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?