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Excellent Letter: Dear Mr. President…Part I

November 13, 2012

I found this letter off of Diane Ravitch‘s awesome education blog.  It was written by the Superintendent of the Mt. Kisco school district located in New York.  The points that this brave superintendent makes are numerous, and what jumped out at me the most is that … YES … President Obama really does have a unique opportunity here with regard to education policy in this country.

Our President can continue down the privatization road so prized by his present Sec. of Education (Arne Duncan), or he can take the high road.  He can INVEST in public education instead of sowing the seeds of its destruction.  He can eschew the “reform movement” and their constant teacher bashing and he can stand up for teachers and the unions that protect them.

I wholeheartedly agree with the: Stop the Madness statement below.  Our schools are madness in some respects.  The strict, almost maniacal adherence to testing and test scores, if it wasn’t so tragic, is actually comical.  Our kids (and parents if you don’t know this you should) are tested day in and day out so that some magic number can be hit and the school will not be labeled as ‘failing.’  We are setting up an entire generation of kids who learn via testing and test prep.  If you think I am kidding you, go and volunteer in your son’s or daughter’s school, you will see very quickly that EVERYTHING in the curriculum is geared towards increasing test scores!

Enjoy this article (below).  I am looking forward to part II:

Dear Mr. President, Part 1

Dear Second Term President Obama:

You are in an enviable position, perhaps the most enviable in the educational world today.  You do not need to worry about re-election.  You’ve got a good three years to affect substantial, meaningful change.  You can say whatever the hell you want (sorry, but it’s time to throw some Bill Russell elbows, Mr. President).  You’ve got the microphone, the votes, and the next Supreme Court nomination(s). You’re a dad. You know the roots of American students, you know what it means to dream, and you went to Harvard.  

Actually, the only way you can screw this up is by replacing Arne Duncan with Michelle Rhee. 
The problems with public education today are not rooted in unions, lack of accountability, or Finland-envy.  The problems are the politicians.  Period.  And, unlike all of those other local, state, and national posers, you Mr. President, no longer need to worry about getting elected.  No politics.  No fund raising.  No debating against plantation and privatized education politics. No promises to anyone or any group or any corporation; promises only to kids, Democracy, and the future of America.
Go with your gut.  Go with your passion, your empathy, and common sense. Dream.  Set the bar as high as the moon. Inspire and innovate.  Save every kid, not some. 
Prior to 1983, we were a nation of vision and inclusion.  Brown v. Board of Education.  Title IX.  Plyler v. Doe.  PL-94-142 (IDEA).  No more “No Girls Allowed” signs on the clubhouse. African-American, young women, undocumented students, students with disabilities, and LGBT allowed. 
After 1983 when governors, political platforms, and CEOs began paying attention, we evolved from innovation and inclusion to “A Nation at Risk” (wake up call), Goals 2000 (actually ambitious), NCLB (the stick and a boat-load of testing), to RTTT (the carrot and testing on steroids). 
 
Stop the madness. 

Mr. President, most local, state, and federal legislators get a one-year window to show results.  Governors, first term Presidents, and senators get about two or three, if that.  Politicians need quick results so they find someone to blame (teachers), some place to denounce (urban schools), and something broken (test scores).  Then they attack with quick fix reforms, “accomplishments” like voucher plans and small-business (charter) schools, and outrageously excessive testing. And, the kids?  They get factory-model schools, scripted and trained McTeachers, and sit-and- regurgitate learning.  

Mr. President, it’s time to put the public back in public education. Empower parents; not the privatizers and privileged.   Inspire children.  Respect teachers.  Invest in professional development. Let leaders lead.  It is time to stop reducing creativity, innovation, motivation, invention, entrepreneurism, leadership, and learning to sabermetrics and “elect-me stats to attack.” Box scores are for geeks (like me) and barstool debates; but who remembers Michael’s stats?  It’s the highlight reels and team’s victories?  What coach ever inspired a struggling player by publishing his or her double-doubles or FTA/FTM ratio? 
Mr. President, you have the opportunity of a lifetime.  You can educate kids, rebuild crumbling schools, create jobs, level the playing field, and revitalize America, simultaneously. 
How?  That’s in part two.  But “how not to?” is simple: Lose the obsession with testing, the quick-fix the follow-the-money reforms, the return to Plessy v. Ferguson charter schools.  And, while you are waiting for part 2, read The Obama Education Plan, 2009.  Here’s your Table of Contents (and I don’t see “Test-the-spirit-and-curiosity-out-of-kids”on the list):

Reform No Child Left Behind
Expand Choice and Innovation
Make Math and Science National Priorities
Address the Dropout Crisis
Expand Opportunities to Learn
Recruit Prepare, Retain, and Reward America’s Teachers
Improve College Access and Affordability 

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