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Open Letter to President Obama

| 23 Comments

Dear President Obama,

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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.

23 Comments

Bravo! Absolutely, I'm signing on and sending your message far and wide. You have a way of explaining and analyzing that's missing in the Dept of Ed, and we thank you for that.

I will join you!

You are the voice of reason in a world of crazy politicians that have NO idea what to do. I will sign this letter and I will pass it on!!

Dear President Obama,

Thanks for keeping the focus on closing the dangerous gap between kids with few educational opportunities, and those whose schooling is comprehensive, rich and centered on the knowledge and skills needed for an undefined future.

Remember that policy levers (RTTT grants, pay for performance, national standards and tests, alternate entry into teaching, non-standard school governance models, and mandating high-tech statistical analysis of achievement) are merely things that policy-makers can do. We can expect those things to shift the balance of decision-making power. But we cannot and should not expect policy creation to shift actual classroom practice or change our mindset from "punishment" to "investment." Reaching our potential will never happen unless and until instructional practice--what happens between teachers and their students--radically changes.

Your goal, in the 8 years you may be lucky enough to get, should be using your bully pulpit to shine a light on effective teaching, building a case for a citizenry that embraces learning--as other successful nations have done. Most "what works" literature speculates that certain policy levers improve efficiency and outcomes. What we need now is an intense focus on what to teach and how to teach, in ways that engender hope in students who currently have no reason to hope.

Can this be done? Yes, it can.

Yes, yes, yes. We finally have a president who takes time to consider all sides of questions before he takes a stand, but he appoints a Sec. of Education who rushes in to keep things going down the same road. Why not read the research and see that there are some things we KNOW would make a difference (like teacher induction programs and mentoring for new teachers), but these ideas are nickel and dimed and never put into play. I'm with you; let me know how I can help. I'm a teacher educator and I'm tired of the "easy answers."

I don't even know where to start, there has been so much damage to the morale of teachers during this period of state and national education reform, which we should be gladly leading and championing. I believe you will find that instead, teachers are finding many of the "reforms" to be hurdles to overcome in the fight to have good quality instruction taking place each day in the classroom. Many ideas which apparently sound good in the political arena, and make for great sound bites, are actually detrimental in actual practice. Teacher accountability via student test score improvement is just one of the ideas that look so good on the surface, but is impossible to evenly and fairly apply to all teachers in all teaching situations. Each student is unique and comes with their own strengths and varies in their needs, yet the learning requirements are one size fits all. Close scrutiny will reveal the impossibiility of creating a fair system of teacher ratings which is not arbitrary. Many, if not all, states have tried. And tried. And repeatedly failed. I realize that legislators believe their actions are benefiting students and education, but truly, many legislated programs have detrimental side effects when actually placed in practice. Please move slower, do more research, and listen to those who are impacted directly before continuing these "reforms".

In Washington State a recent bill will determine a new funding structure for public education. The Quality Education Commitee is a group of policy makers dedicated to education, but the majority of the participants are far removed from the classroom. Yet, they understand that information from accomplished teachers is critical to informing them in their recommendations for the implimentation of this bill. I am encouraged that there are policy makers at the state level willing to listen and support data found by classroom teachers who truly understand the impact of of policy makers' decisions. I would also be encouraged to know if President Obama were willing to endorse and listen to an organized response to issues of education reform.

Thank you for putting forth the effort to express your views to the President and his administration. I along with many are highly diisappointed in Obama and his choice of Duncan. We see the education department headed on a conclusion trail that is going to hurt the children in America for years to come.
It breaks my spirit as I puruse a doctoral degree to hear these people state they are not going to pay teachers for advanced degrees afte we are required to required in everything under the sun. It has really left a negative feeling within our profession. The next bad news we are hearing from theis administration is merit pay and paying based on students test scores. Now they are wondering how to attract new teachers and retain them.
Their focus is crazy and should be on how to retain veteran teachers who train and retain your teachers. If it was not for the veteran teachers that mentored to me my first five years I would have walked straight out the door the first month and then the next year. New teachers learn from their peers and its the veteran teacher that teachers you what now college professor can.
I always thank those teachers who taught me the skills I posses that have sustained me over the years.
But now with administration having failing test scores they are going after veteran teachers who know the rules and regulations.
I am very concerned that administrators have been given a green light to destroy teachers as their scape goats for running a poor building. When are principals going to be evaluated by educators. If we could count how many poorly managing administrators are harassing teachers. Its just sad how some have made it the goal to get rid of people for various personal reasons.

