Open Office

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Since receiving an unsolicited and condescending email in my work account from Hanna Skandera, I’ve been trying to be all Buddhist on her ass. I think about how Buddhists believe that when you die you not only receive all the pain and suffering that you caused directly in your lifetime, but also all the indirect pain and suffering. (90,000 students taking over 40 standardized tests in a year (32 Common Core, 6 RIA, 3-4 days of NMSBA, 4 WIDA ACCESS, 2 LAS LINKS)= unlimited pain and sorrow.) Good luck to Hanna in that moment.

For those of you out-of-the-know, Ms. Skandera is the Secretary of Education designate for New Mexico. Under her leadership, she’s ushered in an A-F school grading system (which doesn’t factor in such pesky little things like poverty or parent literacy rates). She’s put into place a teacher evaluation system that ties standardized tests scores to teachers’ grades using a mathematical equation so complex I’ve never heard anyone able to explain it.  Also, under her leadership, the PED spent 4 million dollars on a two-year contract for a teacher evaluation website. (Does anyone else imagine how many teachers and/or tutors we could supply the “failing” schools to improve one-on-one direction with struggling students in reading and math???)

I put quotes around the “failing” schools part because schools aren’t really failing. Public policy to allow private money into the schools is what fails schools today. And Ms. Skandera’s ‘reforms’ put her at the top of the list of people allowing this to occur. Besides, she’s never taught a day in her life. (Supporters might counter my claim with the knowledge that Arne Duncan has never taught before either. Um, yup, my point exactly!)

I ran into a colleague, and we discussed the troublesome state we’re in as teachers today, specifically testing and evaluations. He asked, ‘”What are we supposed to do?”

Some teachers think we just have to hold on and wait out the storm so we can use our vote in next year’s election to voice our disapproval. That’s a patient plan.

Another option is to support Diane Ravitch (former Assistant Secretary of Education during the Bush era who has changed her tune about privatization of education) and her quest to stop corporate entities from placing puppet regimes into local school boards. This is a very real situation and has been happening in my home state of Colorado.

The website Network for Public Education states: “Ravitch is partnering with other education advocates in the group Network for Public Education to counteract the wealth of Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg, who, along with groups like Michelle Rhee’s Students First, donate to individual campaigns and ballot measures that support test-based teacher evaluations and charter schools. Ravitch’s group hopes to generate a grass roots campaign to oppose them and will grade and endorse political candidates. The group supports public school curriculums that include arts, sciences, foreign languages and physical education; better financing for schools; more respect for teachers; and the “appropriate use of testing to help students and teachers, not to punish or reward students, teachers, principals, or to close schools.”

But a third option is to jump into politics. I’m starting to believe more whole-heartedly that teachers must become politicians. Here in New Mexico, we must vote into office people who explicitly know the ins and outs, challenges and joys, frustrations and triumphs of being in a classroom everyday so these people can create change against the Skandera’s of the world: those who seek to create monetary advancement for the private sector on the backs of students born into poverty.

Until people in public office understand our job, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to see ourselves reflected and represented in our leadership. If that person is you—a fellow teacher—please consider public office. If you’re a spouse of a teacher and know he/she is perfect for the job, please support him/her in that decision. You just might be the solution.

Who do you want to run for public office?



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10 responses to “Open Office

  1. Powerful insight. You nailed it. Thank you. I can think of at least three instructors I’d love to see in public office. I’ll think about how I can offer my support.

    • Do talk to them. I know that public office is not something that many people want to do, especially if you’ve decided to become an educator. But, it would be a great benefit to so many people and students to have knowledgable politicians making decisions about education…

  2. Gilberto Lobo



  3. This is how students with speech-language disabilities are impacted by freakishly frequent standardized testing: Their teachers are reluctant to send them for speech therapy lest they miss a half hour or hour of an assessment. Their speech pathologist can’t work in the classroom with them because they’re taking an assessment. In speech therapy, lessons to build up skills for social cognition, expressive language, oral presentations, note taking, language play, etc. fall flat because the students rarely have the opportunity in class to practice their skills. Instead, they are taking pre-pre assessments, pre-assessments, assessments, post-post assessments, etc.etc. What knowledge base are we testing, exactly? Who is benefiting from the testing? Who. Is. Not?
    (Reposted from my FB.)

  4. Teaching is primarily a political act. We are the guardians of the city, Dana, are we not? Let me ask you … What is the problem with testing? It seems as if it is often taken for granted that testing is inherently negative and a waste of time. Could you clarify why?

    • Testing, in itself, is not a bad thing. I think there’s become an overabundance of testing that doesn’t serve the students and does attempt to label teachers as “ineffective.”

      For instance, my Intermediate-level ELL students are mandated to take the RIA test at their grade-level. I already know (based on their WIDA ACCESS scores–a more appropriate and meaningful assessment) they are reading and writing 3-4 grades below their grade level. The RIA will not allow me to adjust the test I give them by giving them their reading level test (rather than grade level). Therefore, the students will spend 6 days (2 days each time they take it–fall, winter, and spring) taking a test that will give me little information that I can use for my classroom instruction. In the past, the students have improved a few points each test cycle, yet remaining in beginning steps or nearing proficient. Why am I mandate to spend 6 instructional days to gain very little from the results? And, why will I be considered an “ineffective” instructor when the results of what my students learn won’t be noticed? (As far as I know, the WIDA–which consistently shows my students’ growth–will not be used in the evaluation process for PED).

      • Wait, according to whom will WIDA not be used? Also, I concur that there is an overabundance of testing. I just get concerned when I here critiques of testing – in general – because there is another movement that wants to remove all testing as antiquated instructional tactic. Thanks for your response. I think that in fact you can use WIDA as documentation for certain domains. Perhaps you mean they won’t use it as part of their evaluation metric to assess student achievement? As in, the part of their new eval that measures students’ scores from your classes?

  5. Also, as I said today, let’s nosh sometime and talk politics with civility. I would love to share knowledge.

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