the ABCD-F Act. A great deal of the language and intent in that travesty flowed from ALEC plumbing where it was called the “Education Accountability Act.” Presently we are seeing two bills, HB 249 and SB 293, wending their way though the Legislature, both having to do with teacher and administrator evaluation. The two bills, sponsored by legislators sympathetic to the governor’s and secretary-designate’s agenda correspond closely to three ALEC-authored models: “Great Teachers and Leaders Act,” “Career Ladder Opportunities Act” and “Teacher Quality and Recognition Demonstration Act.” All you have to do is add local water, shake and bake, and presto, you have made-to-order legislation, compliments of ALEC.

“Great Teachers and Leaders Act”? Just how great can a teacher be when children come to school unmotivated and unprepared to learn? That is not the question being asked, of course, by the sponsors of new legislation being presented at the Roundhouse. When I first read Secretary-designate of Education Hanna Skandera’s public exclamations about how “great” New Mexico’s  teachers are and how she wanted to climb up to the roof-tops to “scream” out how much she loved and respected teachers I knew exactly what was coming. And I was right. This was a perfect example of what I call damning with cynical praise.

So what is this about? Why do teachers, administrators and schools have targets on their backs? It is because public schools can be replaced, so can teachers and so can administrators. What can they be replaced with? Vouchers for private for-profit schools and teachers from private training programs like Teach For America and K-12, that’s what. This monkey business is not unique to New Mexico either; it is going on across the country, where conservative legislators and governors have taken control of state houses. The attacks on public education are accompanied by attacks on many other public services in order to achieve a political goal of reducing government services and privatizing whatever is left.

What is not being said in this proposed legislation was perfectly articulated by a Santa Fe teacher. Laura Carthy had this bit of wisdom to offer, born of experience: “They want to hold us accountable, but how can they hold me accountable for students who aren’t here, who are constantly tardy and miss five to 20 minutes of instruction a day?” Carthy enumerated many of the issues teachers and administrators face on a daily basis and over which they have no control, such as children not eating, not sleeping and not doing their homework. (S.F. New Mexican 12/18/11) The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is also an advocate for these neo-liberal policies, and he wants to tie federal funding to Skinnerian testing performance evaluation regimes. While Ms. Skandera is on the rooftop and Arne is shooting hoops with the president people like Laura Carthy are in the trenches.

In December, 2003 Ms. Skandera appeared at a luncheon as a Hoover Research Fellow with her mentor and distinguished Hoover Institute professor, Richard Sousa. Interestingly, Sousa is best known as an expert on labor economics and, incidentally, K-12 education. Sousa and Skandera reported on their research and offered suggestions for improving education through school choice, testing and accountability. The term accountability in Sousa’s parlance includes evaluating teachers, hence our Secretary-designate’s ABCD-F Act and now proposed legislation in the form of HB 249 and HB 293. As the old saying goes, the apple seldom falls far from the tree. In this case Professor Sousa’s former research assistant is following the script, and what has followed are the three pillars of the New Mexico ABCD-F Act and the new teacher accountability legislation— school choice, testing and accountability.

This essay first appeared at Light of New Mexico

 

 

Listen and Show Some Respeto

Listen and Show Some  Respeto

Listen, Listen. Listen. That was the watchword, the first principle I was taught when working for the University of Wisconsin Extension Services which I did throughout my graduate studies. I traveled that state conducting extension service programs all of which were developed by listening to the communities we served. When I was first elected majordomo of my acequia here in the northern mountains I spent most of my time asking questions about what was needed to make the ditch function more fairly and efficiently and listening carefully to the answers. I sat for hours listening to viejos tell me the history of this very old acequia dug by hand from the mountain to the meadows. Respeto. I spent my time getting to know the families served by the ditch and walked the land the acequia passed through from the mountain presa to the last gate at the farthest end of our llano’s irrigated fields. This was my experience in Wisconsin coming into service in New Mexico and tempered by Governor Lew Wallace’s dicho – “Every calculation based on experience elsewhere fails in New Mexico.” I had no “calculations” but knew that listening to people tell you about themselves, their needs and their experiences will not fail you and a plan will make itself evident in proper time. Listen.

