Dear President Obama,
First, I want to thank you for your efforts to make education reform a top priority of your administration. While I applaud your enthusiasm for reform, I am concerned that you and Secretary Arne Duncan may be headed in the wrong direction.
During your campaign, you frequently criticized No Child Left Behind and its myopic focus on high-stakes standardized testing. In a speech delivered to the National Education Association on July 5, 2007, you declared, "... don't tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend too much of the year preparing him to fill in a few bubbles on a standardized test."
"Tests," you said in your speech, "should not be designed as punishment for teachers and students, they should be used as tools to help prepare our children to grow and compete in a knowledge economy. Tests should support learning, not just accounting."
Unfortunately, during the first year of your administration, your administration has done just the opposite. Your "Race to the Top" initiative focuses almost exclusively on standardized test scores - and holding teachers accountable for those scores. This seems to contradict the very promise you made during your campaign.
During the same speech, you also praised teachers for their work and dedication, promising higher pay and more respect. You said then, "Our kids are why you walk into that classroom every day even when you're not getting the support, or the pay, or the respect that you deserve - because you believe that every child should have a chance to succeed; that every child can be taught."
Again, your administration has failed to follow through on this promise. Instead, you have said over and over again since during the past year that we need better and more qualified teachers in our nation's classrooms. Such rhetoric does a disservice to the thousands of highly trained, competent, and professional teachers who are doing their best against increasingly difficult odds.
You also stated, "I am tired of hearing teachers blamed for our collective failures." If you really meant this, Mr. President, then please stop blaming teachers because we are all tired of hearing this too.
As for the pay issue, you promised, "that if you're a teacher or a principal doing the hard work of educating our children, we will reward that work with the salary increase that you deserve."
Well, Mr. President, teachers in my district have not received a pay raise in two years. This means that in real dollars, we are all working for less money than we did when you were campaigning for office - and most of us are working longer and harder.
Sadly, your administration has failed to address this problem. Only a small percentage of the federal funds earmarked for education actually filters down to the classroom where it is needed most. This is likely to continue under Race to the Top.
As for the so-called "stimulus funds" intended to help schools during the present recession, little went directly to teachers, despite your pledge to help save teacher's jobs. This is why school districts all across America - including mine - are laying off teachers this year.
In your speech you said, "Don't tell us that you'll put high-quality teachers in every classroom and then leave the support and the pay for those teachers behind." With all due respect, Mr. President, that is exactly what your administration is now doing.
Finally, you closed your speech with this ringing declaration, "I know you'll be leading the way, and I look forward to standing with you in the fight."
Well, Mr. President, it has been a nearly a year. We are tired of empty slogans and broken promises. And we are still waiting for you to join us in the fight.
A Dedicated Teacher