Dear Mr. President Elect

Jan 11, 2009

Posted by Doris

Dear President Elect Obama,

I know you are kind of busy now, but while you are preparing for your new job and all, I wanted to chat with you about this thing we like to call school.

When my grandparents came to this country, they knew that they’d have jobs and that their kids would be educated. The promise of this “new world” was grand, but my grandparents believed it. Many years later, many of us have not forgotten that promise. We may have lost site of it, but we’re counting on you to steer us in the right direction.

Here’s the deal Mr. Obama, we need to change the way we educate our children.

Once, long ago, a child would start in Kindergarten, finish in 13 years with the world waiting for them. Now our children graduate and they are prepared to take a test. I’m not gonna bash the policy or the policy makers of the past, instead I’d like you to consider a few changes I think should be made from a teacher’s point of view.

Kids are individuals not standardized

Let’s stop treating them like they are all the same and making them pass tests that are written for a “standard.” Instead of forcing a teacher, administrator, school district and child to worry about high stakes tests results; I propose letting the teacher asses each individual child and then monitoring their growth over the year. One child, one years growth. It’s that simple.

You can’t base funding on a norm -

Having worked for, what I consider the BEST school district ever, I have to say that there are some school districts that are less then stellar. We all know that. The question is, what do we do about it? Closing schools, limiting funding because the schools don’t measure up to a standard is absurd.

Honestly, if I live in a community where all of the kids are impoverished I would expect my school to struggle. That’s not because the teachers or the administrators are poorly handling their duties, it’s because the kids are hungry, or because they are insecure about their home or their life.

If you look at our hierarchy of needs, you’d know that kids worrying about their basic needs can’t focus on school work. You can’t possibly judge all schools on the same performance standard. Instead you have to treat each school individually. By cutting the funding to struggling schools you are forcing them to cut budgets on things like the arts and physical education programs. These are the things that kids need to help them reach those peak experiences.

Vocational Education –

I’ve spent a year or two (or possibly a dozen, but who is counting) in a university atmosphere. I know it’s not for everyone and I’m perfectly fine with that. The reality is many of our children either don’t want to or can’t go onto a university setting. Why do we force them into a system that assumes they are all going on to college?

The reality is we need to prepare our children for their future. For some children this should be teaching them a trade while they are still young. Then as they grow and mature, if they want to go to further their education then they can, but in the meantime we’ve prepared them with skills to enter the work force. The reason for education is to prepare children to take over when we’re gone. We’ve prepared them to be great test takers.

Funding for Arts and Humanities Education –

Can we stop cutting these budgets? I could site you study after study that suggests that art/music education helps strengthen problem solving skills, helps promote a better understanding of how things flow and work together and it helps students develop a sense of culture. If promoting the arts in our schools helps our children grow to be better problems solvers, cutting the budget for art related education seems counter productive.

Physical Fitness and Health -

I’ve seen you play basketball. You’ve got a pretty good game going there. I know that physical fitness is a big part of your life, so let’s keep it in schools. Let’s stop cutting those budgets and allow our children to grow up with a well rounded education that allows them to physically express themselves and that teaches them the importance of working as a team.

It only takes one trip to the mall to recognize that our kids might be hearing the “eat healthy” message but are not following it. We need to help them learn that message. Stop cutting funding to physical education programs and instead help promote their importance.

Put your money where your mouth is –

Most teachers get into the profession because they love kids. Most have to leave it because they need to make more money. It’s a shame really, teachers provide the education that helps us ensure our own bright future. Yet, we pay them minimal pay for a very stressful job.

If I owned a Pro basketball team, I’d pay big bucks for the best of the best. I know that when I show up to watch my team play that they are working hard and doing their job well because they love their job and because I pay them well. If I want that employee to be loyal to me and the team I pay for their highly qualified services. I also don’t want my professional players coming to me tired becauase they had to moonlight working at the mall or for a private school tutoring in basketball.

While I don’t think teachers should get pro-athlete pay (and neither should pro-athletes, but that’s another blog post) I do think we need to stop saying that teachers should be paid more and just do it. The best employees deserve the best pay.

