Monday, June 20, 2011

Why the President Must Remove Arne Duncan and End High-Stakes Testing Policies in Our Public Schools: A Letter to Barack Obama--by Jenna Schlosbon

Shame on you, Barack Obama. I voted for you. I campaigned for you. I donated to you and raised money for you. When I heard you speak about the problem of educational inequality in this country at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, I felt inspired. This is an issue that has been extraordinarily important to me for some time now, and I believed that you actually intended to do something about it. But instead, you continue to support the high stakes testing agenda and business-like competition among our public schools.

You and your Secretary of Education support tying teacher tenure/hiring/firing to standardized test scores. In so doing, you reduce children, particularly children of color who are living in poverty, to data points, forcing us to reduce our curriculum to incessant test prep for fear of a)having our schools shut down or b)losing our jobs. This is not education. This is fear-based.This puts a tremendous amount of stress on teachers and students alike. This is rote. This strips joy, curiosity, and creativity from learning.

What about socio-emotional development? What about varied learning needs and learning styles? We need to educate the whole child, which these policies will not allow us to do. (And by the way, President Obama, Sidwell Friends, where you send your daughters, has stated that they do not believe tying teacher pay to student test scores is an effective measure of learning, evaluation, or progress.)

By upholding said policies you are just as bad as Klein, Bloomberg, and all of these other milllionaire/billionaire pro-corporate "education reformers" who are "reforming" (destroying) our public schools in an effort to create something that benefits the corporate structure which controls this country: a mass proletariat who can unquestioningly obey, follow directions, and complete rote tasks instead of citizens who can question, or dare I say challenge the status quo, formulate an opinion, think critically and creatively, or have any semblance of a moral compass.

We need freedom from high-stakes standardized tests and the freedom to make our curriculum more relevant to our students' lives, not only in an effort to engage them, but to show them how to be active citizens in their own communities, and perhaps even empower them to improve their communities.

President Obama, improving our public schools does not mean ridding schools of tenured, experienced educators and filling them with droves of 22-year-olds (via Teach For America and other similar programs) as is the trend under current leadership in New York City. This only creates an atmosphere of chaos, confusion, stress, and eventual burnout and teacher turnover as these young teachers do not have the support of older veteran role models to show them the way. Although filling schools with young, un-tenured teachers, burning them out, and then cycling through the next batch may be smart financially (new teachers are the cheapest labor), high teacher-turnover leads to further instability in our urban public schools which does very little to help impoverished students who, very often, already lack stability and structure at home.

Stop scapegoating and punishing teachers who do the best they can with the limited time and resources they have, and address the real reasons why our public school children, particularly urban public school children of color, are behind their wealthier white peers: poverty. Poverty affects students' nutrition and health, supervision and structure at home (which in turn affects attendance and homework completion/studying), living conditions...both inside and outside the home, parental education level, and these are only just a few examples. Our students' families need living wage jobs. Tax policy must be adjusted. No self-respecting, educated, hard-working professional can withstand being blamed day in and day out for the wounds of poverty that directly affect student learning and/or having his or her job threatened year after year due to "numbers" on these innane standardized tests.

Mr. Obama, you need to set the tone for real education reform, not the faux-"reform" that these non-educator millionaires are propagating. End the teacher-blaming. Let teachers teach. Stop supporting privatization, union busting, and charter school takeovers, and start supporting our teachers and students by acknowledging that poverty impedes academic performance and actually discussing ways to address poverty in America. Tax policy and labor policy are two places to start.

Until you remove Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education and/or begin to acknowledge that the high-stakes testing business model is flawed and detrimental to our schools, I don't know that I can give you my vote in 2012, and educators across the country agree.

You will be hearing from me again and thousands upon thousands of educators, students, and other supporters at the Save Our Schools March on July 30th in Washington D.C.

Jenna Schlosbon
10th Grade English Teacher, NYC

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