Tag Archives: education

An Open Letter to Eli Broad

Dear Mr. Broad,

In a 1785 letter to John Jebb, future President John Adams said,

“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

Yet going against every fiber of our country’s philosophy about the importance of public education, you promote the idea that we should turn schools into businesses and children into commodities. You project a seemingly-philanthropic interest in impoverished school districts because you see them as a means to profit for corporate America, and in doing so, you make the following claims:

Claim #1: The Broad Foundation “seeks to dramatically transform American urban public education so that all children receive the skills and knowledge to succeed in college, careers and life.”

How ironic that you—with your billions—target poverty-stricken areas as those needing the most help but effectively ignore poverty as the root of so many students’ struggles. Instead, you implement policies that widen the social divide which exists between urban students and their rural counterparts. To many urban children living in poverty, schools are homes when the ones to which they return at the end of the day are not sufficient. Yet you, with your cavalier attitude and financial power, publish manuals that give your superintendents license to close schools en masse with no regard for the children who will be displaced, the teachers who will lose their jobs, or the communities that will be divided as a result.

Claim #2: “Teachers feel disempowered.”

How ironic that your approach to “education” has already created conditions that are so unfavorable to teaching and learning that the best educators in the profession no longer recognize the jobs they once loved. You’ve implemented a depersonalized, high-stakes testing culture that pressures districts to raise test scores at any cost and stifles teacher and student autonomy, creativity, and love of school and learning.

Claim #3: “To become effective, efficient organizations that serve students well, American school districts and schools need strong, talented leadership.”

How ironic that so many superintendents who have graduated from your Broad Superintendent Academy have been driven from their posts because of votes of no confidence and questionable ethics—and left the districts they were supposed to “rescue” in shambles. Where is there real evidence of improvement your “leaders” have made? (Hold it right there: proliferation of for-profit charters and manipulated scores on meaningless standardized tests are not evidence of improvement.)

Claim #4: “Competition among American schools is healthy.”

How ironic that even your jargon seeks to destroy the idea of a unified, cohesive, collaborative public education system in the United States. As corporate influence continues to weaken the public school system and push education toward privatization, all but the least fortunate children will be driven to private and charter schools that are not bound by the ridiculous, limiting, and restrictive regulations to which public schools have become subject. And when those students fail because the underlying causes of their troubles have not been addressed and because their programs are being cut, their schools are closing, and their teachers are being laid off, people like you will say, “we told you: public schools are failing.”

Make no mistake that children who are successful academically will never attribute their successes to nameless, faceless billionaires who close schools, lay off thousands of teachers, and mandate standardized testing that’s used too frequently and punitively. Instead, they’ll attribute their successes to teachers who know them, who care about them, and who do their best to educate students every day despite the uncompromisingly capitalist influence you and your fellow profiteers have over their careers.

Just as teachers would never presume to dictate how you sell insurance, build houses, or manage your finances, you should refrain from dictating educational policies and practices—especially those that are destructive to students, teachers, communities, and the future of public education in America.

Why not focus your charitable undertakings on improving the conditions in our society that stack the odds against children before they even enter kindergarten? You don’t have to answer: we all know it’s because doing so won’t make you a profit.

Simply put, public education cannot afford your billions.

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Filed under Letters

An Open Letter to WA State Representative Liz Pike

Dear Ms. Pike,

Your “open letter to public educators” is an extended contradiction and a wild display of ignorance.

So let me get this straight. You claim that you “encourage folks to choose a job they love,” yet you say you “chose to work a career in private sector business so that [you] could be one of those tax payers who funds [teachers’] salaries and benefits as a state employee in a local school district.”  Really?  That’s why you “chose” your career–to fund teachers’ salaries and benefits? How generous of you!  How would your boss feel about this statement (which, by the way, doesn’t even make sense), though?  And even if you hadn’t chosen to work in the private sector, wouldn’t you still be a taxpayer?  I’m just confused.

Then you say that if you could do it all over again, you’d choose to become a teacher “so that [you] too could enjoy summertime off with [your] children, spring break vacations, christmas break vacations, paid holidays, a generous pension and health insurance benefits.”  Really?  You’d become an educator not so you could inspire children and do your part to change our society for the better, but so you could have summers and holidays off? (By the way, the “C” in Christmas should be capitalized.) Anyway, I’m glad, for the sake of our children, that you chose the private sector. This statement alone shows your deep-seated resentment of teachers, the shallowness of your priorities, and the complete lack of understanding you have about what it takes to be a teacher.  You must be really unhappy with your career choice if you’d  go back in time and abandon it in favor of a job you clearly know nothing about and have no respect for.

