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.
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.
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!