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

Ohanian Comment: The Good News that an Albuquerque teacher is speaking out so forcefully.

The Outrage is that Hanna Skandera hasn't gotten the boot. She's head of the Chiefs of Change, operated by Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence, where her bio says she's New Mexico Secretary of Education. Not so. She's still the secretary-designate, appointed by the governor in 2011 but since then facing periodic opposition from the legislature. Before this political appointment, Skandera was a senior policy advisor to Margaret Spellings and a deputy commissioner for Florida's Department of Education under then-Gov. Jeb Bush. For four months, she was senior member of Governor Schwarzenegger's education team.

Qualifications? A B.A. in business and M.A. in policy.

Here's In the Public Interest summary of how Bush's Foundation of Excellence in Education (FEE) operates in New Mexico:

â€Â˘ FEE provides its donors-including for-profit digital education companies-access to the chiefs. A draft agenda for the Excellence in Action 2011 Summit blocked off two hours for "Chiefs for Change donor meetings" Another draft agenda for the meeting allocated nearly three hours to "Chiefs for Change donor meetings" The donors for the summit were The Walton Family Foundation, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, The Broad Foundation, The Carnegie Corporation, Susan and Bill Oberndorf, GlobalScholar, Target, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Microsoft, State Farm, IQity, McGraw-Hill Education, Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, Intel, Pearson Foundation, Apex Learning, ETS, Electronic Arts, Koret Foundation, SMART Technologies, K12, Morgridge Family Foundation, Charter Schools USA, and Connections Academy. Demand for donor time was so high that Patricia Levesque wrote that she had to turn down opportunities for the chiefs to meet other representatives from companies.

â€Â˘ FEE staff served as advisors to acting education commissioner Hanna Skandera.FEE, and, by extension, its donors, had great influence over New Mexico legislation. In a Jan., 2011 email, Skandera directs a staffer from the legislature to forward all education bills to FEE's Christy Hovanetz for edits: "Can you send all Governor's office ed bill language to Christy, including social promotion?" Another FEE staffer, Mary Laura Bragg wrote to Skandera, "I'm at your beck and call."

â€Â˘ The Foundation sought to make connections between Skandera (as well as the other Chiefs for Change) and the Hume Foundation for funds for digital learning projects from the Hume Foundation that "must flow through the Foundation for Excellence in Education as a project-restricted grant." The Santa Fe New Mexican reported in Oct. 21 that Skandera had indeed for such a grant, which ultimately could lead to digital learning legislation favorable to FEE funders Connections Academy and K-12 Inc.

â€Â˘ The emails indicate that FEE paid for Skandera's travel, reimbursing New Mexico $3382.91 for her expenses, including trip to Washington, D.C., to testify before Congress.

NOTE: Below is a copy of an e-mail David Wilson sent February 17, 2014 to the New Mexico State Senate Rules Committee concerning the confirmation hearings for New Mexico Secretary Designate of Education Hanna Skandera.

Go to his blog and add your kudos. Then follow his example and SPEAK UP.


David Wilson

Honorable Senators:

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

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

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

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

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

No friend of public education would advocate assigning letter grades to schools based primarily on invalid and illegitimate test score data. Some of the best schools in the state received Ds and Fs while some of the worst received As and Bs. What's more, the A schools have extremely low rates of poverty while the F schools have the highest rates of poverty. The B, C and D schools have rates of poverty commensurate with their letter grade. If this isn't blaming the victims, I don't know what is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— David Wilson with added Ohanian research
Teach Truth to Power blog





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