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Hanna Skandera Confirmed as New Mexico K-12 Chief After Four Years in Limbo

Since she was nominated in 2011 by New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez, a Republican, to be the state's chief school officer, Hanna Skandera ha officially been the "secretary of education-designate" because she has not been confirmed to the post by the state Senate. Her status has been a long-running part of the background in a sometimes-divisive fight over K-12 policy in the state, as Skandera has sought, with varying degrees of success, changes to everything from teacher evaluation to early-literacy requirements.

But on Feb. 16, the state Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, voted to confirm Skandera by a 22-19 votes, with five Democrats joining 17 Republicans in that vote. Teachers protested Skandera at the state capitol as her nomination was being reviewed, and Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez told Skandera during an earlier committee hearing that he "never believed from day one that you were actually qualified for the position." 

The teacher-evaluation system the state began using in the 2013-14 school year that uses student test scores as one element has been a particularly controversial policy. Student achievement plays the biggest part in this system—see the chart below:

NMEvaluations.PNG

But on Feb. 13, the Albuquerque Federation of Teachers, AFT New Mexico, and other groups filed a lawsuit challenging the teacher-evaluation system. The suit alleges that the NMTEACH Educator Effectiveness system is riddled with errors. In a statement announcing the suit, the plaintiffs said the state should "stop turning kids into test scores and teachers into algorithms." The lawsuit alleges that the state's value added model (or VAM) is a "sham." (See my colleaue Stephen Sawchuk's blog from 2014 about the national AFT President Randi Weingarten's retreat from her prior support of VAM.)

However, during the debate over Skandera's nomination earlier this week, superintendents and business leaders expressed their support for her work. Santa Fe school board president Steven Carrillo told lawmakers that, "This comes down to the fact that she's the governor's appointee and we need to respect the office."

"I believe we are moving in the right direction," Skandera told lawmakers in the debate prior to the vote. "We've made many changes based on the feedback that we've received." 

At the national level, Skandera also serves as the head of Chiefs for Change, an affiliate of former Florida governor Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education—it supports school choice, online education, and teacher evaluations that take test scores into account. She's been a vocal proponent of the Common Core State Standards as well. Chiefs for Change is down to three members who hold chief state school officer positions—Deborah Gist has departed the Rhode Island chief's job after taking the position as Tulsa schools superintendent in Oklahoma. 

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