In a recent public announcement the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) is lifting the ban on public school teachers exercising their Constitutional right of free speech to criticize standardized testing. The obvious presumptuousness, this was apparently a momentous recognition on the part of those in charge from the Governor to the PED chief and who knows whom else in between, that Americans have a right of free speech even if the government doesn’t like what is being said. Of course there was prodding from the ACLU. The gag rule was promulgated during the Richardson administration which was not itself exactly a bastion of enlightenment and was hung on to by the Martinez PED. We may now expect to hear from New Mexico’s beleaguered teachers on the current regime of testing that replaces authentic teaching and learning.
Following her election to Governor in 2010, Susana Martinez had some pay-back obligations to her sponsors, such as the Koch boys, from whom she took in at least $10,000.00 directly. Consequently she appointed an individual to head the PED who had been vetted by such right wing luminaries as Jeb Bush. It mattered not that the new PED director had no degree or experience as an educator nor were there any apologies for the appointment of an unqualified individual. In fact, Skandera could not have been hired as a teacher in New Mexico because she could not meet the minimum requirements such as: 30 to 60 semester hours in an Elementary Education program including student teaching, a minimum of 6 semester hours of credit in the teaching of reading if you entered college or university after 8/1/01, and a minimum of 24 semester hours in one teaching field such as mathematics, language arts, reading, history, and so forth. To add insult to injury, Skandera was, at that time paid $125,000.00 a year against the average New Mexico public school teacher’s $39K to $49K (all below the national average by the way).
This is about politics after all and the ultimate outcome desired by the sponsors is the privatization of public education – a holy grail, if you will, being sought in nearly every state in the US with a Republican controlled state house. As one billionaire, Rupert Murdoch, famously put it, education is a 500 billion dollar opportunity for which he an others like him are salivating. It should also be noted that Skandera was a participant in the same venue at the same time as Murdoch made this declaration.
Which takes us to the entire idea of standardized testing in elementary grades. Aside from its use as a diagnostic there is absolutely no justification for standardized testing at that level. If anything such testing is a disincentive to authentic teaching and learning. In fact, there should not be grades between kindergarten and the transition to Junior High school a transition better determined by age and appropriate evaluation. In-grade retention of children at any grade level is antediluvian and antithetical to the purposes of proper schooling. It is also cruel. It is no wonder that across the US fewer and fewer children are completing their full course of public education – mindless endless testing regimes and draconian consequences for not performing well on standardized tests are largely to blame. Have you ever met a standard kid by the way? Neither have I.
Truth is children want to learn and schools are there to help with that natural instinct. Unfortunately schools and schooling have become politicized across the country and mostly in states with right-wing reactionary government. What is being called school reform is championed by non-educators, politicians with campaign debts to entrepreneurs who wish to turn public schools into profit centers. Parents are, in many locations, pushing back against this onslaught against teachers and children in the name of profit. It is going to take a great deal of political action to remove people from office who are so anti-social and anti-child that they are willing to sacrifice one of America’s greatest achievements – universal public education. It has to be done – it must be done. Parent must take interest and be vigilant because the profit motive never sleeps.