The following is a letter I am sending on behalf of myself and many Louisiana teachers to president Obama as part of a campaign sponsored by Diane Ravitch from her blog and Anthony Cody of the blog Living in Dialog. I am urging any educator who would like to write a letter to the President to do so by sending a copy to Anthony Cody at the email address firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send it before the deadline of October 17 so it can be included in the package to be sent to President Obama.
Dear President Obama:
I am a retired teacher who writes a blog for educators in Louisiana. I am absolutely appalled by the attacks on public education and the teaching profession that you and your Secretary of Education have helped to promote in Louisiana. The Race to the Top fiasco which doubled down on some of the most destructive elements of No Child Left Behind law has been promoted in Louisiana by Secretary Duncan to force the most destructive polices I have ever seen on our public education system.
Your Secretary of Education actively campaigned for the appointment of John White, an unqualified privatizer of public education to be appointed as our State Superintendent of Education. This individual was also preferred by Governor Bobby Jindal, the greatest enemy of public education and teachers Louisiana has ever seen. As I write this letter, thousands of proven highly competent and dedicated Louisiana teachers are being forced to neglect their teaching duties to prepare for a silly dog-and-pony show John White calls a teacher evaluation program. You and your Secretary have pushed for the implementation of a value added system for measuring the performance of teachers in Louisiana that is so poorly designed and erratic that a disproportionate number of teachers in some of our highest performing schools are being rated as “ineffective”. The new value added system pushed by your administration requires that a certain percentage of our teachers be rated as ineffective each year for an undetermined number of years, basically decimating a huge portion of our teaching force without considering the professional opinion of their school principals. That's because the value-added “ineffective” rating overrules the principal's evaluation. One of our regional newspapers declared in an editorial that such a policy bordered on the immoral!
Your U.S. Department of Education specifically approved this policy as part of the Louisiana application for waiver of ESEA standards. As part of this waiver your Department approved Louisiana keeping the ridiculous unscientific goal of 100% proficiency for all Louisiana students by the year 2014. This is a goal that was left over from the No Child Left Behind standards that has been universally discredited by experts in tests and measurement. It is just one part of making our state a laughing stock in the eyes of the world education community.
Finally, and most destructive of all, your administration has not raised a single objection to the mass privatization of education in Louisiana pushed by Jindal and White which takes funding for this privatization directly from the Minimum Foundation Formula for our public schools. This plan subjects many Title I students to educational abuse at the hands of greedy preacher/administrators who teach creationism instead of science and who place children in primitive, substandard classrooms. So Louisiana, with the full support of your Education Department has kept the most harmful parts of the previous failed reform while adding the most radical destructive changes ever seen to our public education system.
Arne Duncan is still pushing the closing of schools and conversion of public schools to non-accountable charters and virtual schools, many of which are skimming off obscene profits from our tax monies dedicated to public schools. Studies have shown that the closing of schools in Chicago (by Duncan) and in many other cities and the firing of teachers and principals have not benefited the students involved in any way, yet it continues and is promoted and funded by your administration. Many parents in our poor neighborhoods are now realizing that their legitimate concerns for their community schools have been ignored and mocked by the privatizers. Your Education Secretary continues to help push these destructive policies down our throats here in Louisiana and in many other states.
A careful analysis of the testing data comparing American students with students in the countries with the highest performing educational systems shows that when our students are compared with similar demographic groups in other advanced countries our students perform equal to or better than similar students in those countries. We have many public schools in Louisiana that are demonstrating world class performance by students. Our problem is not with our schools or our teachers.
Our problem is simple. The students from our high poverty communities are performing at levels much below what is needed to adequately prepare them for a good life and a career. This is particularly serious in Louisiana because our poverty rates are among the highest in the nation. This fact was no reason to blame and trash the entire public education system and to force punitive counterproductive reforms on our teaching profession! As a lifelong Democrat, I am appalled and disgusted by your abandonment of democratic principles as they relate to public education.
Why doesn't your Department of Education help states provide incentives for the best teachers and most effective principals to take on the revitalization of the schools in our poor communities with emphasis on support of parents and community leaders? This means that you and your Education Department should stop blaming and start helping and supporting the dedicated educators who are willing to tackle these challenging educational communities. It also means funding for extended day, extended year, enrichment activities, music, arts, physical education and career education in addition to the much over-emphasized college prep curriculum. There is abundant evidence to show that not every student can or should aspire to a standard 4 year college education, yet the present reform agenda overvalues 4 year college degrees and stigmatizes the many other educational training options where opportunities abound in our job market.
I implore you to order your Education Secretary to immediately discontinue the destructive policies of his department and instead convene a task force composed of professional educators to design a true reform of our public education system that will support the teaching profession and focus laser-like on the pressing problems facing some of our schools while preserving our successes and building on the historical strengths of American public education.
Michael Deshotels, blogger at louisianaeducator.blogspot.com