EduShyster’s Sister Schools President Obama

Some 400 teachers sent letters to President Obama this week, including EduShyster’s sister, who just happens to look very much like Tina Fey.

EduShyster is often asked from whence her impressive body of knowledge about public education comes. Is she a teacher? (No) Does she really carry a box of wine everywhere she goes? (What do you mean by ‘everywhere’?) You see reader, I couldn’t help but learn a thing or two about education because I am from a family FULL of teachers. And while an aversion to children kept me from following in their sensible shoes, I have still learned a thing or 2 million from them over the years.

In case you missed it, some 400 teachers sent letters to President Obama this week, expressing concern about the fate of their profession and their schools in an age of corporate-driven reforms. You can read all of the letters here. My favorite of these was written by MY VERY OWN SISTER, who says that for her and her colleagues at a rural Illinois school, teaching is now akin to working in a pressure cooker full of acronyms: NCLB, AYP, ISAT, AIMS WEB, PERA, PBIS, RtI, UBD, PARCC, CCLS. Ouch!

While my sister represents the third generation in our family to go into teaching, she’ll likely be the last. None of her four children wants to become a teacher; my sister is encouraging them to pursue careers that allow for more freedom and creativity, such as parking lot attendant or prison guard.  I’m very proud of my sister for writing this letter, which is why I’m posting it in its entirety. That and the fact that I’m angling for an especially nice Christmas gift…

 

Dear President Obama:

I had the privilege of attending a town hall meeting in the small town of West Frankfort, IL six years ago when you were a United States Senator.  I stood and asked you a question about the No Child Left Behind mandate.  I was concerned that it was leaving schools behind.   I will never forget your answer that George Bush had left the money behind.  It gave me great hope because I had a sense that you valued teachers and public education.  Six years later, your Race to the Top initiative is ultimately leaving students behind.  Races have clear winners and losers.  We should be promoting policies that give all children the support they need to become well educated individuals.    

This is my twenty-third year in the classroom.  I was fortunate to begin my teaching career in an at-risk pre-kindergarten program.  We went into homes one day a week and really worked with our families to ensure that they realized how critical they were to the success of their child in school.  I learned very quickly that most families in poverty do not have the same priorities in the household as middle class or affluent families when it comes to supporting their children’s education.  Reading to and talking with young children is critical for vocabulary development and future success in school for children.  Many parents in poverty are more concerned with their next paycheck and getting food on the table than they are in helping with homework, reading, having conversations, or providing educational support .  Unfortunately in Illinois, these early education and parenting programs have been cut substantially at a time when they are desperately needed. 

During my five years with pre-k in southern Illinois, I learned just how invaluable play was for children.  They worked in teams to design buildings with blocks, explored with paint, and even worked in a wood-working area.   These activities are slowly being phased out across the country as we are forced to prepare these young children for careers and college.  More and more emphasis is being placed on teaching and assessing skills.  Many of the children simply are not ready for the tasks they must master.  School is not the warm and inviting place it used to be for our early elementary students.  They miss out on special afternoon classes like art, music, and computers so that they can master their math and literacy skill tests.  When I think back on my elementary school experience, I think about the creative teachers I had.  My favorite teachers were unique individuals who cared about me and shared their own love of learning.

 I think about my fourth grade teacher who buried bones in a wooden framed box he had created, filled with dirt, and placed on the floor inside the classroom.  We all became archeologists digging, brushing off, and putting the pieces together.  I think about my fifth grade teacher who read to us from a couch after lunch every day.  We couldn’t wait to hear the next chapter!  She shared slideshows of trips around the world with us.  I remember having a social studies fair and setting up my Egyptian display complete with my younger sister’s doll who I had mummified.  I still talk to these teachers today thirty-four years later.  These teachers inspired me and I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be a teacher.  A standardized test did not tell me my future path.   I rarely see science or social studies fairs anymore because all time and resources seem to be steered toward math and reading. 

