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NCLB Outrages

Dear President Obama. . . .

You can follow Priscilla Gutierrez's good example and fax your own letter on education policy to President Obama:

He says he wants to hear from you. So break the silence.

Dear President Obama,

Likely you will receive many letters in the days and weeks ahead regarding the direction education in this country will take over the next four years. My hope is that out of all the ones that you read you will pay the most heed to what educators have to say.

Educators interact with children almost every single day. We cherish our charges, are committed to the well-being and development of all children, and recognize that a meaningful education is a right for everyone – not just the select few. Clearly, educators have the most insight about how children learn and what works with them – what truly propels students forward. We also have a clear understanding of what does NOT work with them.

The sophomoric premises of No Child Left Behind, underscored by the Reading First fiasco have severely damaged the public educational system. The lockstep approaches forced upon districts and children continues to be a huge disservice to the nation because these types of curricula obstruct real learning. They are rooted in surface learning tied to test formats that are easy to measure but that do not address what is truly worth knowing.

The assumption that all children enter school on the same footing or with the same experiences flies in the face of common sense. It flies in the face of real life where most of humanity resides. High stakes attached to tests that are based on unreachable goals not only serve to paint a limited portrait of students, the low order learning of these tests has overtaken the public school curriculum. And as we have seen post NCLB, they conveniently have become a multi-billion dollar curriculum and testing industry.

From recent speeches and sound-bytes issued by Arne Duncan, it would appear that the Department of Education is plodding down the same narrow path we’ve been on the past eight years. Haven’t we learned from past mistakes or are we doomed to repeat them at the expense of our children? Why would we increase testing that provides limited information? High-stakes testing has already invaded classrooms across this country and nearly conquered all meaningful curricula – we don’t need more of the same narrow view of accountability and learning.

Why aren’t we moving towards authentic assessment that analyzes assessment OF learning as well as FOR learning? Often assessment is something done to students rather than with them. Learners should be involved in the assessment process . If we want students to be successful they need to take ownership of their learning. To do that, learners need a curriculum that clarifies thinking and moves them to deeper levels of understanding and reflection.

We don’t need more wasteful testing that provides limited data to teachers, parents and other stakeholders. Real accountability utilizes meaningful assessments that document the growth of the whole child – it’s not the pseudo stuff that’s been pawned off as a “rigorous” education. Rigor is defined as rigidity or the inability to bend. Anyone who has reared children recognizes a lock-step approach is foolhardy, that children achieve milestones at different points in time and that flexibility is a key to successful parenting. Why would anyone believe schooling is different?

At Sidwell Friends, your daughters will reap the benefit of the kind of curriculum and assessments I’ve mentioned here. Through meaningful education both Sasha and Malia will have opportunities to excel as thinking individuals in the years ahead. We want the same for our children, President Obama. That’s why we elected you.

You have assured the American public that the White House will make educational policy rather than the Department of Education. There are compelling reasons to ensure that your appointees put students at the forefront of decision making rather than the profits of the testing industry and the publishers of commercial reading programs. Public education is one of the foundations this country was built upon . It is not unreasonable for the parents and educators of this country to ask that you do not allow special interests and misguided decisions to dismantle public education in the guise of accountability and rigor. The majority of us cannot afford to send our children to schools like Sidwell Friends, but they deserve a meaningful, quality education just as much as your children do.

Priscilla Gutierrez

— Priscilla Gutierrez
Faxed to President Obama


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