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Posts Tagged ‘Education’

Legal Shenanigans Serve as Fallback Position

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

For years I’ve lamented the fact that we’ve thrown more and more money at education in New Mexico with absolutely no return on our investment in the one place that it matters most – improved student performance. In fact, it could be easily argued that the more money we put into the system, the worse it seems to fare for our children. The education unions have proven that when push comes to shove they are more interested in maintaining hierarchies than improving the system for our children, or allowing exceptional teachers in the rank and file a place to flourish.

So, now we’ve got new leadership on the fourth floor, and you know what? Governor Martinez is actually shaking things up. She is looking at a broken system and an empty piggy bank, and saying it’s  time to take a different approach. Now, the left is famous for talking a big game and promising bold change, but in the end delivering the status quo. In fact, threaten to upset their apple cart, and they’ll pull out the lawyers to look for any minute legal justifications to avoid change:

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s nominee for public education secretary, Hanna Skandera, faces questions in the Legislature over whether she meets constitutional requirements for the job.

The leader of the Public Education Department must be a “qualified, experienced educator,” according to the New Mexico Constitution, but Skandera has never worked as a teacher or administrator in a public elementary or secondary school.

Skandera is subject to Senate confirmation, and Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said lawmakers are trying to determine what the Constitution means by “educator.”

“I don’t think we should just close our eyes to that issue,” Sanchez said recently.

Just in case you’re wondering, when Senator Sanchez isn’t putting unions before children, he’s practicing law. Now before some bozo tries to make the case that only someone who has spent some time in a classroom can run an education department, let me say that is utter nonsense, and for the record, I spent five years in the classroom. Let’s also forget about the fact, that if someone has a Master’s degree, than they have spent an awful lot of time in a classroom. And, let’s move beyond the buffoonery which would pretend that if someone has served as an adjunct professor and guest lecturer at a University, which Ms. Skandera has, they are less of an educator than say a fourth grade teacher.

After all, according to the Union and good Senator’s logic, the only one capable of running a fast food enterprise is someone who has served time as a fry cook, and we all know that’s not true. But, I’ll tell you one good thing is coming out of this. This desperate last ditch ploy by the entrenched beneficiaries of the status quo make it abundantly clear that Governor Martinez’s selection for education secretary is going to shake up and truly attempt to improve the system.

Moving Education Forward

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

The approach to fixing public education in New Mexico under the now exiting administration boiled down to nothing more than a money dump. After years of ever-increasing funding of education, the only result was a further decline in student performance. So, it is promising that Governor-elect Martinez has indeed taken a “bold” step in selecting as education secretary nominee someone with a track record of increased student performance:

Hanna Skandera “served as the deputy commissioner of education under (Florida) Governor Jeb Bush, where she promoted and implemented middle and high school reforms that instituted greater accountability, incentives for high performance and the end of social promotion,” a news release from Martinez’s transition team states.

“As a result of the education reforms put in place in Florida, reading scores improved dramatically across ethnic groups, with Hispanic students outperforming all students in 31 other states,” the release states.

It’s obvious this choice is making the status quo standard bearers nervous as their preferred mouthpiece for disseminating disinformation is already trying to limit the scope of change:

What the new secretary doesn’t need to do is drag moderate New Mexico into a needless, divisive and ultimately losing battle to impose school vouchers–or as they are euphemistically known–”school choice.”

We already went through that in the Guv campaign when Martinez was caught on video supporting vouchers, but later backtracked. As an outsider, Skandera is positioned to unite the education community. It would be a shame if she allowed ideological rigidness to derail that opportunity.

We don’t think she is going to go there, but we put the flag in the window–just in case.

C’mon Joe, stop trying to keep New Mexican kids down. Give parents and their children a choice when it comes to education. Public education was never supposed to be like a trip to the airport – a grin and bear it type of experience. Now, as full disclaimer, my kids are being educated in the public school system, and I’ve taken advantage of school choice. They’ve never gone to the schools they are “supposed” to attend by some arbitrary geographic determination. As involved parents we did our research and put them in schools that we thought best met their needs. Right now, that means they are both in a charter school. Why shouldn’t every other parent be allowed the same opportunity of choice that I have?

