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Skandera blames NM education troubles on low expectations

New Mexico Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera as seen in this 2015 file photo. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

New Mexico Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera as seen in this 2015 file photo. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico is 25th in the nation for education spending but can’t seem to budge from the bottom on performance – a gap Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera attributes to low expectations.

Skandera addressed the issue Wednesday at an Economic Forum of Albuquerque breakfast after her presentation on budget priorities for the coming legislative session.

“It is one thing to say we are going to put money in and another to say we are going to measure and hold ourselves accountable,” Skandera said in response to an audience member’s question on funding levels.

“The culture around expectations is a big, big deal. If you don’t believe it is possible, it is pretty hard to get there.”

Educators must guard against the view that race, poverty and family circumstances dictate a child’s future, Skandera said, adding that these factors are important but can be overcome.

One success story is Anthony Elementary, a school in a tiny border town with many low-income, Spanish-speaking students, which still managed to reach the top 10 in the state.

Skandera reported that the principal took a “no excuses” approach that caused many teachers to quit but dramatically raised standards.

Schools embracing accountability, like Anthony Elementary, are seeing big returns, proving change is possible, the secretary said.

Her office has touted several controversial methods to achieve that accountability, including the rigorous Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test and a teacher evaluation system that uses its results as a major factor.

Across the country, Florida’s rise also is an inspiration for Skandera, who served as deputy commissioner of education there under Gov. Jeb Bush.

The Sunshine State’s demographics are similar to New Mexico’s, and Florida has also historically languished near the bottom on education.

But thanks to new programs and accountability measures, it has jumped to the middle of the pack on national measures, Skandera said.

Florida is using a new standardized test, the Florida Standards Assessments, which has ignited an opt-out movement much like the response to the PARCC exam.

Florida also uses school grades, a system Gov. Susana Martinez instituted in New Mexico.

An Education Week Research Center report released this month placed Florida at 30th on overall educational quality, while New Mexico was 49th.

New Mexico can also beat expectations, Skandera said, but it won’t be fast or easy.

“This is not a five-year quandary, question, dilemma – it is decades,” she added.