Posts Tagged 'Sussana Martinez'

It’s A Scam

Over the past several years public education and public school teachers have become the whipping boys for everyone from presidents of the United States to governors, mayors, various political appointees such as secretaries of education, newspaper and magazine reporters, and others who share one vital characteristic: virtually none of them are professional educators with any experience or training in education. Everybody is an expert when it comes to criticizing public education and teachers. These self-ordained opinionated grandees have a bully pulpit from which to deprecate professional public school educators. Their opinions sell newspapers and magazines sowing doubt and mistrust of a public institution that has been a pillar of society since the Massachusetts legislature appropriated 400 pounds for public education in 1676.

What is going on now is a scam actually, and it’s way past time for this fraud to be called out. This is not to say that public schools couldn’t do better or that all public school teachers are great. That isn’t the point. We are, after all, dealing with children on the one hand – young human beings who come in a variety of skills and intellectual levels, and from home environments that may or may not support or value schooling. On the other hand, not all teachers are created equal, nor would any professional educator claim otherwise.

We have to concede something is afoot that doesn’t bode well for public education when the president of the United States nominates and a Republican-dominated Congress installs, Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education at an annual salary of $162,000, a millionaire, a charter school cheerleader, who has no education credentials, never attended public schools, and whose own children did not attend public schools. Across the country governors have appointed officials to oversee public education who have the same lack of credentials as DeVos, acting like foot-soldiers marching to the same destructive agenda to denigrate public education and teachers and to promote charter schools.

In New Mexico the Secretary of Public Education receives an annual salary of $126,000 – a substantial amount of money for an un-credentialed privatization commando vetted by Jeb Bush, another anti-public – education activist, to oversee credentialed teachers whose average annual salary is about $47,000. It isn’t just Republicans – the Democrats, including Barak Obama and his Chicago pals, have been at privatization hammer and tong for more than eight years themselves. The pattern and motives of these “reformers” are far too obvious to deny or ignore, and it has nothing to do with better educational outcomes. It’s all about money. It’s all about privatization – getting private fingers into the public till.

The irony  is obvious – taking money from the taxpaying public to destroy a vital public institution that, unlike charter schools, must take all comers. Interestingly the attack on public education also comes with a heavy dose of political rhetoric and practice aimed at damaging what’s left of democracy and a civil society using tactics and strategies like voter disenfranchisement and racially motivated redistricting to make voting more difficult. Of course the attacks on public education have been going on for years. In the past the arguments were different and not motivated by greed but by ideas and theories of education. John Dewey described it as the “opposition between the idea that education is development from within and that it is formation from without”. The argument was not motivated, as it is today, by venality but by whether learning is personal and education is social – it was about education as a vital social institution essential to a democratic society.

What you are also not hearing about from the self-anointed reformers is any mention of the critical role of parents in their children’s education, mainly because it would be bad politics to alienate them. However, parental involvement is the most essential element in childhood education. Parents must participate, they must monitor, they must have expectations of their children and enforce those expectations. Teachers cannot do this alone. Another canard is the slavish imposition of testing regimes based on the false assertion that all children are somehow created equal in their learning abilities and interests and so should all test out equally at the same time.

These are cruel and self-defeating assumptions that discourage authentic teaching and learning. We have been inflicted with Common Core, No Child Left Behind, so on and so forth with no end to the important – sounding organizations, programs, initiatives, and whatever else can be conjured to promote the idea that public schools are failing. None of these programs existed in the 1940s and 50s when public schools were turning out well-prepared students. The future was bright with promise; Dads and Moms paid attention to what their children were doing in school and heaven forbid that you took home a report card that indicated lack of attention and achievement. Parents were summoned to have a chat with the teacher and a child’s failure to apply themselves to learning was dealt with.

Public education was not a perfect system then but it worked, and one reason it worked so well was because, in addition to parental involvement,  there was an economy. It didn’t matter if a kid was in an academic or a vocational track, there were jobs and opportunities, there were incentives. It was a different world and no one was promoting the idea of schools as profit centers. Teachers were respected members of the community. There were parental and community   expectations of good behavior and respect towards teachers and adults in general. We need respect for teaching and learning, for personal achievement, and for each other. In the end what we need is rational school reform, not radical school reform.

