Obama's New Secretary of Education

Dear Mr. Duncan:

Congratulations on being chosen as our new Secretary of Education! As a former classroom teacher whose idealism was shattered after spending several years in America’s public schools, I hope you’ll be able to do something about the abysmal state of our nation’s schools.

When you testified at an Education and Labor Committee hearing earlier this year, you spoke about the need for parental involvement. I agree parental involvement helps – particularly for low-income families – but I wouldn’t focus too much on this issue. The lack of involvement is a direct result of the breakdown of the American family and reality of single-parent minority households – which is a sad set of circumstances, no doubt. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about it from your perch; it’s a sociological issue that goes beyond your job responsibilities. Besides, forty years ago parents were notoriously absent from the educational scene -- and schools functioned quite well.

Since you’ve never actually been a teacher, I thought you’d appreciate the opinion of someone who has. I hate to sound like a simpleton, but the problem with today’s schools isn’t all that complicated. There are three reasons why our education system has failed: poor discipline, low standards, and the proliferation of groupthink – which demands that teachers conform to a set of beliefs they may not share and stymies their ability to teach in the manner they see fit. I say poor discipline because teachers and administrators are no longer in charge of their schools; the students run the show. I say low standards because many educators don’t expect students to succeed academically, so they dumb down the curriculum and try to bolster students’ self-esteem instead -- which, incidentally, is a waste of taxpayer money (to the tune of $8,701 per student) since self-esteem can only be developed from meeting high expectations in the first place. Finally, the bastion of political correctness (i.e. teachers’ unions and the ACLU) that invades public schools brings learning to a screeching halt. With so many rules to adhere to, teachers are unable to utilize their own methodology in a way that could benefit students.

You and Obama argue for accountability. But who should be accountable to whom? Superintendents are supposed to oversee their administrations, but they’re rarely inside the school building. So what happens when there’s an incompetent principal or assistant principal? One year a particularly troubled eighth-grader wrote a profanity on my chalkboard and threw my personal belongings out the classroom window. My student not only got away with this, but he was never made to apologize. Instead he sauntered in to class the next day with a smirk on his face, and I had no choice but to teach him. He knew my powers were limited. Without the principal’s support, my student had me over a barrel. Moreover, today’s students know they don't have to learn anything if they don't want to. When several of my students – all of whom were friends -- failed my class one year, the administration told me I had to pass them whether they did the work or not. How do you think this made Kijana, another student of mine, feel? She was friends with the students who failed, but unlike them worked her tail off all year -- even coming to see me during lunch period – so she could pass the class, move on to high school, and not end up like her friends. What lesson do you think she learned?

I don’t mean to sound fatalistic. There is a solution to the education problem, which is this: When hiring educators, it’s critical that superintendents evaluate the candidates’ personalities -- not just their resumes. Having a Master’s degree is all well and good, but it doesn’t tell you what you need to know. What you need are educators who are strong, not weak. What you need are educators who think for themselves and understand that discipline and high standards are the only way to run a school and classroom. I know because I’ve seen it. One year I worked under a superb principal who had the teacher and kids in his palm, but he was offered a better position in another school district; and when the superintendent hired his replacement -- a pacifist, feel-good type -- I watched the school, and everyone in it, go down with the ship. Indeed, it takes a person of strong conviction -- and a good dose of hootspa -- to undo the damage that’s been done.

I never did change those students' grades, but that was my last year teaching at a public school. I remember a 30-year veteran teacher saying to me, when she heard I would not be returning the next year, “All the good ones leave.” If this is true, Mr. Duncan, then your idea to pay students to get good grades won’t work – because it’s not students who need incentive; it’s teachers. And I can assure you merit pay is not enough. No one enters the teaching profession expecting to make a great salary; what they do expect is the intrinsic reward for having provided students with the tools they need to succeed. But they can’t do this without the support of a strong administration that isn’t afraid to take a stand. I assure you that choosing people with grit and backbone is a determining factor in turning around our nation’s schools. If you hire administrators with the courage to lead, and if they in turn require teachers to raise expectations for student achievement, you’ll make a solid start toward solving our education crisis.

Good luck, and Godspeed.

1 Response to “Obama's New Secretary of Education”:

  1. fen331 says:

    hi susan, it wouldn't let me post on the one below so i post here. i think abortion should be illegal except in the case of rape or health reasons. what is civility? i say it is civil to santify humanity. Apparently the large majority can not even understand the implications or peripheral issues. "Their body their choice". this argument really justfies every homicidal murderer. It's their body their choice to shoot other people. they seem to over look how it's a short arguement. It comes down to civility. the standards we hold, and that's the liberal agenda. That's the real issue. They want no standards. They wealthy elite want child sex slaves and human body farms. it's the truth.

    we have a massive horde of people who cant even understand the simple relevance of the issues. why are the people so stupid? again, the wealthy elite. They want human slaves. Fact. Democrats never changed. They've always been this way. They're anti-christ. (anti-truth) Lies on lies and oppression and power. The oligarchy of the liberals is the true problem with the ecconomy. these people expect to be paid for being born into wealth. naturally, it will not work. Naturally. Tey don't love nature, they love greed. They speak a different language. the word smart translates to 'greedy' for the liberal. educated translates to dubious. So the children are being made into dubious people. That's the issue. why? wealthy elite want to liberate the dubious person.