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These Seven Principles: Our Plea to Congress

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Readers of this blog know I have been involved in a group called Teachers' Letters to Obama, which started last November after I posted an open letter to the President suggesting he reconsider his education policies. The steering committee of the group recently came up with the following statement of principles, which we believe represents a consensus view.

Dear President Obama, Secretary Duncan and Members of Congress,
Several members of Teachers' Letters to Obama recently had the honor of sharing with Secretary Duncan our concerns with the direction of federal education reform's Race to the Top initiative. Subsequently, various publications reported Department of Education assertions that teachers support RTTT. This claim is expressly contrary to this group's position statement and does not reflect the sentiments of thousands of teachers who have reported corresponding with you, Mr. President. We would like to clarify our position as follows:

We believe:

1. Meaningful education reform must embrace a range of assessments.
The RTTT emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing necessarily reduces the education of our students to "test prep" focused on passing multiple-choice tests of unproven reliability. We oppose the use of so-called "merit pay" based on standardized test scores.

2. Teachers must be held accountable through rigorous in-classroom evaluations by trained evaluators. Schools must hold teachers to high and meaningful standards of performance.

3. Teachers must work collaboratively to improve pedagogy and create thoughtful curriculum. Basing teacher evaluation on standardized tests is a pseudo-accountability strategy that divides teachers as a result of variables beyond their control and misconstrues how best to motivate them. Teachers must share in the process of defining their own work and accountability should never be arbitrary or divisive.

4. Teachers become invested in their work when they are given the opportunity to participate in school-wide decision-making and to be creative and thoughtful in their classrooms. Many public schools work well and are resources to guide us in the improvement of all schools.

5. Our public school systems must be fully funded. Charter schools must be held accountable to the same regulatory oversight and should not be inequitably funded at the expense of our most challenged public schools.

6. Any vision of effective education reform must assume that skills be taught in a way that induces critical thinking, encourages curiosity, inspires the imagination, and emphasizes discussion. Music, art and technology are an essential part of this vision. Students should love learning, feel empowered by their educations, and should not experience schooling as something punitive.

7. Improvement or "turn-around" programs for struggling schools must be flexible and participatory. Teachers, students, and community members need to be involved in discussions and problem-solving. Moreover, we do not believe the current four options are adequate and recommend instead the strategies in the Strengthening Our Schools proposal now before Congress.

To give all of our children the quality education they deserve, we must honestly confront the challenges of the classroom in a society characterized by deep social and economic inequality. The reality of classrooms and schools is complex and requires the knowledge and expertise of teachers who have the experience to know what works. Curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment are integral to our daily classroom experience and qualify us to help formulate education policy.

Teachers who have participated in TLO want to join with this Administration to implement a progressive vision for education. We want to engage in constructive debate about the best way to teach students and to organize schools. This national discussion needs to move beyond the panaceas and shortcuts that have characterized it thus far.

In this, we ask no less of our political leaders than we ask of our students. We are eager to participate in the hard work of creating great and transformative schools.

Congress is considering reauthorizing ESEA (NCLB). We are hoping that the wisdom of teachers may help them craft better policies.

If you agree with these seven principles, please this petition.
We would like to share the basis of our beliefs, from as many teachers as possible. If you would like to contribute, choose one of the seven principles above and write your own letter. Post it to the comments here. We are compiling these letters to submit to members of Congress, just as the original 107 letters we collected were sent to President Obama and Secretary Duncan.

What do you think of these seven principles? Do any of them ring especially true? How would you explain the importance of one of them to a member of Congress?

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