Before someone makes the comment that they do have the same opportunity, please note that’s not true. Many charter schools have waiting lists or lottery systems because there are only a limited number of seats. Do we really feel that the best way to determine which kids receive a quality education be determined by your place in line or the luck of a draw. Why are some people so eager to take choice off the table, or at the very least make it only an option for those with personal wealth, or good luck? Parental involvement is nearly universally agreed upon as one of the key foundations for education success of children. What’s more involving than parents taking an active role in choosing where their children go to school?

With New Mexico at the bottom of all education lists that measure performance, you’ve got to wonder what motivates anyone to fight for “moderation” as an approach to educational improvement? Thankfully, Governor-elect Martinez does not appear to share this view, and although it’s too early to tell what her education legacy will be, it’s great to see that this first step appears to be a departure from the status quo, and I for one say the more radical departure the better.

Can Education Spending Be Cut?

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Yes.

Governor-elect Martinez painted herself in a corner by pledging not to cut education spending. But, the truth is that the number of dollars spent on education DOES NOT have a direct correlation to an improved education outcome. If nothing else, the Richardson Administration deserves credit for proving this. For eight years, the Administration and a compliant State Legislature have thrown more and more money at education with absolutely no result.

Spending as the recipe for student success is an “innovation” experiment that has failed miserably. Of course, some people still don’t get it. They cling to the concept that the more you spend, the greater the outcome:

Martinez’s best bet–perhaps her only bet to deliver fundamental economic change–is to finally put the state on the path to public school success among the population groups that perennially under perform.

That’s going to cost money.

If the new administration takes this same old tact, we are doomed to continued failure and ever-increasing budget shortfalls. Increased spending hasn’t yielded positive results in the last eight years, and it will not equal improved education outcomes for our children in the next eight years. Feel good programs whose gains are lost in middle school, need to be eliminated. If we want to see real improvement, it’s time to get back to basics, and interestingly enough that will require less, not more, money.

A Parent’s Passion

Monday, May 17th, 2010

“If we do it for you, we’ll have to do it for everyone else.” This wasn’t stated anywhere in the recent Upfront article about a family’s fight to get the best education possible for their child, but it seemed to be the underlying motivation in the Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) decision to litigate rather than educate:

Chavez-Williamson had demanded too much from the system, rejected the advice of educators with years of experience, Adams said. She had “shopped” for different schools and teachers (an apparent APS no-no), then pulled him from those schools when his needs were not being met to her satisfaction.

“It was a constant barrage,” Mary Johnell Hale, APS developmental preschool program liaison, testified. “I love Sandra and her family, but she was consumed with getting ready to prepare Tommy for kindergarten.”

Nearly everyone agrees that parental involvement in a child’s education is a key component in a child’s success. Yet, it’s interesting that APS should decide to litigate rather than work with advocate parents to provide a special needs child the best education possible. We’ve all heard stories, watched movies and read books, of “experts” setting limitations on a child’s expected achievements only to have those limitations surpassed because a parent took seriously their individual responsibility to be their child’s number one advocate.

Of course, government systems and the bureaucrats that run them don’t like this behavior.  They prefer to put into place a system of rules and regulations for the “greater good” that maintain the status quo – often one of failure and mediocrity – rather than seek to continuously improve and recognize the needs of the individual. Consider the actions noted above that are considered negative by the school district and its personnel:

  1. shopping for different schools and teachers in an APS no-no
  2. being “consumed” with getting your child prepared for the next grade

How much better off would our schools be if every parent demanded the same accountability for their children? In a government run society, you are supposed to defer to the experts. However, one of the characteristics that has made this country great is those that have challenged the status quo and refused to settle for mediocrity and commonly assumed practices of what’s best. It’s troubling that any school would rather litigate than educate – especially a taxpayer funded institution.

APS Recruitment Policy

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

I think one of the major shortcomings of the education system overall is that it has not adapted to the skills needed to be successful in the information age. Most classrooms spend a lot of time in the indoctrination of information.  The model is that someone (i.e. the teacher) presents information, and the student “learns” this information and demonstrates their “knowledge” by spitting it back. While that may work for the basic fundamentals, once you get past those fundamentals it really serves very little purpose.

More important than the ability to regurgitate “facts” is the ability to critically analyze the information that is presented to you. We’ve all heard the axiom that there are two sides to every story. In fact the comments left on this blog over the years by those that disagree with me on given policy positions is a good example of that.  Personal attacks aside, most of the for and against arguments on a given issue have some merit.

