Thursday, March 12, 2009

For Miriam, part 2

I wrote my second letter to President Obama today. And I was MAD.

His education plan is going ahead with his proposal to link teacher pay to "student achievement" (read: standardized test scores). Instead of rolling back the disastrous No Child Left Behind act, this would strengthen it. Great, less than 2 months in office and he's already caving to the right-wing. It's Clinton all over again.

When are people going to put blame for poor student performance where it belongs? On parents. I'm sorry if you disagree with me, but do the research and you'll find that parental education and involvement are the single-most important predictors of student achievement. Sure, exceptions abound, but what it comes down to this: teachers can only do so much with what they are given.

Linking teacher pay with test scores will have the effect of punishing teachers in poor areas, where children tend to have so many more challenges at home. It will drive the good teachers out to the suburbs, leaving the underqualified teachers in the low-performing schools, further driving down test scores.

And here I thought our president was an intelligent man...

Anyway, here's my latest missive to the Big Chief:

Dear Mr. President,

I read in the New York TImes today of your plans to overhaul the education system in the United States. While I still hold the traditional belief that education policy should come from the states, not the federal government, I do agree that change is needed. However, I do not believe that your plans, which strike me as "Republican-Lite" are the answer. In particular, I am horrified at your suggestion of linking teacher pay with student achievement.

As a college student, I worked in the US Department of Education compiling pertinent education research for Congress. Over and over, I watched as important studies showing parental involvement as the greatest predictor of student achievement were passed over in favor of studies supporting "standards and accountability" - because that's what policy makers wanted, not what the research supported. The scramble to adopt accountability policies, despite very mixed research, was group-think at its most obscene, and I left the USED in disgust.

My sister is a teacher. My aunt, grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great grandmother were all committed, caring teachers. My sister works about 60 hours each week teaching, grading papers, directing the school play, and repersenting her district in the teachers' union. She is an excellent, devoted teacher, and any student would be lucky to be in her class.

However, students are only in school 900 hours each year, compared to the 7,800 hours children spend at home with their families. Where do you think the real blame for low performance lies? My sister gets several children in her class every year who just arrived in the US and do not speak English. Some of her students have parents who are completely uninvolved, or incarcerated. Your plan to link teacher pay with student achievement will punish her for teaching the students who need her the most, and will reward those teachers who have fled to the richer, better supported suburbs.

What our teachers need is not more punishment, but more support. They need to be allowed to do what they have been taught to do: TEACH, not run reading and math drills all day long in some perverse standardized-testing boot camp.

I am extremely disappointed in you, and honestly believed you had more support for our country's teachers, who I believe are the hardest-working, least appreciated employees in civil service. I hope you will go back to the drawing board and find a way to overhaul (or scrap) the NCLB act in a way that will actually promote good teaching, not hinder it.

With regards,


Shannon said...

Hi, Gwyneth! I just wanted to say that I think it's great you are speaking your mind via your blog and the Presidential website.

Like you, I too have a relative that teaches, although mine is a somewhat distant relative. However, unlike your sister, this individual is not involved. In fact, when I found out she is now a teacher at 1 of her local high schools, I was actually shocked and disgusted that someone with her limited education could actually be employed by the education system.

It is rare for me to agree with this administration's policies. Which is why it's kind of ironic that I am about to make a statement in support of their agenda. I believe and hope that the motivation behind these "no child left behind" policies is to rid the education system of teachers like my relative so that more teachers like your sister can then be hired.

I don't disagree with you though. I have never heard the argument from an actual "teacher's" perspective. If quality teachers are being penalized under this system, then I hope more "change" is in the future, at least on this front.

Miriam said...

Amen Gwyneth! From a teacher's perspective the whole NCLB is a load of crap. If the public really knew all the facts about the bill they would be apalled!! It has nothing to do with getting rid of bad teachers who don't do their jobs. Linking teacher performance to test scores is absolutely the wrong thing to do. I, for one, would have a much harder time working in my high poverty school knowing that I was at a higher risk of losing my job because I choose to work in a school where many students come from single-parent families, many of whom are not educated themselves. I have students who live with grandparents because their mom is in jail and their dad is gone. Students who come to us from another country and have never received any form of education in their own country. Students who are malnutritioned and sleep deprived. It's so hard to compete with these school's whose students do not have so may barriers to their education! From all that I've heard though Obama has not proposed that we base teacher performance on test scores. I'll have to look into that some more and write him a letter myself!