I will definitely support your group since I strongly believe that Mr. Duncan is not hearing our voices or maybe he just tuned out like Bush did. I teach at a Title One school that did not meet the AYP standards and I have never felt so overwhelmed by all the unrealistic expectations set for teachers to meet. I put in 10 hours a day and still it is not enough. Mr. Duncan and President Obama need to take a look at the schools in Europe, India, China, Canada and many other countries where students excel and they will see our education system is severely flawed. Teachers there are permitted to teach without all these illogical NCLB and AYP standards and there is no talk about performance based pay. Yet they are the leaders in education. Someone needs to deliver us from all this and treat us with respect like professionals who know what they are doing. Teach our students they must study and enforce DISCIPLINE in the classrooms so we all will end up being winners. Let us be teachers again and not pawns in this political game.

Linda Darling-Hammond would never have settled for this. Public education in America is being destroyed by over-simplifications promulgated by outsiders. It's both frightening and worth fighting.

Lena and others who point to other countries as examples of quality education - Be careful about what you hold up as a model. Read Yong Zhao's book that just came out: Catching Up or Leading the Way, in which he shows that China has had many decades of a high-stakes testing culture, and now they realize they do not have inventors, innovators, creative thinkers, the US still excels in that department. We are in danger of losing our creative edge because that is devalued in a test-centric culture in public education. China is trying to figure out how to be more like the US, because they see that inventions, innovations are valuable commodities.

I agree completely! We all want the best possible education for our students and the brightest possible future for our nation. A narrowed curriculum that focuses on a standardized assessment score rather than on student acheivement is not the path to success.

I consider myself a smart person, a learned person, and an intellectually motivated person. I know as a matter of reason that this description of myself was cultivated by my teachers; I had some exceptional teachers, some average teachers and some that should have been doing something else. We can all remember the teachers that inspired us to want to learn, and it was their creative style and initiative that accomplished the greatest lessons of our education, not some standardized format that forces students to examine between possibilities and select the more correct answer.

Those teachers we so fondly recall are still there, but now they are restricted by a system that instructs teachers to remove the creative process and instead teach their students to “critically” analyze between a set of possible responses to a given question and learn to recognize which of four possibilities is more correct than the other. So teachers have become coaches that reinforce strategies based on a formula that two of the responses will likely be ridiculously errant, while the two remaining possibilities will have a semblance of correctness, yet one answer is more perfect than the other, and it is the student’s task to spot the more correct answer and make that selection.

I guess somehow someone thought this qualified as critical thinking and this is what has become the standard for measuring learning in our sick education system. That is not how I learned (thank Heavens), I think that system would have done to me what it has done too many students and teachers, and that is to retard the desire to want to learn. That system teaches students that the answers will always be there and they simply need to recognize the correct answer. The problem is that the students in losing the creative process are stumped when presented a problem that does not come with four prescribe solutions one of which is more correct than the others. The system leaves the student dependant on others to have figured out what is what.

When I was learning, the best lessons were the ones where the teacher through his/her initiative would inspire in the student the importance of the subject matter while challenging the student to develop the lesson further through the students own enterprise. As an example, I can remember learning about Bejamin Franklin, and our teacher telling us the Franklin believed that if we sacrificed personal freedoms such as the right to privacy in order to feel greater security, that in the long run we would lose both our freedom and our security. That was not the lesson, that was the problem; the lesson came when the teacher asked us to critically analyze how Franklin felt and to justify in writing why we agreed or disagreed with Franklin’s statement, furthermore we should be prepared to orally discuss the subject in class. That is learning!

Thank you Anthony! Your articulate, researched letter encapsulates so many issues classroom teachers are facing today. I work in a Title 1 school and the teachers I work with are the best of the best...but we're tired and we're challenged to provide the best education possible to our students with mandates made by people who haven't been in a classroom since they were in the 8th grade. I support and appreciate your voice!