Our Secretary-designate of Education has not distinguished herself with a willingness to listen and this is not without consequences. New Mexico failed to receive a waiver of the NCLB requirements because the Secretary-designate of Education and her allies were eager to push their imported, ALEC-inspired ABCD-F Act through the legislature. In passing this piece of retrograde legislation the State failed to meet the Federal requirements for exemption from the NCLB. Interviewed on the KOB-TV web site, APS Superintendent of Schools, Winston Brook, voiced his opinion that the ABCD-F grading system didn’t meet federal requirements. Winston went on to say that Skandera was made aware of those concerns before she released the grades. Brooks was also aware that the U.S. Secretary of Education had written a letter to Skandera telling her she needed to address the issues. Obviously the federal concerns were not dealt with in a timely manner hence no exemption.

Carrying water for ALEC has its price and in this case the price will paid by New Mexico’s schools, teachers and children who have been saddled with the ABCD-F Act and will now struggle to be released from the NCLB requirements. There is no denying Ms. Skandera came to New Mexico on a mission and she has been notably single-minded about carrying out her assignment. Her ideological blinders have kept her from grasping the cultural realities of the state including our diverse languages a tradition for which she has demonstrated a profound lack of respete.

Skandera has placed herself within an ideological cocoon comprised of her own imported staff and well paid out-of-state consultants, which has resulted in a tragic lack of critical understanding and ham-handed policy execution. Her reform process has been a self-affirming and thus a self-defeating feed-back loop. She and her advisors have all been on the same page but the book they are using is about somewhere other than New Mexico.

What we have received is a lot of fancy doubletalk such as this recent example from the Secretary-designate: “New Mexico consistently has been ranked 48th, 49th or 50th in most of our achievement rankings, etc.. And for the first time we will be in the top 11 states championing reform, and I believe we are headed in the right direction…”. This statement would be held up for ridicule in any logic class. The speaker equates “achievement rankings” and “championing reform” as though they are equivalents. Reform and achievement are not even remotely the same thing and cannot honestly be used in a comparative sense; they are totally unrelated ideas being force fit into being equivalent to make it sound as though something profound is happening. This is the definition of propaganda –  false ideas spread deliberately to further one’s cause. It’s time for the current Governor and her administration to show some respeto for the people of New Mexico. Escuche, Escuche, Escuche.

This was first published at: http://www.motivationalbooks.com/thelightofnewmexico/

Trojan Horse

TROJAN HORSE

Senate Bill 427 a.k.a. “The A-B-C-D-F Schools Rating Act”-talk about a “gotcha.”  This piece of work makes the Trojan Horse look like a party favor.

Double Standards

Not that this is a new fast shuffle; in the Spring of 2011, Secretary-Designate Skandera overruled the Public Education Commission’s 2010 decision to disenfranchise three failing charter schools for falling below acceptable achievement standards. Ms. Skandera “declined” the Commission’s ruling stating she would decline decisions based on failure to meet Standards Based Assessment tests because such tests are an “obsolete metric.” So, what is the Skandera-sponsored A-B-C-D-F Schools Rating Act about if not test-score-based metrics? The Act says specifically that public schools will be rated according to the New Mexico Standards Based Assessments. Yet the PEC  was overruled for basing its decision regarding the charter schools on Standards Based Assessments. Charter schools are defined in law as public schools and as such the same standards must apply. The same people who pronounced the metrics to be obsolete had, just a few months earlier, incorporated them into legislation.

