Monday, October 15, 2012

A Teacher Offers Good Advice to the President

Forwarded by Diane Ravitch

Dear Mr. President:
I strongly supported you in last election because Linda Darling-Hammond was your education adviser. I really believed you would be going in a direction that supported public school students and not privatization and increasing the profits of testing and charter companies.

I suspect you are receiving many letters and emails regarding the failure of your Race to the Top policy. Instead, I would like to take a different route and outline a realistic course of action.

Teachers need ownership in the school system. When teachers are part of the hiring and firing process, teachers become part of the solution. Teachers and parents alike should be used in a collaborative manner. Yet they are totally disregarded. Under your leadership, teachers have become the problem, and that’s not fair! Secretary Duncan has made it very clear he does not respect public school teachers. And if you disagree, read his statements. The undertone is extremely clear. With all due respect, business leaders and politicians are stripping teachers of their dignity each and every day. They strip us of our ability to assess our students and judge a student’s progress. With all due respect, a high-stakes test cannot do that. Nor can putting a student on some mandated curriculum pacing calendar increase outcomes. Learning is a journey, not a race.

Teacher evaluations should never be tied to test scores. Peer Review on the other hand offers assistance to struggling teachers and is proving to be a more successful route to building a successful teaching force that leads to strong academic achievement. Teachers retain their due process rights as well. The results are as follows: Teachers improve and become successful. Teachers are fired, or decide this is not the right career path. The program is very successful in Montgomery County, Maryland and should be replicated around the country.

States like Florida are changing rules and making race an indicator of success. African-Americans will have a lower threshold to meet in order to pass. This in my opinion is what RTTT has become. By solely making one high-stakes test the only indicator of a student’s success, we are going backwards. And I find this new ruling to be racist. It’s time we rethink schools by age placement and instead group students by ability. This will give remedial students a chance to grow without being judged by an unrealistic benchmark they are not ready to reach.. Teachers not having to teach to the test can instead use creative and interesting lessons to help their students achieve success. In turn these students will develop life-long learning skills. They will be able to think outside the box, solve problems and become better citizens. Yet, reformers are forcing teachers to follow a one-size-fits-all method of teaching. Lessons must be geared towards the needs of the student and the content of the lesson. Lesson rubrics like “Danielson” will not give teachers the freedom to create, and the best teachers create marvelous lessons.

A school’s condition is indicative of how much importance we place on our children. Right now inner-city schools are overcrowded and in disrepair. Class sizes are too large. New schools with modern facilities are needed in each neighborhood. If a school is run down, the student will never feel valued. RTTT funding would be better spent on building new schools that fit the 21st Century model or upgrading older schools. Our students cannot be in over-sized classes using old texts, materials, and supplies. Yet, you expect teachers to carry this load as well. We already pay out-of pocket to supplement the lack of supplies and subject materials. Yet schools are investing in test-prep materials. This is not how your own children are treated.

You of all people know the importance of parental involvement. Yet, community schools offer no incentives to help parents out of poverty. A local school can provide evening and weekend classes for adults looking to learn English or new “employable” skills. This could be tied into your use of community colleges. But having these services in the neighborhood would have more reach. Many schools are cutting their school psychologists and guidance counselors, and that unacceptable!! When I was young, my public school had a doctor and dentist who visited the school once a week. Imagine if RTTT funds were instead re-invested it in providing much needed services? As a former community organizer, you must see the value in building up our schools to serve not only our students, but their families as well.

I know a Romney plan is not the answer either, but I cannot be forced to vote the lesser of two evils. RTTT has made it possible for Republicans to use tax-payer dollars for private charters and religious schools. And as a tax payer, I cannot accept this course of action.

You have the ability to make major corrections to your education plan if re-elected. And part of that is bringing back people like Linda Darling-Hammond. She has an excellent record of turning schools into professional learning communities. However, if you choose to continue a path that will lead to privatization of our public schools, we will have generations of students who can’t read or write, but somehow learned the tools to pass a standardized test. This cannot be your legacy!!
Thank you for taking the time to read my concerns.

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