Monday, September 19, 2011

A Teacher's Letter to Obama: A Lesson in Irony

The Facebook page Teachers' Letters to Obama offers a lot more than just letters to the president, but I've been thinking for some time about what I would write to the president... or the secretary of education. Or anyone in power who might possibly listen... This is what I finally arrived at as my message.

Dear President Obama,
I am half a year into my twentieth year of teaching here in Florida. I am not sure how much longer I will last in the profession I thought I would never want to leave. I wonder how much longer I can last because as an English teacher, I teach my students to keep a sharp eye out for irony. I practice what I preach, and my irony radar is on full-tilt, bell-ringing, red-strobe-lights-blinking, high alert. The ironies have grown too much for me to bear; I am nearly crushed beneath them, yet people like you seem to be unaware of them. So let me teach you, as I might my students, about Irony. When I use the second person "You" in this letter, I refer not just to you, but to all the "powers that be" in education reform.

Where to begin? There are so many ironies to choose from. Let's begin with the stated goals of education reform. Supposedly, education reform's goal was to improve the public schools. But as 2015 approaches, and the public schools have not achieved 100% success with 100% of its students, it becomes clear that the real goal, all along, was to force public schools into failure by setting impossible goals for them, and then to privatize education. They said one thing: "Let's save the schools." They meant something else: "Let's drive them to their own destruction." That's called Verbal Irony.

Then there's the irony that many teachers voted for you, President Obama, in the hopes that you might turn things around, only to find that you did indeed turn them around-- 360 degrees. You brought us the wonderful world of Race to the Top, which made competition for grants the way to improve education. To compete, states had to push for even more testing and data, and agree to all kinds of top-down initiatives to "improve"teaching. You reversed course, taking what the previous administration had done, and instead of reversing it, reinforced it. This is called Situational Irony.

Then there's the irony we teachers are guilty of. We didn't see what was coming. We pretended that if we just tried harder, everything would be all right, for us, and for our students. Every time more demands were made on us, we simply pushed ourselves and our students harder to meet those demands. Every time we showed improvement, the demands grew harsher. For every obstacle that was thrown in our path, we jumped higher. For every budget cut, we spent more of our own money on our classrooms. We went on believing that at some point what we did would be good enough. In reality, nothing we will ever do will be good enough. In reality, the goal was never to let us succeed, but to close down the public schools. We were unaware of the big picture. This is called Dramatic Irony.

But those are just the Big Three ironies. What really gets me down is all the other, smaller, yet more insidious ironies piling up on top of us.

For instance, the more we succeed on raising test scores, the less likely it is our students are actually learning anything useful, since standardized tests represent only a myopic, narrow, constrictive, binary, reductionist view of what learning is. So as our test scores go up, real learning goes down. Situational.

On a similar note-- we worry that bad teachers wasting tax payer money, so we scrutinize them by using a whole array of testing and data to analyze their effectiveness. We hire testing companies to create and score tests, third person companies to evaluate the reliability of the tests, test security companies to make sure the test is secure, statisticians who know nothing about teaching but create value-added statistical formulas to evaluate them based on data-- all on the tax payer "dime." And who is making sure these companies are actually doing their jobs? Who evaluates the evaluators? Situational.

We accuse teachers, who actually work with our students on the front lines of education because they care about students, of greed. We never accuse testing companies and statisticians of greed. They are obviously in it for the good they know they are doing students. (That last sentence was verbal irony on my part.)

Testing companies actually say that their tests shouldn't be used for teacher evaluations. But they never refuse to supply a test to districts on principle.

Our relentless desire to raise test scores causes us to focus relentlessly on our lowest students. The lowest students are put in "intensive classes" where they are skilled and drilled on test scores. If we actually looked at why our highest scoring students score high, it's not because they were skilled and drilled a lot, but because they read a lot.

And meanwhile, as we focus our misguided attention on our lowest students, our highest achieving students, who need to be challenged and pushed beyond what standardized teaching can provide, are still putting up with test prep.

Our value-added models are based on learning gains, so teachers who teach the gifted are sometimes unlikely to show many gains. High level students are in as much need of excellent instruction at their level as supposedly low-level students are. Gifted students drop out at a higher rate than the general population-- in part because they are bored. One wonders if teachers of the gifted will start to drop out, too, to go to a position where they can show more value-added gains.

Apparently business leaders are calling for more creativity in their workers. We are killing off creativity in schools, in both teachers and students, and getting ready for multiple choice questions does not make anyone, teachers or students, creative.
You say you want teachers to be in the profession because they care about students. But you assume they are actually in it for the money and try to bribe them with merit pay.

You say you want excellence, which implies that some teachers can do a better job than others, but then micromanage teachers to make them all the same. You tell teachers they will be evaluated on results, but then tell them exactly how to teach, so that they aren't really responsible for the results.

Great teachers are insightful about their subjects, always seeking to grow, to read, to research, to find new ways to think about their subjects and improve their teaching, so you create a set of Common Core Standards that reduce academic subjects to a series of calcified, petrified skills and make growth, change and innovation all but impossible.

We compare our test scores to those of other countries. Yet Finland, for example, which is the star of international test scores, tests as little as possible, has very few standards, values teachers and pays them well, gives them lots of autonomy and focuses on creativity and project-based learning. So what do we do, upon seeing Finland's success? We test everyone as often as possible, even our preschoolers, vilify teachers, create ever more standards, rob teachers of their autonomy, and discourage creativity in teaching in favor of data wrangling and test prep.

People learn best when they are engaged and happy, when there is joy and enthusiasm in the classroom. We are killing off engagement, joy, and enthusiasm, and replacing them with boredom, blind obedience, and stress.

As an English teacher, I teach my students stories about the underdog standing up for what is right, taking the road less traveled. As a teacher, I am being asked to conform, to do as I'm told, even if it goes against everything I believe about teaching.

When I attend our county's Teacher of the Year banquet, I see videos of students, elementary through high school, saying that their teachers are great because they are "different" and "creative" and "fun." And then we go back to being told to all teach in a "common" way the next day.

On a personal note, I won at my Teacher of the Year banquet a few years back, and I now feel that the very things that made me a winner- creativity, insight, creative instruction, creative assignments-- are all liabilities now. I should teach the way I'm told, using the assignments and assessments I'm given, and keep my mouth shut.

Education Secratary Arne Duncan has said we want a "great" teacher in every classroom. Do we even know what that phrase means? What is a "great" teacher? A great teacher comes up with activities, assignments, and assessments that will engage students and lead to real thinking and questioning. If all my activities, assignments, and assessments are scripted for me, what is left for me to do well as a teacher-- talk louder? You can't have standardization and excellence.

I came into this profession because I love my subject,and I want to turn students into readers and writers, and I have creative ideas for making this happen. If I am no longer allowed to do those things, if I am being forced to be a curriculum dispenser, what options do I have? Leave for somewhere that allows me more autonomy? Where might that be-- a charter school or private school? Could this be what we wanted to have happen all along-- to drive our best talent out of the public schools to other venues? It's already happening.

In all of this education reform going on to improve our schools, the discussion we are not having is this: What are schools for? To create an obedient, pliable work force? To create a good economy? To make our test scores competitive with the rest of the world? Until we figure out that these purposes for schools are too shallow to serve, until we figure out what schools are for, everything we'll do to "reform" education is likely to fail.

I can't think of a single thing going on in public education  right now that makes me want to stay in my profession. I know of very few, if any teachers who are happy about what's going on. And yet, no one is listening.

The ultimate irony is this: reformers are saying we should put students first. That is what I try to do every single day in my classroom. But I feel the reformers are putting everything but students first: test scores, data, common standards and assessments, value-added models, and standardized curricula are all coming first. Real, flesh and blood students with real problems, hopes and dreams are the last thing on the reformer's agenda.

I hope you will listen. I hope you understand our frustration a little better now. If not, that would be ironic.

David Lee Finkle










201 comments:

  1. Thank you for verbalizing many of my intuitive grasp of the current ironies in education. As an art teacher in Florida, I have seen my subject marginalized and dismissed more and more as NCLB has come to dominate our public education system in the 10 years since it was enacted. Many level one students are good artists and learn better through visuals and pictures. However the time devoted to art, especially in elementary has been reduced to zero as we turn more toward drill and kill which produces results on the standardized testing. Level one students in middle and high school don't have time for art since they have to take intensive math and reading in addition to language arts. I have heard that Duval county currently tests students in 4th and 8th with a multiple choice art test??!! What can you discover about someone's artist talent with a multple choice test, irony of ironies.

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  2. Hey David,

    Great letter. Please tell me that you actually sent it to President Obama, and copied Secretary Duncan. If you have not sent it yet, please do.

    I suppose you already know you could also post it here: http://www.facebook.com/WhiteHouse?sk=wall and here: https://www.facebook.com/SecretaryArneDuncan

    Grace & Peace,
    Brett

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    1. Those links didn't work but I forwarded to arny by way of a letter he sent me. It may not get to him but I am going to keep trying! I follow Michael Moore so I sent it to him!

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  3. Thank you for writing this. Everyone needs to read this.

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  4. Fantasic. Needs national circulation and discussion. Consider sending to Huffington Post, NYTimes, etc.

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  5. A beautifully written commentary of what is happening in the classrooms across America. I retired after 35 years of teaching, but not because of the demands, but for health reasons. However, one by one, my teacher friends in English and social studies and science began to retire for the very reasons you have stated. Mississippi public schools are treated like step children by our governor and legislature. Now our almost-ex governor and his colleagues are proposing freezing raises for three more years for public school teachers and other state employees. Our retirement system is also in jeopardy. I guess we must remind ourselves of the reason we went into education in the first place....because we love teaching and the students, and hold the eternal hope that what we do makes a difference in others' lives.

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  6. I am so glad you wrote this blog. I would like to help spread the word. I was wondering if you would let me copy and paste this page to my website blog page and put a link to your blog on there too? This is so important everyone should read it and I would like to do my part to help spread the word.

    Dianne Lowe-Breakfield
    prefabmouse@gmail.com
    http//:www.lamarcobarter.webs.com

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  7. Thank you for your insight on the Education Reform. I wish I could say I have the experience that you have but I only have one year under my belt. Five years ago I began to pursue an education in teaching after being a substitute teacher for ten years. I sat at many teachers desks thinking I could make a difference if only I were a real teacher. Fact is, I became one and didn't like how regulated our teaching actually was. I did not hear anything good come out of the mouths of my seasoned colleagues. I feared I had come into the profession at the wrong time. I am currently pursuing a career outside of education as my teaching contract was not renewed after pouring out my heart and soul for nine months. I do not relish the thought of coming back unless things change. It is saddening to think that good/great teachers are leaving the classrooms because of the pressures that are put on teachers/students through standardized tests and restrictions on creativity. I too would like your permission to pass this on to an editor friend of mine.
    sanders.randall.tina@gmail.com

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    1. Tina, sorry for the late reply. I was having technical difficulties and then got overwhelmed by the volume of messages. Please do pass it on. I appreciate your enthusiasm and support for my message!

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  8. Bravo from another teacher in Florida!

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  9. Dixie Schroeder....
    One of the frustrations I had while teaching at the 2 different failed schools in Illinois was the paperwork. I did on average 2-3 hours of paperwork a night that had absolutely nothing to do with what I did in the classroom. The paperwork wasn't my lesson plans, wasn't my grading, it wasn't relevant to my day to day instruction and what my students did or did not learn.
    A second point I would like to make is the way each of our classrooms were run. In both of the failing schools we have children working way below the average. Hence, class room disruptions are higher than average. If you do not have a consistent and supportive discipline plan, (which were sadly lacking in both of these schools) you do not have learning. In my last school I spent at least 1 hour a day writing referrals, documenting discipline incidents in my classroom and that again takes from my time and ability to prepare unique, stimulating, and engaging lessons for my kids.

    We teachers used to say "When the inmates, (students) run the asylum (school) learning is a joke. Discipline must be present and consistent to make learning possible.

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    1. Hi Dixie,
      Good to see you on here. I am going to spread this article. :)
      Blessings,
      Zahra Lightway

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  10. As a parent of 2 school-aged children (1 HS and 1 Jr.HS, both attending an IB public school) I enjoyed reading your article and agree the public school system has become an ineffective program for my children. Both my children report to me, "Mom, they tell me to do this, but don't teach me how to do it." Leaving me the responsibility of "teaching" my children what they should have learned the past 6 hours in school.... after 2 years of trying to make public education "work" for my children, I am now looking into alternative education options for my kids. I have had many conversations with my sister about my children's experience with public education, and in retrospect of our conversations, as a mother of 2 young children, she has "hired" her 5 y.o. kindergartener a private school staff for the upcoming school year.