As an educator of young children, I have taken pieces of what I’ve learned from the best teachers I had growing up.  I read to my students after lunch every day.  I had a couch in my classroom when I taught third grade.  I set up a nature table for my students every year and we spend time being scientists and make great discoveries.  But time is becoming limited.  We have spent the past two years dissecting the new Common Core Learning Standards.  I must leave my students once a week for thirty minutes to delineate the standards and align them to my curriculum.  We are currently spending countless training hours previewing the new PARCC assessments.  We all feel a sense of doom as we see the new tasks our students will be expected to master.  We know many of our young students are not ready for these tasks.  They will have to manipulate data on a computer screen and type critical thinking responses to passages they read. 

 No longer do we get to attend conferences that excite and invigorate us.  Our trainings are all about the standards, the assessments, and the new evaluation systems.  We used to be on the cutting edge of technology at my school but funding has eroded and priorities have changed.  Our school consistently meets AYP and therefore is not eligible for many grant opportunities.  We are in a funding crisis in Illinois.  Our small, rural community school is losing funding at a steady rate.  Our teaching salaries are stagnant or in decline because of rising healthcare costs and projections of future deficit spending.  I often compare my work experience to being in a pressure cooker.  NCLB, AYP, ISAT, AIMS WEB, PERA, PBIS, RtI, UBD, PARCC, CCLS, and many other acronyms are taking the joy from teaching.  My favorite part of the day is spent with my students.   I love seeing them get excited about special projects we do.  But with student skill mastery being a component of my new evaluation instrument, I will have to provide more opportunities to practice for the test.  It is inevitable.   

 All across the state of Illinois, I have heard from educators who are steering their own children away from education as a career path.  Often it seems that teaching is passed on in the family from one generation to the next.  My grandmother was a teacher.  My mother was a teacher.  I have four children of my own and because of the current climate in education and the erosion of salaries and benefits I have encouraged my children to pursue other careers.  I currently have three sons in college pursuing degrees in pharmacy, engineering, and biology. My ten year old daughter, who loves children, does not include teaching in her list of potential careers.  I have always been a strong advocate for public education.  My children have had some excellent teachers with high expectations for their students.  I worry about what the future looks like in public education if we will not be able to attract and retain quality teachers. 

 So I write this letter urging you to stop the momentum of this race to division.  I never liked races as a child and I know many of my first grade students don’t like to lose.  Invest in us.  Believe in us.  I’ve never been invited to the table to talk about assessment with policy makers.  What if they had an evaluation system based on results?  They would definitely be out of a job.  You do not need 100,000 new math and science teachers.  You need to get teachers back in the classroom, provide them with excellent training in math and science, ensure that class sizes are small, and stop the high stakes testing movement.  Let us go back to those trainings that invigorate us, excite us, and ultimately set off sparks within our students.   Let’s all come to the table and talk about the real obstacles and inequities in education.  Let’s provide experiences and make decisions that ensure all students learn.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

EduShyster’s sister


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6 Comments

  1. After reading this letter I have to say I can relate to your sister. I snail mailed my letter to the White House the Saturday before the campaign due date and I received a form letter via email; they must have me in their database as I receive three to five emails a day asking for money. I either delete them or reply with a NO and FIRE ARNE DUNCAN! Sometimes I insert pictures. I have one of Biden hugging the Rheeject…..gag me!
    I graded their response, which was no response, with a RED F and I mailed it back to Pennsylvania Avenue.

    I have a suggestion for your sister…try this as your next mind numbing staff meeting. Create a bingo board with all the acronyms and edubabble words. You and your colleagues play secretly while pretending to be engaged. It is called Bullshit Bingo….silently cheer when you get bingo and have some small prizes, preferably chocolate to pass to your friends. By the way add some new acronyms like WTF, POS, FAD, PITA..I’ll let you figure those out.

    Thanks for the laughs…you are keeping me sane. Can you work up something on the racially determined proficiently rates in Florida…see the Ravitch blog today if you haven’t heard yet. Unbelievable!

    How will they determine the percent for bi-racial children? What category would Malia and Sasha fall into?

  2. I was one of the nearly 400 letters sent to the President asking him to reverse his destructive education policies. I am a parent of two girls in the public schools in Morristown New Jersey. I looked at the letters Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody put together and it appeared to me that at least 60 of them were from parents who are not educators. And many of the teachers are also parents, so the number of letters from parents to the President is probably a large percentage of those sent. Please keep in mind that there are many parents who support teachers and deplore the direction that public education is heading. We need to work together to try to stop the insanity of high-stakes testing and privatization. For too long, too many teachers have thought of parents as part of the problem. Give us parents some credit for trying to be part of the solution.

