An Open Letter to President Barack Obama

Dear President Obama,

In the spirit of Racing to the Top, I thought it would be appropriate to send my concerns, which are immediate and urgent, directly to you.

As a public school teacher, I can say with confidence that the institution of public education in the United States is not failing–but the policies of those who promote damaging educational “reforms” are.

The immediate crises in so many of our nation’s school districts—particularly those in our major cities—are so shocking that I often wonder how such horrors can occur in what we all know to be the greatest country in the world. Chicago, New York, D.C., and Philadelphia have laid off thousands of teachers and staff and closed dozens of schools, and a disproportionate percentage of minority students have been affected by these cuts and closures.  Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite said on August 8th that without $50 million in emergency funding, he would not be able to open the district’s schools for the 2013-2014 academic year on time. New York’s students and teachers were, in essence, set up to fail new, untested, and developmentally-inappropriate assessments by our own Department of Education—and then their failure was broadcast for the world to see.  Workers’ rights are being taken away—and our unions, which helped build America and which are so important for the strong middle class of which you so often speak, are being systematically and deliberately destroyed by profiteering millionaires in favor of cheap, inexperienced, temporary teaching labor.

Is this really America?

It is with great sadness—and even more fear—that I realize that yes, it is.

And so, amidst what I believe to be a crisis caused by damaging corporate-driven reforms, I find myself asking these questions each day:

  • How can anyone, in good conscience, advocate for reforms that are so fundamentally against what career educators know to be good for children?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, believe that millionaires and lawmakers are better equipped to dictate educational policy than people who devote their life’s work to education?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, strip public schools of teachers, support staff, programs, and funding—and then expect the children in those public schools to thrive?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, close the neighborhood schools that should be the cultural and unifying centers of their communities?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, create tests that are developmentally inappropriate for the children who will take them—and then broadcast children’s abysmal scores on a national stage?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, believe that subjecting children to weeks of high-stakes testing instills the love of learning we try so hard to foster in our children?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, ignore the opportunity gap that’s created by poverty and other social circumstances before children even enter kindergarten?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, promote—either implicitly or explicitly—people and corporations who profit from our children’s educations?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, promote programs—like inBloom—which jeopardize children’s and families’ rights to confidentiality?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, believe that schools stripped of the arts, elective courses, extracurricular programs, athletics, teachers, support staff, counselors, and other personnel can serve even the very basic needs or our children?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, support spending tens of millions on testing when public schools are closing or operating without being able to provide basic necessities for students?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, malign the teaching profession as a whole—and then expect our nation’s teachers to function to their capabilities with the mountain of obstacles they face each day?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, label teachers as greedy—and at the same time promote reforms that line the pockets of millionaires and profiteering corporations?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, believe that evaluating teachers based on students’ test scores can replace the personalized feedback that results from face-to-face observations and the resulting dialogues?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, believe that teachers who are intrinsically motivated by their students’ successes would be “improved” by a monetary reward system of merit pay—which has been shown many times to be ineffective?
  • How can anyone, in good conscience, advocate the use of taxpayer money for “school choice,” since doing so inherently suggests that the way to deal with struggling schools is to abandon them?
  • And how can anyone, in good conscience, fail to recognize that the more we take away from public school children, the more we will destroy one of the most important democratic institutions in our country?

If the current state of affairs continues on this dangerous trajectory, public education WILL fail—and the “reformers” who seek to privatize education and profit from our children will prevail.

I subscribe to John Dewey’s declaration that “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”  Yet I cannot imagine that those promoting education “reforms” would want for their own children the conditions—the testing, the program-cutting, the staff-firing, the large class sizes, the canned curricula— that they themselves are creating in America’s public schools.

I am just one teacher, yet I write to you with the inspiration from and on behalf of educators around the country who share my concerns. I will do everything in my power to help preserve the educational system in which I believe so strongly, and because I know you care about our children as much as I do, I hope you will help me.

Respectfully,

Ani McHugh

English Teacher, Delran High School

Delran, New Jersey

 

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33 Comments

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33 responses to “An Open Letter to President Barack Obama

  1. Regina Chesterton

    Agreed 100%
    Regina Chesterton, English teacher, Uniondale Public Schools, NY (teacher starting 34th year)

  2. Luz Ramirez-Mooney

    Kingston City Schools, NY, 13 years in public education

  3. I echo the above sentiments to the “T”

    Kelly Braun, Homeschooled my five children for 23 years with 5 to go, senior towards Integrated Social Studies 7-12, and own a micro-business that is a consignment shop for Teacher Resources.

    On a daily basis I speak with teachers from all educational environments!! We, on the BASE level , who are most in touch with students, KNOW that the chlldren are the ones most suffering from all of this.

