New Mexico gets a D, but not an F

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By Harold Morgan

Michelle Rhee got the Public Broadcasting “Frontline” treatment a couple of weeks ago. Cameras followed Rhee during the three years (2007 to 2010) she was chancellor of the Washington D.C. public schools.
PBS was sympathetic to Rhee, an interesting notion, given that in D.C. Rhee took names and, gasp, fired people, and PBS is a bastion of liberal media that one ordinarily would think is entirely a creature of the unions controlling schools.
Rhee now runs the nonprofit StudentsFirst (studentsfirst.org). On the website, the organization says its “mission is to build a national movement to defend the interests of children in public education and pursue transformative reform, so that America has the best education system in the world.”
On Jan. 7, the day before the “Frontline” broadcast, StudentsFirst released its first “State of Education State Policy Report” (reportcard.studentsfirst.org).
In the letter grade evaluations, New Mexico got a D, no real surprise there.
The surprises are not getting an F and being in about the middle of the more detailed rankings. Further surprise is no state getting an A and only Louisiana and Florida getting a B.
Rhee grades on a tough curve.
Three general “policy pillars” appear. With our grade and rank shown in parenthesis, they are:
• elevate teaching (grade D-, Rank 39);
• empower parents with data and choice (grade D+, rank 6);
• spend wisely and govern well (D+, rank 26).
Note that these categories do not mention inflammatory topics such as student achievement or teacher performance. Rather, the analysis goes to the policy environments.
The report is worth a look from two perspectives, the first being that it is the start of the legislative session.
The second comes from Florida being one of the two B states and Hanna Skandera, still secretary-designee of education, having worked in Florida in the education shop of former Gov. Jeb Bush, considered a leading education reformer.
A third perspective may come from Skandera still being unapproved by the state Senate after two years on the job.
I think Skandera’s situation is an “inside baseball” matter with what I’ll call the entrenched education establishment.
Get a life, guys. OK, education establishment folks and unions, you don’t like Skandera. Maybe she really does have horns, but so what.
Continuing to not approve her is petty, but also one definition of the status quo here.
An appropriate side note here is that my public school experience, nearly all in Albuquerque, hasn’t been pretty.
That experience covers my decades-ago student time, my kids’ time as students from 1987 to 2001, and occasional encounters with schools around the state and the Public Education Department.
One PED experience was getting blown off by department public information officer Larry Behrens after asking why high school seniors graduate before the end of the school year, thus giving them fewer days than the law requires.
The evaluation process broke each policy pillar into categories, each with several policies.
The 10 policies under elevating teaching dealt with evaluations, tenure, pay and certification.
Empowering parents included school letter grading, charter schools and “equitable access” to facilities.
“As expected when assessing current policies in the context of more than 100 years of taking a non-student centered approach to public education policy, overall state grades were very low across the country,” the report said.
“No state received an A. This reflects the fact that the status quo in the majority of states is a set of policies focused on antiquated systems, bureaucracies, and various adult interests.”
After the initial analysis, StudentsFirst sought feedback from all 50 states and Washington D.C. New Mexico was not among the 25 states responding.
Curious. Clearly New Mexico has a way to go.