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An Open Letter to Arne Duncan

Dear Mr. Secretary,

You are at the helm of a ship that is entering uncharted waters. Whether the voyage is successful depends in large part on your judgment. The eyes of the nation are on you as you attempt to navigate.

I'd like to remind you that the morale of teachers plays an indispensable role. But unfortunately I don't think you appreciate the harm you've done by inordinately focusing on the failures of schools. Your remarks leave taxpayers with the distinct impression that teachers are not doing their jobs and that schools are shortchanging their students.

There are 3.2 million teachers who teach 50 million students in 98,000 public schools, according to Education Department data. Some are unquestionably guilty as you charge. But countless schools are world-class. Why don't the latter deserve as much praise as the amount of condemnation you heap on the former? By refusing to provide balance in your comments, you unwittingly undermine your agenda.

The countries that outperform the U.S. on tests of international competition take a totally different approach to school reform. They know that teachers are not miracle workers. No matter how dedicated, knowledgeable and trained, they cannot possibly provide a quality education for their students by themselves. That's why these countries view educating the young as a collaborative effort by teachers, parents and the community.

Business leaders certainly have the right to make their voices heard in the ongoing debate. But public schools do not exist exclusively to meet their needs. The crisis they have manufactured to justify their criticism is nothing new. To understand the basis for this assessment, I refer you to my op-ed that was published in the international edition of the New York Times on Jan. 14, 2008 ("The 'crisis' of U.S. education.")

I hope you will seriously consider my views at this crossroads in educational history. Without the support of teachers, you will squander the unprecedented opportunity you have. That would be a tragedy for the nation.

Sincerely,
Walt Gardner

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check 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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