So, what does this have to do with the new APS Recruitment Policy? Well, the debate over the recruitment policy demonstrates the shortcoming of an education by indoctrination:

The presence of recruiters also must be logged, to determine whether they are spending more time at certain schools than others. The logs will also track groups that requested access to schools and were denied.

One central complaint of peace activists remains unchanged. Several anti-war groups have requested access to campuses to provide counter-information to military recruitment and say they have been denied. They would still not be allowed on campus under the new policy, which would allow only groups that actively recruit for a job or service program, not those that simply advocate a point of view.

If critical thinking and the ability to make well-rounded decisions were taught, then the peace-activists complaints would truly be moot. Students would take the information given by recruiters (military, business or community groups) and then do some of their own research to determine if what was “being sold” was in their own best interest.  But, of course, in the age of the ever-growing nanny government, the assumption is that the citizenry is really not capable of thinking for themselves.

Worse, the newly adopted policy demonstrates the classic government bureaucratic solution in all its glory. Let’s create logs and task someone with administering and analyzing those logs. Yeah, in a time of growing budget shortfalls, that’s going to add value to the education of our children.

The Problem With Teacher Unions in a Nutshell

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Times are tough, and when that’s the case certain obvious flaws become amplified.  Take for example the challenges currently faced by the Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) as a result of the budget crunch.  APS is looking at where to make cuts, and Superintendent Winston Brooks presented one suggestion that seems pretty reasonable on paper.  Cut the double dippers (i.e. those who are already drawing a pension).

But, it seems that the union has a problem with this approach:

Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein said she understands why the district is targeting rehires, but that there are problems with the plan. 

She said double dippers “have the same rights as all beginning employees,” and that the district should conduct layoffs by seniority, regardless of whether employees are also drawing a pension. 

Seniority.  That’s what it all boils down to for the union.  Value to the kids – irrelevant. Teacher performance – irrelevant.  Even that battle cry of the left for the greater good is irrelevant when compared to the union’s commitment to protecting the status quo (AKA seniority).


Any wonder that this system continues its downward spiral?

Let’s See the Proof

Monday, March 8th, 2010

The Governor’s office and Lt. Governor Diane Denish appear to be in a he said / she said squabble about the state’s failure to land a Race to the Top education reform grant from the Obama administration:

Richardson spokeswoman Alarie Ray-Garcia said that despite Denish’s interest in education, she declined repeated invitations to help develop the proposal.
        

“Her only involvement was to write a letter in support of the state’s proposal, which she praised as being ‘innovative,’” Ray-Garcia said.
        

“Now, for whatever reason, she has decided to attack the hard work of a lot of New Mexicans, including Secretary Garcia and her staff, who dedicated a lot of time and resources into this proposal. It was a strong proposal and Governor Richardson was proud to spend considerable time in Washington D.C. last week lobbying Secretary Duncan on its merits.”

Denish spokesman James Hallinan said Denish was never invited to participate in the grant-writing process. 

Now, I admit to being a bit curious as to whom is telling the truth here. And, as it was pointed out to me by one reader, this should be relatively easy to prove one way or the other. Maybe Richardson spokeswoman Alarie Ray-Garcia would like to send us a copy of the emails or memos that were sent to the Lt. Governor inviting her to help develop the proposal, or maybe a copy of one of the written responses where she “declined repeated inivtations.”


Alternately, maybe the Lt. Governor’s spokesman, James Hallinan could send us a copy of the request the Lt. Governor made to actually be involved with the proposal writing. I’m just saying, if one of you is telling the truth, please back it up with a little written evidence.


As a relative tangent, you’ve got to love the fact that teachers’ union representative actually wrote a letter AGAINST the state’s request for $160 million from the feds:

And while the state’s chances probably weren’t helped by a letter from Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein criticizing the state’s application, that likely wasn’t a determining factor. 

It may not have been a determining factor, but I do hope that when we have a second special session this year because revenue is less than projected, our state legislatures take note that the union went out of their way to keep money for education from coming into the state.  Education cuts in the amount of $160 million should absolutely be on the table if a second special session is called.

Richardson Approval Numbers in Free Fall

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

The Teflon Governor is Teflon no more.

We’re going to have our New Mexico poll results out starting tomorrow- perhaps the most interesting thing we found is that Bill Richardson has become one of the least popular Governors in the country, with 63% of voters in the state disapproving of him to only 28% approving. He’s even in negative territory among Democrats at a 42/47 spread.

