Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Uninformed Reformers, Part II

In his second State of the Union address, President Obama conveyed the following assertions:

1. “Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.”

2. “…reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities.”

3. “Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect.” (In reference to how teachers are treated in South Korea.)

In January 2010, I posted an entry about President Obama’s first State of the Union address. I titled it “Uninformed Reformers” and lamented that the President was not paying enough attention to the thoughtful and insightful letters that the members of “Teachers’ Letters to Obama” sent him.

A year later, education reform continues to progress in the wrong direction, as President Obama’s address last night indicates.

The President and the Department of Education continue to tout the Race to the Top program. Race to the Top turns the distribution of education funding into a contest with winners and losers, instead of providing all schools with access to adequate resources, ensuring all children receive a quality education. Race to the Top also places too much weight on standardized tests, which do not adequately measure a child’s knowledge, skills or understanding.

President Obama contends that education reform is not a top-down mandate, and input from local educators and communities is important. But to receive Race to the Top funds, states must implement reform plans that meet the federal government’s criteria.

If the Obama administration really respected teachers and valued their input, efforts to thwart the administration's misguided reform policies would not have gained so much momentum over the past year. The “Teachers’ Letters to Obama” Facebook group has amassed 3,195 members, up from 760 a year ago. And a new grassroots movement is gathering steam: the “Save Our Schools March & National Call to Action” is headed to Washington, D.C. this summer to advocate for equitable funding for all public schools, an end to high-stakes testing, and teacher and community leadership in education policy reform (see my December blog post).

I wholeheartedly agree with President Obama on one point, though: “It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child.” If our children are to love learning, we must embrace innovative lessons that spark their intellectual curiosity and shun dull, uninspired and scripted test preparation. We must ensure that all children have access to the resources, staff and materials they need to succeed, regardless of where they live. And parents and teachers must join together to promote thoughtful and appropriate reforms that truly benefit our children and secure our country’s future.