Thursday, February 24, 2011
A Closer Look at Skandera's Résumé
Hanna Skandara Resume
By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer
It's a pity I don't have a Synonym Czar to help me describe the response to last week's column on Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera and her merry band of consultants.
So let me take a stab. In terms of volume, let's go with "massive." In tenor? I'll say "passionate."
As usual, many of you brought up good points and were eager for a substantive discussion of how we should tackle our seemingly intractable problems in public education.
You break down into Skandera supporters and Skandera skeptics. Forgive me for simplifying, but the supporters point to Skandera's California, Florida and national credentials and say she's a genuine bigwig who deserves a chance to lead us out of our morass. The skeptics argue she hasn't actually done much of anything and think it's fair to put her under a microscope and judge her credentials.
Skandera boosters like the Florida model and hope that its star components — ending social promotion and giving schools letter grades — will help our kids learn better and graduate in higher numbers.
Skandera skeptics don't think the Florida model did much in Florida and worry that if applied in New Mexico it would further discourage the worst performers — the poor and Hispanics.
Just this week, the question was raised in Santa Fe about whether Skandera even meets the constitutional requirement that a "qualified, experienced educator" fill the job.
Let me give you some information that might help sort out some of these issues.
First, let's look at Skandera's bona fides and answer some of your questions.
Does Skandera have an education degree? No. She was awarded a business degree from Sonoma State University in 1996 and a master's in public policy from Pepperdine University in 2000.
Has she ever been a classroom teacher or a school administrator? Yes and no.
She has never been a full-time, certified classroom teacher. But she has spent time in classrooms. Beginning as a volunteer during college and then as an employee after graduation, she was part of the Free-to-Be abstinent lifestyle peer education program for Catholic Charities in Sonoma County, Calif.
When I asked Skandera about that job, she told me she taught life skills ("sex, drugs, alcohol, how to make good decisions," she says) to students in sixth through 12th grades and spent at least three days a week in public school classrooms.
Skandera has never worked as a school principal or superintendent, but she has spent five years at various statewide and national educational posts.
In introducing the 37-year-old Skandera as her education pick, newly elected Gov. Susana Martinez described her as "a proven reformer who has successfully implemented education innovations and achievement-based reforms for two of our nation's governors."
Has Skandera reformed a failing school system? Let's look at her résumé.
After receiving her master's degree, Skandera was a research and public policy fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution for about 2 1/2 years. Then she worked for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for a little over a year, as an assistant education secretary for six months, chief of staff for four months and an undersecretary for education for four months.
She then moved to Florida where (for just under two years) she was Gov. Jeb Bush's deputy commissioner of education. From there she went to the U.S. Department of Education as a deputy (again for just under two years). She then moved to a private company, Academic Partnerships in Dallas (for a little more than a year and a half), and then to Laying the Foundation, a Dallas teacher training program (for two months) before she was hired by Martinez.
Skandera boosters see in that résumé a talented young woman moving up in the world; Skandera skeptics see a résumé-builder with a short attention span. I've posted Skandera's résumé on our website (just go to this column at ABQjournal.com) so you can digest it and make your own judgments.
Did Skandera have anything to do with California's education outcomes by holding three positions there in a little more than a year?
Could she have influenced Florida's outcomes in less than two? Can anyone have much of an effect on a statewide education system in such short tenures?
By asking those questions, I don't mean to imply the answers are no. But they seem fair for us all to consider when we're paying Skandera $125,000 a year and putting our kids in her hands. And they seem like crucial questions to consider when the stakes are so high.
When I put Skandera on the spot and asked her if she agrees with her new boss's assessment of her as a "proven reformer," she parried it nicely.
"I don't think any one person reforms a state, a district or a school," she said. "I think it takes a committed effort and effective leadership across the board. So I believe I've been a part of reform."
She also pointed out that her résumé reflects two job moves (Florida and the U.S. DOE) that were tied to political terms ending.
It would be a shortsighted mistake to set Skandera up for failure by dismissing her as a carpetbagger and shouting down her every move. Maybe she's what we've been looking for.
But it would be just as parochial to assume she and her out-of-state consultants have all the answers and we should give her a blank check. If at the end of Martinez's term we're doing no better, that's four years our kids can't get back.
And what about those ideas of social promotion and letter grades for schools, which are the building blocks of Martinez/Skandera school reform?
In the column next Thursday, I'll talk to some smart people right here in New Mexico (free consultants!) and to Skandera about how holding back low performers and giving schools letter grades have played out elsewhere.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.