So many good points have been made.

I hope that President Obama would push for educational policies that mirror the private school education (Sidwell Friends) his daughters enjoy. Many politicians send their children to this school. Is Sidwell caught up in a testing frenzy? I have a relative who also attends this school and I've never heard any mention of the school curriculum focus being on improving test scores. Why is the Sidwell model not the model for public education?
Every public school student deserves an enriching and thoughtful curriculum that Sidwell Friends provides!

Merit pay will destroy education. Period.

Thank you so much for speaking out with your concerns. If more of us educators vocalized our opinions, perhaps we would be listened to more. I am guilty of that myself. I teach ninth grade English in a small-town, southern high school. I am not from this town, but love the people here, and I have a desire to see this school and town grow and enhance. The school has been steadily improving in test scores over the past few years, and the educators in this school are doing the best they can to keep that up. However, we have been moved to the “uh-oh, watch out” list because last year we showed improvement, but we didn’t show enough improvement. However, there is only so much teachers can do once students reach the high school level. If students are already academically behind from being socially promoted their whole life, they are incapable of performing at grade level. Now, that doesn’t mean that teachers don’t try to teach them, but it means that a grade level assessment isn’t a proper assessment of what is actually learned that year. This year I have a few students, fifteen and sixteen years old, who read on the first and second grade reading level. They are too old for their grade, and their educational level is that of children half their age. It is no wonder they don’t want to be in school and just settle for drawing negative attention to themselves.

The problem in my school is not inadequate teachers; it is that the majority of students do not see the value of an education. Students have told me that they don’t need to learn how to speak proper English because they are never going to need it. When I encourage struggling students to study and learn so they can get a good job, my responses have been shocking. I have actually heard students say that all they don’t need a job, all they need is to get a check from the government. Many of these kids have seen how to live off a monthly check, but have never seen how a family operates with a steady income based on their own work. The kids just see it as free money they don’t have to work for, even if it doesn’t provide a fulfilled life. Despite this grim picture and lifestyle, many students still have no desire to leave this small town. Many have not seen anything different; so, they do not know what else this world holds. Some have not even traveled outside of an hour radius of this town. They do not realize that a college education can open up a world of opportunities. Instead, we produce individuals content to stay put, have babies so they can collect more government/ taxpayer money each month; and waste their life’s potential, sitting on a dilapidated front porch all day. What is this doing to help the future of our nation? How is this chain of apathy inherited with each generation leading to a stronger America? When we can figure out how to solve the problem of families not caring about the future of their children, and looking for handouts instead of self improvement, we will find the solution to improving education. Then there will be no need to put pressure on teachers to make students learn; students will want to be taught. If we can strengthen the family and the nation’s work ethic and build more job opportunities, we will give students something to work for.
Unfortunately, this town, like many of the overlooked small towns in the nation, is suffering. With the state of the economy this year, what little industry that was here has been closed or has been forced to lay off a large number of employees. So, the small number of jobs is getting smaller. I have not seen any benefit of stimulus money, only more people jobless, fewer opportunities to find work, and high budget and salary cuts in the school system. The only people who can help the economy have been hurt the most: the average working citizens. These are the taxpayers who fund the school systems and the welfare that their neighbors live off of. The community is crumbling. How are extra regulations, standardized tests, and improvement-based funding going to relieve this problem? They will not, and cannot. We need new methods to build community stability and therefore enhance the county’s educational system.
Sadly, the only methods I have seen enacted by the government are spurring the problems that we already face. For example: programs like no child left behind lead to having older kids who can’t perform at grade level who there, in turn, cause the school’s report card to look bad. They also lead to frustrated kids who consequently drop out, also making the school look bad. When test scores go down and drop out rates go up, schools get reprimanded and lose funding or are closed down. So, schools suffer, and there are more uneducated individuals who can’t hold a job and live off of unemployment checks, funded by those who chose to work hard. Our money is not being put to use well. We end up paying for the problems instead of fixing the root. We pay the price for people who didn’t learn instead of giving money to help younger students learn.

