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NSBA Presidents Letter to Obama Asking for a National Dialogue on Public Educations Direction

NSBA Presidents Letter to Obama Asking for a National Dialogue on Public Educations Direction

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Published by: lps2001 on Apr 22, 2012
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 National School Boards Association
1680 Duke Street - Alexandria, Virginia 22314-3493 - (703) 838-NSBA - FAX: (703) 683-7590 -http://www.nsba.org
April 17, 2012President Barack ObamaThe White House1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NWWashington, D.C. 20500Dear President Obama:The night of your election, in Grant Park, you said, "I will listen to youespecially when we disagree." We are all committed to the besteducational future for the children of America. Yet, as the nation prepares for thereauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), school boardmembers and top educational thinkers overwhelming urge abandoning the current“command-and-control” federal educational oversight. America’s treasure lies inunleashing the creativity of our youth. Though well-intentioned, the current federaldirection is ignoring and working against much of what we know about studentmotivation and achievement. Instead, the federal government should support localefforts to ignite curiosity, creative potential, and a drive for excellence among studentsand staff.
Working with and throughour State Associations,NSBA Advocates for Equity and Excellence inPublic Education throughSchool Board Leadership
Throughout my presidency of the National School Boards Association, I have travelledto many states and written for our national journal and asked for input to this letter.School board members and educators across the country have contributed their thinkinghere. We share your sense of urgency: We must give every child, no matter theircircumstances, the opportunity to excel. We must ensure high quality experiences soeach child develops fully. Our major disagreement comes from how we go about thistask.We want for each American child the same things that you and Michelle want for Sashaand Malia—inspiration, aspiration, creativity. I know you don’t want an overemphasison testing. I have heard you say it. Experience in schools and communities, supportedby research, tells us that relentlessly focusing on standardized tests erodes our nationalcompetitiveness and deadens curiosity and drive. Clearly, we need some testing to gaugestudent learning, and we have no problem with appropriate accountability. But we haveswung to a far extreme that is significantly hurting children. “Students are numbing overtesting for testing’s sake…. We can’t test this country into excellence.” (Sonny Savoie,LA)Other countries that traditionally focus on testing recognize the shortcomings of theirsystems and come to our shores to learn how we inspire a spirit of innovation. And
 National School Boards Association
1680 Duke Street - Alexandria, Virginia 22314-3493 - (703) 838-NSBA - FAX: (703) 683-7590 -http://www.nsba.org
decades of work by motivation theorists, such as Daniel Pink, help us understand why afocus on testing and standards may not cultivate the learners we want. Others havefound that such narrow focus restricts our views of what is possible, and even causesunethical behavior, such as the rash of testing scandals here and abroad.By contrast, Finnish schools are now “exemplars of many of the success indicators we… want to see in American schools. Achievement is consistently high. Students are self-motivated and engaged in their learning. Schools have wide latitude to decide on theirown programs, and there are no intrusive sanctions.” (Jill Wynns, CA)The focus on strict quantitative accountability has never worked for any organization,and it has not worked with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Teachers aretrying to meet the mandates of those programs and consequently “our children sufferand are not getting educated to their individual potential.” (Carolyne Brooks, IL)Teachers’ focus on tests is undermining their potential and initiative, making it moredifficult to share a love of learning with their students.Our students will never be first in the world on standardized tests. We never have comeclose. Nor is that something toward which we should aspire! We simply are not acompliant people willing to absorb facts without challenge. But we have had the mostinnovative workforce in the world (and now vie with Finland for that top position).Though intended to encourage equity, our current policy is, in fact, driving us towardmediocrity. Our students may be becoming better regurgitators, but what we need isexcellent thinkers.We have significant challenges in many of our communities, especially those that areunderserved, yet we continue to boast some of the best schools in the world. We havemodels of excellence from which we should all be learning. Our vision should be toempower excellence—to draw out the best in each and every individual in our schools.We should recognize that our children’s brains are our most important resource. Weshould aspire to having children take responsibility for their own learning. We can havea common curriculum as a guide, but leave it to our local “civic labs,” as ThomasJefferson envisioned them, to find optimal ways to inspire learning.That said, we won’t achieve any vision without significant teamwork. Finland’s processmay offer a model: They spent years developing national consensus about the essentialsfor successful education and, hence, the nation. Collaboration can promote independentthinking and action.As a nation, rather than inspiring people toward a vision of excellence, we have beenblaming some for blocking student achievement. It is time to inspire all toward a pursuitof excellence for each of our children.The work world our children inherit will be significantly different from the one we haveknown. Jobs in the 20
