Since you are the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party in 2008, I fully intend to do everything in my power to ensure your election. I hope that by changing the current atmosphere in Washington, D.C., perhaps we can make some headway in the area nearest and dearest to my heart: education. You see, Senator, I continue to read that education is not a focal point of this election. That concerns me as an educator and as a parent and as a citizen. If education is not on the forefront of the change you wish to see as a result of your election, I fear for the future of this country.
Your predecessor enacted, with the consent of the majority of the Senate and Congress, a bill whose title is commendable: NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND. However, the title belies the ugly truth behind the actual unfunded set of mandates that did little more than line the pockets of companies with whom the federal government did business and from whom the businesses took millions (if not billions) of dollars that did not reach the classrooms. NCLB set standards. That, too, is commendable. However, most of those standards rely on nothing more than student performance on state assessments. And state assessments are little more than a one-shot set of tests that provide barely a snapshot of students and their achievement. Let me put this in its most simple terms by asking you to rely on your educational team to accomplish the following:
• Make certain that the person in charge of the country’s educational policy has real experience as an educator. Our current Secretary of Education has little actual experience in a public school. Imagine how more informed policy might be if the leader in this field had experience working with children, parents, and teachers.
• Make policy not for sound bites but for actual progress. Begin by scrapping NCLB completely (it is mandated well past your election). Put together a coalition of educators to formulate goals for our students that are not about test scores, not about scoring higher than other countries, not about harking back to some good old times when the basics were taught and learned. Real change in education will require more than noble titles.
• Prevent those who have ties to companies providing services to the educational community from dictating policy. If the dollars do not make it to the classroom, they are not having the greatest effect they can and must have.
• Listen to the concerns of teachers. Our voices have been almost silenced since NCLB. If we are critical, it is because we do not want students to succeed. Remember that phrase from your predecessor that if we were not with him we were siding with the terrorists? Our former Secretary of Education actually stated that teachers who were members of unions were terrorists. We are the only professional group not governed by members of our own community. Imagine if we placed non-medical personnel in charge of the AMA.
Finally, Senator, check the progress of your educational team by inviting the stakeholders to regular town hall meetings across the country. Listen to what is being said. Encourage discussion. But remember, the purpose of an educated citizenry is not to perform well on an annual assessment, not is to train workers for future jobs. The real purpose of education is to ensure the future of our democracy by creating lifetime learners, citizens who know how to find information, how to evaluate the propaganda of an administration that claims it is leaving no child behind all the while cutting funding for program to ensure children’s health and education and well being, citizens who will rise as you have to assume leadership roles in times of great national crises.
PS to Mrs. Obama: Please make education one of the areas you plan to become involved in. As the parent of two school aged children, you and your husband know the value of good teachers, a relevant curriculum, and a good education. Do not consign your children’s generation to a third world education.