Open Letter to President Barack Obama On the Education Crisis in America

Dear President Obama,

I hope this message finds you well. On January 20, you officially began your second term as president of the United States. You were elected in 2008 at the time of a grave fiscal crisis in this country. That crisis, and its legacy, defined your first term. I will leave it to history to judge the decisions you made in that first term, but I want to voice my concern about the legacy you seemed doomed to create in your second term.

On February 13 you delivered your State of the Union Address. I sat intently before my television listening to hear your vision for education, since much of that conversation was absent during the presidential debates. You can probably imagine my frustration at the end of the night when I realized only two sentences from this very important address were dedicated to education. Although I was ecstatic to hear about your commitment to preschools, I felt there was more to be said about your vision for the most integral but often ostracized portion of society and policy.

In 2008, you pledged to champion education and lead a re-emergence of our education system. Education has long been the key to success. In a country where this is true more now than ever, with a president who proclaims that he wants to level the playing field, one would hope to see the flagship policies provide long term fixes for these issues.  Unfortunately, this has not been the case.

Your famed Race to the Top policy, which you label as the most important thing you have done in office, is a failed attempt to close the achievement gap. This policy comes complete with a pledge to volunteer more public assets to private management, a total eradication of the independent collective voice of teachers, and a vision of education reduced to a single narrow metric that claims to recognize an educated person through a test score. The most alarming piece is the total disregard for our country's recent history in education.

Since 2006, five states and the District of Columbia have conducted investigations and found that schools within their states have cheated to boost test scores (sadly, these states are the only ones to conduct investigations while many believe cheating is taking place elsewhere). Investigators found that the cheating resulted from a culture of fear, one spurred by rising test-score targets. But yet your policy calls for raising the stakes of testing. The sole means of evaluating teachers is now their student test scores. Schools that continue to produce low scores will be closed, turned into charter schools, or sold to the highest bidding private management firm. In low-performing schools, principals will be fired, and all or half of the staff will be fired (I guess No Child Behind didn't scare teachers enough). The policy also introduces a type of merit-based pay; therefore, engendering a culture that incentivizes bad practices such as cheating.  

This post originally appeared on RooseveltCampusNetwork.org.