  4. Laura Gladieux

    Laura Gladieux
    3rd grade teacher
    Raisinville Elementary
    Monroe Public Schools
    Monroe, Michigan

  5. Maureen

    Maureen O’Driscoll
    Kindergarten
    School District of Philadelphia

  6. Stephanie Hammer

    Stephanie Hammer, 24 years of public education
    6th Grade Teacher
    Greene County Schools, Virginia

  7. Dana Bialecki

    Dana Bialecki
    High School Special Education Teacher
    Amherst, NY

  8. sandra scarborough

    Sandy Scarborough
    2nd grade teacher, 26 years of service
    Columbia, SC

  9. Stephen Philion

    Professor of Sociology
    St. Cloud State University

  10. Sue Saenz

    Suzanne Saenz
    Kindergarten teacher
    Monroe, MI

  11. Sadly, it appears that President Obama really does not care.
    Matt Jungblut
    Fifteen years teaching, retired last year out of frustration over this. Now teaching my own child at home.
    Brooklyn NY

  12. Agreed. Too bad the president doesn’t seem to care.

  13. James Mooney

    Agreed! Kingston City Schools, NY, 18 years in public education

  14. I am a band director in Alabama with 3 years experience teaching who has not been able to get a job since obtaining my master’s degree. Testing mania, funding cuts, and a legislature intent of cutting the arts and privatizing our schools don’t help kids become better citizens. Kids not cuts!

  15. Cary Shapiro

    Cary Shapiro
    25 year educator
    Drama/Speech Communication/Language Arts
    Ankeny, Iowa

  16. Connie Crawford-Rodriguez

    Amen.
    Connie Crawford-Rodriguez
    Educator/Administrator
    Miami, FL

  17. Rachel Campbell

    Rachel Campbell
    First Grade ❤
    School District of Philadelphia

  18. Kathy Cerky

    Kathy Cerky
    Middle School Science Teacher~30 years
    NY City Board of Ed and Uniondale Public Schools
    Uniondale, NY

    It’s not too late to fix this problem, and do the right thing for our children!

  19. sue castiglione

    I approve this message. Sue Castiglione, 25 year educator, Munising, Michigan Public Schools.

  20. Susan Jolley

    Susan Jolley
    Retired English Teacher
    Delran Township School District
    Delran, NJ

  21. Theodore Graham

    Theodore Graham
    High School Science Teacher
    New Jersey

  22. I agree!
    Katie Lapham
    NYC public school ESL teacher
    Brooklyn, NY

  23. Teachers'LettersToBillGates

    President Obama – Your corporate reform education policies are creating “separate but unequal” education all across America.

    Susan DuFresne
    Dual Endorsed Special Education and General Education Teacher
    Integrated Kindergarten
    Renton, WA

  24. I approve this message:
    Karen Minette Weinstein
    Art teacher, early childhood & media educator, 20 years
    Stamford, CT

  25. holly homan

    In Seattle teachers were furloughed two years in a row for a total (I believe) of four days. There were two half days when students were sent home early because teachers couldn’t be in the classroom. The district said there wasn’t enough money to pay them. Yet never once did the district eliminate any of the standardized tests. The MAP alone costs the district over $400G a year and that’s just one test. These tests are owned by private, for profit companies who are making billions in profits from our tax dollars. Students are pulled out of class to take tests. WHy is it there isn’t enough money to keep students and teachers in the classroom, but there’s always enough money to pay for tests? I am very disappointed in Arne Duncan who sits idly by while corporations take over our public schools. Here’s one thing you can do, fire Arne Duncan and put a real teacher in charge. This should be a teacher who has taught in a variety of schools from affluent to poor, to schools with high numbers of special ed. Someone who has experience with behaviorally challenged students, severe/profound students, gifted students, English language learners, etc. Arne Duncan has none of these qualifications.

  26. David Cunningham

    I begin my 39th year as a teacher next month. I’ve never seen anything as destructive to children’s education as Common Core and its “Test Til You Drop” adherents. You should be ashamed to be associated with any of it.

  27. Karen

    I agree.

    Karen Cohn
    20 years, Special Education
    Denver, CO

  28. Sharon Bahe
    25+ years Urban Education
    Minnepolis, MN

  29. cmt152012

    I am completely in agreement with this impassioned and articulate letter. The savage attack on American teachers and families is discordant with everything that we teach children to believe about themselves as rich, strong, competent human beings who can change the world. Apparently, as we have learned this summer to our shock and disappointment, you can change the world only as far as corporations and corrupt, misguided governments will let you. Those of us endorsing this letter have invested our professional lives to the education of children, all children; we know what that entails, what it means, what it takes. Please restore respect to a profession dedicated to the service of others by restoring the autonomy of teachers, the voices of parents, and the right of a fully rounded curriculum to all students. Please declare a state of emergency in Chicago, Philadelphia, and other cities across the nation where charter schools and misanthropic educational reform have deprived us of our civil rights.
    Christine Marmé Thompson
    Professor of Art Education
    Penn State University
    a teacher for 40 years in preschool – graduate school

  30. Pingback: The economic scene: Links & comments 8/23/13 | Phil Ebersole's Blog

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