Open Letter to Secretary of Education Mr. Duncan

First I have to confess I did vote for Obama, so my dissappointment in the statements of the New Education Secretary is leaving a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.

"Secretary Duncan also noted that the budget overview includes a $500 million grant program for a new federal-state-local partnership to improve retention and graduation rates, particularly for low-income college students. Funds would support research into what works to help increase college completion." Wow, didn't that sound good?

Unfortunately, the stimulus money is earmarked for professional development and equipment. This is happening at the same time that districts are forced to increase class size, pull computer/media specialist out of the Literacy Hub of the school, and place just one more hoop out there for classroom teachers to jump through.

My school district recieved a bond issue and grant to improve the schools and many of our buildings have wonderful state of the art computer labs. The only problem is-no one uses them. When teachers try to use them they are so locked down that they are not even able to run updates for Flash, Adobe, or Real Player. So the teacher prepares a lesson at home checks the links, and then after logging all the students on with the individual passwords the districts mandates, finds out the the sites won't run at school because install updates requires "administrative rights" that the teacher doesn't have. Add to this the fact that she had checked the site at school the week before and you can see how easy it is to discourage teachers from incorporating technology.

Unfortunately most of the teacher on the elementary level (in my district) are using technology skills to grade their report cards- (with a lag time that is frustrating and no rights to go back in and correct typing errors) ,and use programs such as Exam Review and other programs to do data analysis. If all you ever are taught to do with the computer are record keeping and data warehousing activities, you can see how technology is simply not getting to the kids.

I was at a meeting yesterday with a group of college professors who are concerned that the amount of students seeking a Computer Science degree has dropped 45 % in the last five years. According to this group,the students that the colleges are getting are ill prepared for advanced computer skills, and often cannot test out of very basic office functions. So much teacher time is now spend on testing, assessment, and data research to meet AYP and MEAP that we somehow managed to suck the creativity right out of the teaching process. All of this paper work and additional testing has done nothing to raise scores-it has stressed out teachers and students, with discipline and hands on learning have suffering as a result.

"U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday that $100 billion in federal stimulus money for schools will save thousands of teaching jobs and promote education reforms. " Except that with curent budget cuts my district is telling us it will simply reduce the number of cuts necessary and to expect a class size increases. After working 3 years without a contract and no cost of living increases, the district now wants to take away our PPO health care. I am not sure how this plays into Secretary Duncans vision of recruiting more and better teachers.

Recently Duncan told the students: "I fundamentally think that our school day is too short, our school week is too short and our school year is too short. You're competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; eleven, twelve months a year."Duncan reportedly expected the students to react to his comments in a negative manner, but AP writes that the teens simply gave him "bored stares."

You have to love the honesty of teenagers. Does he actually think that more of the same thing is going to change education? And here's my big question....Why doesn't anyone ever ASK the teachers what they think needs to be done to improve education? You would think that these share holders might have something to add to the conversation! I have to agree with David Warlick on this one: "The two statements, attributed to the education leader, not only make my blood boil — but they are simply “Dead Wrong!”

According to David,"Arnie Duncan was nominated to the Secretary of Education post by President Barack Obama in mid-December last year, and smarter men than me immediately called foul (See Gary Stager’s “What Do Arne Duncan & Paul Bremer Have in Common?). I wanted to give Duncan the benefit of the doubt, but all doubt’s gone now. We’ve gotten no where and we’re going nowwhere, especially if we are going to extend the sentencing of our children." You can read his entire blog here.

Just in case he is actually interested here are the issues as I see them. I know ..I know -who am I ?? Just a 20 year veteran educator who believes in education and wants to see REAL change occur.!

1. Discipline-allowing students to get away with almost anything in order to stem dropout rates is a receipe for disaster. A respectful attitude is required in the work place and should be demanded at school as well. Classrooms cannot solve the issues of poverty and crime. We should provide programs that address the needs of students without making an entire classroom a place where teachers can't teach because they have to spend there entire time on discipline.

2. If you are going to compare-be fair- Inner City students that have attended 3 schools in one year are simply not going to do as well as any other student that has been able to spend an entire year in one building. Teachers have no control over housing and evictions, parents remarrying, and poverty that force children and families from their homes. Yet everyone loves to compare the test scores of these children who are just happy to have a home, with the priveldged kids in the burbs. Secretary Duncan also compares us to China where frankly they track kids. Here in America we strive to educate everyone-that is a good thing. However comparing our system which leaves no child behind, to a system that tracks children and only reports scores of the "Choosen" students is just plain unfair and misleading.

3.Testing Time deceases teaching time all those paper and pencil bubble in tests take time away from Project Based differentiated learning which all the experts and data support as the road map to long turn learning and retention of essential skills. Can you think of any job where you are tested 5-6 times each week? Neither can I . I do know that most peiople work in teams, on projects to get things done.

4. Seperate is Not Equal Creating another system of Charter schools seeks to do what busing sought to undo-segregation. Charter Schools that are often run by for profit companies, can expel students they do not wish to have and they are sent back to regular public school. Charter schools also do not have to provide special education services nor busing. How is this EQUAL?

I know my comments are likely to get lots of feedback- but here they are


Views: 69

Tags: duncan, education

Comment by Michelle TeGrootenhuis on April 15, 2009 at 7:15pm
Hmm... Isn't it odd that TEACHERS are quite often left out of the decision making? Can you imagine the teacher shortage if the school day/week/year were extended? Yikes!


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