Dear President Obama: You Need Teachers as Much As They Need You

This is a very thoughtful letter written by a friend of a former JHS classmate of mine to President Obama. She points out, correctly, that any Democratic candidate who manages to alienate active classroom teachers is going to have an extremely hard time getting re-elected.


President Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, D.C.  20500

September 17, 2011

Dear President Obama,

Do you want to be re-elected? Do you not know that TEACHERS are the largest, most effective, and most essential component of your base?

If you don’t have teachers with you, then you cannot win in 2012.

When you ask Arne Duncan to resign and replace him with a knowledgeable educator your approval ratings will jump 10 points within two weeks and steadily climb right through Election Day. The vast majority of all US teachers want you to win, but right now (other than their 50 hour work week) they are sitting on their hands, anguished. They wonder how you will be able to solve so many complex international and domestic issues if you cannot figure out that education is a collaborative effort, not a “Race to the Top.”

All things considered, teachers are doing astonishingly well. You would never know it based on the images presented by your Secretary of Education, by you, and by the press. Until you understand the concept of bi-serial correlation and the relative insignificance of standardized test scores, you will continue to under-serve public schools.

Again: there are virtually no intelligent teachers who support Arne Duncan, and merely replacing him with a solid educator will give you an enormous bump in your approval ratings.

One of every hundred people in the US is an active teacher, each with an average number of daily contacts of around 40 other voters (including parents, grand-parents, and all students over the age of 18). Teachers will be with you if they think you know anything about education. You send your kids to a private school for God’s sake. Trust me, when you discuss the needs of public school children, you are not credible. Yet.

I myself attended Woodrow Wilson High School in the District of Columbia; Frank Rich was a classmate, and remains a treasured friend. I’ve been a teacher in inner city and suburban California public schools for 22 years. I have done extensive research, and have a good sense of what works in classrooms: I know without a doubt that Arne Duncan is a severe liability for you. He is profoundly out of touch with authentic teachers and terribly ill-informed.

To quickly improve your education policy perspective, PLEASE invite Deborah Meier, Alfie Kohn, Susan Ohanian, Stephen Krashen, Diane Ravitch, and Monte Neill to an informal, confidential meeting. In just a few hours they could deepen your understanding of education, tell what is at stake, and help you to better proceed with a much improved national education policy. They have proven experience and dedication. Their collective understanding of education research reaches profound depths. The attached will tell you more about them.

Most sincerely,

(name redacted)


But guess what Obama has in fact done, through his choice of, and continued support of the policies of, Education Secretary Arne Duncan?

He’s managed to alienate just about every teacher in the nation.


I don’t know any current, actual teachers anywhere that I have ever met or heard of who support No Child Left Behind and the rest of Arne Duncan’s goofy programs. We all seem to agree that those policies are almost exactly the same as those of George W. Bush!!

We didn’t vote and campaign for you, Barack Obama, because we wanted you to continue the utterly wrong-headed Republican, pro-billionaire policies of Bush 2 (or ‘Shrub’ or whatever naughty names we could think of for that a**hole who many of us think was THE. WORST. PRESIDENT. EVER).

No, we wanted you to act like a member of what used to be called the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party. We wanted you to be a PROGRESSIVE DEMOCRAT, the exact opposite of George W. Bush.

Unfortunately, we see you either caving in to the wrong people, or else actively and unashamedly continuing their policies.

And that’s what we see you doing in Education.

We do not want you to act like a member of the Billionaire Wing of the Republican Party (sometimes known as the BWORP), with a darker natural skin tone and much less body fat than many of their members.

(Actual, not wannabe, members of the BWORP might actually have skin that is at times measurably darker than yours, but usually after they’ve been vacationing at some extremely expensive and exclusive exotic beach, golfing or ski resort, or else they have been spending a lot of quality time at the luxury spa and tanning salon, under the UV lights… Or else they have just had a lot of dark-orangy-brown pancake makeup put on because they are about to go on national TV … But Mobutu was probably in the BWORP as well — in its foreign wing at least, though if he wasn”t actually a formal member, he was very good friends of many of those who were.)

As the writer of the following letter points out, the NCES estimates that there are about 3.4 million public school classroom teachers in the US this year (and another 483,000 private school teachers), and either together or separately, that’s well over one percent of the entire US population, which is about 312 million as I write this.

And these are ACTIVE community members. Teachers not only have their own relatives and neighbors. They also have an audience with which they interact every single school day, not to mention during weekends and vacations and during PTA meetings and parental conferences and calls to parents about illnesses, classroom successes or problems, announcements of all kinds. Don’t forget that many* teachers are now required to communicate with their students’ families by some sort of electronic means, usually something contracted for by the local school with some private contractor. (Yes, we are quite familiar with public-private contracting; we know that sometimes, it’s just fine. However, there are times when somebody starts robbing the till, because we know that it’s not easy at all to tell who’s going to be honest and who’s going to be crooked.**)

* I have no idea what fraction it is, and am aware that it’s impossible to get an exact number because things change so quickly in this cyberspace that you and I are communicating in! I suspect it’s well over the majority, even though many of them might not be properly equipped or trained to do so!