    Furthermore, I'd like to add the irony of the abundance of kids who are scoring above average on "standardized test" but are getting E's across the board on their report cards, while teachers respond to those kids as "not at risk", or " of no concern" and sweep the student under the rug. As long as the student is scoring at "average level or higher" on their standardized test, everything is fine, according to the perception of Public Education.

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  11. when you go 360 degrees, don't you end up at the same point?

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    1. Yes, and this is exactly what he meant. :)

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    2. I double checked-- and yes, that is exactly what I meant. Thanks, Tim.

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    3. I sure hope you are a math teacher, not an english teacher!

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    4. BobInCT-- to whom is your comment addressed? If to me, I take some offence, as I am an English teacher!

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    5. Mr. Fitz said excatly what he ment. 360 degrees means it came full circle. It got better, then went back to what it was. That is also how he explained it in the letter.

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  12. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    I retired 10 years ago, and this new world of "education" you describe was already clamping down on the classrooms. I could not teach any longer, though my original plan had been to go till 65.

    I have posted this link on my Facebook where it will be read by teachers, administrators, and just plain folks all over the country. Perhaps it will wake some more folks up.

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  13. Below is my blog entry and then a link to another thread that is very powerful...I have been teaching reading disabled students for over 20 years..the joy in my profession has been sucked out of me...

    http://seeker-lotswife.blogspot.com/2011/03/rock-and-hard-place.html

    http://cosmicben.livejournal.com/42527.html?page=1&view=541215#comments

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  14. All I can say is AMEN. I only lasted two years as an English teacher, for the exact reasons you discussed. Hear hear on calling for wider publication of your commentary!

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  15. Ok so I am just a Parent of 3 children... One who has been out of school for 3 years. One that QUIT after failing 4 years in High school. ( never getting out of the 9th Grade) and one that hopefully only has 2 years left....

    But what I would like to know is How can they do Standard testing on disable children that can not walk talk eat or even hold their head up.... How can they take a TEST at all... What it this world coming too.?????

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  16. I wish you would submit this to the networks. I've only been teaching 7 years, but wonder if I'm going to make it because the joy of teaching is being sucked out of me. The only reason I'm still teaching in public school is because I love my kids.

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    1. The networks wouldn't publish it.

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  17. As someone who gave up the fight 2 years ago;after 20 years in special education,this article brought tears to my eyes.It finally got to the point where I felt I could no longer sustain my values and principles while being told daily to do things that I knew where not in the best interest of the kids I taught and loved.

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  18. Too bad, Mr. Fitz, that you can't think of a single thing that makes you want to stay in the profession when, in reality, your entire areticle gives more than enough reason to stay.

    Perhaps, if you were to get out of the narrow scope of your educational interest of teaching students to be skeptics, you might open your thinking up to a national policy on public education.

    Maybe you already have to some degree? Then, publish your ideas on that here. Let the world see your ideas on how to solve this mind racking problem of education for a democratic people in competition with the dominating media we have that is in our face from the moment we wake up in the morning until we fall asleep at night. You are starting to draw a crowd.
    .
    .

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  19. Thank you for writing what other teachers are feeling, and writing it so well! Please stay in the profession and continue to work to make creative, interesting and engaging lessons so that even if students have to take state mandated tests they are still learning something that will serve a higher purpose in life than the results of their scores.

    It would be wonderful to send this to major newspapers, Congressmen (and women), reformers, etc because everyone needs to read this.

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  20. Yes Yes Yes too! Can you consider securing a position as Secretary of Education? Very well written and more importantly, you covered all of the key issues. Thank you.

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    1. I'm honored by your suggestion, but think I'd be miserable.

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  21. Well stated - no, well taught.

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  22. Excellent expression of the mess teachers and students find themselves bogged down in. To me, it is a real-life Chocolate War and I likely don't need to remind an English teacher how badly that ended.

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  23. My friends and family members who are teachers feel the same way. As a parent of 3 gifted students, I wholeheartedly agree with your points about gifted kids getting bored to death with test prep in class. The amount of time spent teaching elementary students to take our states ARMT and SAT tests is ridiculous!
    I'm amazed at the things they AREN'T learning... basic grammar being at the TOP of the list!
    I'm passing this on to everyone I'm connected to via social media. Well stated Mr. Fitz!

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    1. I've taught gifted students for 15 years, and they invigorate me every day enough to last through the frustrations you've listed, but my heart goes out to teachers who don't have that.
      One of the frustrations my students and I share about standardized testing is that kids who score in the 99th percentile on state standardized tests have no where to go but down every year. Couple that with trying to teach gifted kids at grade level, then expecting them to show one year's worth of growth from that 99th percentile.

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  24. OMGosh!!!! If we could all bombard the white house steps and barge into the oval office and say...."we are mad as hell and we are not taking it any more!" With this as our format, then we might wake someone up. You have hit every nail on the head....thank you!!!!

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  25. So very well said! I am about to enroll our daughter in kindergarten. But it breaks my heart to know that my inquisitive, curious, lover of learning will not be challenged because the focus of teaching has been skewed. School should teach children the skills to learn and the desire to know more. That's what school did for me. But I'm afraid that it won't do so for my kids.

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  26. As an English teacher and someone writing the POTUS you should have proof-read your letter a little better. The first sentance of the 14th paragraph is not correct.

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    1. I did correct the missing word, but find your own misspelling ironic indeed. It's not as easy as it looks!

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  27. Wonderful article! I lateral-entried into teaching and lasted one year. It broke my heart trying to teach 6th graders in a very high-poverty school. Most couldn't multiply, but I still had to push through the curriculum and try to get them to under stand least common multiple or greatest common factor. These students had failed for so long, I couldn't blame them for being mad, frustrated and just plain not wanting to be there. BUT, if I had a chance to work with only a couple of them at a time, I could see that there might be hope. We need to change how we teach those students who are so far behind. They need some success to build on and confidence that they can succeed instead of just cramming the curriculum down their throats.

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    1. That is precisely the point! Any teacher worth his or her salt knows this to be true as you and Mr. Fritz have stated. We must teach children from the place where we find them. To pursue a curriculum that is far above them (or far below) makes no sense at all. Every teacher knows this....but we are forced to adhere to a curriculum that has no relevance to the students we teach. No wonder we are all frustrated and our students are bored. LET THE TEACHERS TEACH!

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  28. I read this article and agree with the thoughts. However, as a life-long democrat and from a family of many educators, I have to wonder if you have addressed this letter correctly. Yes, it seems to me the Republican policy makers (who have stated publicly they would like to abolish the US Dept of Education) should be the ones who might be "educated" by your words.

    Let's be clear about who supports education. If each of us really pays attention and asks the right questions - there will be no doubt. Get involved...actions speak louder than words.

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    1. In defense of Republicans, the goal is not to destroy education, but to decentralize it and have the local community involved in schools, allowing for educators to have a greater voice. It is truly the Department of Education that continues, as with all government agencies, to justify their jobs by regulating all of into ineffectiveness.
      I taught for more than twenty years, but because of the issues listed, I retired three years early in spite of the fact that my retirement was cut in half. I worked at least 60 hours a week grading papers and making lesson plans fit the criteria, going to meetings, etc. where administration usually just kept telling us we were doing a "great job," but we needed to to better.

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  29. In addition to the disturbing state of our education system is the disturbing fact that people actually think the federal government can provide answers. One entity is in no way equipped to provide solutions for 50 states, hundreds of counties and who knows how many districts. To think they have or can effectively come up with solutions is ridiculous (seriously, what does the federal gov't. do efficiently and effectively that is sustainable?). Education should be managed at a state, if not local level, so that the teachers, administrators and most of all the children aren't expected to jump through hoops for money. The DOE is a bloated bureacracy takes state money, pays itself then doles out money back to the states/districts who "perform". It's quite sickening.

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  30. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Chills came over me as I read this. You have taken EVERYTHING I have thought and put it into words. I've only been in the profession as an elementary school teacher for five years and have been conflicted by the contradictions in our school system. I am a firm believer that we need to educate our society as much as possible about what is really going on, because I really don't think they have a clue.

    My grandmother made a comment to me one day about the "good school" in my hometown because it achieved great test scores. I very quickly educated her about the reality of "good" schools vs. "bad" schools. I reminded her that I have taught in a "bad" school my entire career and have dedicated endless hours to my children's education alongside an entire staff who did the same. There are just too many external factors and government mandates that constantly block our success. We spend more time talking about and proving our "teaching" through data and paperwork than actually teaching. Unfortunately, our government has conditioned our country to believe that test scores=school quality.

    Thank you Mr. Finkle and please DO send this to all the "powers that be"!

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  31. "Cory said...
    As an English teacher and someone writing the POTUS you should have proof-read your letter a little better. The first sentance of the 14th paragraph is not correct."

    If you are going to correct an obviously intelligent man, you should look at your own post first. "sentance" should be spelled "sentence". You're welcome.

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  32. I am a 37 year-old second-year lateral entry teacher. In NC, on top of the atrocities that you have outlined so beautifully, they have just decided to put the children into school for an additional 5 days. They have not figured out how to pay for it though, except to take the days from our (in my opinion) far too few teacher workdays. Next year, we will receive a few workdays at the beginning of the year, one in the middle, and a couple at the end. All work outside the classroom will be done at home, I guess.

    Also, I have also just been told that the laughable $250 tax deduction that teacher used to get for buying our own resources, as you mentioned, has been removed.

    I realize now that I have become a teacher in the worst possible time in American history. I will be taking the road so many others here have mentioned. Next year, I will be looking into alternative employment. At this point, I would rather flip burgers than compromise any more of my sanity or ethics.

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  33. Well said, biscuit2biscuit. Returning education to the states is the first step in restoring our schools.

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  34. I wrote this letter to Obama over two years ago and got a pretty sad response back...
    Dear President Obama,

    My name is Lyndsey , I am a second grade teacher at * Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona. * is in the * Elementary School District. I have been teaching for five years, I have taught first, second and third grade.
    I am writing to you to express many of the trials and tribulations that public educators encounter each and every day.
    Some of the statistics that I deal with daily are 100% Hispanic students that are learning the English language, 90% of the parents are illiterate, five of my students are in the process of being tested for special education, 10% of my students are homeless, 90% of the students live in poverty, one student was tortured abused and left as a small child, one student had a brother murdered (the killer was never found), one students mother has been in and out of prison four times in her short 8 years of life, there is a drug house 200 feet away from the front of my school...I could go on and on about the challenges many of my students deal with on a daily basis but I only have 2500 words!!
    With so many challenges to work around in my classroom, I ask others and myself is it an achievable goal to get every child at grade level at the same time?? Should I be penalized if all of my students are not at the appropriate level at the same time? I have read some of the press about Race To The Top, and I am concerned, I live in a boarder state, I work in an inner city school, and many of my students are not at grade level. I work every day for twelve hours, I give up time with my own one-year-old child to dedicate time to the students that need me.
    Many of the students at my school do not feel as though they deserve anything better than the life they are living today. I know that you are a busy man and have many concerns to address but I beg of you to come to visit our school and address the students who feel they will never have better, PLEASE come visit our school and see the daily trials and tribulations public educators in boarder states, in inner city schools face every day. I am dedicating my life to so many students that need me everyday, I encourage my students to better themselves; I would love to have someone as powerful as the President of the United States to encourage them as well.

    Respectfully,



    Lyndsey A
    Public Educator

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  35. I was once an education major and wanted to teach high school english, everything in this blog is why I am no longer pursing this degree. Since having children I have decided when I do return to school I will not be a teacher. I have instead focused my attention on educating my children at home so that they can think and learn more freely. Thank you for writing this.

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  36. This is a terrific summary of the Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass experience teachers are living through these days. I am SO glad my kids are old enough to be done with public school education. How do we bring sanity - and a genuine concern for our students' success - back to education? Yet another model based on the idea that every child with a certain "manufacture date" can all achieve the same results and thinking that if we just hold teachers "accountable" for this premise it will really work is tragic for our students and demoralizing for teachers. Oh, and as a school librarian, (not someone with a formal set of students and classes, my job performance will likely be based on the success rate of classroom teachers. Hmmmmm......! Thanks so much for writing this.

