Education Letter to the Editor

Negative District Cultures Thwart President’s Agenda

February 09, 2010 1 min read

To the Editor:

The excerpted letters in Anthony Cody’s Commentary “Teachers’ Letters to Obama”; (Jan. 20, 2010), all criticizing the president’s reforms, are disappointing. They ignore important problems with his initiatives, and distract us with problems not caused primarily by such reforms.

Unfortunately, many of the bad things these letters complain about have been prevalent in public schools for many decades, and the new problems have come mostly from school systems’ implementing reforms in negative ways. Since many schools do not perpetrate these atrocities, and instead use the reforms to improve students’ authentic learning, the real problems lie deeper.

The most important flaw in President Barack Obama’s agenda is that it doesn’t deal adequately with the negative bureaucratic school system cultures that produce these counterproductive reactions. Our focus should be on changing these negative cultures, and on reshaping national reforms so that they counteract rather than reinforce them.

Instead, these letters give the impression that teachers see nothing wrong with our present school systems that can’t be cured by making reforms go away. This only gives ammunition to those who dismiss teachers as “defenders of the status quo,” when we actually need many more teachers’ voices in building collaborative, success-oriented cultures in our schools. Such cultures can use high expectations, standards, assessment, accountability, small schools, and new teacher recruitment in positive ways.

David S. Seeley

Professor Emeritus
City University of New York
Staten Island, N.Y.

The writer was an assistant U.S. commissioner of education in the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

A version of this article appeared in the February 10, 2010 edition of Education Week as Negative District Cultures Thwart President’s Agenda