Sunday, March 14, 2010

An Open Letter to the President

Dear Mr. President,

I read with vested interest this morning a newspaper article outlining some of the changes in your proposed education plan. With all due respect sir, you have missed the boat on many key issues in education.

To start here’s my background:

I work at the highest performing high school in my county, a redesigned high school in which students get their high school diploma and a 2 year college degree for free! We are a school with a high number of impoverished, underrepresented students. We draw from all public middle schools, provide county busing to our school, pay for college books, provide tutoring weekdays and weekends, and yet out of 2000+ rising 9th graders last year, fewer than 100 applied. The fact that every parent in our county did not have their child apply is a major red flag about how our communities perceive the value of education. We have about 230 students, with an average class size of 18. Personally, I was student teacher of the year in college, and have been the highest performing teacher in my county, in my content area the past four years. I say that not to be prideful but to show that I have some clue about what I am about to say.

Here are the issues with education and the problems in your plan:

Successful education takes three elements: students, parents, and teachers. You cannot punish one, in your plan the teachers, for what the other two are not doing. More and more teachers are pulling the dead weight of parents and students who do not care about education. Why should they? They can simply drop out, have babies, and get a free check from the government. Sounds great to me! Seriously, we have to create consequences for not getting an education and they need to be consequences aimed at the student and parent.

Currently, public education is managed by the local, state, and federal government, with people elected to school boards who have no education background or experience. Show me a hospital in which all medical decisions are made by an 18 year old farmer, a 50 year old stay at home mom, a 75 year old retiree, and a 45 year old politically charged community member. They don’t exist, yet those are the same people we let make policy decisions about how our schools will be run. It’s time to get educators making key education decisions, not individuals who have not been in a classroom in several decades. As for school administration, with all due respect to your illustrious secretary of ed, administrators who have not been on-site at a school and actively involved in classroom teaching in the last 5 years don’t know what’s going on in schools. They pay it lip service but they do not know. When was the last time members of your education team planned 180 days worth of lesson plans? When was the last time they were faced with standardized test prep, college prep work, tutoring sessions, and daily interactions with parents? Lastly on this note, let’s think about this. There has been more and more government involvement with education, with worse and worse results. See the correlation?

Lastly, over the past decade teachers have been required to meet more and more standards, yet students continue to fall behind. It is more difficult to become a teacher and stay a teacher today than it was in 2000. Teachers must past exams that demonstrate their content knowledge, complete a set number of continuing education credits each year to stay licensed, participate in school based professional development (in my case, twice a month), create personalized education plans for students at risk of failing, and yet what has happened to student performance? Last summer alone, I gave up three weeks of my family time for professional development. It is not a teacher issue, it is a community issue, a student issue, and most importantly a parent issue. We often hear the cry for more tutoring, more one on one interaction in our schools. We have tutors and one on one interaction. It’s called parents who sit down with their student at the kitchen table to get schoolwork done. It breaks my heart to see more and more of this generation raised by everyone BUT their parent. It is not my job to raise a child, it is my job to educate them and I have an hour and a half each day to do that. Parents have 16 hours to do that.

In closing, I challenge you to rise above the easy rhetoric and the loud political voices yelling about education. Get together with teachers facing the challenges every day. Talk to students who don’t have a political agenda. They’ll tell you what’s going on in schools. If you sincerely try to get to the heart of the matter, we can turn education around. If we listen to the politicos trying to place easy blame, schools will never improve.

With much respect,

Alison Baker on behalf of teachers everywhere

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