Effort to make college research secret stalls over fears it goes too far

Angelo Artuso warns that a move by lawmakers to shield some university research from the public eye could lead to harrowing consequences. At a Wednesday morning House committee hearing, Artuso invoked some of history’s darkest state-sanctioned university research projects. For decades, researchers at Tuskegee University studied the effects of syphilis by pretending to offer infected Black men free health care. And several colleges and universities from the early 1950s until 1973 were involved in Project MKUltra, a CIA program that used drugs like LSD unknowingly on human subjects to experiment with mind control. Programs like those, involving government-funded atrocities at institutions of higher learning,  Artuso maintained, would remain hidden at New Mexico public higher education institutions under a bill sponsored by state Reps.

State Sen. wants parents to have access to investigations into school police

Laura Gutierrez has been trying to get public records from Albuquerque Public Schools for more than a year. In 2014 a school law enforcement officer allegedly used force against her autistic son. APS opened an investigation and soon cleared the officer of any wrongdoing. Gutierrez wants to see all the documents from this investigation. In the fall and winter of 2015, Gutierrez filed four public records requests with APS for the district’s internal investigation of the officer, an employee of the school district.

Higher ed changes could ‘whitewash’ universities, some professors warn

Some professors, students and advocates at the state’s flagship university are warning proposed sweeping changes to the state’s higher education system could undermine academic freedom and programs like ethnic studies. A bill sponsored by state Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs would scale back the number of required credit hours students take in public university “general education core” classes and establish “meta-majors.”

“Meta-major” classes are defined in the bill as “lower division courses” that are set by the department and include general education courses and prerequisite courses. At a Senate Education Committee hearing last week, Kernan said her bill’s purpose is to make it easier for students who transfer to different universities to use the credits they’ve already earned from previous courses toward their college degrees. Kernan’s bill is supported by New Mexico Higher Education Department Secretary Barbara Damron. At last week’s hearing, Damron described meta-majors as a group of courses set under a list of broad subjects that undecided college students can choose from to create a path toward their eventual major.

Education chief pushes change in teacher evaluations

State Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said Monday she will push for legislation to reduce the amount of weight that student test scores play in teacher evaluations. Skandera’s announcement represents a step back — albeit a small one — from her long-running push to tie teacher effectiveness to student test scores. It received a mixed response from leaders of one state teachers’ union. Skandera said she is responding to input that the Public Education Department received during a statewide listening tour to solicit feedback on what the state can do to prepare for implementing the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act guidelines, which go into effect next summer. “We wanted to be responsive.

DeVos’ code words for creationism offshoot raise concerns about ‘junk science’

At a confirmation hearing earlier this month, Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s pick for education secretary, responded to a question about whether she would promote “junk science” by saying she supports science teaching that “allows students to exercise critical thinking.” This seemingly innocuous statement has raised alarms among science education advocates, and buoyed the hopes of conservative Christian groups that, if confirmed, DeVos may use her bully pulpit atop the U.S. Department of Education to undermine the teaching of evolution in public schools. DeVos and her family have poured millions of dollars into groups that champion intelligent design, the doctrine that the complexity of biological life can best be explained by the existence of a creator rather than by Darwinian evolution. Within this movement, “critical thinking” has become a code phrase to justify teaching of intelligent design. Candi Cushman, a policy analyst for the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, described DeVos’ nomination as a positive development for communities that want to include intelligent design in their school curricula.

N.M. high school graduation rate up to 71%

New Mexico’s high school graduation rate rose to 71 percent in 2016, the highest percentage since the state began tracking four-year rates in 2008, Gov. Susana Martinez announced Monday. The rate jumped 2½ points from the previous year and increased in 48 of the state’s 89 school districts in 2016, including Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho and Santa Fe. “With more students graduating high school than ever before, New Mexico is better preparing our kids to enter the workforce, college and beyond,” Martinez said at a news conference at the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. The governor used the occasion to again push her plan to end the practice of so-called social promotion — moving students forward to the next grade — for third graders who cannot read proficiently. The graduation rate for Santa Fe Public Schools in 2016 was 71 percent, up from 66.8 percent for the previous year.

Lawmakers look at slicing APS into smaller districts

Near the end of his announcement for mayor last weekend, Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis took a shot at the city’s public school district, saying it needed “radical repair.”

“I believe now is the time to deconstruct this large unaccountable school district and replace it with smaller, more accountable school districts,” Lewis said at the business incubator ABQ Fat Pipe, which is located in the old Albuquerque High School building. “As your mayor, what I’ll do is lead the charge to fundamentally change education in our city.”

With more than 95,000 students in the school system, APS ranks as the 31st largest public school district in the nation—outsizing the public school systems in bigger cities like Detroit, San Francisco and Boston. Lewis is making the idea of breaking up the school district a part of his mayoral platform. To do so requires action from the state legislature. State Rep. David Adkins, R-Albuquerque, could be the lawmaker that takes on the issue this legislative session, which starts next week.

Martinez praises Trump’s selection for Secretary of Education

Gov. Susana Martinez likes Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education. Martinez wrote an op-ed in Investor’s Business Daily in which she praised the president-elect’s selection of the Michigan billionaire to head the federal department that oversees education. “She has extensive experience and an unquestionable commitment to our children. For nearly three decades, she has been on the front lines in dozens of state capitals, working with parents to promote school choice and accountability in the classroom,” Martinez wrote. “As our secretary of education, she’s going to continue that fight.”

Martinez also wrote that DeVos could help move toward “local control and school choice.”

DeVos is a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party and led the American Federation for Children, an organization that advocates for school choice.

Report: Skandera considered for Trump administration

New Mexico’s Public Education Department secretary may be part of Donald Trump’s incoming presidential administration. That’s according to Politico, which reported it Friday morning, citing unnamed sources. Politico reported that “Hanna Skandera is under consideration for education deputy secretary or undersecretary in the Trump administration.”

Billionaire Betsy DeVos is Trump’s pick for secretary of education and, like Skandera, is a proponent of Common Core. Skandera took over the governing board for the PARCC test in January, Politico noted. Before heading to New Mexico, Skandera was the deputy commissioner of education under then-Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

UNM, Frank agree on deal for him to leave president’s position

University of New Mexico President Bob Frank won’t finish out his term as head of the state’s largest university, but he will keep getting paid. That’s part of the deal  the UNM Board of Regents made with Frank after a meeting Tuesday morning. The meeting marked the second time in a week that the board met to discuss Frank’s future in light of a report that criticized his management style, which was described by some as “bullying.”

After more than three hours behind closed doors last week, the regents took no action. But they came back Tuesday morning and announced the deal, which included paid administrative leave starting at the beginning of 2017 and lasting until his term was scheduled to end on May 31. Frank had previously announced he would not seek a second term as president.