** We know that crooks come in all colors, ages, sizes, shapes, genders, occupations, and levels of society, and you can’t tell them apart based on what they wear. They might be dressed for a black-tie charity ball, or else they might be dressed in smelly, oily rags, or merely a bathing suit or a business suit or a uniform of some sort. Thieves and crooks try their very best NOT to look like thieves and crooks. Duh.

But we know that if there is an unguarded opportunity with no supervision, there are normally-honest folks who will give into temptation. At first, they may think they are just ‘borrowing’; later they may be siphoning of millions or even billions of dollars’ worth, still trying to justify what they did either to themselves or to an increasingly skeptical public.

But it’s why you need regulations, and you need solid, trustworthy, trained people*** to check stuff out to see if it’s legitimate or not. And if it’s bogus, they need the freedom to make themselves heard and taken very seriously by folks with power to do something about it.

What really pisses off many of us is that today’s Republican Party seems to have become the party of the really rich crooks. And we see the crooks in the Democratic Party looking more and more like the crooks in the Party of Voldemort. (Or is that the Party Owned By Wal-Mart?)

If you ever studied and began to remember American history from the 1850’s to now, you would realize that the Republican party came into being as the major force against slavery in the US; they led the successful war against the southern, racist, slaveholding traitors and defeated them. When those ex-slaveholders began trying to defeat the 14th amendment by force of arms, the Republican party actually got the American federal government to put down the slaveholder’s second revolt, for about a decade.

(The racists’ insurrection took the form of denying freed blacks and their white friends of their property, health, and lives by burning their homes down, beating them, lynching and drowning them, or else merely shooting them. All with impunity, and with the evident approval of the Democratic Party of its day.

Times have definitely changed. It seems at first as if the Republicans and Democrats have simply traded places. But it’s actually a lot more complicated than that.

** Professionals, often in government service. You know, like the bureaucrats who were supposed to be watching out for crooks like Bernie Madoff and the folks who looted Enron and the US treasury and stole the life savings of tens of millions of Americans who recently lost their houses, their jobs, and often their entire families because life became so hard that the stresses of bankruptcy and temporary homelessness tore their families apart or drove them to suicide… Yes, those guys, who either were getting funded by the companies they were supposed to be watching. Or else were being told by THEIR bosses not to rock the boat and to stop digging for information. Or were getting fired for researching or speaking up anyway. Yeah, the very same ‘pointy-headed bureaucrats’ that all the BWORPs and their allies in show biz like to make fun of. The ones who probably could have stopped the last few bubbles and kept us from falling into this huge business recession if they were allowed to do their jobs.


Published in: on September 19, 2011 at 10:23 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Mr. B, Can you keep up posted on the status of the DC cheating investigation. Are they going to put all involved, including Rhee, under oath and question them? Keep pushing for that.


    • It’s very hard to find out what, if anything, the DC internal investigation being done by the DC Inspector General’s office is doing.
      They won’t answer emails or phone calls. Maybe registered mail might work, and perhaps I can get a council member or powerless school board member on board with a request, but don’t hold your breath.
      My suspicion is that the DCIG investigator has no intention of doing a serious investigation at all.
      I also think that the US DOE investigation is going to be very limited as well.
      What makes all of this worse is that the testing company itself has quite a few different mathematical or physical methods of investigating cheating, and as far as I can tell, DCPS and OSSE decided, consciously, to NOT pay to have any of them done except for the one you hear of: wrong-to-right erasure analysis.


  2. You do know that No Child Left Behind was written by Ted Kennedy, right? It wasn’t penned by a conservative. It is utopian, hence why it is a failure.


    • Brandy, it sounds like you are listening to some far-right-wing talk show on this. Am I right?
      Kennedy was one of the authors of NCLB, but the law had many co-sponsors and writers. NCLB was the result of a relatively unusual thing: a real bipartisan collaboration between republicrats and demmicans. Or is is Democans and Publicrats? Oh well. You can’t blame it on either group entirely. They were entirely in accord, and the bill passed May 23, 2001: in the House of Representatives by roll call vote. The totals were 384 Ayes, 45 Nays, 4 Present/Not Voting.; and in the Senate it passed Jun 14, 2001: This bill passed in the Senate with changes by roll call vote. The totals were 91 Ayes, 8 Nays, 1 Present/Not Voting. During the reconciliation votes, the numbers were very similar.
      For myself, when they were debating the law and hammering out the details, I had no clue that it was going to be significant. I paid essentially no attention to it.
      “Utopian” is one adjective that could be used. “Insane” is another one: where in the universe is it possible to have 100% of the population of anything at all be “above average”? Which is precisely what the law requires, as you well know.


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