Monthly Archives: August 2013

Skandera Not Legally Qualified

New Mexico constitution:

Sec. 6. [Public education department;
public education commission.]
A. There is hereby created a “public education
department” and a “public education
commission” that shall have such powers
and duties as provided by law. The
department shall be a cabinet department
headed by a secretary of public education
who is a qualified, experienced educator
who shall be appointed by the governor and
confirmed by the senate.

Skandera does not have any experience in the classroom, but she does have a BS in Political Science.


August 29, 2013 · 6:35 am

Why So Glum?

To paraphrase a question asked of one of my co-workers today- a parent at our school wondered why so many of the teachers, usual sources of good cheer, seem disaffected from the get-go this year.

Poor pay?  Well, most teachers have seen a significant decrease in their pay again this year, yes, but…

Class size?  Well, most teachers at our school are in fact experiencing very large classes again this year, yes, but…

Blah Blah Blah- these are the constant winds blowing in our faces, and we have generally  been able to let them blow by… so what is the proverbial straw that is breaking our back to school?

Teachers are being made to conform to rules set by Hannah Skandera on behalf of Susana Martinez, bureaucratic procedures in the name of accountability, that do nothing to make education better, but will create some awesome busywork for teachers.  The rules are about how teachers are to be evaluated, and were set into place by bypassing the legislature, by someone who cannot get confirmed as the Secretary of Education, because she does not have the legal qualifications for the job.  The teachers’ union filed suit, which was dismissed, and the union seems to be taking no apparent further action.

This is the straw, because teachers feel like they have no recourse.  Many of the teachers at our school, after our first days of these revelations,  had open conversation about other careers or jobs they are considering.    Teachers can then be replaced by script readers of canned curriculum, much less costly to employ, and “teaching” will at last be an hourly job, a stepping stone for more serious career paths.

Teachers want real accountability.  This isn’t it.  This is just a PR stunt.  Have you seen a bad teacher fired?   What about that awesome house cleaning in Rhode Island, where the mayor fired all those “bad apples?”  Nope.  Didn’t happen.  I wonder how much it cost to put on that appearance of reform.  The teacher’s union and APS worked for an alternative evaluation system that passed both the House and Senate last year, and was pocket vetoed by Susana Martinez.  She doesn’t just want reform.  There are major publishing companies making money off of our childrens’ education here in New Mexico, and allegations of corruption are piling up.

Susana Martinez and Hannah Skandera continue to accuse teachers of being comfortable with the status quo, but actually reverting to textbooks and publishers’ standardized tests is the status quo.  In fact, it was the fifties!  Education moved on.  We found that in order to teach innovation, we need to have examples of independent thought in our classrooms.  Innovation is an American value.  Individualism, not corporate group think, is what America was built upon.  Education is about individual dialogue and relationships.

People are worried that teaching is no longer a profession.  This is a national trend.  If there is care for the profession, there should be outrage about the current proclamations from the Governor’s office, which circumvented the legal system.

New Mexico, on Governor Martinez’s watch, has officially hit bottom as a place to raise children.  Number fifty.  Shouldn’t we at least be using our own legal processes to install education policy, rather than just foist it on the public?  Education must be a safe haven from the unscrupulous mixing of public and private funds.  Teaching, the development of curricula and tests, should be done by highly qualified teachers in small classrooms.  All these other smoke and mirrors tactics are just politics.


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Golden Reflection…

This I sent last night to Brian O’Connell and the folks at Golden Apple, and I thought it was a nice reflection of the trip they so generously afforded me:

Hello Brian, 

So first of all, thanks.  Thanks to you and all the people with Golden Apple who made my trip possible.   Going to the Smithsonians is probably the best place to get all kinds of excellent (free) information, teaching presentation methodology, and materials in many disciplines in a very small geographic area.  I plan to put together my video materials that I made, but that will take some time, of which I am currently, withal, in short supply.

While there, I spoke with Senator Udall, met with his education liaison, met with Michelle Lujan Grisham’s education liaison, spoke with them about the need for there to be a preference for teacher made, not publisher made, curriculum and testing, and sent follow up notes.  I don’t expect there will be a sudden change, or that I even made much of an impression, however, I believe in working to make change.  All listened politely and even to some extent encouraged further activism.  I will continue to do what I can do.

The other thing is, I really needed to be there.  I was there to make amends with our national schizophrenia about public education.  I inventory my own worth as a teacher fairly frequently, and then question the worth of the profession within the technological, political, and economic vectors that constantly influence or disparage the profession.

Some balm for my ennui is the presence of the Smithsonians themselves.  Interspersed with the offices of our government up and down the National Mall are the collection of Smithsonians.  Massive edifices mixed with monuments, our national heroes, these tributes to public education.  Free information, available to all, the DNA of informed democracy.  Of the people, by the people- no qualifier with economics, race, preferences.  This did shore my confidence.  Even though I had read of where I was going, being there was the thing.  I am not a person who is refreshed by the cold stone creations of people; I do much better with a tree than a monument.  Still, the markers placed there to articulate the things We think important are impressive.  The effort spent to record the words of history, the knowledge accumulated and hard lessons learned in science and in history, they do reinforce the values one would hope to be reinforced, and echo the large questions of existence of individual and society, and so, of course, left me with again an echo of ennui.

