This letter was written by Alexandra Miletta. Her mother, who was a wonderful teacher, was a classmate of mine at Teachers College forty years ago. Small world! This is an excellent letter to the President.
Here’s a copy of my letter which I emailed to Anthony Cody and sent to the White House:
Dear President Obama,
I am concerned about what is happening to public education. My own childhood was idyllic, and I was fortunate to have received an outstanding education in the Great Neck Public Schools on Long Island. I have stayed in touch with many of my teachers and classmates, and we all have indelible memories of theater performances and concerts, charity fundraising and activism, and growing up in a community that valued youth and education.
Today I am a professor of childhood education at Mercy College in New York. I was also an elementary school teacher, and chose to move to academe because I felt I had something to offer future teachers. During my doctoral program at the University of Michigan, I spent two years supervising student teachers in the Detroit Public Schools. It changed my life. On the one hand, I was surrounded by young children who were loving, eager to learn and to make friendships, and who had resiliency in droves. On the other hand, I saw a crumbling infrastructure around them and appalling conditions in their schools and communities. As someone who grew up around New York City, in an ever-evolving multicultural environment, I was also struck by how profoundly segregated Detroit was.
In the decade that followed those experiences, I have witnessed all around me the devastating effects of high stakes testing. My frustration at the inability of my colleagues in academe to do something about this obsession with competition, with data, and with pitting schools and districts against one another led me to abandon membership in the American Educational Research Association. I stopped reading research and began to focus on the news of what was happening on the ground. The blogging world was doing a better job of covering the unfolding disaster than mainstream journalism, and I began to add my own voice of concern.
On October 17, we are uniting our voices in the hopes that you will listen. Your administration has exacerbated the problems in public education with Race to the Top, the endorsement of value-added measures of teacher quality, the exponential growth of charter school chains, and the belief that technology can replace teachers. You have the power to reverse this downward spiral. Your words and actions can help us move from an obsession with competition to an embracing of collaboration. Teaching well requires an environment in which trust is the most important value, so that ideas can be aired and shared, and children as well as adults can flourish and grow. Our testing system is broken, outdated, and tells us very little about what children know and can do, and yet for some reason the costs associated with reforming assessments are seen as prohibitive.
The apple, Mr. President, is rotten at the core. Please plant the seeds that will help us grow into the future.