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A Letter to the President
An Educators' News Editorial
August 17, 2010

I published a column last March about my attempts to share my views on education reform with the President and Secretary of Education. They're Not Listening tells of an administration that Dana Milbank recently described as "elitist" and "arrogant" that has "an attitude that if you aren't with us, you are against us -- and therefore against children and reform. The administration tries to bully and condemn any opposition, even if it is from groups that should be their allies." Or, it just ignores its constituents' concerns.

When I wrote They're Not Listening, I chose not to publish my letter to the President. But I had started on a journey that began with strong support for the Obama candidacy that has led to disillusionment with the man and his administration. As Anthony Cody sagely wrote last week, "It has become clear they know exactly what they are doing, and nothing we say matters."

At the very least, the President needs to replace Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with someone who understands the realities of teaching and education. Educators across the country need to support congressional candidates who will stand up to the President's intransigence on education reform and bring some reality back to the discussion of improving schools in America. Too much is at stake to continue general support for an administration whose education "reform" policies may lead to the dismantlement of America's public schools as we know them.

Like Bonnie Tyler on the Footlooseicon soundtrack cut, I guess "I need a hero" (Holding Out For A Hero) in education and our President isn't him.

Educators' News Steven L. Wood Publications
6725 W County Road 50 N
Sullivan, IN 47882
(812) xxx-xxxx

March 11, 2010

President Barack Obama

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

Obama CompositeI’m writing as a retired teacher and a webmaster who strongly supported your candidacy for President in 2008. My wife and I attended your campaign stop at Terre Haute North High School on April 11, 2008. My main web site, Educators' News, still carries the banner for your candidacy in its archives as it did for months in 2008. Even though I was unemployed at the time (I now consider myself retired, since no one can afford an "ace" special educator who is top-of-the-scale.), I sacrificed to contribute to your campaign.

I’m currently working on a guest blog item for Valerie Strauss’s The Answer Sheet on the Washington Post. The tentative title of the posting is They’re Not Listening. The title comes from three attempts at contacting your administration. The first was an email to you that went without any response. The second was a similar email to the Secretary of Education. And the last attempt was my comment below when I took myself off the mailing list.

As a retired career teacher, I've written to both President Obama and Arne Duncan in strong protest of the business oriented changes they're pushing for education. Those measures won't work. And both (offices) have neglected to respond. I now move from being an Obama supporter into that middle ground of independents.

All three messages went without response. The third was specifically designed to provoke some form of response. The repeated lack of responses has led me to the conclusion that you’re simply not listening to the teachers of America. There is no way you could be listening, despite the much heralded Listening and Learning Tour of Secretary Duncan.

You continue to support merit pay, more high-stakes testing that continues to narrow curriculum, charter schools for motivated poor students and parents (that leave out the most needy and unmotivated) that imperil our public schools, and closing schools and firing all the staff such as the recent sad incident in Rhode Island.

Good teachers are simply maxed out already, so merit pay is really a bad joke to them. Every time you speak of weeding out bad teachers (that we all know exist) and of attracting great new teachers through programs like TFA, you add to the public perception that all current teachers are inferior. Teacher bashing has become a national pastime, and you’ve done absolutely nothing to diminish it.

You’ve given over your Department of Education to someone who has never taught a day and has surrounded himself with non-teachers who all think business practices will translate to better education. You support a state standards movement that has constructed standards primarily without the input of teachers.

What has happened to input from folks like Linda Darling-Hammond, Diane Ravitch, Larry Cuban, Walt Gardner, and the Broader, Bolder Approach? Has it, like my messages, simply been ignored as you move to a system that could destroy America’s heritage of free public education?

I implore you to take heed of the wisdom of America’s good teachers. Proper evaluation systems can weed out the “bad teachers,” but local politics, nepotism, and simply horrible school administrators foil such things. I see absolutely nothing in your proposals to address those things.

I have substitute taught over the last two years in several special education classrooms in a “failing school” in Terre Haute. [School name redacted] Elementary is failing only in AYP progress, has an excellent administrator, dedicated and talented teachers and staff that strive every day to help a population of somewhat transient and overwhelmingly poor students. It will probably be closed at the end of this school year, and the children dispersed to other “successful” schools in the district, or reconstituted as a charter school.

I see nothing in your education proposals that will help the homes these children come from. Parents who had no real upbringing are desperately trying to raise their children while fighting to simply survive economically. Destroying their neighborhood school will simply add to their burden.

Over my years of teaching and parenting, I’ve become convinced that the home is the most telling factor in school success. That’s not a popular position, and politicians avoid it like the plague, as it’s something no one has been able to address well. I really think no administration since LBJ and the Great Society has really tried.

So I’m sending one more message to you. You’ve already lost my total support, but I keep on hoping that you’ll stop pandering to the popular anti-public education crowd and propose change teachers (and parents) can believe in for our schools.

Just thought you should know,

Steve Wood

Each of my messages to the President and Secretary of Education deserved some form of response from someone in their offices. The lack of any response spoke volumes about an administration too sure of itself and on the wrong path to true education reform. They obviously don't have to respond to the little people of the nation.

Knowing that the President isn't going to experience any kind of a cool changeicon, dump Secretary Duncan and his flawed policies and proposals, and begin to address the underlying issues that frustrate all current attempts at improvement in education, I'm looking for a new presidential candidate for 2012 who truly understands education and will begin addressing the issues that continue to deny many students in America a quality education.

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©2010 Steven L. Wood