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    1. As a retired librarian who was replaced by a para, your performance might not even be evaluated when your district decides you are a luxury they can't afford.

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  37. When I started teaching in 1971, I didn't know how to teach well. Yet because I cared, I began that first summer to learn more about teaching methods in order to help more students become successful. As the years went on, this continuous journey for self-improvment enabled me both to earn a Phd and to become an excellent teacher as evidenced by the individual progress of my kindergarten students. Yet this progress that was so evident in individual reading conferences and writing portfolios did not always show up on the standardized test. Since the more you know about a subject the faster you can learn new information related to that subject, the kindergarden children who entered my classroom with limited knowledge of letter names and numbers, did progress more slowly then the average children. Yet It seemed as if no matter how hard they worked, the single size multiple choice test was too hard for them.
    Last year I was terminated from my teaching position. The new young principal in her ignorance implemented several policies in reading and writing instruction that would actually hurt a child's ability to achieve in these domains. I tried to talk to her about the research that made these policies inappropriate, and as a result was put on a non-ending sequence of " Intervention Plans for Teacher's in Need of Assistant" Then, ultimately I was terminated and since I needed income to live, retired.
    Yet it's such a waste of hard earned teaching skill.

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  38. Well said, David!

    Kelly Flynn
    Author, Kids, Classrooms, and Capitol Hill: A Peek Inside the Walls of America's Public Schools

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  39. .
    I'm not reading any suggestions about what can be done to improve the sad situations being described here.
    .
    Some want a return of authority to the states; but, what does that mean when it comes to specific ideas aimed at improving the systems involved?
    .
    What should the purpose be for public education?
    .

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    Replies
    1. Mr. Johnson,

      With respect to the desire of some to see less federal involvement in public education, some of that results from budgetary pressure that results from the attempts by states to meet federal statutory requirements like NCLB. Some Southern states, left to their own devices, would recede into a world where education was funded and valued at such low levels that we would be sure we had traveled back 25 years in a time capsule where student achievement in the South was 3 to 4 grade levels behind levels in other states.

      I live and work in Texas and sometimes I think people outside of this Southern microcosm cannot understand how voters would tolerate that type of regression in educational quality. Yet they do and I can only offer examples such as the degree to which Rick Perry is so popular in-state and completely out of touch outside Texas as a case in point.

      Delete
  40. .
    Shoud public education's purpose serve the interests of economy?
    .

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  41. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  42. I teach English in a community college in Florida and see the results of Florida's junior-high and high-school education. My students can hardly write but, much more depressing, struggle (and mostly fail) to understand what they read. Many students "test into" my beginning composition courses (instead of being placed in remedial or "prep" courses -- because they score high on a multiple-choice test. That's another irony for you: They're placed in an upper-level writing course by a test that does not require them to write anything. Color me depressed. Or is it enraged? Sometimes I can't tell the difference...

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  43. Welcome to the charter world Mr. Fritz....where autonomy, creativity and sincerity abound! Give us a look... you might like what you see! We'd love to have you!

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  44. Way to blame Obama for pretty much doing nothing related to education. Virtually everything on your page was instituted by prior administrations. Also had the republicans even attempted to work with Obama we moght not be in this mess.

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    Replies
    1. I don't think the letter was written to "blame" Obama. We all know the winds of change started ealier. But as Mr. Fitz stated, many teachers believed Obama when he indicated he would make it better. He did not and still has not. That is the point. This letter echos the frustration felt by many educators at the present. (Which I assume neither of you are, so it is doubtful you would understand.)

      Delete
    2. Thanks, sciteacher23: You get it. Zeus and DPC Designs-- you needed to read the wording carefully. I'm not blaming Obama for starting this mess, merely for perpetuating it. And I only wrote to him because I think he might "get" it. None of the people who started this debacle would listen to a word I had to say-- surely you would agree with that idea, at any rate.

      Delete
  45. Just another argument to find a way to protect, preserve and encourage the present school paradigm. School doesn't work and needs to replaced with new ideas.

    First, make school non-mandatory!!

    Second, end the physical tyranny of buildings, schedules, and classrooms.

    Third, design learning around what the learners want to learn about.

    Fourth Gamification and play is essential for learning.

    Fifth, Embrace Bring Your Own Digital Device(BYOD) and Robust Universal Broadband Access (RUB)

    Sixth Make knowing something more important than certification.

    Just a start! Call this revolutionary irony!!

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    Replies
    1. MrC, The fact that this page has had over 70,000 views tells me it is not "just another" anything. Teachers want to teach. Teachers do not currently have the power to institute any of the changes you suggest-- not all of which are bad, by the way. We want to teach, and we are feeling stymied. So long as this is happening, no other reform or revolution will do much good.

      Delete
  46. This column is outstanding. I just retired as a middle school reading teacher, and I am still outraged by the emphasis on the WRONG kind of education for the less academically gifted.
    One thing you didn't address was the focus on forcing these less academically inclined into so-called "college" tracks. We need to focus MUCH MORE on technical, vocational, school-to-work education. These poor kids are so frustrated by trying to pass the so-called (and flawed) "college-track" tests that they become totally discouraged and drop out before they can get into the tech courses, which are hands-on and project-oriented. What a waste of our tax dollars -- not to mention human potential.
    My students were wonderful human beings, but not very interested in compare-contrast essays on a poem vs. prose on the topic of WWII.
    One other sad aspect of today's young people is the destruction of the American family. More and more of my students the past few years came from the saddest situations you can imagine. Tragically, most of these situations were due to uneducated single mothers having babies with young men who had no interest in being fathers. These poor kids come to school unprepared to learn, and then totally uninterested in what we were forced to teach them. -- Monica Roland, Lockport, NY

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  47. I have had these similar concerns on my blog. I'm taking a break because I'm so frustrated but I'm going to get back to it this week and you've helped inspire me. www.theteachermother.blogspot.com

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  48. http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact

    copy and paste his letter and send it where it belongs.

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  49. Brilliant! This is the main reason why I am looking at leaving education. The whole reason I went into education is the wonderful experience of seeing a student "get it" or the light bulb going off. It is unfortunate that we see less and less of those moments and more and more glazed over eyes and children apathetically sitting in front of test prep activities as well a computer screen clicking away to an inferior education. In response to Phil Johnson here is an easy way to get students in situations where they can thrive. That is doing exactly what is being done in England and if students are not passing a comprehensive test that showcases real learning then they are placed into vocational programs which will give them skills to be productive members of society rather then welfare recipients that only can hope that it does not run out! Teaching used to be fun as well as engaging but now it is a joke. I support our president as being a lesser of two evils from anyone from the Republicon army but he has to realize he is part of the problem in this situation not the solution we were all hoping for!!! He can still change this if he listens to real people (educators on the front line) not his moronic Secretary of Ed!

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  50. Oh and the other reason why I am looking at leaving the field is schools are being run like businesses and it is not about the kids anymore but the test!

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  51. dklee123 - Yes, ironic, isn't it?

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  52. What is education?

    ed·u·ca·tion   [ej-oo-key-shuhn]
    1. the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.

    2. the act or process of imparting or acquiring particular knowledge or skills, as for a profession.

    But public education doesn't do this, so it must be something else. What is public education?

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  53. I was very happy to have been told about this site.

    Gena is asking the important question. "What is public education?"
    .
    The education of the public, Gena. What else?
    .
    What are the interests that the privatizing of America's educational system will serve?
    .
    Don't Americans have the right to demand the public educational system serve the interests of We the People rather than the private interests of big time investors.
    .
    Can we do both?
    .
    Not without a national policy of education. The idea that education be a profit maker is crazy.
    .

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  54. I was talking about your blog today and reminded myself of a comment I made one day:

    In response to parents' expectation that we should provide all basic human needs to their children (clothing, medical care, food, discipline, etc), I told my colleagues that our Title I school should be renamed **** Elementary: Federally-Funded Childcare Facility (standardized academic programs available upon request)

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  55. A students view.
    I graduated from the public school system in 2010. I have first hand experience with the 'standardization' that has been forced upon my generation and those younger than myself. As someone who was considered gifted throughout my years in school, my experience was... awful. I love to read. I always have. I liked to learn new things, and I absorbed information like a sponge. Most teachers got along with me very well, and I can say that I've had some philosophical conversations with several. I liked the idea of school, until I got into high school. My freshman year, I received over 100% on the majority of my semester exams. It was here that I started to realize the low standards that I was being held to. I saw that by making it easier for others to pass classes, the challenge I was receiving was close to none. Not to mention, throughout my whole life I have suffered from several illnesses, making my attendance very poor. Despite this, I was getting better grades than the majority of my classmates. My sophomore year, I was so ill that I wasn't allowed to go to school my entire second semester. My teachers made packets for me of homework and tests, and at the year end sent them home with me to do over the summer. What it took my classmates several months to cover took me only a few days. Teaching myself sophomore level classes at home, I managed to get mostly A's and B's (my only exception being my foreign language class). High school was boring for me. Homework was trivial. I didn't see the point in it. I actually think I turned in maybe two handfuls of assignments throughout my high school career. I had a government teacher who would literally apologize to me every time she needed to hand out homework packets to drag everyone else's grades up. I considered dropping out multiple times, and as a matter of fact, 7 of my close friends did. Most of them were brilliant students, who high school was doing nothing for.

    By holding all of us to the same standards, students like us suffered. I have yet to go to college. It resembles high school in so many ways, that I honestly don't see a point. A friend of mine makes $50,000 a year waiting tables... to pay for his 5 year degree. He has turned down a job in the field he went to school for because he makes more money taking peoples sushi orders. In a society where refilling peoples drinks makes for a better living than shaping someones education, I have little hope. I have always wanted to be a teacher. English, history, music, anything at all. However, if I would be entering a job in which I was supposed to make everyone exactly the same... Well I don't think I could live with myself.

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    Replies
    1. If you are that gifted, you should find somewhere to give back. It will make your life more rewarding in the long run.

      Delete
  56. Bravo! As a 29 veteran in her last year, I ache for my colleagues who must continue on in this career and in our dysfunctional system. They are some of the most talented people with whom I've ever worked and produce amazing results with almost no resources. I feel guilty walking away from them. I adore the kids and have loved this career. I have loved inspiring and instilling deep lessons about critical thinking to government students. I have never seen as many obstacles so carelessly tossed in the way of real learning as I've seen in the past several years. And the corporatization and privatization of our public schools sickens me. I'm lucky. I have the personal resources to leave. But so many teachers are trapped in this system that disrespects them and true learning. Thanks for this letter!

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  57. I agree with everything you've said. I'm looking to find a way out because I'm feeling burned out and stressed out! Thank you for putting what we are feeling so clearly! God Bless all the teachers.

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  58. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  59. Well said. You have gathered many of the problems with the federal reforms to education. Here's one more irony. It was -- and will be -- the same under a Republican administration. Because our government is largely not run by and for the People, but by and for Corporations through their campaign donations, insider information, and lobbying. You hint at this through your remarks on privatization and testing companies. Less is accomplished through voting anymore. How do we extract this influence that is so firmly entrenched?

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  60. .
    First, I read Mr. Fitz's letter and, then, read all the comments.
    .
    Almost all of the comments are responses to Fitz's letter totally ignoring any of the other comments. So, basically, there is NO discussion going on here.
    .
    But, one of the participants, Sarah, refers you to this site:

    www.theteachermother.blogspot.com
    .
    Please. Check it out.

    .

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  61. There are many, many of us with you (as you can see by the comments.) I, too, am the "creative" teacher who students remember, and I am constantly being pushed to conform and to raise test scores and that "there is only one student." Seriously. That's their new mantra. Blog on, Brother! You might like mine too...it's about writing. www.freshhappiness.wordpress.com
    Peace.
    Laura Preble

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  62. I followed a link by a teacher I respect to your essay. "But as 2015 approaches, and the public schools have not achieved 100% success with 100% of its students, it becomes clear that the real goal, all along, was to force public schools into failure by setting impossible goals for them, and then to privatize education."

    You might show your students this as an example of poor reasoning. No education system will ever achieve 100% success with 100% of the kids. How does it follow that privatization is the goal? Non sequitur.

    I agree with much of the rest of your post, but you place a straw man right up front...

