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.
English Teacher, Delran High School
Delran, New Jersey