     

Teachers and Free Speech

In a recent public announcement the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) is lifting the ban on public school teachers exercising their Constitutional right of free speech to criticize standardized testing. The obvious presumptuousness, this was apparently a momentous recognition on the part of those in charge from the Governor to the PED chief and who knows whom else in between, that Americans have a right of free speech even if the government doesn’t like what is being said. Of course there was prodding from the ACLU. The gag rule was promulgated during the Richardson administration which was not itself exactly a bastion of enlightenment and was hung on to by the Martinez PED. We may now expect to hear from New Mexico’s beleaguered teachers on the current regime of testing that replaces authentic teaching and learning.

Following her election to Governor in 2010, Susana Martinez had some pay-back obligations to her sponsors, such as the Koch boys, from whom she took in at least $10,000.00 directly. Consequently she appointed an individual to head the PED who had been vetted by such right wing luminaries as Jeb Bush. It mattered not that the new PED director had no degree or experience as an educator nor were there any apologies for the appointment of an unqualified individual. In fact, Skandera could not have been hired as a teacher in New Mexico because she could not meet the minimum requirements such as: 30 to 60 semester hours in an Elementary Education program including student teaching, a minimum of 6 semester hours of credit in the teaching of reading if you entered college or university after 8/1/01, and a minimum of 24 semester hours in one teaching field such as mathematics, language arts, reading, history, and so forth. To add insult to injury, Skandera was, at that time paid $125,000.00 a year against the average New Mexico public school teacher’s $39K to $49K (all below the national average by the way).

This is about politics after all and the ultimate outcome desired by the sponsors is the privatization of public education – a holy grail, if you will, being sought in nearly every state in the US with a Republican controlled state house. As one billionaire, Rupert Murdoch, famously put it, education is a 500 billion dollar opportunity for which he an others like him are salivating. It should also be noted that Skandera was a participant in the same venue at the same time as Murdoch made this declaration.

Which takes us to the entire idea of standardized testing in elementary grades. Aside from its use as a diagnostic there is absolutely no justification for standardized testing at that level. If anything such testing is a disincentive to authentic teaching and learning. In fact, there should not be grades between kindergarten and the transition to Junior High school a transition better determined by age and appropriate evaluation. In-grade retention of children at any grade level is antediluvian and antithetical to the purposes of proper schooling. It is also cruel. It is no wonder that across the US fewer and fewer children are completing their full course of public education – mindless endless testing regimes and draconian consequences for not performing well on standardized tests are largely to blame. Have you ever met a standard kid by the way? Neither have I.

Truth is children want to learn and schools are there to help with that natural instinct. Unfortunately schools and schooling have become politicized across the country and mostly in states with right-wing reactionary government. What is being called school reform is championed by non-educators, politicians with campaign debts to entrepreneurs who wish to turn public schools into profit centers. Parents are, in many locations, pushing back against this onslaught against teachers and children in the name of profit. It is going to take a great deal of political action to remove people from office who are so anti-social and anti-child that they are willing to sacrifice one of America’s greatest achievements – universal public education. It has to be done – it must be done. Parent must take interest and be vigilant because the profit motive never sleeps.

Susana’s Trojan Horse

Here we go again, more of the relentless pursuit of public education, public school teachers, and the future of New Mexico’s children. The Governor’s empty meme about ending social promotion is intended to appeal to an audience that knows nothing about teaching and learning. Holding kids back is not educating them — it is humiliating them and nothing more. Public humiliation of children is not and never was, a proper or true pedagogical method. Although devoid of valid educational content third grade retention is a useful Trojan Horse. And, like that legendary ruse it is hollow and full of danger. Grade retention creates more resentment than any positive educational outcome, it is simply antedeluvian, so why do it? If reading by third grade is some sort of holy grail, and there is no objective proof that it is, then the proper response is to determine why a kid isn’t learning and deal with that. Grade levels are arbitrary, they are merely inventions for administrative convenience. Everyone, including the Governor and her nominee for Secretary of Education, learns at her own rate – obviously a bit slowly in some cases perhaps but with proper pedagogy she can learn.

