COMMENTARY: When any group pushes certain policy proposals across the nation, it is no surprise they would then label a state plan that enshrines their policies to be among “the best in the nation.” It is also not surprising, but very clever of them, to wrap their pre-determined conclusions as an “independent” review.
This is exactly what we see in the June 27 Albuquerque Journal story “Reviewers: New Mexico Education Plan Best in Nation.” The story details the recent announcement by Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaborative for Student Success of their ratings of the 17 plans submitted by states to comply with the new federal education law.
To their credit the authors do not go to the extreme to claim the New Mexico plan itself will produce better student gains than will plans from other states. The “New Mexico plan was well-written and fairly clear,” they write. However, the headline implies that the content, not just the presentation, of the state ESSA plan submitted by (former Secretary Hanna) Skandera/(current Acting Secretary Christopher) Ruszkowski of the Public Education Department (PED) is the best.
Unfortunately for New Mexico students, the plan may look good, but the content leaves a lot to be desired.
One particular quote shows just how out of touch with reality is the “fake news” of their report. Praising our state ESSA plan, the report says that the PED plan provides for “overall school ratings that are clear to parents and other stakeholders.” Most New Mexicans in stakeholder groups all over the state found the school rating system confusing and not useful.
Did the reviewers consider the fact the U.S. Department of Education returned the plan to the PED for clarifications? Did those reviewers consider that the same PED that wrote the plan so well stylistically actively advocates against the increased school funding needed to make their proposals possible? No and no.
Did those reviewers assess the plans alongside the PED’s abysmal record implementing those same policies? No; if they had, an entirely different conclusion would be obvious. Those sponsoring groups would not have published that in a report. It’s their mission to promote the same ideologically driven policies the Skandera PED has implemented and the Ruszkowski PED will continue.
The two sponsoring groups wrap their conclusions by claiming they considered input “of more than 30 independent advocates, education experts and former state officials from across the ideological spectrum.” Sounds good on the surface, but who are these “independent” people, and who consulted them?
Did those “reviewers” include any front-line teachers and other educators or the unions who represent them? No. Are any voices from school administrators or board members or the groups who represent them among the “reviewers?” No.
The sponsoring groups and the wealthy donors who support them are ideologically aligned with the schools of thought that produced Skandera and now Ruszkowski. They hate teachers who don’t agree with them and the unions that give those teachers a voice. They promote teacher devaluation rather than growth models for improving education. They create interlocking webs of nonprofits and foundations to put forward political agendas painted as “nonpartisan” and “neutral.” To make it appear their agenda has wider support than it does, they generate “fake news” such as the report.
Our ESSA plan leaves out much that is critically important to move the needle forward for our students – pre-school for youngsters, better trained teachers, career technical education and an involved education community. Our plan leaves in place harmful policies in spite of massive stakeholder input for change.
New Mexico students deserve so much more than a shallow plan that looks good on the outside. Magic-bullet strategies and piecemeal approaches will not prepare American students to succeed in the 21st Century economy.
Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, represents District 17 in the N.M. Senate and chairs the Legislative Education Study Committee.