I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, March 11, 2013

So THAT'S What A Real Confirmation Hearing Looks Like!

Here in New Jersey, we had a perfunctory confirmation hearing for Education Commissioner Chris Cerf. In fairness, there were some pointed questions from the great State Senator Loretta Weinberg, and some good questions from Senator Nellie Pou. But too much of the hearing was spent on questions about Cerf's residency or softball questions about school funding. We never got to Cerf's background, his... interesting ethical entanglements, or the (lack of) evidence in support of his reformy agenda.

The good people of New Mexico, however, seem to be getting a real hearing for the confirmation of ACTING Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera - like Cerf, a member of Jeb! Bush's reformy Chiefs For Change outfit. Skandera, unlike Cerf, is getting a thorough vetting:

New Mexico Public Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera defended her job performance Saturday during sharp questioning in a key committee, but still no vote came in her prolonged and politically charged confirmation hearing.
After more than three hours of questioning by members of the Senate Rules Committee, Skandera was asked to provide more information. The hearing, which has already included more than seven hours of public testimony, was then quickly ended before additional action could be taken. [emphasis mine]
I think the total amount of public testimony in the Cerf hearing came to less than twenty minutes.

Democratic senators grilled Skandera about out-of-state travel paid for by nonprofit education groups and her decision to approve two charter school applications denied by the state’s Public Education Commission.
In addition, several Democratic committee members questioned why Skandera has allowed online charter schools to sign contracts with for-profit companies.
The legality of a contract at the New Mexico Virtual Academy was questioned by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, who said the company hired to provide curriculum for the school is trying to earn a profit.
Hey, that's happening here in Jersey! I guess senators in New Mexico actually care about these little  details...

At another point during Saturday’s hearing, in which senators focused more on administrative controversy than education policy, Skandera touted improved statewide graduation rates for Hispanic and Native American students.
“We are closing the achievement gap,” she told committee members.
That prompted Sen. Jacob Candelaria, an Albuquerque Democrat, to say some of Skandera’s education initiatives — such as a new teacher evaluation system — have been in place only for a short time. He chastised her for taking credit for the trend.
I want to make sure that we don’t politicize data, and we don’t politicize outcomes,” Candelaria said.
 Golly, how quaint! We don't worry much about data abuse here in Jersey, even though it runs rampant.

The Senate Rules Committee started its confirmation hearing on Skandera’s nomination on March 1. Counting the three-hour Saturday hearing, the panel has now spent 10 hours spread over three days listening to testimony and asking questions.
Given how much raw power the NJ Commissioner of Eduction wields, one would have thought that our commissioner would have received as thorough a vetting as the New Mexico Legislature is currently giving to Skandera. Maybe being at the top of the educational heap has made the Garden State's legislators complacent. Maybe they think we'll always have great public schools, so it's not really necessary for them to drill down and look carefully at the people they confirm to run them.

Too bad.

Accountability begins at home.

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