School & District Management

N.M.'s Acting Schools Chief Remains in Political Limbo

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 26, 2013 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The New Mexico legislature has adjourned without confirming the appointment of Hanna Skandera as the state’s schools chief, apparently thrusting her into another year of official limbo.

Ms. Skandera was appointed secretary-designate by Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, in January 2011 and carries out the duties of the state’s K-12 chief. But opponents question her qualifications under the state’s constitution, as well as her association with a controversial education advocacy group. They also allege misconduct about the education department’s budget.

The regular legislative session ended March 16.

In an interview, Ms. Skandera, who has previously worked at the U.S. Department of Education and the education departments in California and Florida, said the legislature’s failure to decide on her status was an “adult-centered” fight that completely ignored students.

“This is like a circus. This looks ridiculous,” she said.

Ms. Skandera has promoted measures that some in K-12 policy circles have deemed controversial or harmful. In 2011, for example, she successfully pushed for schools in New Mexico to be graded on an A-F basis, a yardstick increasingly popular among states. In January, she decided to allow a digital school, Connections Academy, to provide virtual education. In doing so, she overruled a vote by the state’s Public Education Commission, a government body separate from the department, to bar the school.

She said in the interview that public support for her policies is running high.

“Whenever you want to create change, you’ve got to have ownership,” she said. “If legislators don’t want to own it right now, then the people will.”

At the same time, she said she’s found common ground with the National Education Association’s New Mexico affiliate, which has about 8,000 members, on the impact of data and tests on teacher evaluations. In addition, the Council of Chief State School Officers has written to the state asking that she be confirmed.

Multipronged Opposition

But New Mexico Democrats, who control both chambers of the legislature, and some of her other opponents say the state constitution makes her appointment problematic, since it requires that the education secretary be a “qualified, experienced educator.” Ms. Skandera has never taught in a K-12 classroom or worked as a school administrator, although she has taught education policy at the graduate school level at Pepperdine University, in Malibu, Calif. Ms. Skandera maintains that she meets the requirements of the constitution through her previous policy jobs.

Her opponents allege that she has not only mismanaged the New Mexico education department, but also has allowed the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an advocacy group led by former Florida GOP Gov. Jeb Bush, to control policy in the state and benefit its private-sector donors in the process. The foundation has also paid for Ms. Skandera’s travel, records revealed by her opponents show.

Ms. Skandera worked in Florida’s education department when Mr. Bush was governor there, and is a member of Chiefs for Change, an affiliate of the foundation that supports A-F school grades, charter schools, and digital learning options.

Clash of Views

Ms. Skandera said she has “absolutely no regrets” about her association with the foundation.

Some have also alleged that her office engaged in political dirty tricks by creating lists of unionized and nonunionized teachers for Ms. Martinez’s administration, a charge Ms. Skandera’s department has denied. Last year, the Albuquerque Federation of Teachers, a 3,800-member union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, declared “no confidence” in her.

Testifying before the Senate rules committee, Michael Corwin, the executive director of Independent Source PAC, a liberal watchdog group in Albuquerque that has written reports roundly condemning Ms. Skandera, highlighted what he said were instances of her department improperly favoring education companies while ignoring the concerns of Native American tribal and Hispanic leaders, among other problems.

Calling Mr. Corwin a political operative instead of an education expert, Ms. Skandera denied that she had acted improperly in any fashion with respect to outside nonprofit groups and corporations.

The top remaining item on her agenda, Ms. Skandera said, is changing state policy to ensure that students who are promoted from 3rd grade can demonstrate literacy. In the 2011 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress in reading, 80 percent of 4th graders in the state were not proficient.

A version of this article appeared in the March 27, 2013 edition of Education Week as Political Storm Rages as Acting N.M. Chief Presses on With Job

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure Webinar
A New Era In Connected Learning: Security, Accessibility and Affordability for a Future-Ready Classroom
Learn about Windows 11 SE and Surface Laptop SE. Enable students to unlock learning and develop new skills.
Content provided by Microsoft Surface
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management 'It Has to Be a Priority': Why Schools Can't Ignore the Climate Crisis
Schools have a part to play in combating climate change, but they don't always know how.
16 min read
Composite image of school building and climate change protestors.
Illustration by F. Sheehan/Education Week (Images: iStock/Getty and E+)
School & District Management Some Districts Return to Mask Mandates as COVID Cases Spike
Mask requirements remain the exception nationally and still sensitive in places that have reimposed them.
4 min read
Students are reminded to wear a mask amidst other chalk drawings on the sidewalk as they arrive for the first day of school at Union High School in Tulsa, Okla., Monday, Aug. 24, 2020.
Chalk drawings from last August remind students to wear masks as they arrive at school.
Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP
School & District Management Women Get Overlooked for the Superintendent's Job. How That Can Change
Three female superintendents spell out concrete solutions from their own experience.
4 min read
Susana Cordova, former superintendent for Denver Public Schools.
Susana Cordova is deputy superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District and former superintendent for Denver Public Schools.
Allison V. Smith for Education Week
School & District Management Opinion You Can't Change Schools Without Changing Yourself First
Education leaders have been under too much stress keeping up with day-to-day crises to make the sweeping changes schools really need.
Renee Owen
5 min read
conceptual illustration of a paper boat transforming into an origami bird before falling off a cliff
wildpixel/iStock/Getty