Open Letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. President,

I have been extraordinarily disappointed in your administration’s approach to public education. As a life-long Democrat, I am appalled that you and others have given in to the corporatization and privatization of public education. In the name of “equity” and “civil rights,” your administration has pursued some of the most destructive policies ever in terms of their effects on low-income children, children of color, children with disabilities and children who are English language learners.

When I listened to your announcement, all I could think was, “Have you no idea what your Secretary of Education has done for the last 7 years?” All the things you criticized are a *direct result* of Arne Duncan’s test-and-punish Race to the Top! No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was bad enough, but your administration took advantage of states’ devastated finances in the wake of the Great Recession and bribed them to adopt the Common Core ‘State’ Standards (financed by Bill Gates and largely developed by representatives of testing companies) and to tie teacher evaluations to test scores, in a move that even the American Statistical Association disagreed with.

What on earth is wrong with you people? As an expert on child and family poverty, I know – as should you – that family income is the single best predictor of test scores. Given that, how can you possibly justify the shuttering of schools across the country on the basis of test scores? Isn’t it obvious to you, as it is to so many of us, that you are punishing children who had the misfortune of attending a school where almost all of the kids come from low-income families, many with single parents who work multiple jobs, some with parents who are abusing alcohol or drugs, some who are homeless, some who experience violence on a regular basis???

Apparently, despite all the rhetoric, you, Mr. President, have absolutely no idea what hell your DOE has wrought on children in low-income urban schools – yes, Mr. President, children. Kids who are 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 years old. In the best case scenario, low-income children here in New York City have had their curricula narrowed, even further than it was before, to focus on test prep. In the worst cases, schools have been closed and whole communities have been left to grieve and cope, without better options.

The bottom line is that your announcement made clear that you personally have no idea what your DOE is doing. You can read the words that staff prepare for you, but in this case, those words made it all too clear that you are completely and utterly detached from the realities of public education.

You have one year left to make this right, Mr. President. I can only hope that you will see fit to make it so.

Most sincerely,

Nancy K. Cauthen, PhD
NYC school parent since 2002