This war on education that has nothing to do with improving public schools. It has only one objective – privatization. No Child Left Behind, Common Core, charter schools, one Trojan Horse after another. Test this, test that, tests and more tests to no end but to prove public schools are failing. Failing what? Failing to put money in the pockets of the so-called reformers like Rupert Murdoch and the Koch boys. It is nothing less than creating a crisis and offering a solution to it; exactly like starting a fire, pretending to be putting it out, and attracting a lot of public attention. What better way to put wannabe presidential hopefuls into the public eye than to label them education reformers?

While it is true public education could stand thorough and thoughtful discussion, that doesn’t justify the perfidy expressed by today’s self-identifying Republican reformers. The motives, as separate from objectives, are first and foremost profit and secondly – self-promotion. The desired objective – social control by way of dumbing down the public. If you can create a population with few or weak critical thinking skills, they become easy to manipulate. How better to achieve this than by controlling public education and turning it into an assembly line producing the compliant “good” citizens you need. Does this seem totally paranoid to you? Think again. Fox “News” is a good example of this manipulation.

Certainly a well educated thoughtful citizenry would not be willing to go along easily with destroying social security, health care, public safety, safe food, and safe consumer products. A thoughtful activist population is anathema to the relentless quest for profit and accumulated wealth. Consider that the richest of the rich already pay little or no taxes while the middle-class bears the burden. Wealthy individuals and corporations can stash their wealth off-shore because they are “smarter” than the general public and they have the best tax advisors money can buy. In their view, only suckers pay taxes. And, if you can really dumb people down they won’t even notice they are being used as lackeys. Make sure they can buy (on credit) snowmobiles, motor homes, huge screen TVs, one new gadget after another that no one needs – keep them distracted, keep them entertained and they will be willing happy campers. Temporarily lower gasoline prices and people will run out to buy large gas-guzzling pick-up trucks. Stimulus and response. The drones will keep making their installment payments and the cash will flow into offshore accounts. If people can’t make their payments repossess the goodies and sell them to someone else. It’s all good.

Once the “reformers” have their tentacles wrapped firmly around whatever it is they want, the chances of the public regaining it are slim to none. That includes public education because the ultimate objective is privatization and nothing to do with educating children. While billionaires are drooling behind the curtains providing campaign funds, their shameless lackeys are out beating the drums and promoting themselves as educational reformers on the backs of children. It doesn’t take much really, a little vigorish here and there, a thousand here a thousand there, and soon it’s real money – but peanuts actually compared to the possible return-on-investment. Schools, teachers, national education organizations have been forced into a rear guard war against a monster machine that intends to roll over them in the endless quest for profit on the one hand and self-promotion on the other. Never mind the consequences for the American social contract. (Or what’s left of it.)

Public education is vulnerable. Governors and other politicians with presidential ambitions have put schools in a free-fire zone where nothing is logical or sacred. Politicians with no background or experience as educators use issues like third grade retention to draw attention to themselves. The Trojan Horses are being rolled through the gates. Stop them now or lose public education.

Looping Ms Skandera

In computer programming loops are repetitive iterations of the same operation used to carry out specific tasks. The computer having no brain and no sense of monotony simply repeats the script ad infinitum until a particular condition is satisfied. The New Mexico legislature seems to be in some kind of incarnation of the loop phenomenon. We have been running the Skandera loop for going on five years now, over and over again and with the same result. It’s an interesting question to ask about people who keep repeating the same action, using the same information, producing the same result, but thinking the next time the result will be different.

Skandera, after five years has yet to be confirmed by the Legislature as New Mexico’s Secretary of Education. What’s up with this? Who is getting what out of it? Five years ago this individual was presented to fill a crucial position for which she has no professional credentials. Here we are entering her fifth year holding the job of Secretary of Education without legislative confirmation but being paid on the order of $125,000.00 a year. How do things like this happen? Well, how about political ambition and political agendas? Skandera came to New Mexico following the first Gubernatorial election of Susana Martinez. It was noted at the time that Skandera was suggested by out-of-state donors to the Martinez campaign.

A professional political appointee and foot-soldier in the anti-public education movement, Skandera previously served former Florida governor Jeb Bush who fancied himself as a school reformer but who failed miserably at that task and only succeeded in alienating teachers. Skandera is a gift that keeps on giving who came to us courtesy of the current Governor’s billionaire campaign contributors including, in her first run, $10,000.00 directly from the Koch boys and $1.3 million from the Republican Governors Association which itself was gifted with $1 million also from the Kochs.

