Amid ESSA Backlash, New Mexico’s Controversial Education Secretary Quits

By Daarel Burnette II — June 08, 2017 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Hanna Skandera, New Mexico’s hard-charging education secretary who, amid abysmal academic outcomes, took head on the state’s teachers union, said she’ll resign June 20, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

The announcement came as a surprise to many, including the state’s Democrats who in recent weeks have griped about Skandera’s plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act, which kept in place the state’s controversial letter-grade accountability system and teacher evaluations tied to test scores (she reduced the weight of test scores from 50 percent to 35 percent, but the teacher’s union was still not pleased).

Skandera was once considered a prospect to serve as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ assistant education secretary of elementary and secondary education, but her name was taken off the list after Republicans pointed out that she was one of the lead champions of the Common Core State Standards.

“Not too many people or professions weather this much change in a short amount of time, and our educators and our school leaders and our superintendents have,” Skandera told the Journal yesterday. “New Mexicans can be proud as they look across the nation that there is no other state, actually, that has embraced this much change, not rolled any of it back, pressed in and begun to see all their objective measures going up.”

In a statement posted on its website, Mike Magee, the executive officer of Chiefs for Change, of which Skandera was a member, said, “For more than six years, Hanna Skandera has been a bold and innovative leader of New Mexico’s public school system, transforming it from one lagging behind the nation to one that is experiencing remarkable growth across every objective measure of student success.”

Skandera’s appointment by New Mexico Republican Gov. Susanna Martinez took more than four years because her supporters couldn’t muster enough confirmation votes in the state’s Democratically controlled senate.

A replacement has not been announced yet. The position is appointed by the state governor. The state recently abolished its state board of education. A bill was proposed in the legislature to abolish the state secretary position and resurrect the elected state board of education.

Skandera told me two weeks ago that she was excited about this summer’s teacher summit in which she planned to roll out several new initiatives to improve teaching and learning under the state ESSA plan.

“Our plan is New Mexico’s plan,” said Skandera, who has, in recent weeks, returned to many of the small towns where she and department officials spent two days engaging with parents, teachers and principals. Skandera said more than 2,000 people took part in the process, in addition to including leaders of several tribal communities.

“We want to refine what we have in place,” she said. “We want to equip and empower educators more, and we’re rolling out 20 new teacher initiatives.”

While she touted increased access to AP courses and an uptick in the state’s graduation rate, New Mexico ranks 49th in Education Week‘s Quality Counts report for education success and the state’s schools have struggled financially in recent years with the downturn in the local oil industry.

Earlier this year, State Sen. William Soules, the Democratic chair of New Mexico’s Senate education committee, told me that Skandera approached state leaders in August, several months after ESSA was passed, and said the state had to make only a few minor policy adjustments to comply with the new law. ESSA provides a key opportunity for the state to rewrite its education policies, Soules said.

“This place has became unglued,” he said in February, referring to the state’s education arena and the ESSA planning process. “There are all kinds of problems. The pet is certainly driving the process. There’s lots of distrust and tension between the department, the secretary of education and the legislature. I’m really concerned about the direction that we’re going in.”

Photo: New Mexico Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera poses for a photograph in Albuquerque, N.M., on June 6. Photo by Susan Montoya Bryan/AP

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.