Letter-writing campaign shows frustration with Obama education policies
Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks on the state of education at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 2, 2012.
October 22nd, 2012
04:10 AM ET

Letter-writing campaign shows frustration with Obama education policies

by Donna Krache, CNN

(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.”

You can read the collected letters here.

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Filed under: 2012 Election • Arne Duncan • Race to the Top • Teachers • Voices
soundoff (39 Responses)
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    October 29, 2012 at 1:40 am |
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    October 27, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
  3. Commie Tactics

    "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the guy who's running all the ads here in Iowa saying that he's going to get tough on China," Biden said. Problem was, he was at a high school in Ohio.

    Would you vote for a fool politician who doesn`t know one "flyover" state from another ? I won`t.

    October 25, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  4. dj

    Wonder if this the first time they complained to a President or is he special

    October 25, 2012 at 4:18 am |
  5. MG in AL

    All I hear are complaints about these policies. In all of the comments put forth here, I have not heard one solution. While I do not believe teachers should be held fully accountable for student learning, some accountability should lie with them. Most of us that attended public school can attest to the fact that there were some great, good and bad teachers at our schools. I know that some of the great teachers were able to get some of the "bad" students to learn. So, I believe there is such a thing as teacher quality. However, I believe individual school districts, especially those in lower socio-economic areas do not hold the same level of standards and expectations of the students from these backgrounds. They expect them to be "bad" so they do not teach them well. Therefore, there needs to be some outside forces brought to bear on them. And let's admit, once a teacher has tenure, it is virtually impossible to get rid of them for poor job performance. I have a number of educators in my family. They often complain about the students and the lack of preparation. They also complain about some of their colleagues who are not doing an adequate job, but have tenure. I believe that the whole environment should be taken into account when assessing student performance and achievement. Has a student progressed from where they were at the beginning of the year? Have they mastered the competencies expected of them? So tell me how do you measure that if not by testing? In not that way, HOW? Please give solutions to the problems if you do not like what is provided now and STOP complaining about accountability.

    October 24, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  6. Jesse

    Local school districts, teacheers and parents need control over their schools. It is that simple. Many people have this saying "It takes a village to raise a child" I disagree with this well worded nonsense but in a way it does speak to communities having control of their lives. We have given ,had taken, how ever you want to verbalize it, control of our lives because we were not paying attention. We just thought, hoped, crossed our fingers it all works out. It will not work out because the only ones that give a damn about "you" is you. How we wish that someone will take over that which we do not have time for, the skills to address or the desire to face. Then we complain that those we put in charge disappoint us. It will be hard and probably ugly but if you want things to improve then you will have to insist and not nicely to have your input returned. And yes there will be communities that lack the resources to speak upand fight, then we go next door and ask them if we can help. Give a man a fish he eats for the day, teach him to fish maybe he will teach someone else to fish. Not biblically correct but as cheesy as it is to some it rings true.

    October 23, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  7. J

    Its bad enough that the teachers are under paid and teaching 30 kids in a classroom. Now they want to pay for performance. What if the teacher gets a poor performing student. This will be count against him. When the schools do NOT want to suspend kids anymore but are sending them back to the classroom and continuing to be disruptive. How can teachers teach if these policies are in place??There are so few teachers and now this they will want to leave the profession. Get real the policies for the last four years dont work. Our kids are suffering and has a mother, student and a professional in the teaching field im sad that this is happening. Get fereal governement out of our schools and let the states take care of their own.

    October 23, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  8. Oakspar

    RTTT is a shell game. The state school systems accept federal funding with strings attached, the state reduces dollar for dollar the budget alotment for schools, and the schools have the strings committing them without a dime to show for it, and the governers who appeal and accept those funds use the budget reductions to patch other holes in the state budget.

    That is why federal funds can never fix education unless you federalize education completely.

    If you get the federal government out of the schools entirely, the states can go back to funding their own schools and educating students as the state and local governments see fit.

