An Open Letter to Journalists Who Cover Education

Inspired by Anthony Cody’s recent posts that were written about in the New York Times, I wrote the following.  An open letter to journalists who cover education is towards the end.  Feel free to take from it to send to your local education reporter.  We need to expose the fallacies of the ed reform crowd instead of having them continue to frame the debate in favor of their pockets.  Follow the money to find the truth…

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It would be great to see journalists across our country taking an interest in the ulterior motives of the ed reformers who claim to care for students, yet on closer inspection it seems to be only so the reformers can line their pockets with public funds.  If they truly cared, they would involve current day teachers from the most challenged schools in developing interventions, practices, policies, and new paradigms for improving student learning and achievement.  However, that would expose the soft underbelly of our economic system: the extent of ones accumulated wealth, and its direct impact on educational attainment.

Ours is an inequitable system where those who have insufficient capital to fend for themselves are left to the whims of those who have more than enough money, and greedily want even more, in spite of near record concentrations of wealth in our nation’s history.  If anything, this behavior is testament to why religions and philosophers teach against living just for oneself, and for caring for your neighbor as you would yourself.  If only more of us who escaped the burdens of poverty lowered our pride enough to see that our success was not just of our own making, but from the countless contributions of teachers, public servants, and others focused on fulfilling their wish to serve others as their vocation.  America was not founded solely on improving our own lot in life, but of those around us in our community.  I hope we regain that outlook sometime soon, for at this rate, the fabric of society is wearing thin so quickly in so many places it soon will not be strong enough to hold us together.

Given the above, I just sent the following to a reporter for a nationally prominent newspaper.  Feel free to lift from it to do the same.

I was hoping you would be interested in digging a little deeper into the ongoing debacle in education policy.  Current federal policy simply fuels the feeding frenzy of corporate reformers that seek to privatize public education.  Reformers such as Bill Gates, Joel Klein, and Michelle Rhee advocate free-market-based models as more efficient and effective even though they have weak, or non-existent, facts to support their beliefs.  While our educational system must change, doing so requires input and commitment by those closest to students in the classroom, not those who believe they are entitled to making sweeping generalizations simply because they have the time, money, and a hunch.

Originally titled No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and serving as the reauthorization of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), this federal policy raised the standardized tests you and I took to unimaginable heights, with deleterious consequences.  The well-intentioned wish to leave no child behind resulted in the unintended labeling of children, schools, teachers, principals, and superintendents as failures, fueling the fire that our educational system fails to educate students.  It injected into our nation’s primary and secondary schools the misguided belief that measuring student learning alone will change the behavior of students, parents, teachers, etcetera and simultaneously punished all who failed to measure up to its unrealistic requirements.  With nearly 80% of schools falling under the NCLB axe shortly, it is about time citizens see the disingenuous nature of NCLB, Arne Duncan’s NCLB revision – “The Blueprint,” and ed reformers advocating for change in public education.  Reformers’ primary, unspoken, goal is to bring significant amounts of new capital into a new “market” for educational services, software, technology, and more.  This conflict of interest is readily apparent if one takes the time to look into the motives, finances, and plans of the entities advocating privatization, and demonizing teachers today.

I hope the drama playing out across our nation at the local, state, and federal levels of government, as well as in the boardrooms of companies seeking to increase their revenues, profits, and cash flow by unleashing billions of dollars of public funds to private companies, piques your journalistic interest .  All the while, many students with low socioeconomic status lack the resources, skills, and support to succeed in school, regardless of whether it is public or private.  Most everyone in this debate, except for teachers, especially those teachers at schools struggling with disadvantaged students, seems to ignore the day to day reality of our education dilemma, and instead continues to advocate for positions that will benefit them or their companies more than it will benefit students in our nation.  Much of the ed reform advocacy is a sham, reminiscent of many times in our history where the huddled masses yearning to be free are only of interest to the nation’s élite as a source of funds from which to increase their financial holdings.

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About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Secondary math teacher teaching math intervention, algebra 1, honors precalculus, and AP Calculus AB. I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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10 Responses to An Open Letter to Journalists Who Cover Education

  1. Helen Towers says:

    Dave,
    Great letter, agree with ur sentiments and your writing is so good,
    Hope it gets widely distributed,
    Helen

    Like

  2. Marilyn Arney says:

    Dave,
    I too am a math teacher and your observations are right on. I’ve sent multiple emails to my legislators trying to get them to see that their is no reform in their reform and only a desire to privitize public education. I actually spoke to two supporters and both used the same argument – why would I be against parental choice? When I pointed out all the choices that my school corporation gave parents the nice senator had to go to a meeting. They’ve all been shown “Waiting for Superman” and told that charters and vouchers are the cure and only unions and bad teachers would object to fixing the problem (yep, we want to keep the kids failing the test so we can be called a failing school every year in the paper). Thanks for giving us permission to forward on. I will send it to my paper (and to my legislators).

    Like

  3. Terence Dowling says:

    It seems clear to me that the current system is failing our youth. The results are not good for the children most in need. The results are equally disturbing for the gifted students.

    The U.S. once had schools at all levels that were world class, now only our Universities and graduate schools are worthy of that appellation.

    “Equal Opportunity” will not, and cannot yield “Equal Results”. As educators you must acknowledge that abilities vary. The education system that we have “requires the minimum from everyone” rather than “expecting an individual best effort”.