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  63. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for articulating what's been in my (silent) heart for so long now. I am in the middle of my 19th year as an English teacher in San Diego, California, and I've never seen it like this. As you said, the ironies are crushing. And you're right, my new motto is "You can't have standardization and excellence." Thank you again so much for writing this. I hope someone listens. . .besides other teachers who already know and agree.

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  64. .
    The problem with our public schools doesn't have anything to do with the sincerity or the desires of the teachers most of whom entered the profession out of an interest in the future of America's children. (Maybe I'm wrong?)
    .
    But, the problem is the interests, goals, and objectives of capitalists looking for new areas of investment to get rocketing returns. What industry promises the major investor so much as the one that is able to keep its clients dumb while it supports them as good consumers of materialism?
    .
    It never ceases to amaze me that Americans--educated to teach--are so lined up with the neoconservative movement that is out to destroy America's leading role in the world.
    .
    To quote a blogger on an other site, ".... the purpose of education is human fourishing, a bringing into excellence the intellectual capacities and moral sensibilities of the human person." ***

    How liberal is that?
    .
    ***
    www.theteachermother.blogspot. com/
    .
    .

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    Replies
    1. What, Mr. Johnson, is "human fourishing"? By the way, are you a teacher or have you ever been a teacher? I'm guessing you are not currently because you seem to be disconnected from the message throughout this blog: good teachers aren't permitted to teach to make a difference anymore. There are too many standards to cover to prepare students for standardization examination, so the teachers can be evaluated based on their scores.

      And yes, I've read every reply down to here thus far. I've ignored most of your posts because you are obviously a liberal democrat that likely favors an overhaul of the public education that made America the greatest Nation in the world and you persist with your criticism of Mr. Fitz, the voice of the public educator. Can't you find a wall street to occupy or something green to champion?

      Delete
    2. Mr. Johnson, I think you have an ironic misconception. You state that conservatives are out to destroy America's leading role in the world, when conservatism is all about exalting the leadership of America! It has not be a conservative who has been traveling the world apologizing for our country. We conservatives are proud to be American and have no desire to emulate the European model so promoted by liberals. Liberal idealism has stunted competitiveness, limited creative ability, and dumbed down the general public to the point that the average newspaper is now written at a sixth grade level or below, compared to an eighth grade level or above back in the fifties!

      Another irony in your assumptions is that American educators are conservative. I am a retired conservative teacher who found himself to be a minority when being educated, as well as, educating.

      Mr. Johnson, please take your blinders off!

      Delete
  65. This is truly one of the most well stated opinions regarding the state of our schools, classrooms, students, and teachers. Thank you for putting my feelings into words. Brilliantly written!

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  66. This article has rather eloquently articulated my rants around education for the past few years. Also, it appears to have stricken many chords with other teachers who feel that the model the country has used for over a decade is broken.

    To the trolls in the comments section:

    1. The purpose of the post is not so much to propose a solution, but to give the hopeful reader (the POTUS and Secretary Duncan) a sense of what public school teachers have been living through for a good number of years. Yes, some suggestions for improvement would be nice, but our nation's administration appears (and has appeared through this administration, and the previous one) to feel that our education system is broken, but in VERY different places that teachers feel the system is broken.

    2. With regards to "blaming Obama," I believe the author made it clear that Obama is not to blame for the situation, but has not done anything to reverse the perilous course that the Bush administration had set for education in this country.

    Before berating somebody defending teachers, please take some time to understand a teacher's position and experience - what he/she has to go through while he/she is responsible for your children.

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  67. .
    Am I a troll here?
    .
    It's good that Mr. Fitz has published his letter. It's good that many agree with it. It's just as good to light a candle as it is to complain about the darkness.
    .
    Lobbyists want to destroy the public school system.
    .
    .

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  68. Amen, sir. I've been saying this all along to questioning stares and accusations of craziness.

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  69. Perfect. Wonderfully put. So tremendously sad.

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  70. I'm a few months late to the dance here, Mr. Fitz, but your piece is outstanding!

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  71. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  72. Absolutely amazing! Truthful at best and I truly pray to god it gets our teachers and kids some attention that is truly deserved!

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  73. In NYC, our elementary school students have been subjected to a rigid, ideology-driven curriculum for the last 10 years. Very little spelling; very little grammar; very little arithmetic. As a result, very low achievement. Elementary education is not rocket science. All you really need is basic knowledge, patience and a good heart. It's 'ironic' that they have made it so complicated when it's really quite simple; that teachers are working harder but achieving less; that all the testing in the world will not make a kid smarter and will certainly not inspire a love of learning (or literature or math, for that matter) Lots of irony. Great piece of writing. Thank you.

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  74. Great, great post. It has quickly become THE topic of conversation in the English department of my high school.

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  75. Great piece of writing. I wrote much the same thing although much less succicntly, probably due to the curse of the science teacher this AM on my blog.
    The true irony is that those who carry the educational torch forward are the ones who are most likely to get burned.

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  76. Brilliant post. Our kids are falling through the cracks and the five hundred pound gorilla sitting in the middle of the classroom is being ignored. Theat gorilla is anxiety. We are creating a generation of stressed out, depressed and robotic thinkers both adding the to fall of our education system as well as our healthcare system - now that's irony.

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  77. .
    Marriane?
    .
    Anxiety?
    .
    Would you clarify that a little more, please?




    .

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  78. Alright Phil, I have read all of the comments as well, and if you want a discussion, here we go. I do like a lot of what is on that other blog, but a lot of it is anti-union rhetoric. I'm not seeing how unions are to blame here. Unions are there to protect teachers "good" and "bad" alike. It is very possible to fire a teacher, but unions make it so that a principal can't just go around firing whoever they feel like. They have to try and help a teacher that they feel like is "bad" first and help them get better. I personally like this because we spend a great amount of money on getting a degree, and lord knows I, and every other teacher I know, would have been considered a "bad" teacher in the beginning. If they could just fire me without helping me, what would be the point of going to school and paying all that money.

    I personally like when Mr. Fitz compared us with Finland. If unions are the problem, why is that Finland has such a strong teachers union and is able to do succeed so well?

    With those out there blaming republicans: all of the politicians, republican or democrat, are all the same. It doesn't matter that YOU consider yourself a democrat; the odds are pretty good that your views are WAY left of the leaders in your party. Obama could have changed anything when he was first elected and had a super-majority. When he backed all of the other democratic candidates as he was running, he could have tied that backing to anything he wanted. But the fact is, he didn't want a "change", he wanted the status quo, which is a continued move to the right. Just because you're not moving right doesn't mean your party isn't moving right. Wake up and realize that. I don't see why you would call yourself a "lifetime democrat" when the views of your party are constantly moving right. Are your views moving right too?

    We need to model our education policies off of Finland. No standardized testing. More teacher education before we start. Offer more money to entice the best and the brightest. It should be a selective process and should be viewed equally with becoming a doctor. More PAID time (once again to entice the best) to collaborate with teammates and plan solid lessons that are not based off of standardized anything. If you want the best, you have to let them use their brains. I could go on, but I'll stop there for now.

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  79. I should have also mentioned, amazing piece of writing Mr. Fitz. I published something similar to this not too long ago, but man, it was definitely not this well written.

    And stop correcting a few grammatical errors people and comment on the content. I'm anal too, but my goodness; I'm not that bad. When did a few little grammar mistakes become more important than content?

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  80. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  81. .
    Kyle:

    I don't identify with either party.
    .
    Unions are definitely necessary, for the reasons you gave as well as for others.
    .
    I am on record that teaching children is the highest and should be the most honored of all professions.
    .
    Publicly funded schools have little if any business in serving the interests of capitalism.
    .
    .
    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - THE ARROW AND THE SONG





    I shot an arrow into the air,
    It fell to earth, I knew not where;
    For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
    Could not follow it in its flight.

    I breathed a song into the air,
    It fell to earth, I knew not where;
    For who has sight so keen and strong,
    That it can follow the flight of song?

    Long, long afterward, in an oak
    I found the arrow, still unbroke;
    And the song, from beginning to end,
    I found again in the heart of a friend.

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  82. Phil,

    Is your primary point that public schools become divorced from capitalistic models? I mean "capitalistic models" in the more modern sense, as in what industry is asking from graduates (ya know...the stuff that helped prompt the "state standards" movement?), as opposed to the industrial era model that schools were built upon.

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  83. .
    My point is that America needs to be involved in a national discussion regarding the purposes of public education--especially for the children.
    .
    I'm just one person and I am dissatisfied with the system as it now stands.
    .
    .

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  84. The "irony" of public education is that they are not designed to enrich the student to become a more fulfilled person. It is by design a Prussian education system designed to produce soldiers and workers, not free a people.

    Due to this irony I have chosen to raise my children as a free people and teach them what the schools systems refuse to: the student is responsible for themselves and they are not a victim of circumstance, show the student the difference between a sensus solum and a sensus plenior education, to show the student how our country was founded on judeo-christian principles (another irony of the school system, if this confuses you then you do not understand sensus solum vs sensus plenior), this country was founded by entrepreneurs and that if we are to survive as a free people we must create businesses and not hope for jobs, to be fiscally responsible (government institutions cannot teach what they do not practice), and teach them that they can solve their own problems by seeking a mentor, reading books that deal with root issues (character topics based upon timeless principles) of problems in a persons life, and getting them around successful (financially successful, not typical corporate America) people as much as possible.

    I know as teachers many of you will find fault with what I am teaching my kids. That is the main problem with the public school system is they are not teaching kids what needs to be taught to turn this ship we call America around. I encourage any of you who have the guts to check out Oliver DeMille here: http://oliverdemille.com/ He is not my sole source of information, he has condensed what it will take to turn the ship around make America great once again.

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  85. It is a very well written letter, but unfortunately does not offer any solutions. Without suggestions as to what to do about the problem, it is just another teacher complaining.

    I have no doubt that excellent teachers are frustrated in an environment that is politically motivated and ultimately does not serve the needs of our students.

    I also hear that tests are not the way to measure success in the classroom. Teaching to the exam does not work. However, there has to be a way to evaluate performance. Without measurement, real change cannot occur. How do you improve if you don’t know what’s lacking? How do you help teachers perform better without some sort of measurement/evaluation? Finally, there must be consequences for bad performance.

    The movement towards privatizing education is happening because the “market” (parents) wants their children to go to good schools. The public schools are burdened with bureaucracy and politics. Parents don’t have time to wait for a slow marching system to change. It is simpler just to go to a private or charter school. Their children can’t wait for theoretical change to occur.

    I am a proponent of the public system. I believe that real change can occur if all the players are part of the process of change. It is time to stop telling everyone what is wrong with where we are. It is time for all stakeholders to offer real suggestions to improve schools.

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    Replies
    1. Tom-
      Unfortunately, for all "stakeholders" to offer real suggestions to improve schools, that would involve intelligent people. As one that has worked for a school and now works for a government agency, I can tell you that there are not a lot of intelligent people out there anymore.
      I completely disagree with your first statement that Mr. Fitz is just another teacher complaining. For people that have never been more involved in the public education system than to just send their kids, this letter may come of use. A lot of parents, don't have any idea how public school and the public education system really affect their children.
      As far as a solution goes for the problems with today's public education system, here are a couple. First, it shouldn't be allowed for anyone without an education background to make a law regarding education. Law makers have no idea what the laws they pass actually do to our schools. Secondly, parents need to hold their children accountable. Our society today is so "sue-happy" that the kids are not held accountable for anything they do. I know that if I brought home even a "B" on a grade card, I was grounded until it came up. The standards for this generation are much lower than they should be, or that they were even just 10 years ago.
      As far as measuring success without testing, in work situations, how do you know that you succeed? Are you tested everyday with the training you were given? It is called practicality. You teach a child something, and then show them how to use it in everyday life. Don't just put a paper with questions in front of them and a pencil in their hands. Make them SHOW you, not TELL you. When teachers are taught how to teach, they are taught to SHOW not TELL. It is the same for authors of Best Sellers. Do you think that an author of a Best Seller would get anywhere if they just TOLD you a story, of course not!
      I have family still in the public education field, and I feel sorry for them that they have to jump through the hoops that they have to. Public education is far too political, trying to satisfy the MAN, and not the child literally. Whatever happened to creativity and imagination? These are two very important things that are just not taught today. What a shame.

