Gov. Susana Martinez’s controversial education reforms are “good, strong, solid ideas” that make sense regardless of politics, not “a Republican agenda,” Public Education chief Christopher Ruszkowski argued Wednesday in front of local business leaders.
Ruszkowski told the Economic Forum of Albuquerque he admires education policies put forth by both Democratic and Republican leaders, including Cory Booker, former Newark, N.J. mayor; and Adrian Fenty, former Washington, D.C. mayor.
Before Ruszkowski arrived in New Mexico two years ago, he worked for the Delaware Department of Education under a Democratic governor.
“There’s nothing that we (New Mexico Public Education Department) have taken on that hasn’t been done somewhere else, and often it was done by Democrats,” Ruszkowski said. “There’s nothing about the agenda in New Mexico, about the new system, about the foundation that has been built over the last five years that I would say is partisan. Any attempt to paint it that way, I reject.”
He added that it can be challenging to maintain his belief in bipartisanship when “different sorts of grenades and arrows are being thrown your way, often in a very partisan fashion.”
The state’s teachers unions and many Democratic lawmakers have consistently opposed the Martinez administration’s education policies, such as PARCC testing, school grades and the teacher evaluation system.
The American Federation of Teachers New Mexico and the National Education Association New Mexico both filed lawsuits seeking to halt PED’s evaluations, which weigh student assessment results heavily — an approach they call “test and punish.”
Ruszkowski argues that the unions are trying to hold back valuable reforms.
“It has been very difficult to be someone who has identified traditionally and historically with the Democratic Party … to see the stranglehold oftentimes that some of our unions around the country have in impeding progress for kids,” he said.
Ruszkowski praised the governor for fearlessly “putting kids first” regardless of the political obstacles or cost to herself. On PED’s recommendation, Martinez has vetoed bills that unanimously passed at the Legislature.
“It’s very rare to have that kind of leadership,” Ruszkowski said.
With Martinez’s tenure drawing to a close, Ruszkowski said he hopes the state’s next governor doesn’t try to lower expectations.
PED’s reforms have been effective, and the proof is in rising test scores and graduation rates, he said.
“Districts that are embracing reform are getting results,” Ruszkowski said.