    Privatized education will always outscore public, because they have the power to no longer serve subpar students and, by default, have parents willing to commit something (money) to their child's education. That does not mean that Public school is doomed, but Public education has to come to the realization that their primary goal should be success for that student as an adult – and that college, test scores, and the like are not success for many students.

    Our schools need the power to use testing for the purposes of discrimination. Discriminating those students best served by a traditional college prep education, discriminating those best served with trade school, and discriminating those best served with basic life skill and suitible occupational training.

    Teachers should be evaluated based on the growth and accomplishments of their students as observed by their administrators – much as teachers evaluate their students based on growth and accomplishments. We are training a generation of teachers to "teach to the test" – not only teaching students how to pass tests – but only teaching in ways that make the teacher pass their "tests/assessments/evaluations."

    There are many teachers now who spend more time in class making sure they are meeting the measured elements of their evaluation tools than they do actually teaching the students.

    October 23, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • Albert

      Leave our teachers alone! Why don't the parents, poiticians, and the public complainers teach their own kids? Why? Because they point their fingers away from their own failures and short comings. These people should spend a full year in the classroom before they are allowed to complain. As for politicians, they should be required to spend a full year in the classroom trying to teach students who have their motivations at ground level before they are able to vote for a bill that judges a teachers performance on student scores. That is stupid!

      October 23, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  9. MisterRog

    At least if Romney is elected the teachers that supported Obama will stand up and fight his policies.
    I am appalled that the NEA and the AFT has failed to stand up to the Obama and in fact gave him their endorsement over a year before the election.
    And how has Obama demonstrated his appreciation for the endorsement? He couldn't even take the time to address their conventions in person.

    October 23, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  10. spent

    I left the profession after 34 years. This country has lost sight of the purpose of education. I got sick of having to deal with all the politics and having my hands tied behind my back by a system that has failed the American families. I am so glad I am out. Thanks Politicians for screwing up, what at one time was a system that worked and worked well.

    October 23, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  11. Grip from NC


    October 23, 2012 at 4:17 am |
  12. Grip from NC

    If Chief of Police are held accountable for the rise or fall of crime rates, Firefirghters by rate of response, sports coaches by wins or loses, cable companies by customer satisfaction, when then do. Teachers think there is no accountability among them.....they spend the majority of the day with children, thus having an impact on behavior and study habits etc.....I realize and appreciate that good grades and discipline begins at home, some of the onus should rightfully fall on teachers....take pride and responsibility for educating our children,,,,,as a father of an eleven year old, I respect the plight of your under appreciated profession, I can only imagine the pressure you must feel daily, but you have chosen this honorable profession to teach...with that comes a great deal of responsibility....embrace that honor....earnestly strive to do your best....great students and individuals have from schools much less well off and I'll-equipped then the resources currently available to you.....do your job chief of police, fireman, football coach and yes...you...teachers of the world...

    October 23, 2012 at 4:16 am |
    • Proud teacher

      How about you pay me like the other professions you named. I enjoy my job and always will. I take the challenges that are given to me everyday. A child without breakfest, a child who went to bed to late, a child who is wearing the same clothes as the day before, a child who is off of his meds, a child who parents are fighting, a child who does not want to learn. I agree and will say the buck stops with me, but in the end I am jot the beating post for America. BTW I am very proud of the job that I do and never have a regret for what I chose to do.

      October 23, 2012 at 11:39 am |
      • MSNDIS

        Thanks for teaching our kids!!!!

        October 23, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
      • MG in AL

        Your grammar is all wrong!!!

        October 24, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  13. MamaJones

    I do not want my child in public school next year when he is scheduled to start kindergarden. It is very scary of too many government officials trying to educate young minds. I have heard too many stories on various topics on school districts putting policies in place and changing the education system without parental knowledge. If it is true, and they even try to RFID or scan my child's hand. Or even sing songs about a current president. I will go onto welfare just to use my college education to educate my child. How much time the white house puts into our personal lives is too personal. I want the teachers to teach my child, not white house officials.

