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Open Letter to President Obama, Time to Do What's Right for our Schools

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As the summer approaches, it is time for teachers to once again let President Obama know where we stand on his education policies. Two and a half years ago we wrote letters. Last summer we marched in front of the White House. This August the Save Our Schools convention will gather activists once again, to build a platform of principles for improving education. I am once again collecting teachers' letters to President Obama, and will have them delivered by July 5 to the White House, and to Secretary Duncan. Here is my open letter. Please submit yours in the comments below, or post it on the wall at Teachers' Letters to Obama.

Open Letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama,
You stood in the Rose Garden yesterday and said "This is the right thing to do," in releasing 800,000 immigrants from the immediate threat of deportation. I absolutely agree with you. As teachers, we do our best to inspire all our students, regardless of their immigration status, to work hard and improve their minds.

You also did the right thing when you went along with Vice President Joe Biden, and gave your personal endorsement to the concept of same sex marriage.

I am sure that you did these things not because it is an election year, but because they were the right things to do.

A little more than a year ago, you made it clear that you understand, on a personal level, what is right for children.

... we have piled on a lot of standardized tests on our kids. Now, there's nothing wrong with a standardized test being given occasionally just to give a baseline of where kids are at.
Malia and Sasha, my two daughters, they just recently took a standardized test. But it wasn't a high-stakes test. It wasn't a test where they had to panic. I mean, they didn't even really know that they were going to take it ahead of time. They didn't study for it, they just went ahead and took it. And it was a tool to diagnose where they were strong, where they were weak, and what the teachers needed to emphasize.
Too often what we've been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools. And so what we've said is let's find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let's apply it in a less pressured-packed atmosphere; let's figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let's make sure that that's not the only way we're judging whether a school is doing well.

You made it clear then that you understand what is right for our students and our schools. Unfortunately, your policies have not been aligned with your wisdom.

Even as the evidence mounts that a decade of test-focused reform has not worked, your Department of Education continues to demand numerous test-focused "reforms" in exchange for relief from what Secretary Duncan calls the "train wreck" of No Child Left Behind. States must tie teacher and principal evaluations to test scores, invest in expensive data systems to monitor scores, and go along with the push for new Common Core national standards, which will further expand the number of tests, and require huge investment in testing, curriculum and professional development.

Just this week, 25% of Federal funding to reduce class size or keep teachers on staff was shifted into a competitive grant program that is likely to fund programs like Teach For America.

More than two years ago, I sent you a package of more than 100 letters gathered from fellow educators, raising our deep concerns about these issues. Although we subsequently had a conversation with Secretary Duncan, our concerns about your policies have largely been brushed aside.

Here is what I believe we need:

A moratorium on high stakes testing. No new tests, and no expansion of the uses of tests. We need to roll back the efforts to pay and evaluate teachers based on test scores, and to evaluate schools of education based on test score gains.

Investment in our classrooms:
We need funding, with special attention to high poverty areas, for lower class sizes, teacher-led professional development, and classroom supplies. Children need libraries and books, and full bellies as well, in order to learn.

Investment in our public schools: Neighborhood schools are treasures within a community. They should be supported, rather than subjected to being shut down, or receiving harsh "grades" because of test scores.

Belief in the creative spirit of our children and teachers: In order to learn to think for themselves, our students need this behavior modeled by their teachers. Teachers need to be free to design lessons that capture the imagination of their children, and not tied down by overly prescriptive standards and curriculum. Our education system has been the envy of the world because of the innovation it has yielded, yet we are in the process of squandering this by pursuing the false god that test scores have become.

No Child Left Behind should not be used as a blunt instrument
to force states to comply with new bad ideas, like making test scores a major part of evaluations, or huge investments in new tests and data systems.

We need to rein in the wild west expansion of all forms of for-profit educational schemes. We are seeing an explosion of virtual charters, for-profit charters, online credit recovery, and a myriad schemes to divert public education funding away from our classrooms and into corporate coffers. You are the guardian of the public domain, and it is in severe danger of being completely swamped by for-profit entities willing to finance "reform" that puts profits in their pockets.

You have recently made some tough decisions to do what is right in other areas. When will you decide it is time to do what is right for our schools?

What do you think? Will you offer your own letter to President Obama regarding his education policies? Letters submitted as comments will compiled and delivered to the White House, and to Secretary Duncan.

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