It is a really sad day for educators when they try to offer AP courses for the (perhaps few) high achieving students in a school, but fear more budget cuts and reprimands from the government if test scores aren’t high enough. Now, can we talk about irony!? What system of education is successful unless it pushes students to learn more, to face challenges, to have to TRY for their goal? So why do we as a country punish schools who are trying to improve the ACTUAL education of our students instead of test scores? As a high school student, I took AP classes and made a 3 on each of the tests. Sure, that is “passing” but my scores were not high enough for me to get any college credit for the classes, and I may have brought down our school’s record because many of my classmates scored 4s and 5s. However, I can say that what I learned in those classes helped me make A’s in my college classes and helped me transition from high school to college without any difficulties. Now, why wouldn’t our schools want to challenge our high school students instead of encouraging them to take the easy way out and graduate with the bare minimum requirements? Well, the main answer I see is budgets and fear of not being good enough on the state report card. That seems like a terrible answer. That answer is leading to the disintegration of our educational system and the future of our country. Let us stop feeding large corporations who just squander the money, and feed the children of our nation with knowledge; real knowledge; not just the knowledge of how to pass a multiple choice test and get out of school doing as little as possible. Let us encourage the family to care for the education of their children instead of giving full responsibility to schools and the government. Let us teach our children to take responsibility for their own education and their own future. Let us teach our children to be persistent when faced with a struggle or challenge instead of giving up and waiting for someone to make things easier for them. We better make these changes in education quickly; all of our futures are at stake.

I fear like most Presidents, things spoken pre-election are just words to get us to buy the "Snake Oil". Public education is not big business in Washington and takes second priority to many other issues. We all share the same pains across this great country when it comes to schools, teachers, and students, and as educators on the front line we are the ones that know what we need to win this war, yet Washington continues to fail in hearing our message. I think your letter is great and hope that it might fall into the hands of the right person.

Dear President Obama,

I am currently a senior at the University of Texas Pan American pursuing a Bachelors degree in Elementary Education. Although I am a novice to teaching I am aware of the issues that the Education system is facing today, therefore I speak as a parent, student and future educator. Recently, I saw your speech to the student’s of America again. I remember so clearly the words of wisdom and advice that you had to offer. You spoke passionately about responsibility. You mentioned teachers’ responsibility for inspiring students and pushing them to learn. You also spoke about the governments' responsibility in supporting principles’ and teachers.
I saw this speech with our 5 and 8 year old daughter’s and spoke to them as well about the importance of an education. I have always seen characteristics in our daughters that I want to both maintain and develop because I know the possibilities that are in store for them. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that lately this has been on mind constantly. Our 8 year old daughter will be taking her first Texas high stakes test this year and already I see the toll that it’s taking on her. Do you really think that our children should be drilled over and over again to pass a test that is not an accurate measure of their intelligence and capabilities? Please remember of how you spoke to the children and encouraged them to develop their creativity,ingenuity, knowledge and problem solving skills. Will this type of rigorous testing develop their talents and skills and help them solve life’s most difficult problems?
Please consider what I am saying and create legislation that will allow teachers to start teaching again. Allow teachers to enhance the
curriculum and not just teach to the test. I almost broke down in to tears the other day as I drove home from school. My daughter turned gave a big sigh and said, “mommy do you remember when I was in 2nd grade, it was so much fun, I wish I were there again.” This is the real problem facing our education systems today. I know that you have had a multitude of teachers come forward with Mr. Anthony Cody and share their opinions on issues that are affecting teachers and students; they as I do, disagree with
Secretary Duncan and what he is doing for education. They see everyday what I see as a parent and student. Has Mr. Duncan interviewed any children and asked what they want or spoken to parents and asked if testing is helping their kids?
We know what is expected of us and are so willingly ready to do it. Please let us have that chance by ensuring that one is left behind this time. We will not quit on our school or country if you believe in us as we believe in you.

Thank you,
Maribel Razo

Hear Hear! I continue to be concerned with "merit pay". I work in an urban school which has been dealt many blows. Now, my immediate neighborhood has become more impoverished and we are serving almost 95% of our students FREE breakfast and lunch. On top of that, I am teaching in a special ed. kindergarten class. My students may never meet the critical mark forced upon us by the state. Does that mean I do not teach them? NO, but I have to teach them at the level they are at... I can't expect them to compose a sentence if they can not even write their name on a paper. My fear is that the current policies are going to punish teachers who choose to teach in my position because the population they teach is not ready to meet the standards that "someone" has set in place. What is to become of schools like mine? Chances are, quality teachers will be run off to districts that have a chance, and the students in my district will continually have new and unexperienced teachers.