Isn’t it ironic that Skandera could not be hired as a classroom teacher in a New Mexico public school? The New Mexico requirements for a teaching certificate at the elementary level are:

1.  A Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university.

2.  30 to 60 semester hours in an Elementary Education program including student teaching.

3.  6 semester hours of credit in the teaching of reading if you entered college or university after 8/1/01.

4.  A minimum of 24 semester hours in one teaching field such as mathematics, language arts, reading, history, and so forth.

A starting teacher, having met the qualifications above makes on average $32,000.00. Skandera has not met these minimum qualifications and yet is paid 4 times what a qualified starting teacher is paid. Consider for a moment the inversion of values expressed in this distortion. Consider also how insulting and demoralizing it is to be evaluated by a political operative who is less qualified and less experienced than you are.

When I first wrote about this nomination nearly five years ago the issues were the same as today except that we now have a record of the disastrous consequences of Skandera’s tenure. That first article was in March 2011 and here we are in January 2015 with no resolution of this continuing travesty. Skandera’s damage to New Mexico’s public education from Gestapo-like raids on elementary schools to brazenly over-riding the PEC, validating charter schools championed by rent-seeking political hacks, and a lot of time on the public stage around the country, indeed even internationally, are her only achievements. Her beating the drums for privatizing public education are all a matter of record. I said then and I’ll say again, “Approving Ms. Skandera’s appointment will be a step backward.” Since then Ms. Skandera and the Governor have been thumbing their noses at the children, the public, educators, and legislators. What’s behind this?

For openers, public education is a soft target and there’s lots of money to made privatizing. Witness the many Republican governors across the country who are pursuing this same agenda.  And, that isn’t the only issue, 3rd grade retention is also merely a convenient non-issue a cudgel to pound on the public’s consciousness. The most important aspect of the entire 3rd grade retention business is to realize it has absolutely nothing to do with authentic teaching and learning. The ultimate pay-back is  privatizing public education. Privatization is the holy grail of the relentless Right-Wing jihad against teachers and public schools nationally.  Rupert Murdoch expresses his interest in public education by describing it as a $500 billion “opportunity”. The public needs to not forget it’s their tax money that created the public education system these sharks are salivating for.

Also in this equation and not to be discounted is Ms. Martinez having set her ambitions on national prominence and maybe even a place on the Republican presidential ticket, a fantasy that beggars the imagination. In this she is much like other deluded Republican wannabes who will do whatever it takes to be chosen. Since she has little else to brag about she has to win this Secretary of Education battle else she’ll be riding off into a sunset of well deserved irrelevance like Rick Santorum. The stakes are high in this game and the children be damned.

The NM Senate has an obligation to the public, to teachers, and to school children to not punt this time but to act bravely, with integrity, and regard for the people and children of New Mexico. The New Mexico State Constitution is on their side as it clearly and unequivocally states, the Secretary of Education must be a, “qualified, experienced educator.” Skandera is neither – case closed.

End of loop.

Emanuele Corso’s essays on politics, education, and the social contract have been published at  NMPolitics, Light of New Mexico, Grassroots Press, World News Trust, Nation of Change, New Mexico Mercury and his own – siteseven.net. He taught Schools and Society at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he took his PhD. His BS was in Mathematics. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force’s – Strategic Air Command where he served as a Combat Crew Officer. He has been a member of the Carpenters and Joiners labor union. He is presently working on a book: Belief Systems and the Social Contract. He can be reached at ecorso@earthlink.net

The Betrayal of New Mexico Public Education

Betrayal is an interesting word with many connotations. Generally the word is taken to mean the violation of some form of contract, trust, or confidence – a breech of faith. In my opinion, the children, parents, and teachers of New Mexico were betrayed by the passing on of Hanna Skandera to continue her odious mission in the office of Secretary of Education.

Skandera is a gift that keeps on giving who came to us courtesy of the current Governor’s billionaire campaign contributors including $10,000.00 directly from the Koch boys and $1.3 million from the Republican Governors Association which was gifted with $1 million also from the Kochs.

Skandera, lacks even the most basic of qualifications for the position she holds, the authority she wields and she is paid $125,000.00 a year – more than any classroom teacher could ever dream of earning. Is it ironic that Skandera could not be hired as a classroom teacher in a New Mexico public school? The New Mexico requirements for a teaching certificate at the elementary level are:

1.  A Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university.

2.  30 to 60 semester hours in an Elementary Education program including student teaching.

