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Dear Jon Stewart,
Your show Wednesday night with White House domestic affairs chief Melody Barnes was remarkable, in that you showed a far greater depth of understanding of education issues than did your guest.
When you asked Ms. Barnes what work she felt proudest of, she said "...the work we have done around education has been a game-changer." What a word. Where have I heard that before? Oh yes. That was George W. Bush' Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings' favorite way of describing NCLB -- see here,
Unfortunately the White House is still playing the same games, and we are still waiting for a change.
You pushed Ms. Barnes a bit about K-12 education. You said,
The biggest complaint I hear from teachers, and by teachers I mean my mom, the teaching to the test. This idea, the Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, these benchmarks that have been given from Washington have caused schools to focus entirely on whatever benchmark or requirement they need to get funding, and it has removed from education, I guess you'd call it the educating.
Melody Barnes replied,.
That's exactly the same thing my mom says too. She was a teacher for a very long time. That's what we are trying to turn around. No Child Left Behind had that cookie cutter, one size fits all approach to education, and instead, what we've done through Race to the Top and most recently, because Congress wouldn't move on reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind act and turning it around, we've used our flexibility in the executive branch to say "you've got some relief if you are going to put in place smart reforms from those mandates from No Child Left Behind." So there's more flexibility, there's more innovation, there's more creativity that teachers can, in fact, teach.
The feedback I'm getting is that Race to the Top has intensified the issue, not alleviated it. But I guess the people I talk to don't work in the White House.
Ms Barnes replied,
Now, now, now. The states that have won Race to the Top grants, we've brought the teachers around the table, with principals, with parents and community leaders, to focus on plans to help reform education, to do it in a way that, yes we need to know - make sure -- that students are career and college ready when they finish high school, but at the same time how do you do that in a way that's got high standards, like college and career ready standards, but at the same time let states, let districts use the flexibility, use what they know about the classroom and about the student so that they can meet those standards in a smart way.
What you said next shows just how well your mother taught you. You said,
Do you think ultimately we will find ourselves changing our entire model of education? I have always found with education that individuals are the ones that make the enormous difference, and the more that you're able to empower a great teacher, a great principal, a great superintendent, can make enormous differences. How do we empower the individual to have the authority and the responsibility to make those changes, and not tie them to arbitrary objective realities or goals?
Barnes had no real answer for this. Watch the tape. It is Duncan-esque edu-babble.
So here is my request. The American public is in desperate need of some plain talk regarding education reform. You clearly have a solid grasp of the basic issues. How about a show featuring an interview with your mother, sharing her views? Maybe Melody Barnes' mother will come on as well? You could include Matt Damon's mother, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a sharp and experienced teacher as well. As you know, this White House and the one before it have had their way with school reform for more than a decade, and our schools are being reformed into oblivion.
Your show has a very short time-frame for interviews, so maybe this could be done in another format. Maybe on stage with a live audience?
As a teacher, I greatly appreciate you giving our leaders a glimpse at how their policies are being felt on the ground. I am frustrated that expert teachers like your mother are seldom heard on the public stage. Let's find a way to get your mother, and the teachers of America, some real air time!
What do you think? Would you watch Jon Stewart discuss education with his mother and other expert teachers?