Hanna Skandera Scoffs at Minority Education

Disdain for Minority Education

Hanna Skandera has had over a year  to demonstrate that she is fit to be New Mexico’s Education Secretary. She has failed to do so. Her top failure—she made no  attempts to work with New Mexico’s minority and bilingual education community. It is not even benign neglect. It is pure disdain for our multicultural values..

Governor Susana Martinez, supposedly the GOP bridge to Hispanic voters, seems to be perfectly fine with her choice of Hanna Skandera.  She seems to be perfectly fine with allowing Ms. Skandera run New Mexico public education by ignoring laws and the state constitution as they pertain to minority and bilingual education.

Disregard for the Indian Education Act of 2003

Skandera’s third grade mandatory retention bill eliminates any parental involvement in the life-altering decision of making a child repeat third grade. This is in direct conflict with the New Mexico Indian Education Act of 2003, which “ensures” parental involvement.

Governor Martinez has remained silent on this flagrant disregard for the Act. Eliminating parental involvement is non-negotiable, according to Martinez and Skandera. The Public Education Division (“PED”), not parents, decides if a child moves on to fourth grade or stays behind.  Ironically, this is the same administration that renamed the Charter School Division, “Options for Parents”.

New Mexico is the only state in the country to have an Indian Education Act. You would think both Skandera and Martinez would embrace this unique Act in every way.

Yet Christine Sims, Professor of Education at the University of New Mexico and head of the American Indian Language Policy Research and Teacher Training Center, testified to the Education Study Council on 12/14/11 “our concerns are about the current actions being taken with Public Education Department that we see as undermining the intent and spirit of that law.

The Indian Education Act also calls for the recruitment and training of Native American teachers and the maintenance of native languages.

In the mid-2000’s, the Indian Education Division of PED partnered with UNM to establish  the Native American Teacher Training Program. The program recruited and trained Native American teachers and administrators, creating a long-term infrastructure  to address the needs of schools districts with large Indian populations. UNM now has undergraduate and graduate school programs and CNM also has a program to recruit and train Native American teachers.

Instead of fostering these local long-term solutions, Skandera siphoned off $800,000 from the Indian Education Division, and handed that money to Teach for America, who spent a mere  1% of that money, ($8000 out of $800,000) on recruitment of Native American Teachers.

Decimation of the Bilingual Education Bureau

The Bilingual Education Bureau typically is staffed by one director, three education consultants and one business operations specialist (clerical support). Under Skandera, the bureau director and two of the education consultants left, and their positions remain unfilled. The third education consultant has recently given notice. These unfilled vacancies leave the bureau’s operations to its one remaining clerical staffer.

How much help can this bureau now offer to bilingual students?

Efforts to Make an End Run Around New Mexico Laws and State Constitution to Force English Only

New Mexico is a bilingual state. Our state constitution, statutes, and codes say so. Ms.Skandera apparently does not view this as a barrier to forcing “English Only” on Spanish and Native American language speakers.

In New Mexico, at-risk students can earn a high school diploma through a process called Alternate Demonstration of Competency. Student work can be submitted in English, Spanish, or in a Native American Language. “Students may submit a portfolio in English, Spanish or in a Native American language of an Indian Nation, tribe or pueblo located in New Mexico.” (NMAC 6.19.7.10 D (4)).

Students are also permitted to take state-approved language proficiency assessments in English and the home language. “Trained personnel shall administer state-approved language proficiency assessments in English and the home language annually until proficiency in each language is achieved.” (NMAC 6.32.2.14A).

Yet, Skandera’s Administration sought legal advice from NMPED’s general counsel on ways of getting around New Mexico law in their efforts to force English only.

The result of these efforts were summarized in an email to Skandera’s director of policy Leighann Lenti, “We cannot require the majority of the portfolio to be in English due to the rule which allows submissions in Spanish or Native Languages. Darn. We could say that submissions demonstrating competency in Reading must be in English. Perhaps we could phrase it along the lines of ‘certain submissions demonstrating competency in Reading standards must be submitted in English.” (Email from Karina Vanderbilt to Leighann Lenti).

Skandera Ignored Ethnic Groups and English Learners in Her Application for a NCLB Waiver

According to an Albuquerque Journal article “Education Waiver Needs Work: Feds say first draft of no child application fails to address the achievement gap” dated 2/1/12, the federal reviewers of the application found the following:

  “A lack of attention to subgroups of students-such as ethnic groups and students learning English- was of particular concern to the panel reviewing the application.”

“The system did not address achievement gaps among racial and ethnic groups, or the particular challenges faced by students with disabilities or those learning English.” 

 “On every criterion but one, the panel said New Mexico’s application was not ready to be accepted”.

Some may say, “to the victor goes the spoils” and allow that  Susana Martinez has the right to select anyone she wishes as her education secretary, no matter how bad for the state.

On behalf of all New Mexico’s public school students, parents, and concerned citizens,  we respectfully and emphatically say NO! Hanna Skandera should be given a pink slip and sent on her way.

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