      Mr. Fitz-I thank you very much for writing this letter. I do hope that you send it on, and that the "Powers that Be" are not to stubborn and full of themselves to not read it. Congratulations on a very well written letter.

      Delete
  86. .
    Maybe Mr. Fitz has something to say?
    .
    A new article seeking input about solutions?
    .

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  87. I think the author said it all when he posited that the aim of educational reform was to destroy public education. Too many people are far too dismissive of such a claim.

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  88. .
    Analyse that, TStanley.
    .
    Suppose it is true. Why would anyone want to destroy public education?
    .
    Huh?
    .

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    Replies
    1. Within the context of a "privatized" state funded system of education:

      1) Teachers are more malleable. Maybe this is one way to sneak in more mentions about "intelligent design" vs. something founded in more scientific fact?

      2) Administrators are more malleable. See #1 and let your imagination go with respect to the right wing nut jobs we have floating around this country.

      3) I bet "prayer back into schools" comes along with #1 and #2. Let those pernicious atheists make their own little "godless" schools.

      4) If you are convinced that educating your kids with "those kids" is against all that is good in America, a privatized system of education is just the ticket. Being "zoned" to a school means nothing in such a scenario.

      In a sentence, everything the right wing has been unable to win in court in the last half century they'll have handed to them post-public school destruction with the replacement system of school choice and vouchers.

      Delete
  89. Thanks for confirming that I am not the only one who has lost countless hours of sleep over these ironies which you so eloquently captured.

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  90. I found your statement regarding the "demanding excellence, but telling us how to teach" statement spot on. They want both ways but everyone knows you can't have it both ways. Obama failed to do as he promised and improve education in a meaningful way.

    I'm currently working towards my online Master of Education degree at this site: http://www.cu-portland.edu/ and as a future teacher, I am deeply concerned with the direction of education in this country.

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  91. As a parent of two, one a college junior and one a HS senior, I am grateful for my children's public school education in a small, rural district in western NY state. Having volunteered as a parent on District committees, worked as a classroom aide, and now as a school board member, all of Mr. Fitz's comments ring true. I remember my incredulity in attempting to comprehend NCLB, trying to understand what it meant to say that by a given point in time, all students would be at or above grade level (100% success with 100% of students.)

    My own children are among those top students who not only needed but actively sought challenges, and they've been blessed to have public school teachers who found ways to creatively engage and educate them while implementing ever-increasing curricular and testing mandates. Supplementing that, we as parents did not allow them (or ourselves) to disparage that education or the efforts of those providing it.

    What is public education? It is the institution tasked with educating not only those who choose or can afford to attend, but every child in the U.S., and to do so under never-ending restrictive and underfunded mandates. Teachers, please do not leave your profession! You are the ones on the front lines who continue to impact every child, every day. My childrens' public school teachers are heroes.

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  92. Hey, everyone. I'm finally attempting to post my own comment here. (I've tried a couple of times before to post a comment to my own blog, only to get rejected somehow-- talk about your ironies!)

    I posted this in September, and it felt good to get it out of my system. I had a few people who'd read it, but no more than a few dozen. I'm not sure what happened this weekend, but this post is now rapidly headed for 40,000 views-- most of them since last Friday..I am absolutely stunned. I have published books and have a comic strip in my local paper, but this single essay is probably the most-read piece I have ever written.

    Thanks for pointing out my small typos. As I've discovered in publishing books, it is very, very difficult to eradicate every single mistake, even when working with editors, senior editors, and copy editors. Somehow little things manage to slip through. Thanks, also, to those of view that have come to my defense in the debate. If you read my other blog posts (not many have-- some are still languishing with views in the teens-- that's some nice humble pie for me), you'll see that I do offer some solutions, but that wasn't my focus here. My focus here was on why I'm so frustrated I sometimes wonder how much longer I can stay in the profession. I should have ten years left. That seems like a tremendously long time right now.

    As for blaming Obama, I only singled him out because this was inspired, as I said by the Facebook page, "Teachers Letters to Obama." I have often said that there is only one area of American politics where we have agreement across the political spectrum: education-- and both sides have come down on the wrong side of the debate.

    I am absolutely wowed that I touched such a nerve here, as it seems that I have. I posted this as an open letter, but it seems to me now that I should print this post out, possibly with the comments included and a count of the number of hits it's received, and send it by snail mail directly to the White House.

    Someone who re-posted this blog called the same old defense of the status quo. Nothing could be further from the truth. But change for change's sake is not necessarily good change, and change made for the wrong reasons can be very, very destructive. I am extremely happy my own two kids are teens, one a junior, one a freshman, and just about ready to escape the whole standardized system. I think we do need changes. I think that we do need to help our lowest students do better, but sending them to intensive skill and drill classes of test prep isn't the way to do it. We need to look at what makes our most successful students successful, and try to recreate some of those conditions for everyone. We need to change our definition of "student achievement" from test scores to real accomplishments. I'm proud of my son's 99th percentile PSAT scores. I'm even prouder of the two novels we've co-written (Portents and the soon to be release Portals-- check them out!) Watch a Sir Ken Robinson video. You'll get the idea. At this point, testing IS the status quo.

    If you enjoyed this blog, please check out the comic strip. I don't make much money from doing it-- I do it as a form of therapy (like the blog), and because I'm hoping to change the way people think about teachers, education, and students. I also hope to make people laugh. We need more laughter-- including in our classrooms.

    Thanks to all of you who have commented and told me this post was meaningful to you. It helps me know that I am not alone, and that I am not crazy.

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    Replies
    1. Can't find the novels--can you direct me please?

      Delete
    2. The first is Making My Escape, published by a very small publisher and unfortunately with some typos left intact (I never got to do a final galley proof). Nonetheless, I'm very proud of it, and am reediting it... It's at http://www.amazon.com/Making-Escape-David-Lee-Finkle/dp/0943864461.

      My son and I self-published Portents at Lulu.com and have had a blast in it. It has some educational satire in the midst of its fantasy/spy-fi/sci-fi: the kids take a test called the Federal Assessment and Review Test. I'll let you figure out the acronym. It's available here:
      http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/portents/11167480
      We are about to publish the sequel, Portals, later this month! Thanks for your interest!

      Delete
    3. You are so right about the politics of the issue. None of the politicians have a clue about how to "fix" education. The problem with education system is just that. It is a huge system that has outgrown its usefulness. We began losing ground when the federal government took charge so that education could be "standardized" from city to city and state to state. Now we have ineffective cookie cutter schools with cookie cutter teachers and cookie cutter students resulting in a lot of broken misfits of all.

      Delete
  93. This is a defense of the status quo because you do not provide solutions. You criticize the only objective way to measure.

    The only real reform will be Vouchers. Let all schools compete to get the parents to send their children. You can send your children to the school of your choice. A good public school will continue to get students. Failed teachers union ghetto schools will fade and die because no one wants to send their children.

    Obama sends his girls to private school, DC schools suck. President Bush passed the DC Voucher so poor children had the same opportunities to go to better schools. Several of the kids went to Obama's elite Sidwell friends. The union thugs played their payback card and forced Obama to cancel the voucher. Who does Obama care about, union money or opportunities for black children? Guess!

    Who do you care about? Watch "Waiting for Superman" It is not produced by conservatives. Even some liberals see through the teachers union.

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    Replies
    1. JoeS,
      Again, my scope here was not, in this one piece, to solve all of education's problems, but to explain why what is happening to the public schools and public school teachers is frustrating teachers-- and not just low-performing ones. Before we can have a solution, we need to talk about what the purpose of education is. My objection to standardized tests is not necessarily the tests themselves, but the insane focus we now have on them. And how do you know they are objective?

      You'll also note that I did not get into a Liberal/Conservative debate here. Politics as such do not interest me that much, nor do unions. I have not, and will not, talk about my own political party here, just as I don't in class. That only serves to turn some people against my ideas instantly. Should it be easier to get rid of a really dreadful teacher? Yes. Can we fire our way to an excellent school system? No. The only teachers I hear talking about leaving are the very best ones, and for the reasons I list in this essay. We need to start defining what excellent teaching is, find out what attracts excellent teachers to the profession, and then work to keep them.

      Everyone wants to talk about ghetto schools and bad teachers. No one is addressing the fact that the profession is seeing a quiet, slow hemorrhage of great teachers, I suspect for the reasons I list here. As for vouchers and Charter Schools, the focus of Waiting for Superman, Charter Schools have been proven to be no more effective at boosting "objective" scores than most public schools, and in some cases do worse. If you've read the comments, you know one reader invited me to teach at charters schools because the teachers there have more autonomy and freedom. If that's what makes charters schools better, why are we micromanaging public school teachers?

      My purpose in writing this piece was explain why I'm so frustrated, not to offer solutions. But we can't find solutions until we define what the real problem is. Low test scores are a symptom of deeper problems. We need to find out what those problems are, and try to solve them, not simply view low test scores as the problem. And making the nation's very best teachers want to leave the classroom shaking their heads in dismay and despair is not a solution. It is a problem. And no one is acknowledging that it is happening.

      Thank you.

      Delete
    2. Vouchers and lottery systems (Waiting for Superman) would not be considerations if all schools were created equal-and they are not! In order to go to these "special schools" students and parents have to make extraordinary sacrifices in order to travel to these wonderful schools. My public school teachers should be able to be just as creative, accessible, and knowledgeable as the ones at private and charter schools. Many children are still "left behind" (and teachers too) with these choices in play.

      Vouchers lead to a different form of segregation. There are only so many to go around, and after a while, those who have the means will move their children from these schools that were so "great". And then, who is left at the home school after those able to secure vouchers move out? Hmmm?

      Delete
  94. I'm curious to know what your thoughts are on the Finnish school system: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/what-americans-keep-ignoring-about-finlands-school-success/250564/. This is not a question regarding politics but rather on effectiveness. Thank you for your years as a teacher and for writing this letter.

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  95. .
    After reading one of the linked articles regarding educaiton in Finland, it goes without question that America leadership must pay serious attention to everything Findland has done since mid-twentieth century and is doing up to the moment in educaiton.
    .
    Practically speaking—and Finns are nothing if not practical—the decision meant that goal would not be allowed to dissipate into rhetoric. Lawmakers landed on a deceptively simple plan that formed the foundation for everything to come. Public schools would be organized into one system of comprehensive schools, or peruskoulu, for ages 7 through 16. Teachers from all over the nation contributed to a national curriculum that provided guidelines, not prescriptions. Besides Finnish and Swedish (the country’s second official language), children would learn a third language (English is a favorite) usually beginning at age 9. Resources were distributed equally. As the comprehensive schools improved, so did the upper secondary schools (grades 10 through 12). The second critical decision came in 1979, when reformers required that every teacher earn a fifth-year master’s degree in theory and practice at one of eight state universities—at state expense. From then on, teachers were effectively granted equal status with doctors and lawyers. Applicants began flooding teaching programs, not because the salaries were so high but because autonomy and respect made the job attractive. In 2010, some 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots, according to Sahlberg. By the mid-1980s, a final set of initiatives shook the classrooms free from the last vestiges of top-down regulation. Control over policies shifted to town councils. The national curriculum was distilled into broad guidelines. National math goals for grades one through nine, for example, were reduced to a neat ten pages. Sifting and sorting children into so-called ability groupings was eliminated. All children—clever or less so—were to be taught in the same classrooms, with lots of special teacher help available to make sure no child really would be left behind. The inspectorate closed its doors in the early ’90s, turning accountability and inspection over to teachers and principals. “We have our own motivation to succeed because we love the work,” said Louhivuori. “Our incentives come from inside.”

    Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/Why-Are-Finlands-Schools-Successful.html#ixzz1jG4us2Kx

    .

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  96. This is total and complete greatness. I am posting this link to everything I can. I am also going to be researching Finland's education system. Any ideas I can bring forward can only be helpful. God Bless my fellow teachers. Keep fighting. Our kids deserve it.

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  97. Who is John Galt?

    The United States is becoming a country filled with compliant conformists ready to serve in whatever job they are assigned... and it's being created by how our government is controlling the education system. If you want to make a change - start a Revolution.

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  98. Thank you for posting this. You are so very right about having to teach a "right" way. It was for that reason I was failed twice student teaching. I wanted to challenge my students, and you can't do that anymore. Especially as a student teacher. And right now, you couldn't pay me enough to go back into the lion's den that is our public education system. Even if tomorrow they reversed every law written in the last 8 years or so and turned us into Finland. I wouldn't. And it is sad, I loved my students.

