The Problem With Skandera

It seems obvious, given her complete lack of educational credentials and her political background, that Hanna Skandera is a foot soldier in an ideological war taking place right now against working people – teachers and other unionized workers. This is the national agenda of the organizations she is and has been affiliated with. The children of New Mexico ought not be used as pawns in a national political strategy.

Her political credentials and affiliations aside, Ms. Skandera can offer absolutely no professional qualifications to be New Mexico’s or any other state’s secretary of education.

She has no background in curriculum and instruction, yet she feels competent enough to suggest a policy of assigning letter grades to classroom teachers as a solution. Skandera has never had the day-to-day experience of being in charge of a classroom with elementary school children herself, yet she feels competent to evaluate trained, experienced teachers.

So, then, why is she being vetted as the New Mexico secretary of education? Most likely the answer is because she was recommended to our new governor by people outside the state who are fronting a national political agenda that is antithetical and indifferent to the needs of the people and children of New Mexico.

This national agenda played out in Wisconsin and, if those behind the movement have their way, New Mexico will not be far behind.

Not grounded in experience

It is not new information that coercive programs like “No Child Left Behind” and other similar “great ideas” put forth not by educators but by people with political agendas have failed and failed badly. Now here comes Ms. Skandera advocating the simplistic notions that holding children back in grade promotion or assigning teachers letter grades are the magic bullet. Apparently no informed thought has crossed her mind that socially stigmatizing children for things that may be beyond a child’s ability serves no useful purpose, but only a destructive one.

Further, what possible rational train of thought could lead someone to believe that assigning teachers letter grades based on the achievement of their students will lead to a better educational outcome? No good purpose is served by humiliation – there are better ways to achieve educational goals.

Why do grand schemes such as these proposals fail? They fail because they are not grounded in informed educational experience and are not founded by educators but by politicians selling the public on easy answers to problems caused by “them.”

There are effective ways to deal with the teaching of reading, for example. One of these is based on a great deal of evidence that trying to teach reading to children who come from homes where parents do not read, where there are scant if any reading materials, where learning is not a family value is, at best, a futile endeavor.

In spite of parents’ desires to hold teachers responsible for their little darlings’ academic performance they, themselves, are the most responsible parties in the education of children. Blaming teachers is a convenient passing of the buck but is patently false. The valuing of education starts in the home, as does discipline.

A carpetbagger who is ignorant of our state

The people of New Mexico are being asked to hire a carpetbagger who is ignorant of our state, its history and its people. Why is this when we have plenty of qualified people residing here who could and would do an outstanding job if they could be assured their efforts would not be undermined or second-guessed for political purposes?

Teachers need community support and resources, and parents need to be held responsible for their children. It will take several years of concerted effort to bring everyone, children, parents and educators, on board with that idea.

Approving Ms Skandera’s appointment will be a step backwards in that endeavor. I will wager that this appointment would generate more resentment than reform, more heat than light.

It is always useful to recall  Governor Lew Wallace’s wisdom: “All efforts based on experience elsewhere fail in New Mexico.” It was as true then as it is true today. Relevant experience must be New Mexico, not California or Florida, based.

And individuals vetted for important positions ought to have at the very least minimal backgrounds, training and qualifications for the intended position.

This essay first appeared at NMPolitics.net

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