I’ve always been amazed by Governor Bill Richardson’s early popularity. Despite the rhetoric, the “successes” of this Administration have been nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

And, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on for days, but you can just hit the appropriate label button below and read it all without me repeating it.

So, what does this all mean for the Democratic hopefuls during this upcoming election year.  Well, right now it looks like Richardson Administration #2, Lt. Governor Diane Denish, is still polling out ahead… barely:

Where New Mexico departs from its regional counterparts is that it still looks favored to vote Democratic in its most significant statewide race this year. Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish leads her top Republican opponent, Pete Domenici Jr., by a 45-40 margin and has leads of 14-18 points over the rest of the GOP field.

Denish is by far the best known of the candidates running, with 41% of voters in the state holding a positive opinion of her to just 34% who see her negatively.

 Keep in mind, the Lt. Governor has been campaigning for this position for going on two years. So, I don’t know that those  numbers are anything to celebrate about – especially, considering Pete Domenici Jr. just got in the race a couple of weeks ago.

It’s going to be very hard for the Lt. Governor to start disengaging herself from the Governor after Denish has been so silent for so long. Only 34% of the voters see her negatively right now, but let’s be realistic.  She has operated in the shadow of Governor for the last eight years. His failed policies are bringing him down very quickly.  It’s not going to be very long before that same problem is encountered by Richardson’s #2. This is particularly true when we consider that the Governor spent so much time out of state during his Presidential dream chasing, that the state was actually being run by Lt. Governor Diane Denish.

Misguided Priorities at Legislative Close

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Huge budget issues continue to loom as the Legislature comes to a close today.  So, you’ve got to wonder how the Hispanic Education Act can be a priority:

But with only hours remaining in the legislative session at the time of the Senate’s 25-13 vote, House Bill 150 was sent back to the House, which needed to approve it before it could be forwarded to Gov. Bill Richardson.
        

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque, was optimistic Wednesday night that the House would concur on the amendment by today’s noon adjournment.
        

The legislation, which is supported by Richardson, would create a Hispanic education liaison position inside the state Public Education Department. It also would require an annual report card on Hispanic performance in New Mexico schools. And it would create a Hispanic education advisory council that would provide input to the education secretary. 

 Just to refresh your memory on why this is a bizarre initiative, please go back and read my original pre-legislative session post on this purposeless political soundbite effort.

Another Reason Dollars Should Follow Children

Friday, December 18th, 2009

Whether a charter school is succeeding or failing in meeting its students educational needs, there is one component that is undoubtedly in play that does not exist at most regular public schools – parental involvement. In order for a child to be attending a charter school, a parent or guardian had to make a conscious choice and effort to get their child into that school. And, in the end, if they are unsatisfied with the results, they can move their child out of the school and to another.

This is a good thing. In fact, parental involvement in a child’s education is one of the key factors in improving student performance. Yet, the Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) wants to shut down opportunities for more parents to take an active role in their children’s education:


Albuquerque Public Schools wants lawmakers to place a moratorium on new charter schools until existing schools are fully funded.

The request is one of the items on the district’s legislative wish list, and it aims to help APS deal with a budget crunch.

“We need to stop putting in place new programs or schools that take away from the pie of money,” APS lobbyist Joseph Escobedo said.

The theory that moving dollars from one education environment to another is “taking away from the pie of money” is absurd. It is a redistribution of money, but it doesn’t shrink the overall pie. Kids are still going to be educated using the same amount of dollars. Actually, maybe I should reword that to say some kids will finally be educated using the same, and quite possibly less, dollars.

Why is it that government entities always support redistribution of wealth from taxpayers to their budgets, but fight tooth and nail when the redistribution is from their budgets to another public entity budget? When that is proposed, it makes the pie smaller. Of course, we all know that it doesn’t shrink the pool of money, it just allows it to move to potentially more productive uses. Something that really ought to be the focus of the upcoming legislative session as opposed to taking more from taxpayers. But, I digress.

This is yet another reason that taxpayer dollars allocated for educating our children should follow those children as opposed to making the children follow the dollars.

Disclaimer: Our kids attend a fantastic charter school, Family School. So, I’ve got an inherent bias here. Plus, it would be highly hypocritical of me to take advantage of school choice for my children, but say from this point forward other people’s children should not be afforded the same opportunity.