Critics of education consultants need to get a life

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By Harold Morgan

First impressions of Hanna Skandera, public education secretary designate: smart, articulate, poised, confident and supportive of her staff.
“The Public Education Department and the employees who have been (through six months of big change) have been remarkable,” Skandera told the Legislative Education Study Committee (LESC) July 25.
My time at the meeting was brief, only an hour, because family business intruded. I went because of the opportunity to see Skandera in action and the chance to learn. Education jargon always impedes learning about education.
I think it’s some kind of cultural conspiracy against parents and citizens. More exposure, I figure, might bring more understanding.
I did learn, even with missing the fireworks that got the headline. Such fireworks, while “news” and therefore worth the headline, often don’t matter much overall.
The noise was committee members, Democrats, attacking Skandera’s use of consultants at the beginning of her time at PED, seven months ago.
The charges were that the consultants were from outside the state. Onward parochialism! Also, the consultants didn’t know New Mexico’s “special” problems and were associated — ohmygawd — with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, for whom Skandera was an education administrator.  
These re-run criticisms come from folks who were key players in leading 87 percent of our public schools to not make the grade on the latest federal No Child Left Behind ranking.
I got a hint of the rerun critique from Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, Albuquerque Democrat, “educator” and 16-year legislator who, like former Gov. Bill Richardson, has a building named after her.
Williams Stapleton made a point of addressing Skandera as “Secretary Designate,” with a little extra emphasis on the designate part. “Secretary Designate” is Skandera’s proper title, but my point is no one else bothered with the full title.
A letter from a Williams Stapleton constituent, one of those laid off from PED in June, prompted Williams Stapleton’s ire. The letter writer, an 18-year PED employee, Williams Stapleton said, objected to the criteria for the layoff and to the manner.
While perhaps having legitimate issues, the writer had done the classic New Mexico thing, make it political and appeal to the elected official.
The layoffs were done according to state personnel office rules, Skandera said. Paul Aguilar, deputy PED secretary who was sitting next to Skandera, took most of the heat.
Within a given “business unit” (another neat piece of jargon), the layoff hit the person with the least experience in the job. This approach, a union favorite, is called last in-first out. Ineffective longer-employed people stay.
In real LESC business, Skandera introduced the PED senior staff to the committee and reported on a number of programs.
The Effective Teaching Task Force first met June 1. In August the group is to report on how to best measure teacher and school leader effectiveness, including measures of student achievement, best practices of teachers and teaching, weighting measures of best practice and how to move to performance-based compensation.
The task force website is www.ped.statenm.us/ttf/index.htm.
The LESC got a report in June on development of the new school letter grade rating system that is to be in place for the 2011-12 school year.
Annual student proficiency status and growth will be the measure for elementary and middle schools. High school measures “may include” graduation rates; annual graduation rate improvement; enrollment change in advanced placement, International Baccalaureate and dual credit courses; and ACT and SAT scores.
Also in June, representatives from the Superintendents Advisory Council, an education establishment interest group, complained about a number of problems with the new system including the short time for development.
For those LESC members still objecting to Skandera’s consultants, I suggest getting a life or at least some new and substantive issues.

Harold Morgan
© New Mexico News Services 2011