Right now our country is moving towards a “high qualified” teaching force. This is a huge plus for our kids as it means that most teachers will have their graduate degree within five years of teaching. To be totally honest with you, my graduate degree was expensive. Couple that with the cost of housing and feeding my children and sending them on to college one day, it’s hard to imagine how I could do that in today’s economy. The fact is that we’re asking our teachers to have graduate degrees but we’re not paying for their education and we’re not paying teachers enough to pay for it themselves.

First, teachers who have taught for five years should never have a student loan. School districts don’t pay much more for an MS as they do for a BS. We’re forcing good teachers into another profession because they can’t afford to work for minimal pay. Good employees need a marketable income. If we want to keep our best teachers in the class, we should pay them to stay there.

It’s a shame that the cost of these classes and the lack of funds to pay a teacher have forced good teachers to leave the profession or face certain economic failure.

Last month my oldest son came home after finishing three semesters at Texas A&M University. Considering his future, he mentioned to me that he was considering teaching. He’s come from a family of teachers and his love for athletics is leading him to consider a job as a high school math teacher and coach. I openly and with great passion (I didn’t yell but I thought about it) tried to persuade him not to consider a profession I love and something I know he’d be good at. I want him to be able to provide for his family someday. With our economy struggling, I don’t see that teaching is a profession that will allow him to successfully provide for himself and his future family.

Early Childhood Education -

Can we stop saying we’re going to improve this and do it already? Before a child reaches the age of five, we need to make sure their lives are filled with experiences that will enrich their lives and will help them to be more functional later in life. We need to make sure all children can go to the zoo, have clean and well lit parks to play in, have access to public libraries within walking distance of their homes or provide a way for them to read books and learn to love the written word. The truth is, that in our current economic condition many parents are cutting these outings from our budget. These things should not be available only for those who can afford it, it should be available for all.

We also need to make sure there is a standard for child care workers. Day care centers should be held to a high standard and should provide our children with a quality pre-k education.

Higher Education -

Have you checked the price of tuition? Have you looked at the amount of money a student must pay for living expenses while away at school? We need to make sure that all children who are capable are able to attend a university can attend a university. If we want to make sure we can compete in a global marketplace then we need to provide the best of the best to our future, and make it affordable so that any capable child can obtain it.

Student loans should be no interest if paid back within a certain length of time. Students who provide a valuable service to our country (armed forces, reserves, teaching Peace corps, boy/girl scout leader, etc) should never have to pay back a student loan. We need to make sure there are more grants available, more scholarships that are easily available and don’t require student’s jump over barrels to get them.

The final plea -

I know, all of this costs money. In a budget crisis we’re supposed to tighten out belts, not hand out more money. Here’s the deal Mr Obama, if we spend the money to educate our children now, we won’t have to spend the money later. It’s no secret that our prison system is filled with criminals, many of whome are illiterate. If we’d spent the money upfront, then we should take care of two needs.

“Education costs money, but then so does ignorance.” — Sir Claus Moser

Also – well go read my thoughts on standardized testing. Let’s disban any state given standards tests and instead give the moneys to the local school districts where it belongs. This money would help increase teacher pay and it would help provide needed programs locally for kids.

Reward businesses for innovative grants and scholarships. When a business chooses to help a struggling school we should give them more then a little business deduction and a pat on the back. Instead let’s reward businesses and individuals who choose to help lower performing schools with mentor or student tutoring programs. Let’s give them real tax incentives, low interest business loans and allow their employees to reduce their federal taxes if they volunteer to help a kid.

There are so many needs that the mountain we need to climb seems overwhelming. I keep thinking of that promise my grandparents came to America to pursue. I ask you to consider this quote from another president.

class=”t”>Let us think of education as the means
of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a
private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit
for everyone and greater strength for our nation.

Thirty-fifth President of the USA – John F Kennedy (1917-1963)

President Obama, we need to assure that our children have the ability to succeed. In doing so we’re insuring our own future. Let’s work together to make sure our nation is strong.

If you’d like to hear more ideas on education, or if you’d like to express your own ideas, feel free to comment below or read this thread on The Leaky Lounge.

Thanks to our wonderful Leaky Lounge members for helping me brainstorm my way to this letter! You guys are the best!

