Monday, January 19, 2009

Dear President Obama,
You are coming into office at one of the most tumultous times in history.

Our country's economy is in shambles. Jobs and homes are being lost daily. Once relatively stable components of our economy are crumbling before our eyes. Watching the evening news is depressing and scary.

We are spending phenomenal amounts of money daily fighting a never-ending war in a far away country, a war most of the country does not understand or support. Lives are being lost, without a tangible reward apparent.

While I realize those things, as well as the others on your plate being handed you tomorrow are important, I ask you to look instead first at what I see as the biggest impending crisis for our country: education.

No Child Left Behind, I have to believe, started with good intentions. However, the small snowball it started with has become an avalanche thundering downhill, leaving in its wake little real improvement, and much confusion and disaster.

We, as a nation, need to make our children our first priority. Test scores are just one small indicator of the "worth" of a child. Accountability has become a word that makes teachers and educators shudder. It doesn't mean accountability for educating the child; it means accountability for them filling in the correct bubbles on that one magical day in space and time. These tests that measure our worth as educators, and the child's worth in society, do not measure every aspect of a quality eduation. They do not measure problem solving skills, technology skills, nor communication skills.

Tests scores are not being used to improve the child's education, but to punish the school. Test scores should be a tool for gauging "what next for this child". Children are not robots, in a one size fits all package. Some learn math quickly but struggle to read. Some are voracious readers but find math a challenge. Others are gifted musicians or athletes, but find academics overwhelming.

Instead of looking at these strengths and capitalizing on them, high stakes tests are forcing teachers and schools to shove each and every student into the same small bubble at the same time. It just doesn't work that way!

Many students have no support at home. Others have no home. Some are caregivers after school for siblings. These children struggle to keep up with the students who go home to a healthy snack and a stay-at-home mom eager to help with homework.

Educators should be held accountable, yes. YES! But measuring that accountability with one test score per year, compared to a different group of students, makes no sense.

Shore up teacher prepartion programs in universities, provide additional monies to schools to work with struggling students, create community outreach programs to educate parents on how to best help their students, and demand adequate and ongoing professional development for learning communites among teachers.

Help US help THEM! Until we make education a true priority in this country, we will never meet our full potential. Please listen to teachers as they reach to you with concerns. Please make our priorities your priorities!

Cossondra George