To the presidential candidates

In a moving and passionate post, Wes Fryer forcefully challenges the “fear-driven politics” of NCLB.  

Like Wes, I rarely write about this issue.

But as legislators gather to once again discuss renewing the bill, I wonder first of all, if viewpoints of educators like many of us are being included in the picture.   It seems too often our views as educators are disregarded–it’s assumed we are just being defensive, shirking our responsibilities as schools, or hiding our heads in the sand if we criticize the policy or its implementation.  

We’re not treated as the stakeholders that we are–not treated as the experts we are–and not treated as though we can see the impact of the policy on our own schools, which of course we can, because we are there.   To lump all educators together by implying the above is to deny the individuality of teachers and to deny their intelligence about their own classrooms.

I’ve watched in dismay as my young nephew, who will sail through standardized testing with ease, wades through packets of skill drill worksheets because of the one-size all nature of teaching and also of the test.   And I wonder what he could be doing with his time instead, how much he could be learning and how much time in the twelve years of his education will be wasted preparing for tests that he would have excelled at without one worksheet or drill?

But equally importantly for his future, I worry that the presidential candidates aren’t talking about education in a real and meaningful way.  The looming spectre of NCLB is causing them to avoid the issue altogether.  

So Wes’s post has emboldened me to put these questions out there for the candidates.  Feel free to add your own.

So, to the presidential candidates–

You have a host of educators who are eager and willing to talk with you about these issues, who have ideas to discuss, experiences to talk about, and knowledge to share.  In fact, sharing across walls and boundaries is a cornerstone of educational transformation, as Kim Cofino writes about.  Web 2.0 is the great equalizer and candidates should be taking advantage of listening to many voices in education from across the blogosphere as well as in person.

Candidates, you also have a host of students who are serious and eager to share their views on education and how the new model could look.  Students like Lindsea, who writes on the student-driven blog, Students 2.0, “To teach in a neo-educational environment is to truly allow for and encourage thinking in the classroom, which means to lose the conventional boundaries of classic education. . . . ”

Students in classes like Mr. Mayo’s eagerly share the value of expanding the walls of their learning beyond conventional classrooms.  Students like Arthus, a high school student who recently hosted a live streaming chat of the New Hampshire primaries as they unfolded and who presented at the recent Educon 2.0 conference, ask why isn’t student voice considered?  Students like Cody(below), who challenged a roomful of educators at SLA with his thoughtful questions.


Where do we start?  I think the guiding principles of the recent Educon 2.0 are a great starting point.

“1) Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members
2) Our schools must be about co-creating — together with our students — the 21st Century Citizen
3) Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.
4) Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate
5) Learning can — and must — be networked.”

So candidates–what about these issues? Why aren’t you talking more about the issues below?  Why are you letting NCLB define your conversation?  (and readers, feel free to add your own questions, please!)

Teacher professional development.  This has been a neglected area for too long.   Teachers are poorly paid, work long hours, work in sometimes dangerous or dismaying facilities, and yet do not get the support or time they deserve for their own professional growth.    Teachers need and deserve to be part of learning communities, supported with life long learning opportunities, sabbaticals, smaller class loads, and weekly time for staying proficient in their own fields.   We need to invest in and value teachers, and not just as a platitude.   We have a tremendous ability to transform education by empowering and investing in ongoing, meaningful, grass-roots teacher professional growth.   There are great models out there (Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach’s work on Professional Learning Practices for example)

–A related issue is teacher retention.   How are we going to keep teachers in the field?  see above and below)  It’s not just about money.  It’s about creating environments that are vital, where teachers feel respected and valued. 

–What about student retention?   We are losing too many students, and standardized tests aren’t going to increase student retention.  We need to support school environments so vital that learning becomes “irresistible” as Mabry Middle School’s logo suggests.   We need to support innovation, creativity, smaller learning communities and excellent teaching.

–Speaking of student and teacher retention–Facilities–why aren’t candidates speaking up about some of the dismal facilities in our country?   We spend money overseas, yet some of the school buildings in this country are an aging disgrace.   How do we convey to a student their value as a person in our society when the school building we send them to every day is falling down around their ears?  We are a wealthy country and our students, every one of them, deserve beautiful, inviting, and equal public school buildings.  We need federal funding to upgrade our facilities nation-wide.   Get creative, use existing spaces, but modernize facilities so that students believe that our nation cares about them; especially students in the direst of circumstances.

21st century schools and our students–How are we moving our schools and students forward into the 21st century?  Are we looking ahead to the skills students will need five or ten or fifteen years from now?   Are we promoting global education?  Are we expecting more than the drill/practice that standardized testing leads to?   Are we expecting students who can design, think, create, collaborate?  Are we encouraging innovation in our public schools?  Or are our policies boxing them in?   Yes, we have to have some standard expectations but can we define those in such a way that they are not the only measure?  So that they are a scaffold, not a barrier?

21st century technologies–How are we addressing the needs of schools to embed 21st century technologies and networked learning?  Are schools getting enough funding for staying abreast of new technologies?  Are students getting enough opportunities to engage in transformative learning opportunities?  Are policies like filtering limiting what students have access to that is needed?   Are teachers getting the support they need to stay in touch with current best practices? 

Hope–And most significantly, are we having a conversation of hope for our schools?  Not channeling students away from public schools, or having punitive conversations, but conversations about what is possible?  Dreaming the big dreams?  Shining a light forward?  Envisioning what could be?

I’m ready to hear all of the candidates start treating the issue of education as though it is more than just a conversation about NCLB.  

It’s time to start having these discussions.   The educational community of students, teachers and parents are eager to have them. 

Let’s move forward together.

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