This was written by educator Anthony Cody, who taught science for 18 years in inner-city Oakland and now works with a team of science teacher-coaches that supports novice teachers. He is a National Board-certified teacher and an active member of the Teacher Leaders Network. A version of this post appeared on his Education Week Teacher blog, Living in Dialogue.
By Anthony Cody
It has been a year and a half since I wrote an open letter to President Obama, and started a project called Teachers’ Letters to Obama. Back in December of 2009, I sent a package of 107 letters to the President and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (downloadable here).
Sadly, there has been no change in education policies, and the administration seems more determined than ever to enforce policies that attach ever higher stakes to standardized test scores.
On March 28 of this year, as President Obama began looking towards his reelection in 2012, he held a town hall meeting at a high school. A student named Luis Zelaya asked him if he could help reduce the many tests students were forced to take. The president responded with words that reminded us why teachers had supported him so actively back in 2008. But the words did not correspond with his policies, so the organizers of the Save Our Schools March created a petition, which states:
Our public schools need support. President Obama understands what his daughters need -- occasional low stakes tests used to find out their strengths and weaknesses, and a rich learning environment with lots of engaging projects. Unfortunately the policies of the President’s Department of Education are moving us in the wrong direction, towards more tests, with even higher stakes.
If we continue down this path, schools will be completely driven by tests. Scarce resources will be spent on huge expenditures for computers, tests and scoring software, and precious school time will be wasted. Our students will become ever more focused on tests, and less on authentic learning.
With this petition we ask President Obama to bring his education policies in line with the vision he shared on March 28, at the town hall meeting. We invite him to endorse the principles of the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action, and to speak at our rally in Washington, DC, on July 30, 2011.
To date, 1,570 people have signed this statement, and we have received more than 200 statements expressing their views. These letters have been compiled, and sent to Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Duncan. They can be downloaded as a PDF here.
Reading them over, there is a clear sense that emerges. Teachers and parents feel abandoned - even betrayed - by this administration. We were there for you in 2008, President Obama. Where are you now when we need you? Here are some thoughts by teachers:
I strongly supported the election of President Obama in 2008. I am a college professor and was able to rally legions of students in support as well. However, if the decisions of his nominated representatives continue to favor high-stakes testing for teacher and student accountability, I will find a new candidate to support in 2012. Please Mr. Obama, get it right on this one. Make the tough decisions and back up the platform for which you were elected.
In a few weeks, I’ll be introducing teachers to the Common Core Standards at the request of my county’s Regional Support Center, under the County Superintendent of Education’s office. I do so with very ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, I support the new focus on comprehension of a variety of texts at all grade levels, something missing under NCLB [No Child Left Behind], and the emphasis also on writing across the curriculum. On the other hand, I’ve visited the Department of Education’s site and read the blueprint for [school reform]. I know what’s coming — even more onerous testing that we currently endure — something our students, teachers, and schools don’t need to tell us how our children are learning. If the current blueprint stands without significant changes as specified in this petition, I won’t be able to cast my vote for President Obama when he runs for a second term.
Dear President Obama, I am in my 39th year as an elementary level educator. I am presently a literacy specialist at a Title I school. A majority of our students speak another language and many enter school without the benefit of preschool. Our children hail from many cultures and are wonderful in so many ways. With the onslaught of high-stakes testing, many of them spend their early academic years labeled as “lagging behind”. Can you imagine being 7 or 8 and already “failing”? Our teaching staff is motivated and works hard in spite of the challenges our children face at school and at home.
We understand the need for accountability and monitor our students’ progress closely. But I worry that if we use high-stakes testing data to make judgments about a teacher’s effectiveness, good teachers will abandon the schools that need them the most. They will not want to be labeled “failures” and will preserve their careers by teaching less needy populations. That would be a tragedy. We don’t need more bureaucracy. We need a society that truly values education and understands that meeting the needs of all children is not a recipe to be legislated by distant parties. I know you think in depth about all the challenges that face our nation. This issue of high-stakes testing must be re-examined at the federal and state levels. Please help us!
I was a teacher for 30 years and worked hard to foster the kind of learning environment you said you want for your daughters. I felt accountable for every child in my class and measured their progress often, not with a state-mandated grade level test but with assessments based on the content I had taught. When NCLB became law and the consequences of inadequate yearly progress (measuring two unequal groups of students) became dire, I was forced to abandon the methods I believed in for fear my students would not do well enough on the tests. When I moved on to two different charter schools to help with aligning curriculum to the state standards I saw the same results — less innovation and more standardization resulting in less inspired teaching. I decided to opt for early retirement in 2009, discouraged by what I saw happening in Washington. I was hopeful, Mr. President, that you could change the direction of NCLB. But the message from the Department of Education has not been encouraging. Please endorse the principles of Save Our Schools.
I supported your campaign and I supported my daughter who trained volunteers for Young Democrats in Stockton, Ca. I am retired from teaching in elementary school in one of the “low-performing” schools. We missed our goal by a tiny percentage in this high-stakes testing charade. We are not teaching science or social studies due to your policies. You do not seem to grasp what you are doing to the poorest students. I am very angry and disappointed.
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