New Mexico Public Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski touted school choice as “quintessentially American” on Saturday during the Charter School Coalition’s annual conference in Albuquerque.
“This is a country built over the last 250 years on things like freedom, choice, competition, options, going west, Manifest Destiny – these are the fundamental principles of this country,” he said. “That’s why charter schools make so much sense – high-quality options – in the context of where we are as a country.”
Ruszkowski hit back against comparisons between the United States and countries like Finland, Singapore and Germany, which consistently earn the world’s highest test scores. The state’s teachers unions and some Democratic lawmakers have praised these countries for their progressive approach to teacher collaboration time, professional development and other policies.
While the United States can learn from other education systems, Ruszkowski argued that it must acknowledge its heritage.
“I hate to put it this bluntly, but this isn’t Finland,” he said. “You can’t redesign as if we were Finland. Too late. This country wasn’t built that way.”
He also repeated a refrain that was popular with his predecessor, former Education Secretary Hanna Skandera: New Mexico must keep setting high expectations for students, and they will rise to meet the challenge.
In line with that policy, Ruszkowski said charter schools that can’t deliver strong results should be shut down.
Recently, Ruszkowski has advocated for the closure of four low-performing Albuquerque charter schools: Architecture Construction and Engineering Leadership High School, Health Leadership High School, Technology Leadership High School and Academy of Trades & Technology.
Each has earned a string of D or F grades over the past few years. Fewer than 5 percent of their students are proficient in reading or math, and they have made “little or no progress in addressing academic performance concerns,” PED documents say.
The four schools had been chartered by the Public Education Commission but are seeking reauthorization with Albuquerque Public Schools.
The APS board of education will vote on whether to accept them on Wednesday.
Under state law, the PEC and local districts have the power to grant charters. There are roughly 100 charter schools across New Mexico, including top performers such as the Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science and Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School.
PED won a $22.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education in September to launch 22 new charter schools and expand another eight schools.
On Saturday, Ruszkowski stressed that his faith in charters comes from personal experience: He previously taught in an inner city Boston charter school through Teach for America.
The school, which served a high number of immigrant families, earned much higher test scores than the others in the neighborhood.
“I became a believer in high-quality options,” he said.