More is More

The questions don’t stop here either. According to the act parents may move their children from a school rated F to “the statewide or a local cyber academy” neither of which are included in the rating system nor are academic standards for these entities referred to or provided for in law. The A-B-C-D-F  Act states that growth “means learning a year’s worth of knowledge in one year’s time.” You will look in vain for a definition of “a year’s worth of knowledge.” What hat did they pull that one out of? Further on in the Act you will find reference to “proven programs” and, once again, without definition. This kind of flim-flam puts public schools on very shaky ground having to meet unspecified and undefined requirements such as “a year’s worth of knowledge” and presenting “proven programs.” What proven programs are they talking about? Where will we find these proven programs? Who has proven the programs and what were their qualifications? Is a “year’s worth of learning” the same for Ms. Skandera as it would be for Governor Martinez? What metrics should we use to determine if either of them has acquired a year’s worth of learning?

TO WHAT ENDS?

This A-B-C-D-F Act business, and it is a business, is an unmitigated disaster and a well thought out strategy in my opinion to set up public schools in New Mexico to fail. The Trojan Horse is here to open the gates for privatized for-profit schooling ultimately taking control away from communities and parents and placing it in the hands of corporations. I suspect what Skandera and company have in mind is quite simple. Just as is the case now with some social services and prisons, the state will contract with private entities such as Teach for America or K12 to run our public schools. The New Mexico Public Education Department this past November issued a purchase order for Teach for America indicating that business is already being done with that entity. Rupert Murdoch, speaking at a recent conference in San Francisco, a gathering at which our Secretary-Designate also appeared, had this to say, “When it comes to K-through-12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.” Murdoch’s education business is called Wireless Generation. The vultures are circling!

Once the schools have been contracted out we can say goodbye to parental and community input – say goodbye to public education. The schooling factories of the future, while generating sweet profits for the corporations that run them, will soon be churning out standardized “graduates” ready to be plugged into whatever corporate enterprises need them. It should also be noted that none of these reforms cops to what they will do with slow learners, under-achievers and the kids and parents who simply don’t give a damn about education. The requirement for human teachers/trainers will be minimized, as will be their wages. Cyber machines will handle the kids more efficiently in this scenario and without requiring health insurance, retirement plans, sick leave, wages or respect. Oh, and one more thing – they don’t go out on strike for better working conditions. Gotcha!

This essay first appeared in The Light of New Mexico – print and web editions 2/14/12

Undermining Public Education

Skandera takes steps to undermine public education

It’s no surprise that N.M. Education Secretary Designate Hanna Skandera is taking steps to undermine public education. The problem is that the educational model she and her backers pursue isn’t education at all. It’s operant conditioning.

Earlier this year I wrote about the questionable nomination of Hanna Skandera to the post of New Mexico secretary of public education – a job for which she is, on evidence, unqualified. Given her lack of a proper background and experience as an educator I wondered just what she was about.

As it turned out, Skandera failed to be confirmed for the secretary position during the 2011 regular session and so has held her office as “secretary designate.” Since holding this office, and without the mandate accorded by legislative approval, she has taken steps designed to undermine the authority of the Public Education Commission and the future of public education in the state.

Ms. Skandera came to New Mexico with a mission – to undertake the process of privatizing public education. She came here under the auspices and/or recommendations of various right-wing “foundations” and “institutes.” In some of them she had previously served as an officer.

Ms. Skandera and New Mexico are not alone in this scheme, as she has numerous counterparts across the country, all paid for by the same cabal of wealthy and influential individuals who underwrite the so-called “foundations” and “institutes” that finance their industrialized vision of public school reform. Here in New Mexico, Skandera has the backing of one of those so-called “foundations,” that being the Rio Grande Foundation and its chief executive Paul Gessing.

The majority of financial support for this “foundation” comes from out-of-state “foundations” and donors. Gessing’s donors include, among others, Donor’s Capital Fund of Virginia, State Policy Network of Virginia, Roe Foundation of South Carolina, Wal-Mart of Arizona and the Atlas Foundation of Washington DC.