century were mostly algorithmic or routine. According toMcKinsey & Co., most such jobs have already evaporated because of automation andoutsourcing. Future work will be more complex, so we had better prepare studentsdifferently than through standardized tests.
 National School Boards Association
1680 Duke Street - Alexandria, Virginia 22314-3493 - (703) 838-NSBA - FAX: (703) 683-7590 -http://www.nsba.org
As the nature of work changes, so too must motivators. Carrots and sticks, whichworked with routine jobs, actually
efforts when the work is more complex,Daniel Pink says. Instead, the rewards of learning and challenges of the work itself mustnow be the primary motivators. Adults learn best, experts say, if they feel competent,autonomous, and a sense of belonging.Much in our current school systems works against these, and our new national focus onteacher evaluation will continue that trend. As a result of ignoring innate needs, ourschools too often are not innovative hubs. Yet to meet the challenges of our future, wemust cultivate a spirit of innovation and inspiration. We will only succeed in preparingfor our future if we
all in our schools to think through complex problems andprocesses and generate solutions. Rather than laboring over bureaucratic complianceproblems, let’s engage students and teachers (even board members!) in solving problemsof teaching and learning.Our schools will never become great through threat or intimidation. Schools must besafe places to take risks, where staff members and students feel valued for their ideasand talents and empowered to fail so that they can grow. Students will learn what theysee, experience, and enjoy.We have the knowledge and experience to do this at the national, state, and local levels.However, the present narrow focus on accountability and trend of demonizing those inpublic education, arrogantly focusing on “failing schools,” is diametrically opposed tofostering excellence.Again, we can learn from Finland: It holds teachers in high regard (appealing tocompetence). Teacher training includes a strong feedback loop; professionaldevelopment is embedded in the work, through coaching and ongoing support(appealing to belonging). People are willing to try new approaches and ideas (appealingto autonomy).Innovation requires investment. Retired school superintendent Jack Reynolds noted thatunder the original ESEA we had a national system for identifying, supporting, andsharing excellent, vetted educational ideas. We should return to such a system of research, development, and diffusion, using technology to share teaching and learningapproaches. Further, Ohio school board member Charlie Wilson suggested weencourage and fund our universities to conduct empirical research on the considerableexperimentation that does occur in our schools.Some board members suggested that we benefit from broad, guiding curriculumprinciples. Wyoming’s David Fall encouraged you to continue your work with theNational Governors’ Association to refine core standards. However, our children wouldbe best served if the standards were guides, but decision-making remained local.Across the nation, I have heard growing support for an emphasis on the early years. Toclose achievement gaps, we need to provide rich early learning environments forchildren born with the least. We need to teach their parents how to encourage theirlearning. Please continue to support states’ early childhood efforts.

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Gary Obermeyer added this note
Thank you for an excellent letter. You have captured the issues clearly. There is no more pressing need for education than to stop the current "race to ruin."
Annette Evans added this note
Education will be the #1 issue to determine the next presidential election. Many people, myself included, are disappointed with Obama's continuance of the destructive corporate education "reform." Many formerly passionate supporters who worked on his campaign last time feel betrayed and won't volunteer nor vote for him unless he changes his direction with public education.
Tauna Rogers added this note
Excellent! Just a note...in the first paragraph, doesn't the word "overwhelming" need to be changed to "overwhelmingly"? Thank you, I pray your efforts will be fruitful! I think this letter is both strong and respectful.
Janine Sopp added this note
Every parent, every citizen must read this letter! Thank you for speaking for the voices of all of us who feel like we are watching the most precious train that carries our children for 12+ years head over the mountain side. When No Child Left Behind leaves so many children behind, and Race To The Top means only a few will make it, then those who have a more holistic approach must be heard.

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