    October 22, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  14. MSNDIS

    I did not take the time to write a letter to Obama because I've sent several e-mails to the White House and the Democratic Party outlining the problems with the President's education policy and it hasn't seemed to matter.

    Obama's education policies have cost him my vote (and I know there are others who also refuse to vote for him this time around). I voted for Obama in 2008 but will not be voting for him this year. He has been, and continues to be, a huge disappointment on many fronts but the damage he's done to our children through Race to the Top is unconscionable. Well, I guess he's done the damage to my children while his children prosper in their private school.

    October 22, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  15. carolcorbettburris

    Not only do NY principals oppose RTTT, ( http://www.newyorkprincipals.org ) so do NY supes

    October 22, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
  16. carolcorbettburris

    Not only do principals think RTTT is a bad idea http://www.newyorkprincipals.org, so do superintendents. http://www.newpaltz.edu/crreo/brief_8_education.pdf

    October 22, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  17. Bob Brooks

    How could a teacher think it is worse now than it was 3 years ago? Hello! No Child Left Behind! Bush screwed us teachers and school districts. It isn't the president's fault. Congress hasnt done anything to help. Teabaggers are awful and want to cut everything.

    October 22, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • MSNDIS

      Have you been paying attention to what is going on around you? I'm a parent, not a teacher, and Race to the Top is like NCLB on steriods. I've figured that out and my job isn't even on the line because of it. If you are really a teacher start paying attention to what is happening with your profession. RTTT has caused teacher evals to be tied to student test scores which has resulted in even more mindless testing for our students. As a parent, I want a teacher who can inspire my kids to learn. That is not what is happening. With RTTT – teachers have to teach to a test and inspire the kids to do well on the test or the teacher will lose his/her job. There is no incentive for the students to learn anything other than how to pass a test.

      October 22, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • J

      Race to the Top IS NCLB it just changed it name!

      October 23, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  18. Bob Valiant

    The article lists only letters from teachers, but letters came in from parents, college faculty, and other concerned citizens as well:

    A parent letter: “High standardized test scores are not equal to a better education. High standardized test scores are not equal to teacher proficiency. High standardized test scores is equal to student anxiety, teacher anxiety, parent anxiety and garbage scores that do not improve education. Quit buying all the tests and use the money to educate kids.”

    And another parent: “I am writing as a citizen and parent I’m extremely concerned about the acceleration of testing as the goal of education and the increasing demonization of teachers. I think much of this is a coordinated approach by big business to increase their bottom lines rather than improve the education of our children. I’m not a conspiracy nut, but I’ve spent a good chunk of my career working in strategy and business development and recognize patterns in the reform movement that mimic those used in business to capture markets. “

    From a college faculty member: “I assume you know there are many thousands of teachers who are disappointed in your education policies. Hope is fading. I assume you know that some will vote for you reluctantly, some will vote for a third party candidate, and some will not vote at all. Our votes will make a difference. Since your opponent seems to hold public education (and the general public) in disregard, I want to help you win back teachers and parents.”

    A concerned citizen writes: “Perhaps, the millions, heck of billions, of dollars being wasted would be better used to close the achievement gap by closing the socio-economic gaps that exist. In every state, every one, there is a correlation between socio economics and student achievement. It is ludicrous to believe that the underlying cause of this is teacher effectiveness. Yet that us the approach your administration is taking and pursuing at great financial expense. Please, it is not too late to change our focus. To close the achievement gap and raise education achievement let’s focus on reducing or eliminating poverty, fund all schools adequately and let teachers teach, schools educate and allow local communities to determine the outcomes they want their children to reach in their local schools. “