Back into the classroom then, where the fountain of youth flows for me and my ennui.  Such a great word, just thought I would beat it to death here.  Ennui, ennui, ennui.  Kids, far greater than those monuments, rise above me and lift me up.  Tall kids, you say.  Yes, in their expectation of me and the world, and now with this bit of renown from the Apple, perhaps more.  I shall have to live up to the wide-eyed expectation of children some day.  Meanwhile, I will settle into some chips and salsa, and be glad for their company.  Speaking of, and as you know, my daughters and wife were there for all this.  What a perfect time for them to do to this, at 13.  My daughters, not my wife.  They are twins, methinks you know.  Anyway.  What a thing.  What a great gift, the Golden ticket I was given.  For my whole family, for my students.  For me.  Repetitive, endless, thanks.

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Curses. I mean, cursive.

Never, if you saw my writing, would you believe that I would write an article in defense of cursive.  I’ve never pushed it very much, I don’t spend much time teaching it.   Cursive is not in the Common Core standards.  So why do it?

My reasoning is that it is indeed a meditation of the formation of words.  It can help with the breakdown of word parts like getting use to forming the “ing” and other prefixes and suffixes.  Flowing from one letter to the next in a contemplative, slowed down manner, calls for some attention to a task.  It is not instantaneously gratifying.  Our students need more of that kind of work, there is less time and less practice of art.  DaVinci would draw things to understand them.  Cursive is the drawing of words.

For some students, the very act of writing is difficult, and I believe in difficult things, especially when they come with some benefit, like fine motor control and muscle building.   Cursive can also help with sequencing of letters and reversals.  Cursive writing may provide a person with a more legible self expression than their print.

Studying writing cursive translates into reading of cursive.  People still write in cursive.  People sign their names in cursive.  People still use checkbooks ,- for how long, who knows?  But they are still in common use.

And, there are many historic documents that are not (at least originally) in Times New Roman.  Going back to original documents is important.  Especially in our country,  to know how to read more decorative script, such as The Constitution, The Declaration of Independence, and many other documents our country was founded upon, – that has intrinsic value.

Another thing that impresses me is what Steve Jobs said about learning Calligraphy.  You can read/watch it from here.  It is very good food for thought, through and through.

Cursive is a different way of writing, and that provides options for people.  Technology should not block us from the ability to use our own hand(s).

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Parent/Student Best Practices

Okay, so first off, a disclaimer.  We have two daughters, and we make frequent mistakes in parenting.  We have always teased that we are saving for either a college fund, or a therapy fund, and make frequent references to the therapy fund as we trip our way through the delightful journey that is raising a family.  But here are some things I’ve learned along the way.

1.  First, and the best practice, no screen time during the school week.  Zip.  Zero.  Nada.  The families of students I’ve had who have been extremely consistent with this policy, have brilliant, self-motivated kids.  Maybe self-motivated because they have to invent their own entertainment.  Maybe brilliant because they kick around their own ideas and develop them instead of passively observing the ideas and lives of others that take up their own lifetime.  Maybe it is just simple interaction with real people, or themselves.

There is cause and effect.    Here is one of many  American Academy of Pediatrics articles about screen time and children. There is no controversy here.  Just like with global warming, there are scientists, and then there are people who want to sell you something, but if you really want the best for your child, (in both cases), listen to the science.

2.  Time together.  Your child is growing up, the cliché is based on reality.  What seems like a long time is fleeting.  Do things together to demonstrate your love.  Material items can never be as valuable as time learning together, playing together, listening together, reading together, etcetera.   Reading a series of books together out loud to each other is one of the best things we have done as a family.   It creates discussion about real troubles, opens the door to deep questions and laughter, and creates a common experience to refer to.  The time you spend together will build your relationship so you can ask real things of each other, and have meaningful conversations.  The teen years are coming, consider it political capital to spend during that time.

3.  Eat well, -no soda during the week.   This is one I’ve had to work on(!).  There has been many, many articles about soda depleting calcium, creating depression, obesity, and other issues in children, and adults.  Preparing and eating food together is another common experience that builds families, and proper nutrition- building a body out of strong materials, will create a foundation that can stand up to the world when it is time.

4.  Sleep well.  Make it happen, because learning can’t happen for someone who is needing sleep.

5.  Learn a musical instrument.  Students who learn musical instruments do better at just about everything.  Take private lessons if you can.  Find free ways to learn music.  In 4th grade Ms. Shelton over at Jefferson offers free orchestra classes and instruments to students after school.  There are resources.  You can do it!

6.  Play a sport or do an activity after school that challenges you.  This will help with focus, confidence, and will help to build that body into something even more awesome.

If you need help with something here, let me know.  There are ways for the willing!  Keep working to succeed, and it will happen!


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