Thursday, January 28, 2010

Uninformed Reformers

In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama said he reads letters from citizens every night. He quoted letters from a determined small business owner, a patriotic woman, and a generous eight-year-old boy.

I wonder if he’s read the ninety-six letters Anthony Cody, a teacher coach, collected from teachers and mailed to the President in November. Or the additional letters, comments and discussions posted by the 760+ members of Cody’s “Teachers’ Letters to Obama” Facebook group. Or the letters Cody published in his Education Week commentary and Teacher Magazine blog.

I’ve read some of the letters that have been posted online, and I think they offer valuable insight into the learning process and reveal the shortcomings of the President’s education reform plan and “Race to the Top” program. Here are some of the highlights:

* Standardized tests, and multiple choice tests in particular, do not adequately measure a student’s knowledge, skills or understanding.

* The pressure on teachers to produce acceptable standardized test scores is forcing them to spend more time on test preparation strategies and less time on creative and intellectual activities.

* Innovative lessons motivate students and spark excitement about learning. Dull, uninspired, scripted lessons, and repetitive test preparation, turn students off of school.

* The focus on testing will widen the achievement gap. High-achievers will spend time on enriching activities, such as music and art, while at-risk students focus on test-taking skills.

* A student who is not a skilled test-taker may be a gifted writer, a talented artist, or a budding musician. Due to the focus on standardized tests, their abilities may be overlooked and their self-esteem damaged.

* Education grants should not be based on a political contest like “Race to the Top.” All schools should have access to adequate resources so all children receive a high-quality education. Students shouldn’t be penalized because their state governments drafted proposals that the federal Dept. of Education deemed unworthy.

* The “Race to the Top” program attempts to force business practices on schools. Children are not products; they’re people.

* Although teachers have the greatest insight into the classroom environment and the learning process, they’re being excluded from the discussion on education reform.

When addressing education reform last night, President Obama said, “In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education. And in this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than on their potential.”

Unless President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan consider the input of teachers, their education reform plan will not accomplish the intended results.

Please visit “Teachers’ Letters to Obama” on Facebook for more information.