3.  6 semester hours of credit in the teaching of reading if you entered college or university after 8/1/01.

4.  A minimum of 24 semester hours in one teaching field such as mathematics,language arts,reading, history and so forth.

A starting teacher, having met the qualifications above makes on average $32,000.00. Skandera has not met these minimum qualifications and yet is paid 4 times what a qualified starting teacher is paid. Consider for a moment the inversion of values expressed in this distortion. Consider also how insulting and demoralizing it is to be evaluated by a political operative who is less qualified and less experienced than you are.

Skandera was a foot-soldier for one of the major proponents of for-profit public education, Jeb Bush and his coterie of “reformers”, coming as she did from Florida where teachers have been harassed and made miserable to the point of resignation. Many well qualified and dedicated Florida public school teachers quit rather than endure the harassment. Of course Bush doesn’t know anything more about education than do his minions – what they do know is that public education is a soft target and there’s lots of money to made privatizing it.

School teachers are not known to be hard line activists and teaching results are not linear with regard to children’s ages and individual abilities across a school population thus making teachers held to so-called “objective standards” vulnerable. There is, of course, no such thing as a “standard” child but standardized tests are rationalized as ammunition to attack teachers. Also, teacher unions are not famous for weeding out their weak and incompetent colleagues. A quick look at New York City’s infamous  “rubber rooms” confirms that, so there is plenty of blame to go around. Teachers unions desperately need, as do unions such as carpenters and plumbers and electricians do,  to weed out incompetence. This would require in-union testing and rating just as journey-men carpenters have to pass their union’s internal testing regimes. The resulting ratings are unassailable.

However, no matter how you calculate the situation, destruction of public education and replacing it with for-profit assembly lines is clearly not the answer to the question of school reform nor are major initiatives with clever propaganda-like, dissembling names such as  “No Child Left Behind” which have been exposed for the scams they are. Our current President and his hoops playing buddy  are just as dangerous and have been as harmful to public education as Republicans. Neoliberals are like Trojan Horses welcomed within the gates of civility but containing barbarians.

While Republican Senator Mark Moores of Albuquerque considers the day a victory for Skandera it is, at the same time, a terrible and tragic loss for the children and their families, our dedicated teachers, and the schools and communities of New Mexico. They have all been betrayed and at great cost to the embattled social contract which requires children to be educated by and for the community — not by corporations. The future of public education in New Mexico has been betrayed as well and the only apparent solution is an unrelenting effort to unseat Martinez and her gang and send the carpet-baggers packing in the next election. It can be done – it must be done.

The Continuing Skandera Saga.

The Continuing Skandera Saga.

The current impasse in the Skandera confirmation hearings takes me back to the very first article I wrote for the now defunct NMPolitics. At that time I noted Skandera’s total lack of background as an educator; she has no background in education, no teaching experience, no track record other than as a professional political operative working for Jeb Bush and his efforts to privatize (read: profitize) public education.

That first article was in March 2011 and here we are in March 2013 with no resolution of this continuing travesty. Skandera’s damage to New Mexico’s public education from Gestapo-like raids on elementary schools to brazenly over-riding the PEC, validating charter schools sponsored by rent-seeking political hacks, and a lot of time on the public stage around the country, indeed even internationally, beating the drums for privatizing public education are all a matter of record. I said then and I’ll say again, “Approving Ms. Skandera’s appointment will be a step backward..” Since then Ms. Skandera and the Governor have been thumbing their noses at the children, the public, educators, and legislators. What’s behind this?

One thing and one thing alone: PROFIT

First of all, Ms. Martinez received a great deal of money from out-of-state donors in her run for governor. The people who “donated” that money were investing not donating; a pay-back is expected. Whenever people like the WalMartians, the Kochs, ALEC, phony “foundations”, and others pursuing their dystopian social agenda for this country invest in you it’s like doing business with the Mafia. You owe. They are in the business of making money. Investments were made in the gubernatorial election and again in the recent mid-term election. In this past round the Governor used her donations in attempts to oust several legislator incumbents but was successful in only a few. No slam dunk there and, so far, no slam dunk in getting Skandera approved.