21 Responses to Dear Mr. President Elect

Avatar Image says: As a college student, I fully understand the pain of the rising cost of college. To me, it is a shame that some kids who go to college are saddled with so much debt that when they finally graduate, they HAVE to find a high-paying job just to make sure they can pay back the loans--and even then it takes years to pay back those enormous amounts. A very well-thought-out post, and I definitely agree that our education system in the United States is due for a overhaul. Avatar Image says: Thanks Tryston. I appreciate your comment, and we do need to fix a few things! DorisAvatar Image says: As always, a well-written and dead correct blog. If only he could really read the letter!Avatar Image says: Doris, excellent excellent excellent blog! Very well written and you presented your analysis and arguments very clearly and I really enjoyed reading it! You should actually e-mail this to the white house?Avatar Image says: Thanks guys for the sweet comments! Melissa, we can hope! I mean, he does use a computer and he's a Harry Potter fan! One never knows! Candace, I thought about it - and I might. I have to wait 'till he's really there first! Thanks guys, DorisAvatar Image says: Well said! I completely agree that education needs to be changed in this country. Kids are being taught to take tests. I graduated from high school in Upstate New York and I along with everyone else who graduates in NY, had to take a multitude of Regents exams in order to graduate. And the teachers had to teach to these exams. Now I'm in college and it is expensive. So many students can't afford to go to college or if they do go, have tons of loans that will take years to pay off. I could ramble on and on about this. I should just blog about it myself, lol. You should email it to Obama! It's so well written. :)Avatar Image says: I SO love you reading your blog and agree with everything you said. I used to work as a teacher's assistant, and seeing all the stress and low pay, i decided not to become a teacher. Now, I am going back to college to get my degree in teaching, and the amount of stuff we have to go through just to be a teacher is sad compared to the pay. But helping kids is in my heart, and that matters to me more than higher pay. Also what you said about testing and funding hit home too. When i was a TA i was completely confused and frustrated as to why they would do that. I think the general public needs to be more educated about what exactly goes on with the schools and government. Thanks for helping everyone be more aware:)Avatar Image says: Thanks guys for the awesome comments! I may have to mail it to him just because you guys have mentioned it. Of course - everyone of us needs to make our voices heard and let them all know what we think needs to be done. "Yes we can" is the buzz phrase President Elect Obama has taught us. Let's not just make it a phrase, but a mission. Yes we can! Doris DorisAvatar Image says: A well-written post on a crucial topic Doris...well done!Avatar Image says: Thank you for the service you provide teaching our children the skills to succeed in life. I disagree with just about everything you said and the reason I'm commenting is because I'm afraid that you may not have an opportunity to hear the other side of this debate. As a 40 year old father of three I'm just old enough to have experienced the tail end of the old way of teaching, the modern way, and now the reaction to that modernism. I watched education costs rise and scores plummet during the era of experimental teaching. If the scores had no relation to the life skills necessary to succeed it wouldn't matter, but companies were complaining that they were seeing an increase in illiterate entry-level workers and drop-out rates were increasing. The percentage of cost spent on administration was increasing while school programs were being cut. This was the environment I was in when I decided to push for and vote for measures and candidates that advocated more testing and accountability. Your nostalgic view of history probably doesn't include the corporal punishment both at school and home that was a contributing factor to kids behaving and getting their lessons done and turned in on time. Now I'll get political. Being a Scout leader I associate with teachers and I've heard for years about how they get blamed, but they don't get support from the parents. I think the reason that parents aren't taking more responsibility is because we've been abdicating that responsibility to the government. Your proposal that everything is paid for by the government, which is just another way of saying everyone in the country after federal employees take their cut off the top, advocates that mind-set. You are creating your own parent problem. They dont' even write a check for their taxes; they are taken out of their pay before they ever see it. Now you want the kids to get free money and never have to pay it back? Or you think their first experience with borrowing money being an interest free loan will prepare them for how the real world works? So, everyone is getting used to passing the responsibility off to someone else and blithely allowing the government to take more and more of their paycheck which you acknowledge is too small in the first place. That's why I advocate standardized testing. Instead of hoping that the