    I can accept that the unions say that reform is a sham. It is unrealistic to expect anything else from a group with a charter to protect its members with increased wages and improved immunity from scrutiny. There may even be some reformers who have a personal financial interest in destroying public education as it currently exists. You might be able to convince me that the Gates Foundation doesn’t have the best ideas to improve education, but you are unlikely to prevail with an argument that the Gates Foundation is not sincerely interested in improving education. Please understand that the unions appear, to us on the outside, at least as self-serving as the worst of the reformers.

    I’d like to be able to support our public school system, but I need to hear more substance than “we need more money”. Can you provide concrete examples of the changes you advocate? I’m not interested in hearing “Local Control”, but rather I want to know what you would do with that control.

    Like

    • Terence: Yes, our educational system is a mess. Mostly due to heavy-handed federal mandates that drove similarly burdensome state mandates. At the same time, I believe our education system neither expects the minimum from everyone nor prevents individual best effort nor impedes the gifted and talented onerously. And I agree that equal opportunity does not mean everyone delivers the same results which is why there is differentiated instruction.

      I have yet to become a member of the teachers union, and part of me is apprehensive since I also felt like its sole purpose was to protect antiquated methods, practices, people, etc., that feeling driven mostly out of ignorance and very anti-union rhetoric that pervades our country. As I prepare to enter the profession, I see the need to guarantee “due process” or the nearly 30 months it took me to pursue and obtain a credential could be for naught due to the whims of an administrator, parent, or other person with an axe to grind. There is so much ambiguity concerning performance in qualitative professions like education that something like tenure is necessary to ensure the voice of teachers are not stifled for fear of being let go at a moments notice. This does not mean there should not be minimum performance standards that are enforced, but they should be geared towards improving the profession, not imprisoning it in a raft of unattainable requirements that NO ONE in any profession could achieve.

      I do not believe more money is necessarily the right answer, but I frankly do not know enough about the economics of education to justify raising, cutting, or maintaining.

      In terms of concrete examples, I believe parents must be more involved in education, and provided the basic training necessary to supervise their children’s day to day progress, or lack thereof. Unless, and until, the family and community takes responsibility for their children’s education, we will continue to flounder irrespective of even the best teacher’s efforts. This one change, alone, could move the needle significantly in overall student achievement in this country. How to ensure parents uphold their role in this process is the next question, for which I do not have an answer.

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  4. H. Johnson says:

    I have a question about your statement stating that:”The U.S. once had schools at all levels that were world class, now only our Universities and graduate schools are worthy of that appellation.” Perhaps you would like to inform us of when that time was and what measurement tool was used to determine this high ranking. Thank You. H. Johnson

    Like

  5. Terence Dowling says:

    Individual, Family, & Community Responsibility. I’d agree with that. Schools may not need more, and, in my view cannot succeed with less.

    It may be scary to consider employment without the protection of tenure but tenure isn’t the norm in private sector employment. While there will always be some amount of unfairness in the management process, in the end I believe talent will prevail. The normal mode in the private sector for professionals (as I believe reflects how educators should be treated) is employment at-will and compensation without pensions that require individual responsibility (that word again) for their own financial future. The alternative (tenure and pensions) encourage stagnation.

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    For H. Johnson:

    I grew up in California in the 50’s and 60’s. My K-8 school had 10 employees (9 teachers and one support person, 8th grade teacher acted as principal). Smallest class I was in (until upper division university) was about 40 students. While not in my class, the current governor of California graduated from the same K-8 school. My daughters attended school in California and Massachusetts. The California teachers were generally better than the Massachusetts teachers and all were good to great (with a few exceptions). Over time, classroom discipline has declined significantly (that “responsibility” word again) and our education system has, increasingly, become unable or unwilling to deal with these issues.

    Measurement criteria? If you are still interested and reading with an open mind, I’d mention measures such as test scores (PSAT, SAT, GRE etc.), classrooms where learning actually occurred, well rounded students growing into successful professionals. Perhaps the strongest “quality” metric was that parents with the resources to send their children to any school they wanted chose these schools.

    I watch my grandchildren struggle with classrooms beset with discipline problems and other behavior issues that make learning secondary (and they attend schools that are “very highly rated”). They will be OK because their parents care and are involved, not because the school is doing a good job.

    Like

    • H. Johnson says:

      Terence,

      I also grew up during that same time period. I taught school during the 70’s and went into the private sector during the 80’s and 90’s and I was involved in many endeavors. I returned to the education field in 1999 as an administrator. What I saw upon my return was this: teachers as dedicated as ever to the well being of students, paraprofessionals working for peanuts to help students reach their potential, an increase in the number of students requiring special services so they too can live fulfilling lives as they may understand it( special education was non existent during the 50′ and 60’s), and an outlandish number of mandates (most of which were unfunded) that were not the result of an outcry from teachers but rather from the public at large which now rails against schools that are pressed to fulfill those mandates. I guess my point is, when comparing different eras we must try to compare apples to apples and in this case I do not believe we are doing so because there are so many variables from those “good old days” until now.

      Like

  6. dwees says:

    I’d like it if journalists, in all areas, focused less on repeating sound bites and press releases and more on digging deep and finding inconsistencies. I’d like journalists to be journalists and not part of the advertising arms of large organizations.

    Like

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