Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dear President Obama and Secretary Duncan

Dear President Obama and Secretary Duncan,

On Monday, the Department of Education issued a press release informing states that they will soon be given an opportunity to dodge NCLB's silly requirements if they are willing to embrace "education reform."

As a teacher, I'd like you to know that I'm deeply troubled by two aspects of this proposal.

First, as inept as NCLB has been in attempting to improve "failing" schools, sidestepping federal law in the name of your preferred policy sets a dangerous precedent. Is what you're proposing even legal? Can we not trust elected officials to come together and mend major legislative flaws without resorting to carrot and stick schemes? You know, for the good of the people?

Second, I worry that this new quasi-Race to the Top program (in which states will compete for shelter from a storm of our own making rather than federal money) will only exacerbate the problems we're experiencing in underprivileged communities.

Furthermore, I cannot begin to explain the frustration I experience when you refer to your preferred educational policies broadly as "education reform," as if useful alternatives don't exist.

This word game that's being played in which you look to appease accountability advocates by calling for "robust use of data" and see state bureaucrats play along by promising rigorous academic standards strikes those of us on the ground who see how data is being created and used as farcical.

More than the word game, though, your attempts to impose reforms from the top down while ignoring cries from a large number of people most affected by them have disillusioned stakeholders like me who might otherwise enthusiastically seek to contribute constructively to policymaking. What I find most ironic about the DOE's press release is that is quotes Secretary Duncan as saying, "..the best ideas will always come from the local level..."

I suppose I'll have to wait until September to find out what reforms you expect states that want relief from NCLB to implement, but unless they are largely different than the reforms implemented by Race to the Top, I will unfortunately continue to find more utility in opposing your vision for "reform" than working with you.


James Boutin

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