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.