Ms. Martinez has her sights on national prominence and maybe even a run on the Republican presidential ticket an ego fantasy that beggars the imagination. In this she is much like another deluded wannabe, Marco Rubio except she has to win at least this Secretary of Education post or else she’ll be riding off into the sunset of obscurity – from rising star wannabe to used-to-be. It will be the end of the road for Susana and her Svengalis, Behrens and McCleskey.

That they are being used to create an impression the Republican party is Hispanic friendly would never occur to Rubio or Martinez. Their egos are being pumped up but in the end it will the Bushes, the Romneys, and their ilk representing the GOP in the next national election; it wouldn’t be the Grand Old Party otherwise. Sorry chumps but you are allowing yourselves to be used and the question is not, what will you do but what won’t you do to grasp the proffered golden apple? Obviously public education is right up there on the list of sacrificial lambs.

The NM Senate Rules Committee and the Senate have an obligation to the public, to teachers, and to school children to not punt but to act bravely and with integrity. The New Mexico State Constitution is on your side as it clearly and unequivocally states the Secretary of Education must be a, “qualified, experienced educator.” The nominee is neither – case closed.

Senators Lopez, Ortiz y Pino, and Ivey-Soto have courageously  made the case thus far and deserve the admiration and gratitude of the public. They have mine.

Courage!

 

Reflections On Disgust and Cynicism

February 24, 2013

Am I the only one to have noticed this recent phenomenon? You know, the ascendency of Republican women in the social vandalism sweepstakes. I’m thinking here of the Bachmanns and Coulters on the national stage and the cadre currently inhabiting the New Mexico Roundhouse and state offices. The Spanky-Mama vandals who are taking over from their men, baring their teeth, and going after civility and comity. Maybe the boys just aren’t up to the task.

Some recent New Mexico examples:
1.    (Monica Youngblood) A New Mexican woman legislator who commented that the minimum wage should not be raised because it apparently leads people to enjoy poverty. Perhaps she should try poverty and see if she’s been missing something.
2.    (Cathrynn Brown) Famous for her stealth attempt to criminalize victims of rape and incest seeking abortions. She also voted against extending the deadline for states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
3.    (Diana Duran) Our Secretary of State delayed voter confirmation for a year until the election cycle – “What? – Who? – Me?”
4.    (Nora Espinoza) She proposed a constitutional amendment to “define marriage” as being between a man and a woman. She was also a cosigner to Brown’s rape-and-incest end-run. Not to forget Nora’s attempt to make it a felony to enforce federal firearms laws.
5.    (Hanna Skandera) Author of a long list of destructive strategies and efforts to destroy public education de facto and de jure as the Secretary Designate of Public Education. Her mandate comes from the legislative committee that hasn’t had the courage to vote her up or down, thus giving tacit approval to her work.
6.    (Susana Martinez)  The governor who loves all of them.

Like the historic Vandals who sacked Rome in AD 455, these latter-day vandals are hell-bent on senseless destruction of the social contract out of a general disrespect and disregard for others. It’s a well-fed country-club matron’s mentality that all those of lesser circumstances are there by their own fault, lack of ambition, effort, and intelligence.

Monica Youngblood, a New Mexico Republican legislator who wants to see “people strive”; she wants to see them “aspire to be more than minimum wage.” In the meantime we must assume that by her dictate they and their families must live in poverty. This is as cynical an attitude as I can imagine. It reminds me of Marie Antoinette’s “let-them-eat-cake” remark. Youngblood “wants” to see impoverished people strive and aspire, as if it is imaginable that people aspire to live in poverty.

Cathrynn Brown, the New Mexican Republican legislator who tried to slide her legislation through the system to punish, to criminalize, in fact, women who abort a fetus caused by rape, is a cynic of apparently generous proportions. When called out she laid blame on someone else for not expressing her real intent when drafting her legislation—neglecting to say that she signed the bill after it was drafted and then introduced it with a bevy of other eager Republican women legislators on board. How cynical is that? Are we to believe that Republican women legislators do not read the legislation they sign on to. One has to wonder.

We also have the spectacle of a Republican woman governor and a Republican woman Secretary Designate of Public Education proposing the antediluvian, draconian and discredited educational policy of retention of third-grade students who fail to learn to read on an arbitrary schedule. Both the governor and her secretary designate are cynically engaged in the process of privatizing New Mexico public schools, using a variety of tactics including intimidating teachers with Gestapo-like raids and starving funds to such an extent that New Mexico has earned first place in the US for the largest reduction in public education budgets.

