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An Open Letter to Arne Duncan

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Dear Secretary Duncan:

When I first heard that you had written an open letter to the teachers of America, I was afraid to open the envelope.

Considering that it was just last year that you said Rhode Island school board members were "showing courage and doing the right thing for kids" when they fired the entire faculty at a high school, I thought your latest letter might contain a pink slip or at least some sort of reprimand to place in my permanent record.

Instead, I was told just how much you respect me and the hundreds of thousands of teachers in this great country.

Among the things you wrote:

"I know that most teachers did not enter the profession for the money. You became teachers to make a difference in the lives of children, and for the hard work you do each day, you deserve to be respected, valued, and supported."

I suppose that would be the same value and respect you showed the Rhode Island teachers, leaving all of them, including some who I am sure were exceptional teachers, with damaged reputations.

You also wrote, "I consider teaching an honorable and important profession, and it is my goal to see that you are treated with the dignity we award to other professionals in society. In too many communities, the profession has been devalued."

The profession, Mr. Duncan, has not only been devalued in many communities, as you say, but one of those communities is on the Potomac. If you want to take a look at the man who has placed a target on our backs, look in the mirror.

While I am quite sure you sincerely believe in everything you are saying, your own words belie your professed respect for public school teachers:

"We can build an accountability system based on data we trust and a standard that is honest--one that recognizes and rewards great teaching, gives new or struggling teachers the support they need to succeed, and deals fairly, efficiently, and compassionately with teachers who are simply not up to the job. With your input and leadership, we can restore the status of the teaching profession so more of America's top college students choose to teach because no other job is more important or more fulfilling."

No matter how you spell it, Mr. Secretary, you are talking about teaching to the test and devaluing the critical thinking skills that you supposedly prize. "Data" and "accountability" are code words for an educational system that embraces the same kind of failed business model that put this country in the economic crisis it is in today. The multitude of multiple choice masters our schools will develop using your Race to the Top plan will take us anywhere but there.

And you dare say, "with your input and leadership?" Input that does not include more charter schools, merit pay, an increased emphasis on standardized tests, and drives to rid public schools of veteran teachers to make room for "better" teachers who go through six weeks of Teach for America training, is ignored.

Mr. Duncan, you have been told by one teacher after another that the key to improving schools is by eliminating the societal problems that contribute so heavily to student failure. That input is ignored.

Poverty, crime, divorce, child abuse have nothing to do with student failure in the Walton/Gates/Broad MBA style education reform you represent. You have identified the problem with education, though you try to airbrush it with your flowery ode to the teaching profession, and it is public schools and the "bad" teachers who populate them.

Mr. Duncan, you speak warmly of the hundreds of teachers with whom you have spoken, and again, I am sure you are sincere, but there is a difference between speaking with teachers and knowing what actually goes on in a classroom.

The late, great Walter Alston managed the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers to three world championships. He was never a great baseball player, but as a manager he always got the best out of his players.

The difference between you and Walter Alston, Mr. Duncan, is that he did play one game in the major leagues and spent years in the minors. He knew what it was like in the trenches. He did not learn the game just by talking with the players, and then shuttering the Dodgers' minor league teams when their statistics dropped.

But perhaps it is unfair for me to compare you to Walter Alston. There is a more apt comparison.

Take away your smile and give you a sex change and you would be a dead ringer for Michelle Rhee.