kids are being taught, you check to make sure they are. That's why I think families should pay for education. They value it more, they have a personal interest in failure as a wasted investment, and they don't take money from other taxpayers who have their own personal needs like medical care, providing for an elderly parent, or trying to follow their dreams. I admire and applaud your sincere desire to see our children provided for. I don't share your vision of how to accomplish that which would be okay except that you are demanding that I pay for your ideas. Until the government can be held accountable for the failure to educate America's children, I won't endorse giving it more money. Show me the proof and then I'll show you the money. Avatar Image says: Hi Josh and thanks for your well thought out comment. I think we do disagree in how this all should be paid for, but I do think we agree on what is the most important thing out there, that kids need a quality education. I agree that teachers and governments should be held accountable, but I disagree that a bureaucrat who hasn't been in a school in a while knows the best way to do it. If we want accountability, then I say let's leave it to the local school district to devise that. The problem is that a bureaucrat is not going to be the best person at judging the "norm" for any school district. Thanks for your comment. We've got an awesome thread in the lounge for longer discussion if you'd like to join in. You all have great insight and I'd like to hear more of your thoughts. Doris Avatar Image says: As a fellow teacher, I could not agree more, Doris.Avatar Image says: Lanae, Thanks for the comment. We need to start speaking out and trying to make our voices heard. We all love these kids, we just need to make sure we're fighting for what is best for them.Avatar Image says: So eloquent, Doris! I also agree that our new president should see your thoughts. We need to pull together to find solutions & not just expect "magic fixes." Thanks, as always, for your insight. P.S. Off topic, but did want to let you know that my daughter & I made the Hot Mamma Cookies over the Holidays...HUGE hit!!! Avatar Image says: Hot Mamma cookies are my favorite!MMMM I'm now of the mindset that we need to stop complaining and start offering ideas. We're smart, we know where change could happen from the unique perspective of someone who lives there! Thanks DAvatar Image says: I feel like you took the words right out of my mouth. I think that sums it up for a lot of educators and you should definitely try to send it on to the White House.Avatar Imageshaidydreamer says: Such a well-written and comprehensive letter! I didn't have time to read through the whole leakylounge thread, but it looks really good, too! I'm currently a paid volunteer at an after-school non-profit organization in DC, and I work with disadvantaged high school students who are trying to go to college. This, in combination with education and social work classes in college, has really given me some insight into the complexities of education reform. I've thought a lot about getting my masters in education, but I'm not sure that I'd be a very good teacher; even if I had all the right knowledge, I don't tend to have the charisma and excitement that I've noticed in really good teachers. Oh well, perhaps there are other ways I can help... Thanks for a thought provoking letter, Doris!Avatar Imagearyell says: I'm glad to see I'm not the only one to hate these standardized testing. I'm from Texas and when I was in school it was all the rage to test kids every other year. And when Bush went into office of course he would do nothing but impliment the same testing we had to endure in Texas. What they don't tell you is that when I was in school when testing was at it's peak Texas school system SUCKED! I mean when we were in a test year we were hardly taught the material we were supposed to be learning. Instead we were taught how to test. How to eliminate wrong answers from multiple choice questions and such. I sincerely enjoyed this post. Avatar Imagemhaeyemhaeye says: Very well said, that's all I can say. Avatar ImageGred84 says: Thanks for writing this! I'm a graduate student in Education and it's nice to see from a perspective of an actual teacher to see where this country is Education wise. I'm hoping to do a lot of good in this country if I can!Avatar Imagesarahjaxx7 says: I completely agree with you about standardized testing. I live in Florida, and when I was in Highschool, we had to take the FCAT, and if you were a junior, the FCAT depended on whether you would graduate and get your diploma in your senior year. We had the FCAT drilled into our heads and FCAT curriculum was taught in EVERY class, while we had only ONE class that had to do with the SAT (a test that everyone knows you have to get good scores on to get into certain colleges), and we took the practice SAT one time. I have a friend, who didn't pass the FCAT, and wasn't able to get her diploma until she passed it. She wasn't able to pass the FCAT, but she did pass the ACT, and the school used those scores to FINALLY award her her diploma. I thought the fact that she wasn't able to get her diploma because of one test was ridiculous. She was a good student, and got good grades, but apparently that didn't matter.

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