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  99. I have been teaching for 45 years, and still love it. It is important to remember that in the U.S. we do not have an educational system. We have 50 educational systems. There is no national curriculum, and it would actually be illegal for the federal government to mandate one. What the government does instead is tie financial incentives to what it thinks the states ought to do. New York is about to lose some 65 million in Federal funds because it is not using test scores to evaluate its teaching staff.

    I have watched educational "reform" over four decades. It is no accident that it is called "reform" rather than "improvement." The public school I attended in 1962 was better than nearly all public high schools in New York City today. "Reform" means "to make worse"!

    What would really have positive impact on American education has nothing to do with micromanagement of schools, greater emphasis on standardized tests, (although SOME standardized testing is certainly useful) reduced school size, (breaking one bad large high school into three bad small high schools is a popular procedure in New York) or longer school days. There is plenty of current research that shows that better teachers make a difference. We need to make teaching an extremely desirable profession. We need our best and brightest competing for teaching slots. (as in Finland) We need to pay them well, train them well, put them in front of children, and as long as they are successful, stay out of their way. Instead, we see a drive in many states to reduce teacher pensions, force teachers to pay higher health costs, and eliminate their job security. Teachers with long histories of success are being forced into methodologies that are inconsistent with their beliefs and personalities. Their are districts that expect every student in a given subject area to be learning exactly the same material on a given day. This is the opposite of what we should be doing.

    One more point - I was an assistant principal for 10 years, and it was my job to evaluate science teachers. It took me three years to get rid of an unsatisfactory teacher, and that is still typical in New York. I do believe in tenure protection, but that must be balanced by a speedy hearing process for those who are unable to do the job.

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  100. Well said Fitz & Mrs. C, but you know that no matter how many lies and ironic truths are exposed about this President, almost all teachers will still vote for Obama! That's ironic!

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  101. Here's another irony. Even as teachers are having their pay frozen and pensions downgraded, the executives of corporations who needed government bailouts in order to survive are receiving bonuses. The reason? Otherwise the good talent would go elsewhere. Why do people believe that excellent teachers don't need or want financial compensation?

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  102. I work in an SDC classroom as a para educator for students 4th-6th grade. They are tested every six weeks at their current grade levels. My boys (all-boy classroom) CRY every six weeks when these tests are administered. The tests make them feel like failures in not only the classroom, but life as well.
    We have two boys who never learned to read before this year- we are not allowed to read the language test to them. It has RUINED their desire to learn to read. I wanted to comment on how frustrating it is; however, it could not come near to how upsetting it is for my students.

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  103. .
    Mrs. C. puts it that, "In defense of Republicans, the goal is not to destroy education, but to decentralize it and have the local community involved in schools, allowing for educators to have a greater voice. It is truly the Department of Education that continues, as with all government agencies, to justify their jobs by regulating all of into ineffectiveness.
    "I taught for more than twenty years, but because of the issues listed, I retired three years early in spite of the fact that my retirement was cut in half. I worked at least 60 hours a week grading papers and making lesson plans fit the criteria, going to meetings, etc. where administration usually just kept telling us we were doing a 'great job,' but we needed to to better.
    "
    .
    I guess I understand your frustation; but, maybe it would be better to look at the bigger picture.
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    The problem with local control of education along with many other concerns, is that it ignores the need for a national standard of education. What some rural school district in Mississippi might think is proper may not be what some rural district in Vermont or Alaska may have in mind.
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    I don't think we have even started to have that discussion yet on a nationa wide basis.
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    What does it mean to prepare a child for life in New York City compared to Kokomo, Indiana? Not to defend administrators in any way.

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  104. .
    TStanley.
    .
    I think you bring up a major problem that isn't being faced.
    .

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  105. The testing industry stands to gain the most from the status quo. NCLB and now Race to the Top are a boon to test prep, administration, evaluation, and analysis. Until we insist on inviting students to be thoughtful, imaginative, creative citizens, we will continue a mediocre educational system.

    There are schools and districts that do use portifolios and writing samples as assements of student progress. There are alernative to the use of standardized exams.

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  106. Thank you so much. I am not a teacher, in fact I am currently only a college student, but as going through public education I have seen exactly what you are talking about. I can't say I can only blame President Obama however; this has been going on (in Pennsylvania) since I was in high school. However my brother is still in high school and I see the assignments he is assigned and I am appalled, it almost seems like teachers are giving up. When I was in school we were given assignments to help stimulate what we learned that day, but now it seems (as an earlier poster mentioned) that the teachers are just saying here is what you are doing now go do it at home. No teaching is going on anymore, it seems more like a game of follow the leader, and those who don't understand from the beginning are left behind. Thank you for writing this letter and I will be adding this link to my facebook for all my teacher friends to see.

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  107. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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  108. Perfect...I am a high school teacher who is bitterly dissapointed with Mr. Obama's educational poliicies....I fear too many teachers will still vote for him....I was shocked that my orginization, the NEA already endorsed him last summer without getting anything in return and without even knowing who the candidate would be on the Republican side. I put a link to your letter on my education blog: www.thewhiteboardjungle.blogspot.com

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  109. I am a Middle School History teacher of 9 years and still love my profession. When I started teaching, I had a dream of creating the ideal curriculum and then simply propagating it around the world to overhaul education. My first few years teaching were in a private school which tried to do exactly this. Although the educational level was much higher than public schools, I became imminently aware that the core of quality education is not having the best curriculum, but having the best teachers. Curriculum is decidedly easier to replicate than great teachers.

    I still do not understand how any teacher or parent (and I am both) who understands that the most important factor in education is the teacher in the classroom would ever seek centralized solutions, as such solutions can never ensure that each classroom has a great teacher in it who is empowered to make the best decisions for his classroom. Political solutions, by definition, are centralized solutions to a localized problem. It does not matter whether the centralized solutions come from government or teachers unions, they cannot ensure quality in each local classroom.

    The only viable solution, in my opinion, places the control of the classroom firmly in the teacher's hands. It is the New Zealand solution of some years back: localize the funding and the decisions in each school in the hands of the parents/teachers. In other words, the principal and teachers of each school should be solely answerable to the parents of their students, with no tenure.

    This could be achieved through the complete privatization of education, but that would be unpopular. It can also be achieved by school choice where each school receives a certain amount per student who attends and then parents can vote with their feet if they are unhappy. Unfortunately, this option is unpopular with teachers, who often don't trust parents to make sound educational choices. From my experience, parents VERY consistently request for their child to be in the classes of the most competent teachers.

    Contrary to the claims of the original letter, politicians will never favor privatization of education because that would remove it from their influence. They want to find central solutions to all of our problems, where they are the heroes who save us and are subsequently re-elected. These solutions generally involve centralizing decisions even more, which is always a detrimental to education.

    I have travelled all over the world observing great teachers, both public and private. In spite of the problems with our current system, I have even observed public, inner city school teachers like Rafe Esquith, who manage to minimize the negative impacts of standardized testing on their activities in the classroom. His students' scores on standardized testing are high because his students are learning, not because he focuses on testing like most of the other public school teachers in his school.

    Finally, I find that the "Finland Phenomenon" is possible in each classroom without necessarily fixing all the entire educational system. Yes, there are horrible schools where teachers may be restricted from the freedom of achieving this in their classroom, but quality teachers should not stay in such schools. After watching Rafe Esquith and other great public school teachers, I decided to create the Finland Phenomenon in my classroom and am impressed by how much control I have to independently make a difference.

    Let us lobby for localization of educational decision-making while doing our best to create our ideal learning environment in our own classroom.

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    Replies
    1. Brian, I love your line, "Curriculum is decidedly easier to replicate than great teachers." That sums up an awful lot of what is going on. I wish I'd had the chance to travel as you have-- I've mostly stayed in place these last 20 years. I agree in the short term that creating Finland in our classrooms is the best bet-- but without widespread support, those little Finlands will eventually be stamped out, and the teachers who created them force to comply or leave the profession.

      As for politicians wanting privatize education-- I think you are right that not all of them do. Some have admitted to wanting to privatize everything, though, either for ideological reasons, or because they may have some vested interests. I think there are a variety of political agendas out there, and that some are well-intentioned, while others are not. It's nuanced.

      I do know that parents will go out of there way to get the teacher they want. My wife and I have done it on occasion, I've also seen students desperate to get out of some teacher's classes. What I have never seen is these efforts being based on test scores, but on things that really matter: tangible, observable results (as opposed to merely measurable), the teacher's enthusiasm for his or her subject, the teacher's interaction with and ability to inspire students.

      As for giving parents more choice: that's a real conundrum. Do parents deserve a choice? Yes. Are there enough great teachers to go around? No. Are there even less great teachers now that we are attempting standardize them? Yes. So again, we are left with an irony.

      Delete
    2. Oops! There, they're, their
      LOL! Please take it in good humor, from one imperfect English teacher to another.

      Delete
  110. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  111. .
    Contrary to Brian Surkan, the successes in teaching are attributable to the student's interest in learning.
    .
    The success of private education has to do with the fact that the student can be expelled for violating the rules. So, the parents ensure the child has the correct attitude in class.
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    Of course the teachers have to be good. Or else they're gone.
    .

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  112. While I agree that the option of expulsion is important -- and works best with the legalization of child labor and elimination of minimum wage laws so that expelled students can get an honest job -- there are very few students who need to be expelled.

    The most important factor in student motivation, from my experience, is presenting the student with relevant material (i.e., no busywork) in an environment of mutual respect. That has much more to do with the teacher than with the student.

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  113. .
    Whoa!
    .
    I am hearting that a teacher with no hammer over the classroom behavior represents, pretty much, the problem existing in many of America'a public schools today.
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    What I hear from teachers I know about public school problems has to do with the lack of parental involvement.
    .
    Perhaps these are isolated situations and most parents of public school children take great interest in their child's behavior in school? But, that's not what I am hearing.
    .
    Instead, I hear--from a private school teacher--that even though she never has to use it, that hammer makes it easy for her to develop a good relaitonship with each student. And, the parents also have good relationships with the teachers.
    .

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  114. Nicely said...I am a student in high school right now and everyday I feel like its not like it used to be. Waking up in the morning to go to school has become something that students do not want to do. We blame teachers but without understanding they have no choice. I really hope someone does something about the public schools system, so at least future the future generation will not have to face these same problems.
    Very eye opening for me! Thank You!

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  115. Well written, sir. You have expressed the frustrations that many teachers face on a daily basis. One observation I will make is this: it is not in the best interests of those who truly control things to have a healthy, well-educated, critically-thinking populace. Far better, instead, to have us "fat, stressed, dumb, and docile." That way, we are more easily manipulated. I have been teaching for over a decade now, first in English, then in Music, and the fundamental truth that presents itself daily is that our problems in education are but symptoms of a greater, more systemic societal malfunction. Looking to government to solve our problems is an exercise in futility. We must be the authors of our own change, because our so-called leaders are naught but slaves themselves. In spite of all the micromanagement, we educators still have one very powerful tool at our disposal: our hearts. If we truly love children, then we will do whatever we can to do what's best for them--even if that means jumping through the hoops when the classroom door is open and doing the real work of encouraging creativity and thinking when the door is closed. I believe things will get better, but only if WE create our own small revolutions in our classrooms every day.

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    Replies
    1. Good point, R.S.-- And that's what I do. I am in total agreement with you, but I would add one concern. As new teachers come up through the ranks, and older teachers leave, these new teachers, raised and educated under the testing systems that have been in place for years, may not even be aware that's there are other, more creative, more heartfelt options. We are beginning to see it in some classrooms-- the teacher just follows orders, unthinkingly. So we can't just fly under the radar- though that's good in the short term to help the students we have now. We must also make our voices heard and call for change. Because I, and other teachers who feel the same way, won't be in the classroom forever, and what's left when we leave may be a compliant teacher force that kowtows to the new status quo...

      Delete
  116. .
    Sorry if I made a typo. "Human Flourishing".

    No, I'm not a teacher. And, I am very supportive of the Mr. Fitz letter--it is right on target.
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    I prefer progressive over liberal.
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    I believe in discipline.

