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Educators accuse state of backtracking on teacher evaluation policy

Ohanian Comment: Hired by Governor Martinez in January 2011, Hannah Skandera is still New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary-designate--never confirmed by the state senate because she can't garner enough votes to get out of the rules committee. Skandera's previous job experience included policy adviser to U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and deputy commissioner of education for Florida's Department of Education under then-Gov. Jeb Bush. She was also a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. Skandera pushes the corporate agenda, and with business support, nobody cares what teachers think.

Democrats oppose Skandera's confirmation on the grounds that she has no experience either as a teacher or a principal. This is one of the New Mexico requirements for the job: post must be filled by a "qualified, experienced educator."

My favorite weasel-move around this requirement came in 2013 from Larry Langley, head of the New Mexico Business Roundtable:

Please understand that to be a highly qualified educator doesn't require you to be in front of a classroom," Langley said. "Every one of us in this room, I hope, are some kind of qualified educator. I've certainly learned things from the chair of this committee. I have learned things from the ranking member of this committee, and from many others. You have been my educators, and you have been qualified educators."

There you have it: This isn't just New Mexico. It's the corporate message that infects all of US public education.

I'm not even touching the corruption that has been documented.

The agenda in New Mexico is the agenda that infects the whole country--Republican and Democrat politicos alike, and this agenda isn't about teacher excellence.

Priscilla Gutierrez comment: I'd like to know what other profession would find these rules acceptable, yet teachers are expected to act like sheep to the slaughter. Shall we create new rules mandating that doctors working in public hospitals lose their license if they don't cure all patients, or dentists lose their license unless their patients are cavity-free? Why stop there? How about cops lose their jobs if they don't prevent enough crime, or firemen lose their jobs if they don't prevent enough fires?

The tests being used to evaluate teachers are ridiculously flawed and there isn't a shred of evidence to show that Value Added Models or tying teacher evaluations to test scores (or any single data point) is reliable, valid, or even ethical. Professional support and mentoring for teachers in need of improvement makes so much more sense, but there's no profit to be made so let's drop that common sense approach.

And just where will all these stellar replacements come from? Oh right, temps from Teach for America whose 1-2 year commitment will really have a positive impact on student outcomes, especially in high poverty areas. But none of this will stop Governor Martinez and her designee Skandera from making up their own sets of rules designed to placate their corporate masters.

Children and educators as collateral damage in the pursuit of profit and power...what a shameful indictment of our society.

By Robert Nott

School leaders and teachers union representatives across New Mexico are accusing the Martinez administration of changing course on whether a school district has the final say in firing a teacher given one of the lowest ratings under the state's new evaluation system.

Two years ago, when the state Public Education Department implemented its teacher-evaluation plan by department rule -- because the Legislature did not approve it -- agency officials said the state would not fire low-rated teachers, but instead would offer them professional development.

Last month, however, the department told districts that Level I teachers found to be "ineffective" would have their contracts terminated and would have to wait three years to reapply for their licenses. Asked to comment on the issue, department spokesman Larry Behrens said in an email Thursday evening that "teacher personnel decisions are at the local level. We are talking with districts and working to clarify the guidance."

TJ Parks, superintendent of the Hobbs Municipal School system and head of the New Mexico School Superintendents Association, said he and other school officials met with the Public Education Department on Thursday to discuss their concerns about the policy shift. "I don't know how far they are willing to bend. I do think they are listening," he said. "I think there will be some movement in a positive direction."

Parks said he is expecting a clarifying email from the department soon.

On Dec. 22 -- during winter break for schools -- Leighann Lenti, deputy secretary for policy and programs for the Public Education Department, notified district superintendents, principals and charter schools of some policy changes. For example, she said, the license of a Level 2 teacher rated ineffective would not be renewed unless the district or school principal requested an extension of the teacher's contract, the teacher accumulated at least 50 percent of possible points in the evaluation and the teacher completed a professional development dossier, at a cost of $320.

Betty Patterson, president of the National Education Association-New Mexico, said in an email that the new guidelines "flaunt the laws of New Mexico, further concentrating state power at the expense of citizens and locally elected officials of our local school boards. ⦠A local superintendent and school board should have the authority to rehire educators they know to be competent."

Parks also said he believes these decisions should be left in the control of local superintendents. "We think that's where it needs to stop and start," he said.

Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, superintendent of that city's school district, said by phone Thursday that he has told the Public Education Department that the decision on whether to renew a teacher's contract should remain with the district.

"Districts need to retain that authority. . . to see if we can improve performance identified in an evaluation as weaker," he said.

The teacher evaluation plan, one of Gov. Susana Martinez's education reforms, relies heavily on student test scores and classroom observations to determine whether teachers are "ineffective," "minimally effective," "effective," "highly effective" or "exemplary."

— Robert Nott
The New Mexican





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