This essay is as much about moral disgust as it is about the specific behaviors of society matrons and matron wannabes with their mink cuffs and collars as they denigrate the society that supports them. Charles Darwin in his book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, wrote that disgust refers to a reaction to the quality of something revolting. Disgust is a basic emotion, a response to things that are fundamentally and viscerally offensive. Among the varieties of disgust is moral disgust—a revulsion to certain behaviors, comments and attitudes. Hence disgust expresses my response to the behaviors and comments of Republican women politicians as described above.

What can be said of a society wherein elected officials mistrust the very society they ran for office to represent, or of politicians, national and local, who stuff their PACs with money from generous donors who want favors done? Does one have to be cynical to ascribe cynical motives to that sort of cynical behavior? What kind of society does this lead to but one underlain with cynicism? And, it certainly cannot be a civil society.

Franklin Roosevelt’s agenda, inspired by the “Great Depression,” between 1933 and 1936 was characterized by an intent to alter social conditions. Just as certainly it wasn’t intended to oppress or denigrate the middle or lower classes of society. So much of the good for working people that followed sprang from the many programs Roosevelt’s “New Deal” put into place that were in most considerations successful in lifting people out of the oppressive poverty of the Depression. Which Depression I will point out wasn’t caused by working-class people anymore than the recent stock market and bad mortgage crisis was.

People who earn minimum wage do not cause financial crises; greedy, cynical, wealthy people do that with the help of legislators both national and local, which “help” falls into the category of cynicism by definition. When people run for political office because they have an agenda to somehow alter society in a regressive and oppressive nature we have a serious problem on our hands and a problem which historically has led to serious and widespread social unrest.

Creating a Corpse

Graph 2

As every bureaucrat knows, if you want to kill any public process or project the preferred method is to starve it, and starving public education they are. If you want make a corpse of public education simply starve it to death by underfunding it. Doing things this way kills your target softly, which avoids confrontation and rancorous public discussion. The by-word is stealth.

It is no coincidence that the two worst states in the US when it comes to cuts in per student spending are the two states where the most ambitious wanna-be Republican governors have declared war on public education and public school teachers; two governors who have overweaning national political ambitions. They are, of course, Scott Walker and Susana Martinez.

The accompanying chart, created by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, vividly tells the sad tale. Read it and weep, New Mexico – we are leading the country in starving public education out of existence. Wisconsin and New Mexico lead the country, with New Mexico taking first-place honors cutting per student spending by $707.00 from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2012. Yes, New Mexico leads the nation in something besides great enchiladas, and by a fair margin. Wisconsin is in the game with minus $625.00. West Virginia, on the other hand, spent $504.00 more per student during the same period. West Virginia!

“Civilization works only if those who enjoy its benefits are prepared to pay their share of the costs.” Thus begins a recent editorial in the Economist, “The Missing 20 trillion,” about the amount of non-taxed money generated by individuals and corporations through one dodge or another that are secured in various countries, off-shore shelters and the like. Essentially it is an article on sociopathy in the form of capitalism. The editors could have beneficially stopped with the above quotation but, ever the defenders of capitalist ways, went on to rationalize the underlying causes and ignore the moral issues.

This is not to say the editors didn’t suggest fair and honest ways to tax the money; what they failed to do was address the core problem. Where they dropped the ball, so to speak, was to not address first principles, their own assumptions about the social contract and the underlying causality. What is missing is a frank discussion of the missing moral commitment to a social contract that includes the rest of us. But this is both typical of these kinds of economic analysis, which ply the reader with platitudes about capitalism while they ignore its fundamental and deadly flaws.

Nowhere do we find a better and more telling example than the ongoing war on public education in the United States by the wealthy and the politicians they have purchased with campaign financing and generous PACs. The selling of America, indeed.