    October 22, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Karen Packard

      Thank you for sharing these perspectives as well. I can only hope President Obama will change his mind. I am a retired teacher and teacher educator who was filled with hope when Obama won the last election and am filled with despair today I am one of those who is seriously considering voting for the Green Party even though they have no chance of winning. I am saddened that the unions don't take a stand against the NCLB/RTTT destruction of public education with the emphasis on for profit charter schools and standardized testing.
      I've posted the following elsewhere, but I'll do so here again because it provides access to information people, especially President Obama, need to know to fight his insidious destruction of public education:

      I voted for Obama because he promised to get rid of NCLB and reform education. He was either misleading the American people or hasn't paid any attention to how his reforms are destroying public education. He has done basically nothing that his education advisor, Linda-Darling Hammond promised when she debated Cain's advisor (can't remember her name).
      He has not only continued the biased testing of NCLB, but he has increased the testing and made the stakes for children and teachers even higher. Those tests are not evaluations of learning. Read the following to find out just how flawed they are:
      What’s Wrong With Standardized Testing?


Standardized Tests Originated in the Eugenics Movement

And here's another really important source of information about measuring learning:
Student Learning Can Only be Described, Not Measured


      I was amazed at the actual cost of testing to local districts and schools, especially when presented beside the cost to states to get the tests from their publishers. This is insane!!! Our tax dollars at work!!! No way, just more waste that could be spent to provide new buildings and reduce class size in the inner city schools where children are suffering most. While this white paper explores Florida's testing program, the conclusions are relevant to testing programs across the country, including Chicago's because Florida is considered a model for others, Valerie Strauss writes:

      I regret I didn't send this with Ravitch's Letters to Obama.
      Karen V. Packard, Ed.D.
      retired teacher and teacher educator

      October 22, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
      • Bob Valiant

        Karen Packard: You can still add it to the collection (although it won't go to the President) by copying it and posting it at http://campaignforourpublicschools.org/. This is an ongoing archive.

        October 22, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  19. schoolgal

    The Letters to Obama Campaign has not been successful in the past, and perhaps having it done this way did not not have the impact individual letters would have received. That said, why didn't the reporter follow up with the White House about these letters. I know for a fact both letters and emails were also sent out individually so the number may be higher than that reported by Cody. Would it be possible for CNN to follow up with the White House on this.

    October 22, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Anthony Cody

      As the article suggests, we encouraged people to write directly as well as to allow us to compile the letters to be sent together. It is possible some letters were sent directly to the White House, and not included in our collection. It is hard to tell what method will have the most impact - but we thought it was important to have the letters available for everyone to read, in a single collection. I encourage everyone to download the collection and browse the letters. You will get a strong sense of the way teachers, parents and students are feeling about education reform in 2012.

      October 22, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  20. Doug in NY

    I think you have a misprint: But not all educators are ardent supporters of the president’s policies, and they are letting him know.

    I have not met anyone in education who thought this was a good idea. No a soul.

    CNN: Look at this link and read the list of principals in NY who think this is a bad idea.

    October 22, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Crypticpikle

      I don't support Obama's policies–especially Race to the Top. But Romney and the Republican stance to education is NOT something I want to see, either.

      October 23, 2012 at 5:49 am |
  21. Alice in PA

    Unfortunately Romney's policies are worse. It is time to take back local control of public schools and to keep them public, not pawn of politicians and corporations

    October 22, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • readingexchange

      Alice in PA ... You are absolutely right, regardless of who wins the Presidential Election.

      October 22, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • MSNDIS

      Romney's education policies are pretty much the same as Obama's.

      October 22, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
      • Oakspar

        Nonsence. The President is pushing for federalizing education through federal money (which the states then reduce from the education budget to spend as they please). Once education is addicted to these federal funds that states can no longer replace, we have a federal education system.

        Romney believes that education can also be fixed from the top – however, that top is the states. No federal funding means that states can determine how best to educate their children. That Romney believes in merit pay and the testing machine means little if education is returned to the states.

        October 23, 2012 at 11:17 am |