New Mexico: TFA Alum Takes the Reins as State Chief

Many teachers in New Mexico were relieved when Hanna Skandera resigned as Commissioner of the Public Education Department. Skandera never met the minimum legal requirement to hold the post; she had never been a teacher. She was a protege of Jeb Bush and wanted to bring the Florida model of high-stakes testing, accountability, and privatization to New Mexico. She subscribed to her mentor’s radical anti-public school, anti-teacher policies and even served as chair of Jeb’s Chiefs for Change, a far-right group.

The American Federation of Teachers and the Albuquerque Federation of Teachers filed suit against Skandera’s value-added teacher evaluation program, which counted student test scores as 50% of each teacher’s evaluation. Teachers hated this flawed and inaccurate method. See here. The New Mexico courts have enjoined the state from applying penalties based on its VAM. The New Mexico method is the toughest in the nation; it finds about 30% of teachers to be ineffective. New Mexico has a growing teacher shortage, due to low teacher pay and poor working conditions. Skandera did nothing to support teachers, nor has Governor Martinez.

Although Skandera has left, help is not on the way. Governor Susanna Martinez has appointed Christopher Ruszkowski, a deputy of Skandera, to take Skandera’s place.

“Ruszkowski arrived in New Mexico in April 2016 to oversee the Public Education Department’s research agenda, policies and academic priorities, including PARCC testing, school grades and pre-kindergarten….

“Born in Chicago, Ruszkowski spent three years teaching in Miami and Boston schools through Teach for America, then received a master’s degree in education policy from Stanford University. He most recently worked for the Delaware Department of Education, earning accolades from the state’s Democratic governor.

“Ruszkowski told the Journal on Wednesday that he is excited to lead New Mexico’s PED and maintain its “strong foundation.”

“(Teachers) are saying, ‘Let’s have some stability for once. Let’s have some continuity for once. Let’s not have another pendulum swing,’ ” Ruszkowski said. ” It’s very rare for a state to have the opportunity to have some degree of stability and continuity in its core systems over the course of a decade. New Mexico is getting there.”

In other words, the new chief thinks that teachers want to maintain and deepen Skandera’s hated policies.

Ruszkowski went out of his way to praise the Gates-funded Teachers Plus organization and to lob criticism at the NEA and AFT.

“Ruszkowski said he has yet to meet with Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Raquel Reedy, who oversees the state’s largest district, with more than 80, 000 students, and who often disagreed with Skandera’s reform efforts.

“Ruszkowski said districts in cities including San Antonio, Denver and Phoenix are making strides, while APS continues to struggle. Districts must adopt innovative approaches to education if they want to improve outcomes, Ruszkowski said.”

This last comment was an outright smear. None of those districts participate in NAEP, and there is no objective basis for comparing them, other than to note that those districts are in the forefront of privatization, which has shown no gains, except for schools that cherrypick their students and exclude those with disabilities.

It is time for New Mexico to elect a new Governor, one who wants to improve public schools, not destroy them.

from novemoore


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