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Follow-Up: Involve School Communities in Ed. Policy

José Vilson

Dear President Obama,

What I often feel with the plethora of open letters sent to you in this venue and others is the presumption that you won't really read them. It's the disenchantment that anyone who's ever written a letter to a high-ranking official has felt. We've gotten the dozen e-mails a week asking for contributions, the robo-calls (especially in so-called swing states), the flyers, the stickers, and the slick logos at every change of the channel. We've seen the pictures of the family, the impromptu moments between you and the first lady, and the measured yet potent speeches you've given time and again, especially on education matters.

The collection of these things makes your constituency feel like they know you personally, even when the majority of us have never met you.

What it also means, though, is that your primary supporters feel like they should have a seat at your table from the very beginning when they don't. At least not consistently. This dynamic matters especially with regard education, where the collective experience of participants and practitioners on the ground matter just as much as those who set the policy, if not more so. We bear the burden of the errors, yet get little of the credit for the successes of said system. The policies we currently abide by (e.g., Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind) inspire less collaboration amongst all vested members than finger-pointing in the name of accountability.

Teachers, students, and parents often get placed in very different tables, and often way after all the decisions have been made.

So let's all work together. Rather than addressing us as separate entities, let's work on assuring that schools have functions that support everyone involved. I get that people want results, but we can't even talk about results without talking about schools becoming more humane places. We keep driving schools towards meeting numbers, but we generally don't drive people to meet each other to develop real community.

To my mind, there is no more pressing matter than the ways and means with which we educate children. The conditions we set for teachers to teach, students to learn, and parents to support dictate whether our educational system will produce the sorts of innovators and promoters we need. Let's sit at the table. Let's eat together. Let's give thanks that we have an opportunity to do this now.

There's no better time to be thankful than the present.

José Vilson is a math teacher, coach, and data analyst for a middle school in the Inwood/Washington Heights neighborhood of New York.

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