'Keep the Promise' talks privatization in education

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By Tris DeRoma

“Keep the Promise,” a statewide affiliation of parent groups, businesses, and unions concerned with reversing the some of recent changes being made to the New Mexico public education by the New Mexico Public Education Department, held a public forum in Santa Fe this week.
The topic was about the privatization and corporatization of certain facets of New Mexico’s public education system, and whether or not that is a good or bad thing.
“We’d thought we’d start this conversation with a small group of people, talk about what’s happening here in Santa Fe, figure out what the facts are, talk about where this is going on a national level down to the state and into the classroom,” said Pat Brady, a moderator for many of the Keep the Promise events.
Brady then introduced Charles Goodmacher, an official from the National Education Association New Mexico, who proceeded to frame the debate for the audience.
Goodmacher started off saying that not all privatization in public schools is bad, in fact privatization he said plays a necessary part in the system through supplying vital services to less populated areas of the state. He also mentioned textbook companies as a necessary privatization.
However, this new wave of privatization is different, he said.
“While it’s been true that there has always been some privatization in the public schools, it’s not been nothing like what’s been happening now and what they’re (NMPED) trying to bring things to,” Goodmacher said to the audience.
He then stated his own observance that many of the education reforms being led by state education secretary Hanna Skandera, are designed to get the school system to fail so more privatization can be introduced.
“This push for corporatization is happening all over the country and it’s been defining what needs to be done next,” he said. “They call it reform, but it’s by and large privatization.”
One of the big education issues in Santa Fe concerns a recent vote by the system’s school board to bring in a private program run by a Florida-based company to help bring dropouts or struggling students back into the school system.
Called “Engage Santa Fe”, the NEA’s president-elect, Grace Mayer, who was also at the forum, called the program “disheartening.”
“(These problems) are going be addressed by a group of individuals that come from somewhere else to the community and say we’re going to call up these people, get them reengaged in school’ as if we have ignored these issues and concerns as educators,” she said. “I think that what is really disheartening is the Engage program as its proposed, could have done the job with the teachers as well as the experienced counselors we have now.”
As far as Los Alamos goes, nothing as dramatic as Engage has so far been introduced, probably because there hasn’t been a real need for such a small population of students.
However, teachers, as well as concerned residents (mostly made up of parents who have children in the schools) have expressed concerns over the high level of testing and evaluation that has recently been required of students and teachers. Though they don’t seem to have troubled the public imagination as much as programs like Santa Fe Engage many of those programs are managed by private concerns. And, according to a very vocal group of Los Alamos educators and parents, these programs, mostly initiated by NMPED, are unnecessary. Because of their learning curve, they’ve said, (most are software and web based) they are difficult to use and so cut down on the one-on-one time educators say they need with their students.
“I think the teachers in Los Alamos are spending three to four weeks preparing tests and giving tests at a sacrifice to instruction,” said Karyl Ann Armbruster, a retired Los Alamos teacher who is also running for a seat on the state’s Public Education Commission. “As a parent, if you knew your third grader was missing a month of school, would you be OK with that?”
Most of the testing and evaluation tools used in the Los Alamos public school systems are from private, corporate concerns.
“Power School”, “Teachscape” and “Planbook” are the more visible tools. Powerschool is part of a business concern that includes Penguin Books and the Financial Times. It’s mainly used by parents and teachers to share the individual and academic progress of students. San Francisco-based Teachscape includes in its leadership CEO Andrew Morrison, who has an extensive businces background in technology, education and finance and Kathy Yates, who previously served as CEO for smallbusiness.com.
Planbook is a tool created by an Illinois-based company called Teacher Solutions, and is mainly used by teachers to create lesson plans. It was put into use by the Los Alamos Public Schools.