  3. This was written by a man who was a teacher and principal in Indiana for over 30 years. He was a third generation educator, his children are the fourth generation. PLEASE PASS IT ON…

    At no time in the one-hundred-and-twenty-one years that my grandfather, my father, my kids and I have been teaching in Indiana public schools has education faced a bigger crisis. We are on the verge of losing local control of our schools to the corporate, for profit, privatization movement. This movement has started in parts of Indiana already as State School Superintendent Tony Bennett has sold off inner-city schools to private, profit making companies and charter schools. Studies show that these schools either fail or do no better than public schools, even though they are often given more money, more staff and more resources. What this does is take money away from public schools and gives it to private, profit-making schools. This year Fort Wayne Public Schools lost 2.6 million dollars that was given to private schools in their district. This sets up public schools to fail, which some feel is the purpose anyway (the more public schools that “”fail” the more private, for profit schools we can create.)
    Why is he doing this? Follow the money. Check out the big donors to Tony Bennett’s campaign. It is pouring in from out-of-state, from big corporations and testing services that stand to make a profit from privatizing Indiana’s schools. If Tony wins re-election, they stand to make a nice profit. Tony Bennett doesn’t want to answer public concerns about this. He stays out of the public eye, failing to show up over four times in my town when asked to attend a forum. He even delivered his annual State of Education speech to a hand-picked, private audience so he wouldn’t face any embarrassing questions.
    How is he setting up schools to “fail” so he can take them over? By spending millions of dollars on testing programs (pleasing his donors) that don’t begin to assess what all schools really do. He repeats the dubious message that schools are “failing” until it becomes his and his followers reality, neglecting to praise schools for their many successes (when we were in high school, the graduation rate in the U.S. was 50%: now it is 85% and climbing; actually higher when you factor in those who go back and get a G.E.D.) He is setting up a grade system for schools, publicly calling them out as F, D, C, B, or A schools, based on what kids did on a test. Does anybody not know how that will come out? Indianapolis Public Schools will largely “fail.” Carmel will be “A+, and he will award them and turn IPS over to private, corporate schools which will do no better and maybe worse.
    What is the elephant in the room? What Bennett and his friends don’t want to admit is what hundreds of studies have shown: that the number one predictor of lower functioning schools is their level of poverty. This is obvious to any teacher who has taught in the inner city. I personally have visited over 130 schools in Indiana and several out of state, and have served on and chaired North Central Association (the nation’s major school accreditation agency) evaluations of over 25 inner city, rural, and surburban schools, from Lake Michigan to the Ohio River . I have great respect for the teachers in the inner city schools. No one works harder under adverse conditions than they do. To let Tony Bennett label them failures is beyond reason and shows how great his disconnect is from the reality of what schools really do. Heard enough? Then hear this: after he labels them failures, he plans to get rid of them!
    What can we do about this? We need to let everybody who cares about the future of education know what is going on. Feel free to share this and talk about it before the election. I have grave doubts that the schools we knew and benefited from will be available to kids in the future if we don’t speak up and become active.

  4. Great article Ed, I too come from a family of teachers and have now turned my back on the profession. After 6 years teaching in Lawrence, Ma I was fired after the MA DESE took over the district. The powers that be decided to hand pick and evaluate 60 teachers in a 900 teacher district, the majority are gone. This past year 150 teachers left the district. Who replaced them? TFA and 3 Charter school groups, in addition the union contract is essentially dissolved.

    In response to firstnexthenlast, the attacks on teachers are not only happening in your state and these actions must be stopped. We need to take back control of our school from these edupreneurs before this entire generation is damaged. As a parent I am looking for a way to forbid the district from administering the MCAS test to my child. There is absolutely no reason for my son to take the test and as the parent and tax payer I should have the right to say no. I know it is only a token protest, but the stress of the test is not worth my 8 year old sons health and well being.

    My question to the readers and to Ed is, how can I make this happen? What can I do legally to ensure he is not tested?

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