I have been unhappy in my career path in the past few years because I feel that the TEST is all that we do. I have no freedom to teach my students about cultures, diversity, or community because I have to be teaching 2 hours of reading from the prescribed curriculum, math from the prescribed curriculum, and still expect exemplary behavior (without any time to teach and review it). My students now are not leaving my class any smarter than they did when I had more freedom to teach what they needed, while sneaking in a little fun and excitement. In fact, I think they are suffering because there is no magic left in my class... all there is are the TEXTS... which we have to use in order to improve test readiness.

I, too, was hopeful when MR. Obama was elected. Unfortunately in America, people who are not educators think they can make education decisions. I would love to see TEACHERS on a panel for education reform, and not policy makers. Believe it or not, teachers CAN make educationally sound decisions for their students. I will remain cautiously hopeful that this first year proved more than he had bargained for, and that the coming years will show Mr. Obama creating more sound educational policies.

I will definitely support your letter. I love my job and the work that I am truly blessed to be able to do each day with children. However, I find it so sad that our world of creating and discovering the wonderment of learning has been reduced to test scores. There is so much more to a students growth that cannot be measured by an academic test. Teachers have continued to work hard and do what is the best for the students we see each day regardless of the conditions and parameters placed on our work situations. I desperately would like to see a national leaders who will recognize this and honor this!!!

Thank you for taking the time to voice these concerns on behave of all teachers in this country.

Anthony,
Thank you for establishing the Facebook Letters to President Obama page--I've just added my letter:

Dear President Obama and Secretary Duncan,
The previous writers have eloquently provided the teacher voice regarding what needs to happen for true education reform to occur. I join them in urging you to listen to that voice as you begin the journey of fulfilling your campaign promises.

Please don't let education reform fall prey to politics as usual. Economists may currently have the loudest voices in the room, but that doesn't mean they actually know anything about the complex social, emotional, and academic interactions that take place inside America's classrooms every day. Likewise, just because someone has a newspaper column or a radio/television talk show doesn't mean they know anything about education reform. The people who know what really goes on in classrooms and what really needs to change are teachers--we're in schools every day, making a positive difference in the lives of children. We are the people you need to have at the table as you establish education policy.

I agree with all the probing commentary presented here. I also feel so blessed and scared at the same time, at the plight of education. In the zeal of Government to fit education ( a social science) into a business model (and we KNOW how well the American business model has worked lately), children have become PAWNS for business. Parents are so far removed from what is really going on, they believe every sound-bite the media throws out to belittle and degrade our Profession. It is an absolute insult to make teachers compete for pay - If that is the case, then Congress ought to do the same...since every child, school, District and State have such huge variables, HOW DARE our President insist that those brave souls who CHOOSE to teach in poorly supported Inner City or Rural schools have to prove their worth and compete against well provided for, wealthy neighborhood schools..Where is the CHANGE we were promised?? President Obama - YOU need to stop listening to your wealthy, thinktank, and get on down to the reality of WHY public schools are having problems..it isn't because teachers are poor, it is because more and more of our students/parents are. We in education desperately NEED support and leadership in enriching them so education becomes an important value once again. Our Country needs to set new Standards for all students to fully participate in the delivery, and success of their schooling, along with their parents making a focused effort on their kids success from PreK-12. When are the other two parts of the puzzle (students and parents) going to be held more accountable???

I would be very curious to see Mr. Duncan visit "real" schools in trouble and send a team to provide guidance to these schools - versus the "media moment" at school that has had tons of donated materials/technology and support provided. Our DOE needs to do the tough work of leadership, not sponsorship.

We will be supporting an Apartheid education system if we don't demand a stop to "Race to the Top." Meanwhile teachers will continue to do their job..it is their passion!! Let us HOPE that President Obama and Arne Duncan take that into effect as they plan to tackle the real need to overhaul public education.

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