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  117. The ironies revealed in this letter are precisely the ironies that are forcing me to re-evaluate my career choice. I am a 7 year teacher in a highly underfunded district. Whenever I stray away from the districts poorly constructed Assured Experiences and assessments I am made to feel guilty and ineffective. Yet, dozens of students over my short tenure have returned to visit, remarking on the usefulness of the most creative and innovative experiences in my classroom: the roleplaying, the dialouge, the debate, etc. Right now I am finding myself attempting to do it all: experiences that promote creativity, AND the assured experiences that promote academic homogeny. The result: I am burned out. And, as the above articulates perfectly, no one is listening. I fear the only reality that keeps me in the public school classroom is the socioeconomic status and the real-world potential of my students, and my desire to help them succeed. Unfortunately, the stresses of it all is starting to affect my physical and emotional health.

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  118. .
    I know full well that some of my comments are rejected out of hand by some teachers. And, that's the way it ought to be as far as I'm concerned. Hopefully, there are enough open minded participants here so that some of my comments are taken with interest.
    .
    The idea that privatizing education is the way to go is one of the most serious issues with which our society is faced today.
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    Consider the differences between our rights of equality as citizens compared to our rights of equality as individuals in civil society. The Declaration of Independence declares we are equal as citizens. Everyone knows that the right to be successful in any endeavor is far differrent that our ability to be successful.
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    So, if education can be privatized, then does a citizen's right to education fall under their identity as a citizen or does it fall under their right as an individual, that is, you can be educated as long as you can afford it?
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    Maybe I don't articulate my point very well as it doesn't seem to be a very popular one.
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    I'd sure like to know what some educated educaters think of it.
    .

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    1. In fact, the Declaration of Independence declares that individuals are created equal. There is no "right" to be successful in any endeavor. There is only a right to pursue one's happiness with the opportunities available. There are no equal outcomes.

      Rights come with responsibilities. When we become parents, it is our responsibility to educate our children. Abdicating that responsibility to a controlling bureaucracy that has become little more than a jobs program is the height of irresponsibility. We see the effect on our citizenry and it's far past time to face the truth.

      Claiming a right just because someone else can be coerced to fulfill that right is an act of hubris.

      Delete
  119. I was moved by your letter. Both of my parents were teachers and told me not to do it. They knew back then that the red tape would just get worse. They both taught high school and I was aiming for younger kids, so I didn't pay attention. As a Kindergarten teacher for almost a decade, I can tell you that it is no longer fun. My philosophy has always been to help children enjoy learning and help set the foundation for the remainder of their school careers. If you hate going to school in Kindergarten, then it's going to be a long 13 years. We do not even have time to allow the children to play and develop social skills, which is an entirely different letter that can be written. I do teach in a charter school. We are forced into the same standardized testing molds as the public schools but with less resources and dramatically less pay. Many charter school teachers dream of getting positions in the public schools so they can afford to pay the rent and have some sort of retirement. I personally am considering a different path for myself. It crushes me to know that I am not happy in the classroom anymore. 19 of my 20 students (yes we advertise classes will not be larger than 18) were requests. I have such a reputation as a Kindergarten teacher that I feel I can not live up to any longer.

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  120. What do you expect from a centralized, top-down, government controlled system? If you decry standardized testing, why advocate for a national standard? A system like this is the very prescription for abolishing creativity and excellence. It is the perfect blanket to smother human potential.

    If you decry this failed system, why advocate for it's continued existence through an ever bigger tax burden on the people for whom this system supposedly serves?

    The answer is obvious. Private schools and home schooling. Competition to drive excellence. The question to you teachers is, do you really want to positively influence human potential or do you just want to maintain the public school system as a jobs program? This is where we see who is truly in it for the development of children's minds.

    Think outside the statist box. You can start here: http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/ You can read "The Underground History of American Education" at the site.

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  121. .
    I've been wrong in the past; so, maybe I'm wrong again.
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    It seems to me that the only benefits with these educational regulations are going to private school systems and the people who can afford to send their children to such schools. The public school system is being destroyed. It sure seems as though it is being done purposely to advance the fortunes of private schools and those they serve.
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  122. Phil, I believe you are wrong on this particular issue. Most parents, even those who can afford private schools, don't send their kids to private schools to either destroy public school or enrich private schools. They do it because they believe it's in the best interests of their children.

    The public school system is falling apart simply because it's a model for failure. And yet, it's held together by the coercive fist of government and the unions. If we grant that it should be all about the kids and parents are, far away, the best advocates for their children, why are we forced to throw more and more money at diminishing returns? Why do we put up with disgruntled teachers and poorly educated kids? Why do we continue to assume that public school is the answer? It's because the power, control and the money serve a purpose. Think about what the purpose is. Does it serve children and their families? Evidently not.

    Where is the money and power really going? Where could the money possibly be better utilized than in the hands of parents to use for the betterment of their own children? Parents can see the tightening of regulatory control and yet their children are ever more poorly educated. How can one begrudge them any and all alternatives?

    In my mind, the primary objective is to give our children the tools to learn and to put them on a path to realize their potential. If you remember the primary objective, the answer is clear.

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  123. I enjoyed reading your post. It was well done and educational for me. Just a couple of sincere questions: Why does the Federal Government even need to be involved in education at the local level? Why do we have a Dept. of Education? If we as a country decide it's a good thing to have a Dept of Education, then what should their role be? Should we simply b paying for bureaucrats to move money around? What value do we get from that?

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  124. .
    Headspace: Phil, I believe you are wrong on this particular issue. Most parents, even those who can afford private schools, don't send their kids to private schools to either destroy public school or enrich private schools. They do it because they believe it's in the best interests of their children.

    Phil: Of course parents are not out to destroy public education. And, of course they send their kids to private schools for their best interests. That's exactly the point, isn't it"

    Headspace: The public school system is falling apart simply because it's a model for failure. And yet, it's held together by the coercive fist of government and the unions. If we grant that it should be all about the kids and parents are, far away, the best advocates for their children, why are we forced to throw more and more money at diminishing returns? Why do we put up with disgruntled teachers and poorly educated kids? Why do we continue to assume that public school is the answer? It's because the power, control and the money serve a purpose. Think about what the purpose is. Does it serve children and their families? Evidently not.

    Phil: Lobbying is a powerful force. If public schools are a "failure" then the alternative is obvious.

    Headspace: Where is the money and power really going? Where could the money possibly be better utilized than in the hands of parents to use for the betterment of their own children? Parents can see the tightening of regulatory control and yet their children are ever more poorly educated. How can one begrudge them any and all alternatives?

    Phil: You seem to be pretty well conditioned to be ready to turn public education over to private injvesting. Then what?
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    Headspace: In my mind, the primary objective is to give our children the tools to learn and to put them on a path to realize their potential. If you remember the primary objective, the answer is clear.

    Phil: But, the primary objective of private investments is for profit. So, what is the answrer you say is clear? Actually,the answers are pretty murky. There is a lot of discombobulation going on. But, in the final analysis, it's all about dumbing the underclasses down and giving the competitive edge to th privileged upperclasses.

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  125. I hear this from my wife at the end of every working day. Speaking as a retired manager, my job was not to tell my staff how to do something unless they asked for help. Managements job is to give talented people the tools they need an let them do what they do best. Anything less is arrogance.

    Seems as though everyone has an opinion about how educators can do a better job of teaching our children. If "everyone" is so smart, why are our children suffering from inadequate education? If "everyone" is so smart, let's tell our doctors, lawyers, and physicists how to do their jobs. Let's get out of the way of our teachers teach.

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  126. NON-TEACHER/PARENT PERSECTIVE:
    I appreciate this essay and the many teacher replies because they gave me a fresh perspective on what my childrens' teachers are coping with. I have sensed, as I have approached them with individual student concerns, that most teachers have a desire and interest in helping, but feel completely overloaded and unable to do more. But most try anyway. And most of their extra efforts have positive impact. I am grateful.

    I can tell teachers care, but I can tell they are busy. Now I see more clearly what bogs them down. I value knowing teachers' frustrations, because these people are investing HOURS in my kids, and I care about what they think and feel! I even pray for my kids' teachers at times. And I want to be supportive of their needs. An essay on "solutions" would not have given me the same insight and understanding. Thanks, Mr. Fitz.

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  127. "YOU CAN STILL BE A CHRISTMAS TREE; YOU JUST CAN'T TURN ON YOUR LIGHTS." Our local elementary received title 1 funding a few years ago. A new administration was installed that required teachers to eliminate many hands-on teaching techniques in favor of more reading and test-prep. Even in-class science experiments were eliminated. The principal said they should be reading about science instead! The purpose, she said, was to elevate reading levels -- so that testing would be higher, so that Title 1 funding would continue.

    My kids got so bored, we switched to a charter school. MANY seasoned, respected teachers also transferred to a different school, where they hoped they could teach more creatively as they desired.

    I told one teacher that, from what I was observing, the principal was saying "You can still be a Christmas tree. You just can't turn on your lights, or have any decorations." In other words, I saw the sparkle snuffed out of some really tremendous teachers. So they left. And we did too. Now I see that this was all just an implementation of NCLB and other government interventions that have damaged education.

    Our charter school is much better, we have generally loved it ... except for the standardized tests and the time spent to prepare for them! Now I know where to put my voice.

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  128. .
    Pretty good metaphor, Nicole.
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    The overall effect seems to be that publicly funded K-12 educational system is being relagated to the scrap heap. Teachers end up being little more that guards keeping the underclasses down. While great teachers end up working in private schools for smaller pay checks and reduced benefits.
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  129. .
    70,000 HITS! WOW!!
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    YOU have got something going, Mr. Fitz.
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  130. Thank you for putting into words exactly how I feel as a third year teacher. My content specialist acknowledged my desire to be creative, but told me I had to follow the curriculum so we could have our data for our students. It makes me so sad and frustrated. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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  131. Everyone out there spread this letter it is FANTASTIC
    Maybe if we keep it going the White House will see it

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  132. From an English teacher of the intellectually gifted, "Word."

    What is happening in education today is so insane that my peers and I have despaired first at divining it, second at believing it, and third at articulating it. We have further despaired when our growing cries have been contemptuously dismissed prior to investigation. Yet, public, press, and politician together perpetuate a dogmatic image of education that simply will not die. It is a dogmatic image of education as broken, a dogmatic image of teachers as incompetent, and a dogmatic image of reformers as saints. The attendant ironies are indeed profound--and alarming.

    You speak well for us all--and more broadly for that life-affirming vision of America that has perhaps never been so endangered as now, for the current crisis in education extends well beyond the classroom, well beyond a simple state of ignorance. History knows well what mean calamities await a country when darkness falls.

    None of us wish to sacrifice our jobs, to risk our mortgages, to subject our families to the ravages of hunger, Yet, the conclusion is clear. These are again such times that we dare not shrink from the service of our country.

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  133. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  134. Mr. Fitz,

    I read this and was very pleased that someone has said everything I've been wanting to say for a while now. I was a substitute teacher for about 6 years before quitting, for personal reasons. I've seen how hard these teachers work to educate our children in order to make and preserve a better future for this world. It sickens me that government officials feel they know what's best when it comes to education. They obviously don't. I like your comparison to Finland. I hope that strikes a chord with someone. We're too busy trying to compete with other countries to fully grasp and comprehend what it is they actually do to have better educated individuals. What they actually do is TEACH and I don't mean teach test taking skills, which is all that I see going on. I have a daughter who is a freshman in high school and a son who is 5th grade. Both are above average intelligence, yet my son seems to struggle with the idea of school more than my daughter. He has an IQ of 136. Here is the problem: he doesn't do his classwork or his homework, yet he scores high on tests. That may seem like a dream for most parents, but it's not. The problem is that he's not being challenged so he's learning poor study habits which, in turn, will hurt his future education as things do become more difficult as he progresses. I do not want my son to be one of those gifted students who drop out of high school and become employee of the month at McDonald's for the rest of their lives. I want him to succeed. He is a truly brilliant child and has a potential that could change the world...if he is allowed to learn more than just how to take a test. Yes. He scores 5's on all his FCAT's, but how long will that last before he tires of that and decides to "Christmas Tree" the tests? Where will his school be then? The schools have become so concerned about their own scores because the government has made it clear to them that if they don't perform well, they lose funding. They have forgotten the most important thing about education...progress. The government wants us to progress as a country. That will NOT happen if all we do is focus on how well our students test. Real life isn't about testing. It's about interacting, observing, and creativity, as you correctly stated. How is test taking any of those things? How often have any of our government officials had to sit down during the course of their duties and take a test? I'd wager NEVER. If they would simply look at their own careers and what their job entails, they would be able to figure this out. But they don't. It's all about money. Well, my friends, if you educate our future leaders better, and that means actually spending money on their education and teaching them real-life skills that will actually be applied in real-life, you will have your money. You have to spend money to make money and right now they've stopped spending on education. We all know where this is going, don't we? So again, Mr. Fitz, I say thank you. I only hope and pray someone is listening and thinking about what you've said. I fear for the future of our children, our country, and our world. Mrs. Crystal Stevenson (please excuse the typos)

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    1. I'm glad you're pleased, Crystal. If only we had a system where I didn't feel a need to say it!

