Education Opinion

Open Letter to President Obama

By Anthony Cody — November 02, 2009 3 min read

Dear President Obama,

I was one of the millions of teachers across the USA who actively supported your candidacy. I organized a fundraiser with fellow educators, and walked my neighborhood precinct during the primary. I used my blog on Teacher Magazine to share your vision. I took heart when I read on your campaign website:

Obama believes teachers should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests. He will improve the assessments used to track student progress to measure readiness for college and the workplace and improve student learning in a timely, individualized manner. Obama will also improve NCLB's accountability system so that we are supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them.

You have spoken eloquently of a new era of mutual responsibility for our schools
, and have called on parents to take a greater role in their children’s education. The provision of health care for families without it will be a tremendous help to our students, so this work is deeply appreciated. This year ARRA funds have saved many thousands of teachers’ jobs, but we have a huge problem looming. State budgets, and the schools that depend on them, remain in dire straits. It appears that Race to the Top funding will not be used to save jobs or plug massive holes in state budgets, but instead will be used to “drive reforms.” But these reforms do not enact the vision you have put forward.

As it stands now, Secretary Duncan has initiated policies to:

  • “Turn around” 5000 of the nation’s “worst” schools (based on test scores) although recent reports from Chicago reveal that the 5,445 students displaced by his school closures there did not do any better than before.
  • Tie teacher pay to test scores, though research and common sense suggest this will result in even more narrowing of the curriculum and teaching to the test.
  • Insist, in spite of more and more research that questions their effectiveness, that charter schools should be dramatically expanded.
  • Rank teacher preparation programs - once again, by how well they increase student test scores

We have had eight long years of No Child Left Behind, which systematically assaulted our schools by establishing impossible to meet test score targets and Byzantine rules about subgroups. Your election a year ago was supposed to change all that. But thus far the policies we see are actually worse than before.

We can agree that teacher quality is critical for the success of our schools, but test scores are a wholly inadequate means to measure or improve quality. Furthermore, you have a Secretary of Education who is not listening to teachers. Teachers need to be active partners in school reform at every level, from the classroom up to the cabinet meeting. Right now our views are being shut out and ignored, and we are not represented. This is driving morale down at a time when our schools need to rally together for our students.

If teachers are demoralized and sidelined, we are lost as partners in the change process.
We will remain the subjects of change rather than agents, and our creative vision will be missing. This is the biggest reason NCLB has failed, and will continue to fail under Secretary Duncan so long as he maintains this direction.

It does not have to be this way. Teachers are ready for change, ready for mutual responsibility, ready for better assessments of student learning that honor our classroom practice and our students’ capacity for critical thinking. We are ready, but we are still waiting to see these things.

I urge you to take a closer look at the policies that are being implemented by the Department of Education.

  • Review the report recently offered by the National Academy of Sciences which points out many flaws in the Race to the Top guidelines.
  • Review research that reveals that charter schools are no better on average than their public school counterparts.
  • Pay attention to the continued narrowing of the curriculum that you decried as a candidate.
  • Listen to the deeply held concerns of this nation’s classroom teachers.
  • Hold your Secretary of Education accountable for enacting the vision that you campaigned on, that gave so much hope to millions of teachers and students across this country.

Your supporter still,

Anthony Cody

What do you think? Will you join me in signing this letter? Or authoring your own? What would you tell Obama if he joined you for lunch today?

image by Anthony Cody

Update: I created a Facebook group to allow teachers to post their own letters to President Obama, or sign on to others that are posted. Come and speak your mind.

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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