Federal Opinion

President Obama Wants Our Questions

By Anthony Cody — January 23, 2012 3 min read
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Follow me on Twitter at @AnthonyCody

It has been a busy week for the internet Goliaths -- education tweeters who have enjoyed turning Michelle Rhee’s #sixwordessay contest on its head. Perhaps we can shift our focus to our President, whose education policies leave a great deal to be desired.

Tomorrow evening President Obama will take to the air to make his State of the Union address. Advisor David Plouffe explained that an enhanced version of this speech will be broadcast on the www.whitehouse.gov website, and the speech will be followed by a discussion where staff will respond to questions from the public. Before and after the speech, use the hashtag #SOTU. For the discussion during the speech, use the hashtag #WHchat You can also submit your questions via YouTube. See details here. On January 30, President Obama will hold a separate event where he will respond to these questions.

This is an opportunity for teachers and parents to communicate our concerns once again.

So what would you ask the President?

Here are my questions to kick us off. Please add your own below, and if you have a Twitter account, begin tweeting them as well.

1. No Child Left Behind will soon declare every school a failure. Why must states agree to use test scores to evaluate teachers and principals to get relief from this terrible law?

2. You say you don’t want teachers to teach to the test. Isn’t this inevitable when you make teacher pay and evaluations depend on these scores?

3. How will your administration respond to states like California that fail to apply for NCLB waivers?

4. Teachers in Hawaii have just voted to strike rather than agree to the conditions imposed by the state’s Race to the Top application, in particular an agreement to be evaluated by some as yet to be determined system based on their test scores. Doesn’t this raise questions about the wisdom of this approach?

5. As we go further down the road of expansion of charter schools, supported by Race to the Top and other federal policies, researchers are finding that these schools are intensifying the degree of economic and racial segregation. Does the administration plan to continue to support the expansion of charter schools?

6. Last March you said we are too often using tests to punish students or schools. You suggested we could shift away from annual tests. But your administration is moving towards even more frequent tests, with even more rewards and punishments attached to them. Why don’t your policies match what you know to be sound practice?

7. The practice of labeling schools as failures has become impractical as almost all schools will soon fail according to NCLB. But the idea that we can improve education for students by declaring their schools failures, and subjecting them to closures or harsh “turnaround” strategies has not worked. Your administration’s proposal to continue this practice for the “bottom” 5% of our schools will perpetuate the high pressure on test scores for student in poverty. If punishing schools for low test scores has not worked -- as you suggested last March, (and was not shown to work in Chicago under then CEO Arne Duncan) why is it being continued for any schools at all?

8. Last year Congress passed a law that allows people with as little as five weeks of training to take positions of responsibility as full time teachers. These poorly trained teachers are concentrated in areas of high poverty. Will you support efforts to reverse this law, to ensure that all students have fully qualified teachers?

9. I worked in the schools of Oakland for 24 years. We have huge problems with high teacher turnover, and part of the reason is the endless pressure to raise test scores. Why would anyone choose to teach in high poverty schools when this pressure is the status quo?

What questions do you have for President Obama? Please share them here, and if you make a YouTube video, please share the link.

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.