A clear warning of an agenda

The obvious duplicity and fact-torturing employed by these so-called “foundations” and “institutes,” which are underwritten by some of the wealthiest people in the United States, ought to be a clear warning to all that they have an agenda. The shuck and jive surrounding their propaganda is patently transparent. What they are after is to defame, de-unionize, scrap and then privatize public education across the United States.

They are beginning with the founding and underwriting of variations on the charter-school theme. Charter schools, across the board, do not have a better academic record than their public school counterparts. What they do offer is that they are generally free of teachers’ unions, a holy grail for the sponsors on their path to privatization.

The efforts of these groups and their agents are sometimes clumsy and ham-handed but in so being they reveal the true nature of what they are up to. For example, Ms. Skandera just recently overruled the N.M. Public Education Commission’s (PEC) decision to not renew the credentials of three charter schools that utterly failed to meet required academic standards. To ensure she has legal cover for her actions, Skandera’s Public Education Department (PED) has now hired Patricia Matthews, who comes from the staff of a law firm that provides legal services to charter schools. The event was characterized by a member of the PEC as, “…hiring a fox to guard the hen house.”

Skandera also tailored the qualifications for a position within her department so she could hire the wife of the governor’s right-hand man. These antics are, to put it into the campaign rhetoric of our current governor, “Crony” hiring. So much for promised reform on that score.

Foot soldiers for the financially powerful

Why so blatant? Why the arrogance? Perhaps it arises from a sense of hubris gained by knowing you have the backing of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice that wants to become even more wealthy, and you can help.

Being a foot-soldier for the financially powerful has been known to confer delusions of elevated status to certain individuals. To get the picture, one has only to listen to Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who is doing his best to cut funding for public education at all levels in his state and disenfranchising teachers’ unions, speaking to someone he thought was one of the Koch brothers in this audio recording.

It is also worth noting that Governor Martinez’s campaign reports show that she took $10,000 directly from Koch Industries and $1.3 million from the Republican Governors’ Association. The RGA, for its part, took in at least $1 million from the Koch brothers and donated more than a million to the Republican Party of New Mexico, which heavily aided Martinez’s campaign.

The Koch brothers are businessmen – they expect a return on their investments, and you can rest assured they’ll have business in the Land of Enchantment.

Here is the agenda

Why do I object so strenuously and so strongly to all of the above? I do so because the industrialized education model being pursued by activists such as Skandera and her backers is an endless cycle of memorizing and regurgitating – no critical thinking, no creativity and, above all, no challenging of conventional wisdom or authority. The kind of training proposed by these people is not education – technically, it is operant conditioning.

Bill Gates, who invests heavily in this kind of educational reform through his own “foundation” once told an interviewer that any form of teaching and learning that could not be measured is useless. When was the last time you measured a beautiful sunset? How would you quantify the beauty of a Mahler symphony? Human beings have hearts and minds, Mr. Gates, not CPUs.

Conditioning of this kind is a dead end from which there is no exit. A better conception of the future will be impossible, because not only would the majority of children be unable to imagine such, they also wouldn’t know how to measure it. Children so conditioned would be left with no sense of authenticity or agency to shape their lives beyond low-paying, low-skill, treadmill jobs. Their lives and imaginations would be impoverished and, consequently, so too would be the world in which they would have to live.

People cannot have a better life or fashion a better world if they cannot imagine it, if they cannot imagine themselves creating it. Destroy imagination and you destroy tomorrow.

If people want more for their own children and if people who have no children want more for themselves, they must come to understand that today’s children will shape everyone’s future. We must all see our investment in public education today as an investment in our own futures, an investment in a civilized social contract, in a creative and thriving society.

Metropolis

scene from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis"

The moral of Fritz Lang’s film “Metropolis” is that between head and hands there must be a heart. It is a heartless world imagined by those such as Skandera and her sponsors, those who would privatize and industrialize public education.


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