"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." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Friday, October 12, 2012

October 17 Campaign for Our Public Schools

Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody, have teamed up with a plan to flood the White House email with letters in support of -- and against the privatization of -- public education. While President Obama's reelection is in no way guaranteed, he is, of the two main party candidates, the one who is most likely to listen. Sample letters and suggestions are on Diane Ravitch's blog.

There is no guarantee that the President will listen, but it can't hurt to let him know that there are many people who are unhappy with the corporate privatization of America's public education system.

For more information about participating, see Instructions for the October 17 Campaign for Our Public Schools. The letters will be sent on October 17th.

I sent my letter today. It follows...
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Dear President Obama,

I am a product of the Chicago Public Schools. I attended a public university and went on to a career in education during which I taught for 35 years in America's public schools. My wife of 42 years is still teaching in our public schools. My children attended public schools. My grandchildren attend public schools. I am very concerned about the current lack of support for public schools in the United States.

In the summer of 2007 a candidate for president of the United States told a group of teachers,
"Don't label a school as failing one day and then throw your hands up and walk away from it the next. Don't tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend too much of a year preparing him to fill out a few bubbles in a standardized test...You didn't devote your lives to testing. You devoted it to teaching, and teaching is what you should be allowed to do."
That candidate, of course, was you.

In 2008 I voted for you because I had hope that finally we had a leader who would put children before profits and return some sanity to America's public schools. It was my hope that you would restore standardized testing to its appropriate place in educational assessment and that you would push back against the national tide of privatization.

To say that I have been disappointed would be an understatement.

The 2012 Democratic Party platform says,
"The Democratic Party understands the importance of turning around struggling public schools. We will continue to strengthen all our schools and work to expand public school options for low-income youth, including magnet schools, charter schools, teacher-led schools, and career academies.

"...includes raising standards for the programs that prepare our teachers, recognizing and rewarding good teaching...We also believe in carefully crafted evaluation systems that give struggling teachers a chance to succeed..."
During your first term "turning around struggling public schools" has meant firing staffs, and/or selling off public educational institutions to private companies and expanding charter schools. "Carefully crafted evaluation systems" has meant evaluating teachers based on test scores. Neither of those "reforms" has any basis in research. Charters perform no better, on average, than public schools and VAM evaluation processes have been found to be invalid. The American Educational Research Association and the National Academy of Education issued a joint paper saying that such evaluation 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.

Race to the Top encourages more teaching to the test, not less.

There is a conflict between your words and your actions. On the one hand you have frequently stated that teaching to the test is the wrong direction for schools and students, yet Race to the Top requires tying evaluations and pay for teachers and principals to test scores. In addition, the Department of Education, under Secretary Duncan, is planning to expand the number of subjects tested and to increase how often the tests are given. Is this the way to reduce the need to teach to the test?

By continuing to elevate standardized tests as the most important piece of data in a school or school system you guarantee that the curriculum will follow the test, not vice versa, and guarantee that teaching to the test will not just continue, but increase.

Furthermore, high stakes testing places excessive pressure on schools attended by our most neediest students. It's poverty, not poor teaching which leads to lower achievement. Pressuring the schools these students attend to increase test scores forces teachers to focus on those test scores, instead of a rich, well-rounded curriculum.

Race to the Top requires states to increase privatization of public schools.

The public school system in the United States has served us well and should not be scrapped for a system of private and for-profit charter schools.

Studies have shown that charter schools do not perform better than public schools. When comparing similar populations of children for profit charters have the same successes and failures that regular public schools have. There's no reason to increase the number of charter schools. Doing so just reduces the number of schools and school systems run by locally elected school boards and turns them over to corporate boards of directors whose bottom line is profit, not children.

I urge you to redirect the department of education away from the failed effort to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students.

I urge you to change Race to the Top and to stop encouraging municipalities to close schools and fire staffs because of low scores. Low scores are a reflection of high poverty, not 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, 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 and causing widespread damage to public schools, public school teachers and public school students.

Thank you,

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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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