Monday, October 15, 2012

My letter to President Obama

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington DC 

October 15, 2012

Dear President Obama,
I am the parent of a public school fourth-grader in South Bend IN.  I write today to express my deep concern regarding federal education policy.
We have in our state a Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett, who appears to be wholly dedicated to turning over our school system to for profit companies.  He can do this under the cover of your “Race To The Top” program.  From the Fort Wayne, IN  Journal Gazette:
Indiana enjoyed almost 24 years of steady, collaborative effort to improve public education under Republicans H. Dean Evans and Suellen Reed, but Bennett’s election four years ago marked an end to the partnership among policymakers, educators, parents and the business community. The noteworthy improvement Indiana schools have made in recent years, including higher graduation rates, is the result of the foundation Evans and Reed set.

Rather than follow their example, Bennett cleaned house, replacing experienced educators with a DOE staff whose frequent turnover has left school districts struggling to interpret rules and requirements. He took advantage of GOP majorities to push an expansive legislative agenda, including the nation’s most expansive voucher program. Before its effects are even known, he is looking to extend it, eliminating the restriction that vouchers go only to students who first attend public school. 

Studies demonstrate that charters generally don’t get better results than public schools unless they exclude low-performing children. Sometimes they can’t compete even with that advantage.  Our local charters lag slightly behind the School Corporation average in terms of test scores.  
Public schools educate all children. For-profit schools cherry-pick their student body and compensate teachers at below market levels – which enables them to steal precious tax dollars to pay off investors. Those resources belong in the classroom.  The for-profit virtual schools (which seem to be the next strategy of the Privateers) get uniformly bad reviews from everyone but Wall Street. 
Should for-profit charter schools enter the picture here, I have no doubt it will lead to a dual system for the haves and have-nots. That would be terribly ironic - since our school system operates under a consent decree whose origin is due to past segregation issues.
Please withdraw your support from the failed effort to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students. The American Educational Research Association and the National Academy of Education issued a joint paper saying that such methods are inaccurate and unstable. Teachers get high ratings if they teach the easiest students, and low ratings if they teach the most challenging students.  Additionally, prepping students for tests cheats students of valuable instruction time.  The only people who come out ahead are the stockholders of test design and/or administration companies.
Please stop encouraging the closure of schools and firing of staffs because of low scores. Low scores are much more likely a reflection of high poverty, than an indicator of bad schools or bad teachers. Insist that schools enrolling large numbers of poor and minority students get the resources they need to succeed.
Please speak of the role of public education in a democracy, doors open to all. Please speak about the importance of early childhood education and small classes and libraries and the arts and a rich curriculum. Please remind the nation why schools need nurses and social workers and after-school activities.
Please recognize that schools work best through collaboration, not competition. Remind the nation why teaching to the test is wrong and why standardized testing should be used to help, not to give rewards and punishments.
Please, President Obama, recognize that your policies are demoralizing teachers. Many are leaving the profession. Young people are deciding not to become teachers. Your policies are ruining a noble profession.  My daughter has had five outstanding teachers in her short  school career.  Three of them have retired.
It’s time to re-think the federal approach.  Up to now, you have basically taken George W, Bush’s policy and put your stamp of approval on it.   I ask that you devote your skills and your attention to what is possibly the thing that matters most to the future of the United States – the education of our children.  I’m confident you can do better.
Thank you for reading this.
Don Wheeler

1 comment:

What do you think it symbolizes?