Letter-writing campaign shows frustration with Obama education policies

(CNN) - Earlier this month, Education Secretary Arne Duncan delivered his state of education speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., which was part self-review of his department's goals and achievements and part campaign speech for his boss, President Obama.

But not all educators are ardent supporters of the president's policies, and they are letting him know.

At about the same time Duncan was giving his speech, education historian and professor Diane Ravitch issued a call to teachers, administrators, parents and students to send letters to the president, expressing their sincere views on his education policies.

In her own draft of a letter to President Obama, Ravitch says, "Please, Mr. President, stop talking about rewarding and punishing teachers. Teachers are professionals, not toddlers." She also asks the president to "stop encouraging the privatization of education" and to "speak out against the spread of for-profit schools." She adds "Please withdraw your support from the failed effort to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students."

Teacher and education activist Anthony Cody volunteered to help gather the correspondence. In 2009, Cody led the "Teachers' Letters to Obama" effort and collected about 100 letters. That campaign led to a meeting with Secretary Duncan but no change in education policies.

This month, educators and parents sent correspondence to The Campaign for Our Public Schools website. On October 18, Cody compiled nearly 400 letters, almost three-quarters of these from educators. They were printed, bound and sent to the White House last week. Cody told CNN that "the level of frustration now is even higher" among teachers than it was three years ago.

Cody says it is not the intent of the Campaign for Our Public Schools to act as the middle man in communications, and that he encourages educators and parents to continue to write directly to the White House with their concerns.

Some of the letters collected so far express support for the president but question his policies. Others say these policies make it impossible to vote for him, and others are undecided. Some ask him to fire Secretary Duncan and replace him with others they suggest. Here's a sampling from a few letters:

(From a Florida teacher) "My state accepted Race to the Top funding. Teachers were informed that the airplane was being constructed as we all flew in it. What? We make things up as we go? It feels demeaning though I guess this is the new normal in many areas to pass a law and then fill in the details as time goes on."

(from an 8th grade math teacher in California) "You have turned your back on main street by allowing the mass closings of neighborhood schools by corporate demagogues and by supporting the allocation of very scarce resources afforded any marginalized community to be spent far away from the classrooms where everyone else's kids, but not yours, spend their days...You have ignored students, parents and teachers in our cry for an end to high-stakes standardized testing...I ask you this: What have YOU done for my students, my colleagues, my school, my community, or ME lately?"

(from a 5th grade teacher) "Your campaign uses the word 'Forward' to connect to voters. I am asking you to think the same for our public schools...Please stop channeling money into the testing monster and put it back into growing our students...Please help create a new system that celebrates learning, not punish teachers and schools."

(from a 2nd grade teacher in Chicago) "Four years ago, I was your biggest fan...As a CPS teacher who was just on strike as a proud member of the CTU, I was highly disappointed with your lack of support for us. I felt betrayed...Stop blaming public schools and public school teachers."

In an email to CNN, Cody said, "The chances are slim that President Obama will reboot his education policies prior to the election, but we feel it is critical that he understand how teachers, parents and students feel...It is hard to tell how this might impact the election, but we want him to know what we think."

"Perhaps a second Obama term will be a chance to appraise the path we have taken and make some changes. We hope so."


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