Sunday, March 22, 2015

Open Letter to President Obama

This post was originally written on my personal blog in December 2014.  I never received an answer to my letter, which was mailed.

Dear President Obama:

Why are you taking New York State’s failing educational leadership into your administration?

I am one of your supporters, though I do not agree with everything that you do.  I think you are a good man and leader, and I voted for you in both elections.  I thank you for your service, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

However, on your educational policy and administration, you unfortunately get a failing grade from this retired teacher, as well as from many other educators.  The reason I am writing to you today is the recent announcement that you will take NYS Commissioner John King into your administration.  My question is, WHY?

As Commissioner of NYS Education, King has had an administration full of controversy and failure.  Criticisms of his reign are many.  Foremost, the members of the NYS United Teachers (NYSUT) voted No Confidence and called for his removal in January of 2014.  Their press release stated that his rollout of Common Core had failed… “The commissioner has pursued policies that repeatedly ignore the voices of parents and educators who have identified problems and called on him to move more thoughtfully,” said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. 

King’s response to criticism has been defensive and contentious, proving that he has little ability to listen and learn from others, and few political skills.  When criticized that he was unwilling to listen to the voices of those who had issues with the too-rapid and botched rollout of core curriculum, as well as testing that caused the “failure” of  70% of NYS students, King scheduled parent forums in October 2013.  When parents attended the forums in large numbers and pressed him for answers that he did not have, his fear of contention caused him to cancel additional planned events.  Parents were astounded at his lack of respect for the input he himself had sought, and the NYS Allies for Public Education, an advocacy group of over 42 parent organizations, called for his resignation.

He is also not an effective manager or leader.  He led the effort to create the EngageNY core-related curriculum, but once more instead of planning an effective process by involving teachers and pedagogical leaders, he funneled $12.9 million dollars of RTTT money to private corporations.  The lessons have been widely criticized by educators, students and parents.  Even NYSED has acknowledged that the lessons are weak, and they have now backpedaled and created a plan for teachers to revamp the curriculum for 2015-16.  In addition, directives and materials that have come to educators from his office have been filled with grammatical and other errors.

He is the second NYS education official to take a job with your administration this year – Amy McIntosh, who oversaw teachers evaluations, is now a deputy assistant secretary.  Under the individuals that you have taken into your camp, New York State schools and students have suffered, and educator morale is at an all-time low. 

Most vociferous in praise for Commissioner King is the StudentsFirstNY, a pro-charter reform group that seeks to privatize education.  In spite of the fact that Commissioner King lived within the boundaries of one of the best public schools in New York State (the school and staff  have received numerous national recognitions for its excellence), King chose to send his own children to a private school that does not require the abusive testing he foisted on NYS students.

President Obama, I am very disappointed at your apparent lack of care for public education, and that you have apparently bought into the pro-charter, pro-privatization line of propaganda.  The fact that you are filling your administration with individuals who are pro-charter and who by all appearances are most deliberately causing the public education system to fail, causes me great concern.  The present system of testing is abusive to students.  Common Core curriculum has many errors and is not developmentally sound for students.  The VAM and APPR evaluation model for teachers is flawed and I have no doubt that will be proven so in court cases, but my fear is that before it is, we will lose too many valuable prospective and in-service teachers to recover easily from the blow.  Some states have already begun teacher recruitment efforts in other countries.  Please educate yourself about the true needs of public education before your administration leaves a negative legacy of damage that will take generations to become fully known.

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