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[Susan notes: Here are a variety of earnest suggestions for President Obama. Does anyone believe the agenda isn't already set?]

Published in New York Times

To the editor

Re âEnding the âRace to the Bottomâ â (editorial, March 12):

Although I share President Obamaâs desire to improve Americaâs schools, I think he is moving forward on bad advice. Heâd do better to ask teachers and parents how to make their schools more effective.

I would tell him that if the federal government wants to reward school success, it should split those rewards among all those who have contributed: parents; the whole school faculty, including the principal; and the students themselves. The government might also reward the community that gave its schools financial and moral support.

Iâd also tell him that if innovation is desirable, all schools should be allowed to innovate, not just charter schools. Why not free public schools from the straitjackets of state textbooks, externally written curriculums and one-size-fits-all instruction?

Finally, Iâd tell him to lose the words âachievementâ and ârigor,â which have no connection to the inquisitiveness, determination, creative thinking and perseverance students need for genuine lifelong learning.

Joanne Yatvin

Portland, Ore., March 12, 2009

The writer is a former teacher, principal and superintendent.


To the Editor:

President Obamaâs financing of initiatives for performance pay for teachers will accelerate the race to the bottom. Studies show that performance pay in other areas has damaging effects.

Doctors receiving performance pay stopped treating the riskiest and sickest patients. Performance pay in sports has been accompanied by athletesâ use of banned drugs. And performance pay in the finance industry has transformed us into the Enron nation.

In education, research on performance pay shows no substantive gains in student achievement, and all Mr. Obamaâs policy will do is reinforce the ill-conceived notion that low-level standardized tests are a valid measure of student achievement. Instead, pay teachers a salary that signals teaching as a profession.

Jacqueline Ancess

New York, March 12, 2009

The writer is co-director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching.


To the Editor:

President Obama wants more charter schools. This is devastating for small school districts, for whom charters are an unfunded mandate. The public schools in Albany, with 9,000 students, have been hit hard by nine charter schools.

The Albany public schools have paid more than $100 million to charters, a gigantic loss for a small district. The result is a lack of resources for the majority of Albanyâs kids who still attend the public schools. We donât need more charters in Albany; we need a moratorium.

Mark S. Mishler

Albany, March 12, 2009

The writer is co-president of the Albany City P.T.A.


To the Editor:

After reading your editorial âEnding the âRace to the Bottom,â â and hearing President Obamaâs proposals for fixing Americaâs public schools, I have a suggestion, a question and a challenge for our decision makers.

My suggestion is that our leaders, both economic and political, consider sending their children to public schools.

My question is why we accept a two-tiered educational system: rich kids over there (private), poor kids over here (public). If memory serves, we have already decided that separate but equal does not work.

My challenge for President Obama, and all those in the halls of power, is to invest time and energy in those public schools down the street. If you cannot send your children, send yourselves. Do not dictate from above, but lead from within.

Paul Clifford

Portland, Me., March 13, 2009

The writer is an eighth-grade social studies teacher.


To the Editor:

Re â âNo Picnic for Me Either,â â by David Brooks (column, March 13):

Mr. Brooks is exactly right: great teachers build strong relationships with students on whom they impose high standards.

Mr. Brooks is also correct in saying that we need to know who these teachers are, and which schools develop high achievement in their students and which do not. Yes, we need data. We need to know, not to guess or hope.

However, Mr. Brooksâs faith in the standardized tests by which we gather data strikes me as naïve. I taught English for years and have been an educator since 1957 and have yet to discover a better method of assessing my studentsâ progress in learning how to write than reading their compositions closely, with a red pencil, usually at least twice. If I could have substituted a standardized test for that process, I could have gone to bed a lot earlier each night.

Could it be that our faith in standardized testing is based on the fact that it costs much less than assessing real work?

One reading of Mr. Brooksâs column tells me more about his excellence as a writer than a thousand standardized tests.

Stephen Davenport

Oakland, Calif., March 13, 2009

multiple authors

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