The Skandera Scam

Time is of the essence in addressing education and the machinations of the New Mexico Public Education Department and its conservative allies such as the Rio Grande Foundation to undermine and replace public education with privatized for-profit schools. Nowhere is the devolution of the American social contract more evident and more tragic in its consequences than the attack on public education. Public schooling has become a target for every know-nothing politician, up-and-coming right–wing operative and demagogue with an agenda and looking for attention across the country – not to mention campaign contributors from special interest groups. Political campaigns against public education are being fueled and funded by right-wing foundations, alliances, institutions and so forth with one objective – to privatize public education. To turn public schools into profit centers.

New Mexico does not have a legitimate Secretary of Education. We have an “acting” secretary, a secretary designate, and brother, is she ever “acting,” especially on behalf of her out-of-state sponsors and benefactors. She is also “acting” in that she has absolutely no credentials as an educator; she is, in truth, a Trojan horse for the school privatization cartel. Hannah Skandera came to New Mexico with an agenda, and she has pursued it relentlessly, with the help of the Rio Grande Foundation, enabling that organization to front for the online charter schools —New Mexico Connections Academy. In a moment of rare candor she once excused herself by saying that she perhaps needed to have learned more about New Mexico before introducing so many “reforms”. Yeah!  Right!

The governor, for her part, also a non-expert on childhood education, has beat her drums for retention in grade for third-grade students who fail to learn to read on someone else’s schedule. Anyone who drags this tired fossil out of its well-deserved mummification deserves banishment from any position where they might have contact with students and teachers. In Finland, where they boast one of the world’s most successful public education systems, they don’t even have grades between primary and secondary levels. In Union City, New Jersey the school system was in shambles and the state was poised to take over the system. Today, they have a high school graduation rate of 89.5 percent, which is 10 percentage points above the national average. How did they do it? With third-grade retention? Absolutely not! No teachers were fired, parents were integrated into the programs; there are neither charter schools nor “Teach for America” operatives in the system either. They start pre-kindergarten with as many 3- and 4-year-olds as possible. What’s their “secret”?  Respecting good teachers, bringing parents into the process, setting high expectations, while at the same time working with children as individuals.

As I wrote some time ago, Skandera was hired as a pay-back to Gov. Martinez’s election contributors. Prior to moving to New Mexico, and after serving on Jeb Bush’s staff, the young lady was given a plum job in Texas running a private training school, Laying the Foundation. The mission of Laying The Foundation is to train individuals to replace real teachers on the cheap. Skandera has no education credentials whatsoever but she does have political credentials in abundance – she was and still is a trusted operative, a foot soldier, in the public school privatization movement led nominally by her former employer, Jeb Bush. Since her appointment here, Skandera has appeared at numerous conventions and conferences across the country organized around the idea of public school privatization, sharing the stage with such notable sharks as Rupert Murdoch, who once exclaimed his enthusiasm for the education business as a multi-million dollar opportunity.

The grade school non-scandal perpetrated by Skandera is a good example of her tactics and how little respect she has for public education and teachers. Officials from Skandera’s office conducted a Gestapo-style “raid” at Albuquerque’s Sierra Vista Elementary school on the pretext that teachers were gaming the testing system. The school’s teaching day was disrupted, substitute teachers had to be brought in, teachers were cross-examined, and in the end the PED issued a letter stating that while no crimes were found the school and teachers had better well be careful – or else. This raid, in the PED’s own words, was based on “circumstantial evidence” and “hearsay.” Brilliant! No! Disrespectful? Yes!

So, the question is: What is this all about?

The answer: Money!

Money for whom? Money for people like Rupert Murdoch and Jeb Bush and, of course, campaign contributions to the governor’s PAC.

There is no need here to enumerate more instances of Skandera’s disrespect for children, teachers, administrators, the New Mexico Public Education Commission and just about anyone else not signed on to her political agenda. Skandera has been engaged in a relentless campaign to privatize public education from her first day in New Mexico, and she is gaining on it every day. For delivering New Mexico into the hands of the privatizers Skandera will no doubt be handsomely rewarded with another public education department assignment in a vulnerable state or a comfortable sinecure at one of their numerous front foundations or propaganda think-tanks.

The matter once again rests in the hands of the New Mexico Senate Rules Committee. Will they punt Skandera’s nomination again or will they man-up and send her packing? The governor, for her part, needs to commission the PEC to conduct a thorough search for candidates with proper academic credentials and experience as opposed to canvasing donors for political hacks.

For the children, teachers, parents, communities, and for the future of New Mexico, the stakes are high.

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


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