Archive for February, 2012

A Momentary Lapse …

A Momentary Lapse of Character

In a moment of uncharacteristic candor and persona, Hanna Skandera, the twice passed over candidate for New Mexico Secretary of Education, had this bit of truth to say about her mission: “I came to New Mexico to do a job, and I plan to do that job.” With the tacit approval of legislators on both sides of the aisle, what a job it is she is doing to schools, teachers and students.

By not taking up Skandera’s confirmation and rejecting her Legislators obtained by default their personal “don’t blame me” licenses. Clearly the “job” she refers to is bringing New Mexico into line with the educational policies of ALEC including their spawn of phony “foundations”, “institutes” and her other corporate sponsors. Nearly verbatim copies of ALEC promulgated educational policies, the ABCD-F Act among them, have been presented and passed into law. This is happening without critical analysis, proper public discussion or truthful disclosure of sources nor an understanding of the strategy, purpose and ultimate consequences imbedded in those new laws.

The same underhanded conspiracy is taking place across the United States and besides New Mexico, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Florida are good examples. State legislators elected by their constituencies in the belief that they would write and pass legislation particular to their constituencies are carrying water for a private organization, ALEC, introducing bills written by ideological trolls in Washington DC. Of course to prepare them for this mission legislators are wined and dined at exclusive resorts sequestered by armed guards to keep out the prying eyes of the public and the press. If a resort isn’t handy ALEC will happily pick up the tab at an expensive local restaurant as it did recently in Santa Fe. Either way ALEC picks up the tab and asks only that you introduce the bills they have written as though they were your own. It sounds a lot like a conspiracy scam doesn’t it? Personally I want my elected representatives to write their own legislation based on what we in New Mexico need and not what some corporate sponsored bill mill in Washington DC is cranking out.

In Wisconsin, Connecticut and Florida state legislatures already have been and are uncritically passing new laws governing schools to enable take-over by private charter schools, the devaluing of teachers, and the mechanized stupidizing of the educative process. What is the motive? Among other things like destroying organized representation for working class people, the end result ALEC and it sponsors want is to take over public education for profit. In some places people are waking up. In Wisconsin for instance they are recalling their recently elected Governor, Scott Walker, who, like Susana Martinez in New Mexico, was sponsored by the Koch boys and the ALEC. This recall business can happen anywhere when people realize they are being sold out by their elected officials. Throw the bums out of office and start over; that’s how it done unless of course you are happy with the idea of uniform laws promulgated across the country written by ALEC and passed by corporate toadies in state legislatures.

What’s at stake here? Well, how about your democratic form of government for starters? How about schools accountable to their communities as opposed to schools accountable to their stockholders and corporate managers. How about honesty and above the board legislative dealings. How about doing your job as a legislator and doing the dirty work that job sometimes requires? If all you think about is being re-elected and not wanting to affront some of your constituency or potential fat cat donors then you are not doing your job and don’t deserve to hold office. In the final analysis it isn’t whether Skandera was approved or not, what matters is that you had the courage to take up the matter and deal with it. We are now into the 2012 legislative election cycle and November will be the reckoning. I’ll bet education is going to be on  the agenda.

It was announced this afternoon, Wednesday February 15th, that New Mexico had been granted exemption from the NCLB business. President Obama’s hoops buddy came through for Skandera on this matter which is by definition, is no more than a straw issue. In fact what has been achieved is exactly no more than this: New Mexico, you no longer have to walk backwards but you will have to walk on your hands and knees. Keep going. Boy whoopee! Such a deal…..

This essay first appeared at: http://www.motivationalbooks.com/thelightofnewmexico/

How Great is Great?

New Mexico Teachers: How Great is Great?

Last week legislators from around the country flocked to an all-expense-paid (including travel) get-together at an exclusive island resort off the coast of Florida—the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island. The tab was picked up by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), leaving one to wonder just what the legislators exchanged in return for the pleasure of their company. The party was labeled “ALEC K-12 Education Reform Academy.” Oh, and the party was closed to the public and the press and protected from intruders by private security guards.

New legislation regarding teacher evaluations now being proposed in the New Mexico Legislature to “evaluate” teacher performance has been derived from examples of “model” legislation provided to legislators by ALEC. The ALEC is sponsored by large corporations and billionaires with visions of new sources of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, and the organization provides legislators with what they euphemistically refer to as “model” legislation. The model legislation is provided to legislators on a number of topics and is written to specifications dictated by the corporate sponsors of ALEC to serve their ends. In the case of public schools the ultimate goals are to privatize public education, eliminate teacher unions and make money for the sponsors. Simple enough.

We have had an example in New Mexico of such ALEC-dictated legislation in the form of the ABCD-F Act. A great deal of the language and intent in that travesty flowed from ALEC plumbing where it was called the “Education Accountability Act.” Presently we are seeing two bills, HB 249 and SB 293, wending their way though the Legislature, both having to do with teacher and administrator evaluation. The two bills, sponsored by legislators sympathetic to the governor’s and secretary-designate’s agenda correspond closely to three ALEC-authored models: “Great Teachers and Leaders Act,” “Career Ladder Opportunities Act” and “Teacher Quality and Recognition Demonstration Act.” All you have to do is add local water, shake and bake, and presto, you have made-to-order legislation, compliments of ALEC.

“Great Teachers and Leaders Act”? Just how great can a teacher be when children come to school unmotivated and unprepared to learn? That is not the question being asked, of course, by the sponsors of new legislation being presented at the Roundhouse. When I first read Secretary-designate of Education Hanna Skandera’s public exclamations about how “great” New Mexico’s  teachers are and how she wanted to climb up to the roof-tops to “scream” out how much she loved and respected teachers I knew exactly what was coming. And I was right. This was a perfect example of what I call damning with cynical praise.