      David

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  135. Your letter so eloquently expresses the frustration that I have been experiencing the last few years. I'm to the point where my spirit is slowly being wittled away, especially as I am a very creative teacher. Prior to my position as a public school music teacher, I was employed at a Charter school, and I can assure you that scripted teaching and data collection began with the Charter school movement. My spirit completely died in this environment where being talented and creative, in addition to being an EXCELLENT teacher were completely unappreciated. As a matter of fact, I was marked down for being that way. And now for the ultimate irony: I find myself in the same situation. My dream job has turned into a nightmare, and I find myself in the throws of yet another death. I'm not sure what type of irony you would label my concluding remark, but it is ironic that I returned to school as an adult (and practically went broke to do so), so that I could change over from being a classroom teacher to beginning a new career as a music teacher. In the creative arts, testing and data collection have commenced and now my music classroom, which has served as a respite during the day for children to be creative and expressive, is being morphed into an academic subject. This is only the tip of the iceburg. I could write pages upon pages. I appreciate your blog and being able to share.

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  136. .
    Hello, Cathy.
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    What heart rending your letter speaks about. I am so concerned for what portends for the future.
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    I don't think it is "just by chance" that so many teachers are in line with your thinking. And, I wonder about that. Is there some purpose afoot to demoralize the very people charged with the enlightenment of our children as they grow through their formative years as citizens? I'm concerned that it is part of the purposeful dumbing down of America. But, why? To what purpose?
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    And, on the obverse, are there school that are doing the good you expected? What about the religious and other private schools? Are any teachers talking about that?
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  137. Mr. Fitz,

    It's interesting that your letter cites Finland's as a model education system. I've taught overseas for 15 years in some pretty exotic locations: Botswana, Estonia, Dubai and the Dominican Republic. In every school, in each of those countries, I was allowed to be as creative as I wanted to be, my salary was comparatively high, and I was respected as a teacher.

    When I came back to the US, I spent a very short time looking into teaching positions. I soon discovered that my Master's in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and years of experience did not qualify me to teach in public schools. Despite a lack of teachers in our area, I would have had to jump through a number of hoops before I could work with a single student. These requirements were both time-consuming and expensive (teaching standards test, blood text, background check, fingerprints, 20+ page applications, and, eventually, some kind of state certification). While I understand the need for many of these checks - put in place to protect children and weed out unsuitable teachers - the result was I went into the private sector and never looked back.

    I LOVE teaching, and I've never had a job I enjoyed as much as several of the teaching positions I held overseas. No matter how jaded and frustrated teachers feel, they all must have the rare connections with students that keep them in the game. Unfortunately, I found that getting in the game in US wasn't worth the effort. And judging by the comments of experienced teachers, the game here seems to have been hijacked by politicians and the testing industry.

    Thanks for sparking this discussion. I'm not sure what the solutions are, and I wouldn't be speaking from relevant, local experience. But I suspect untying funding and incentives from test results are a good start. Allowing local administrators (and peers) to award merit pay for creativity and unconventional results would also be a good idea. On a broader scale, radically increasing teachers' salaries and reducing class sizes would be great. We could do that if we spent as much on education as we do on defense.

    Best of luck getting the powers that be to listen!

    Will

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  138. I left teaching 12 years ago to start a family and all of this was just beginning. My husband is an elementary teacher and is as unhappy as I have ever seen him in his 20+ years of teaching. Every day when he leaves he'll give me a rundown of the meetings he has that day to address various issues...parent concerns, testing results, special education students, training on a a new website for teacher accountability, etc. etc. Little time is left for him to actually create, teach, plan, collaborate, assess, or just be with his classroom and enjoy the learning that is going on. In the next few years, I will be having to make a decision whether to return to the classroom. At this point, if nothing changes, I really doubt I will return. One of the best lines of your letter is "it becomes clear that the real goal, all along, was to force public schools into failure by setting impossible goals for them, and then to privatize education. They said one thing: "Let's save the schools." They meant something else: "Let's drive them to their own destruction." I never dreamed of doing anything else than being a teacher. Sadly, I think I will have to change my dream.

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    1. I've only been out of the classroom for a little over a year(also to raise my family), but it's amazing in just that amount of time how miserable so many of my teacher friends are rignt now. So much more being required by the day and some simply not getting a COL raise but many even getting their wages CUT by up to 10%. Wonder how big the but is all these politicians are taking... HA! that would be the day!

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  139. Here is a little more irony; It is not the role of the Federal Government to run and control education. The very fact that there is a Department of Education that oversees Education and makes mandates State to State is ludicrous. It is the role of the States and local boards and legislature to oversee education state to state. The influence of the federal government rests in something called Title I. How much longer before teachers are facing malpractice because we fail to meet the criteria that is being forced upon us by an entity that is not even constitutionally responsible for the legislation that governs education. In truth the Federal Government had slowly been taking control of education, because they do not believe that individual states are capable of running education. In truth President Obama through the race to the top grants is in a more manipulative position than any other president before him, including Bush. He is even controlling what local schools serve in school lunches. It is absurd, and yes, isn't it ironic that the more we attempt to do, the further away we move from the doing.

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  140. Dear Mr. Fitz,

    Thank you for your letter.

    I am an eighth year Middle and High School Math teacher and worked for the first five years in Duval County, FL. While there, I experienced exactly the phenomena you described. I am also pleased to say that one positive thing that arose from my time in Florida was access to high-quality, inspirational professional development as well as opportunities to attend national conferences and receive some tuition reimbursement that helped me earn my Master's degree. One of the additional ironies of working in a broken system is that the abundance of skills and growth resources given to teachers makes them even more painfully aware of how impossible it is to implement them in an inhospitable environment.

    Two years ago, I accepted a position teaching in another public school district. This district have an equally diverse population- my students run the gamut racially, socio-economically, and also in prior experiences and preparation- a truly heterogeneous mix. The real distinguishing factor about my new school is the relationship between administration, teachers, and parents.

    For the first time since I began, I am truly free to exercise my judgment in the classroom. I am encouraged, no, REQUIRED and inspired, to apply my creativity and training to deliver content that is rigorous, well-constructed, and student-driven. I feel limited only by my own creativity and shortcomings when it comes to designing difficult, ambiguous, and engaging tasks for my students. Our district is certainly keen on seeing that data is used to justify instructional decisions, but I believe it is the support of my administration that has made the difference between data forming a prison versus data forming a launch-pad.

    I am not writing to brag about my great school, but to point out that there is hope.
    I believe that the defining characteristic that makes my current school functional and my previous district dysfunctional schools is the trust that is developed between competent, informed leadership, competent and informed teachers, and students. It is a hard job for administration to fully support teachers in the classroom. Their jobs come and go more easily that our own and that scrutiny is as bad or worse. However, when that little leap of faith is taken, teachers blossom.

    I still fight daily student apathy and excuse-making, however, it keeps me on my toes and demands that I make the curricula relevant and meaningful. That is a challenge that revitalizes me as opposed to my former teaching assignment that provided opportunities for me feel increasingly fettered and incapable. If I return to Jacksonville, I will teach there again. I still have more tears of frustration to offer!

    Therefore, I say, keep up the good fight. Students will always be impacted by teachers that take the tough road toward meaningful instruction.

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  141. .
    Rod wrote:. "Mr. Johnson, ... You state that conservatives are out to destroy America's leading role in the world..."
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    I don't recall ever making such a statement.
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  142. Teacher of the Year was also called The Kiss of Death in the Florida County where I taught. Whoever won at the school level could be assured of getting the WORST class assignments, shifted to teach out of field, asked to teach three or more preps, asked to sacrifice his plan period to take on another class, or piled with administrative requirements involving preparing and giving pointless inservices.

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  143. This is so very sad. I recall when school was something different. Certainly it's never been flawless and there have, no doubt, always been unscrupulous goings-on within the system. Still, it's a different creature than what I remember. As a child, I wanted to be a teacher. Reading this assures me that what I'm doing is far more rewarding. I'm a homeschool mom.

    I hear what you're saying and so happy that what you want from your career is what I have. The sad thing is that neither of us "has it all". You aren't doing what you intended to do but are on the payroll (such as it may be!) while I am doing exactly what you want, but I don't get paid (monetarily) for it. Even so, I'd venture to say that I'm getting the joy, the fun, the adventure of it all and that this is the true reward.

    I have a few friends who are teachers that homeschool their own. I wish that teachers could attain their noble goals. Their hearts are in the right place. What a brick wall you've been placed against. It isn't fair.

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  144. Thank you so much for this letter. As the husband and family member of many people who have become teachers in NC, I've seen the failures of our public educational system.

    Our failure in part is that we are seeking to standardize something that can't be standardized. It is an oxymoronic concept that you can standardize the development of individuals.

    We could go through any of a hundred problems with education. But whether it is the lack of parental involvement, the complete disregard for the teaching profession in our nation, or the terrible lack of funding for education, we must ultimately face the issue that the very results we are asking teachers to produce are in complete opposition to the methods thrust upon teachers to produce them.

    That any teacher is effective is an exceptional accomplishment in today's world. And any politician that speaks as though they have the solution for education illustrates his/her immense ignorance of an issue so deeply complex with roots reaching into every facet of our society. Changing the current paradigm requires not reform, but revolution. Until then, we will simply waste a lot more money failing our children, our teachers, and the future of our nation.

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  145. Thank you for writing this! (I had a big blurb written and then it was eaten by cyberspace.) It's so wonderful to know that it's not just my colleagues and I who feel this way, but that teachers all over feel the same. I refuse to be a cookie cutter teacher. I will do what's best for my students. I know they and their parents love how my classroom runs. Thank you again, and God bless you and all my fellow teachers.

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  146. Thank you for your eloquent expression of many of the feelings I had during my 30 years of teaching high school biology in an urban school district. The love, care, and concern I had for my students and their mostly positive responses to my efforts, kept me going in spite of the ironies. I have been retired for 10 years now and as I reflect on what was a satisfying career, I do wonder how I did it.
    Your letter should be sent and resent to the President and the Education Secretary, to school board members, community activists, teacher preparation institutions, and anyone else with a concern about the state of public education in this country. Maybe if we admit there is a problem and then clearly identify its many parts, then we can begin find solutions - some of which we have known about and ignored for years.

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  147. Beth-- keep refusing to be a cookie cutter. None of us, the kids or the students, are cookies!

    Beverly-- Thanks for your comment. I only wish I'd gotten a better response when I actually sent this. I'm going to try again... Hearing from someone like you, who's been through it and come out the other side, gives me hope. I still have nine years to go... if I last that long.

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  148. Replies
    1. The only thing I would do if I won a lottery is keep teaching like I do, and use the money to fight the deformers! I'm not in life for the money.

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  149. This is very interesting letter. Just got the chance to read this while I am looking about the Obama Education program.

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  150. Your letter is still pertinent to the problems of Education.
    Well said, Sir.
    Thank you for saying it so well.

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  151. You put forth a good argument. You provided many examples of irony in the public education system to support your point. After reading this letter, I agree that testing can be stressed to heavily, but I do not think it is inherently bad, just overused. I especially noticed your accusing tone in reference to the “powers that be” through use of “you”. The diction, such as “micromanage,” “vilify,” “discourage,” and “data wrangling”, you use is very emotional. It definitely conveys your frustration with how the government handles public education.

    The details, examples, and perspectives of various groups and people you used also provide support for your assertion. For example your use of detail about the education methods in Finland and your inclusion of the perspective of testing companies made this letter better-rounded. While this letter is certainly biased, it is written in such a way that you seem credible and worth paying attention to. I thought your statement “I can’t think of a single thing going on in public education right now that makes me want to stay in my profession” was rather severe, but also indicated how serious you are about the issue of public education. Although I may not agree with everything you said, I think you made a sound argument.

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