You thank teachers for their service to schools, and then you deride the very public school system in which they work, saying it “continues to plummet when compared to worldwide education standards.” You bash the professional unions to which teachers belong, insisting that those unions “only care about the adults in the system.” You’re kidding, right? Please remember that unions are made up of teachers.  To suggest that teachers only care about themselves is an offensive generalization—a stereotype, even—that is just as offensive as calling all politicians corrupt.  (Does that offend you?)  Please, save the false praise you throw into this letter; it is disingenuous and insulting.

You suggest that teachers who are “dissatisfied” with their pay and benefits look elsewhere for employment so that “someone who is inspired to greatness can take their place in the classroom.”  Are you suggesting that a teacher who seeks fair pay for his work is somehow uninspired in his job?  How are the two connected?  Further, are you suggesting that private sector workers don’t seek pay increases, better benefits, or other things that are in their and their families’ best interest?

You hope that teachers will inspire their students to “reach their full intellectual potential and learn the value of true leadership in our community.”  If “true leadership in our community” is what you feel you demonstrate in your role as an elected official, perhaps you should begin by respecting public education, which is a cornerstone of our democratic society and the heart of our communities, instead of vilifying those who work so hard to improve it.

I very much agree that “our children deserve an exceptional and inspired teacher in every classroom.” But how can you expect exceptional and inspired teachers to enter the profession when people like you publicly—and viciously—criticize it?

I’m a proud teacher and a proud union member.  I’m passionate about the children and the subject matter I teach, and my colleagues, who are also proud teachers and union members, are equally passionate.  I’m disgusted by the ignorance your post exudes and the complete disregard you have for the institution of public education and the devoted teachers who do their jobs each day even when they’re faced with issues (like poverty, inequality, reformers who know nothing about education, and corporations that have a financial interest in our schools and their students) that threaten students’ ability to succeed.

Please stop painting teachers as being greedy and uninspired.  Instead, please help fix the problems facing public education in an effort to support those who work their hardest each and every day to improve it.

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Filed under Letters, Reform

Montessori charters or bras wired for cheating. Anyone?

I just read an article about efforts by China’s education ministry to prevent cheating on its college university entrance exam, which over 9 million students take to try to win one of just over 7 million spots in the country’s colleges.  Education officials, who seem to recognize that the pressure students feel to do well on such an important test invites cheating, imposed a ban on clothing with metal parts–including bras–to try to get a handle on “wireless cheating devices.”  For realsies.

While most students in the United States aren’t paraded through metal detectors before they sit for exams, many do feel the same sort of pressure to perform well on high-stakes tests that drives their Chinese counterparts to cheat with the help of a strategically-wired undergarment.

It’s no secret that even the highest-achieving students cheat. Take, for example, the “large-scale cheating” incident that was discovered at Harvard in 2012; it’s evidence that even Ivy-Leaguers, who some assume are models of academic integrity, resort to dishonest and immoral behavior when they feel enough pressure.  Likewise, administrators and teacher in Atlanta and Washington DC, under enormous pressure from reformers to raise test scores and with their jobs on the line, engaged in unethical behavior that called their morality into question.

Knowing that high-stakes testing–along with pressure from parents, administrators, reformers, or anyone else who has a vested interest in the results–opens the door for cheating, why are we forcing our students to test more and more each year?  Is it so we can catch public-school cheaters and hang them on the figurative gallows as evidence that public schools don’t work?

The biggest problem is that reformers like Michelle Rhee claim that if something isn’t measurable, it’s not worth learning. This belief is at the heart of her philosophy, which dictates that students should all be able to learn the same set of skills, and whether or not they actually learn these skills is a direct reflection on their teachers.  What’s worse is that people who have no understanding of public education agree with her.

But in this kind of testing culture, where the push seems to be to destroy public schools in favor of for-profit charters, a community in Connecticut is considering a Montessori charter school.  (What?!)  Yes, you heard that right: Montessori advocates, who do not believe in testing students AT ALL (ever), believe that their method “can trump poverty,” a key indicator in student achievement.

Isn’t this, like, a super-scary dilemma for a reformer? (If you are a reformer and you are reading this, do you feel sick?) What’s a reformer to do?  Ruin public schools (YESSSS!) in favor of a charter school (YESSSSSSS!) that doesn’t measure students by any type of test at all (NOOOOOOOOOO! WTF!)? What a conundrum!

YES, this is an isolated example of a community’s push to use taxpayer dollars for a very specialized (Montessori) school; but could it be an indicator that the idea of no testing AT ALL will become increasingly appealing as a result of the current high-stakes-testing climate?  Or maybe people just like that nobody cares what kind of bra one wears at a Montessori school.

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Filed under Charters, Reform, Testing