Following is the letter I’m sending to local, state and national politicians as part of the October 17, 2012 Campaign for our Public Schools. Thanks to Anthony Cody for coordinating this campaign.
I write you today about an issue that is extremely important to me, as the daughter of two teachers, the wife of a teacher, and the parent of two children who will receive an education from a public school very soon. I’m a 37 year old, well educated, middle income, American citizen looking for a voice in an opinionated world. I hope you will take a few moments to read and process what I have to say.
You may have guessed the topic of my letter is public education. Let me start by saying I’m an advocate for public education – partly because my family cannot afford an alternative, but mostly because I believe our country needs a high quality, reliable, well-funded system that is free and accessible to all children. To me, it’s about our workforce. The students being educated today are the workers of tomorrow, and that affects everyone, regardless of their economic status. The students being educated by today’s public school system could be the surgeons operating on your children tomorrow, the police officers trusted with your safety, or the politicians making decisions about your well being. The issue is at the core of our very existence as a nation, and everyone should take the time to care about it.
I am aware that there are problems with the public education system that need to be addressed. However, I do not believe the problem lies with the overall quality of our teachers. I also believe the current policies – and those being developed for the future – do not address the real issues, but rather will only lead to further destruction of a critical resource. I have outlined my specific concerns below:
- Teachers are not the problem. A majority of our teachers are well-trained, highly qualified and very good at their jobs. The teaching profession is demanding, extremely low paying and thankless. They work tireless hours, devoting personal time and resources, but all the politicians, media and the public in general seems to do is complain about them. Each time we say things like “we need better quality teachers,” we further devalue them and make it more difficult for them to do an already demanding job.
- The people making decisions about public education do not have the experience or qualifications needed to make those decisions. Many of them have no teaching experience and have never even stepped foot in a classroom recently. Teachers, not politicians, should be responsible for decisions about curriculum, measurement, policies and teacher evaluations.
- Experience is important. The more experience anyone has with any particular task, the better they become at it. This is true in every profession, but recent policies are specifically designed to devalue experience in teachers. I find this to be an illogical and political attempt to save money at the expense of quality of learning. Why do we value experience in all other professionals, but not want experienced teachers educating our children?
- Privatization of education is not a sensible alternative. Charter schools devalue education even more by putting it into the hands of private businesses, many of whom also have no experience in education. Businesses should not be profiting from the education system, nor can they make unbiased decisions when they are concerned with their company’s bottom line.
- Research has proven that standardized tests, (which includes the Common Core Standards currently being developed), are not accurate measures of a student’s abilities, skills or knowledge, nor are they an accurate measurement of a teacher’s ability to teach. There is no place for standardized tests in our education system.
- Teacher pay should not be linked to student test results. There are too may outside factors that affect a student’s ability to perform well on a test that a teacher cannot control. Furthermore, teachers should not be pitted against each other, with one teacher’s pay taken away in order to pay another teacher who happens to perform better on such arbitrary measures. In no other industry that I know of is someone’s pay based on someone else’s performance. Why do we hold teachers accountable for the actions of their students when we don’t do the same for any other profession? Do we take away doctors’ pay when their patients don’t take their medicine? Do we hold police officers accountable if criminals get out of jail and commit the same crime again?
- Schools are not teaching the skills that are critical to businesses today – skills like creativity, problem solving and critical thinking. Teachers know this and want to teach it, but are not able to because of the constraints placed on them by the government and administrators. As long as standardized tests are used to measure quality of education, we will never be able to teach these skills because they cannot be measured in that way.
In conclusion, I re-emphasize that I believe in the public education system, but only because I believe in the teachers. I am scared about what is currently happening to it and what will happen to our future workforce and our well-being as a country if we don’t stop demeaning and devaluing teachers and start giving them the tools they need to be successful.
Concerned citizen and parent