So what is this about? Why do teachers, administrators and schools have targets on their backs? It is because public schools can be replaced, so can teachers and so can administrators. What can they be replaced with? Vouchers for private for-profit schools and teachers from private training programs like Teach For America and K-12, that’s what. This monkey business is not unique to New Mexico either; it is going on across the country, where conservative legislators and governors have taken control of state houses. The attacks on public education are accompanied by attacks on many other public services in order to achieve a political goal of reducing government services and privatizing whatever is left.

What is not being said in this proposed legislation was perfectly articulated by a Santa Fe teacher. Laura Carthy had this bit of wisdom to offer, born of experience: “They want to hold us accountable, but how can they hold me accountable for students who aren’t here, who are constantly tardy and miss five to 20 minutes of instruction a day?” Carthy enumerated many of the issues teachers and administrators face on a daily basis and over which they have no control, such as children not eating, not sleeping and not doing their homework. (S.F. New Mexican 12/18/11) The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is also an advocate for these neo-liberal policies, and he wants to tie federal funding to Skinnerian testing performance evaluation regimes. While Ms. Skandera is on the rooftop and Arne is shooting hoops with the president people like Laura Carthy are in the trenches.

In December, 2003 Ms. Skandera appeared at a luncheon as a Hoover Research Fellow with her mentor and distinguished Hoover Institute professor, Richard Sousa. Interestingly, Sousa is best known as an expert on labor economics and, incidentally, K-12 education. Sousa and Skandera reported on their research and offered suggestions for improving education through school choice, testing and accountability. The term accountability in Sousa’s parlance includes evaluating teachers, hence our Secretary-designate’s ABCD-F Act and now proposed legislation in the form of HB 249 and HB 293. As the old saying goes, the apple seldom falls far from the tree. In this case Professor Sousa’s former research assistant is following the script, and what has followed are the three pillars of the New Mexico ABCD-F Act and the new teacher accountability legislation— school choice, testing and accountability.

This essay first appeared at Light of New Mexico

 

 

Listen and Show Some Respeto

Listen and Show Some  Respeto

Listen, Listen. Listen. That was the watchword, the first principle I was taught when working for the University of Wisconsin Extension Services which I did throughout my graduate studies. I traveled that state conducting extension service programs all of which were developed by listening to the communities we served. When I was first elected majordomo of my acequia here in the northern mountains I spent most of my time asking questions about what was needed to make the ditch function more fairly and efficiently and listening carefully to the answers. I sat for hours listening to viejos tell me the history of this very old acequia dug by hand from the mountain to the meadows. Respeto. I spent my time getting to know the families served by the ditch and walked the land the acequia passed through from the mountain presa to the last gate at the farthest end of our llano’s irrigated fields. This was my experience in Wisconsin coming into service in New Mexico and tempered by Governor Lew Wallace’s dicho – “Every calculation based on experience elsewhere fails in New Mexico.” I had no “calculations” but knew that listening to people tell you about themselves, their needs and their experiences will not fail you and a plan will make itself evident in proper time. Listen.

Our Secretary-designate of Education has not distinguished herself with a willingness to listen and this is not without consequences. New Mexico failed to receive a waiver of the NCLB requirements because the Secretary-designate of Education and her allies were eager to push their imported, ALEC-inspired ABCD-F Act through the legislature. In passing this piece of retrograde legislation the State failed to meet the Federal requirements for exemption from the NCLB. Interviewed on the KOB-TV web site, APS Superintendent of Schools, Winston Brook, voiced his opinion that the ABCD-F grading system didn’t meet federal requirements. Winston went on to say that Skandera was made aware of those concerns before she released the grades. Brooks was also aware that the U.S. Secretary of Education had written a letter to Skandera telling her she needed to address the issues. Obviously the federal concerns were not dealt with in a timely manner hence no exemption.

Carrying water for ALEC has its price and in this case the price will paid by New Mexico’s schools, teachers and children who have been saddled with the ABCD-F Act and will now struggle to be released from the NCLB requirements. There is no denying Ms. Skandera came to New Mexico on a mission and she has been notably single-minded about carrying out her assignment. Her ideological blinders have kept her from grasping the cultural realities of the state including our diverse languages a tradition for which she has demonstrated a profound lack of respete.

Skandera has placed herself within an ideological cocoon comprised of her own imported staff and well paid out-of-state consultants, which has resulted in a tragic lack of critical understanding and ham-handed policy execution. Her reform process has been a self-affirming and thus a self-defeating feed-back loop. She and her advisors have all been on the same page but the book they are using is about somewhere other than New Mexico.

What we have received is a lot of fancy doubletalk such as this recent example from the Secretary-designate: “New Mexico consistently has been ranked 48th, 49th or 50th in most of our achievement rankings, etc.. And for the first time we will be in the top 11 states championing reform, and I believe we are headed in the right direction…”. This statement would be held up for ridicule in any logic class. The speaker equates “achievement rankings” and “championing reform” as though they are equivalents. Reform and achievement are not even remotely the same thing and cannot honestly be used in a comparative sense; they are totally unrelated ideas being force fit into being equivalent to make it sound as though something profound is happening. This is the definition of propaganda –  false ideas spread deliberately to further one’s cause. It’s time for the current Governor and her administration to show some respeto for the people of New Mexico. Escuche, Escuche, Escuche.

This was first published at: http://www.motivationalbooks.com/thelightofnewmexico/


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