I became a teacher after Supply Side economics and the Reagan era banking collapse devastated our neighborhood. Three hundred houses were abandoned and the "Hoova" set of the Crips set up dozens of crack houses in vacant properties.
Mr. President, I became attached to the children in the drug houses and became an inner city teacher. Twenty years later, not long after I returned from campaigning for you in Iowa, the Great Recession hit. The economic collapse of 2008, however, was not nearly as disastrous in my community.
We were rescued by your American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Your Stimulus also saved 100,000 teachers' jobs. President Obama, I sincerely thank you.
Sadly, President Bush's and your education policies had the opposite effect on schools. NCLB-type testing and choice drove my run-of-the-mill Oklahoma City low-income school into The Wire, as brutal as the worst in Baltimore. By the time you took office, accountability-driven reform had turned our neighborhood schools into classic examples of schools with such intense concentrations of children from generational poverty and trauma that they became virtually impervious to improvement (at least by the policies that were allowed during your presidency.)
You had far more pressing issues on your mind when you agreed to sacrifice my students and profession to the test, sort, and punish regime known as corporate school reform. You had your political reasons for endorsing the mass dismissal of teachers in Central Falls, Rhode Island, and across the nation, even though the overwhelming majority of us were guilty of nothing more than choosing to teach in schools where it is harder to raise test scores.
Worse, your Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put NCLB-type testing on steroids. That discredited law only subjected 20 to 25% of our nation's classrooms to bubble-in accountability. Under Duncan, nearly 100% of teachers and students are subject to some sort of punishment by some sort of bogus metric. So, even though your administration invested more in education, the additional money funded policies that were doomed, and they often did more harm than good.
Duncan acknowledges the debt that his reform experiment owes to the Reagan administration's diagnosis of student underperformance. And he now admits that his testing policies have sucked the oxygen out of the process of improving schools.
I don't believe you originally sought to undermine the teaching profession, unions, and public schools. You tilted towards the Billionaires Boys Club and started down the teacher bashing path in order to look tough. Market-driven "reform" allowed you to say the word "Accountability!" over and over. But, Arne Duncan started with an embrace of Michelle Rhee and opened the door for Governor Scott Walker, Rahm Emanuel and, now, Campbell "I'm Blaming the Teachers Union" Brown.
Mr. President, I doubt you have time to notice how your competition-driven, test-driven policies are driving respectful and engaging instruction out of low-income schools. You may not be aware that your policies constitute "neo-Plessyism." But, as Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis explains, the corporate reform agenda that you enable is creating a system which turns out Masters of Universe and Walmart greeters.
You must be aware of the political consequences of your education policies, however. The teachers unions, who supported your reelection despite your collective punishment of teachers and your awful accountability mandates, face an upsurge of anger by the rank-in-file. After enduring years of test, sort, and punish, we see you remain silent (or even supportive?) as Vergara I, Vergara II, and rest of the upcoming series of publicity stunts are launched. What happens to teachers unions if they prove incapable of protecting teachers and students from corporate reform?
If you do not join us, and if Campbell Brown and company defeat teachers unions, the other public service unions will be next. Then, who will provide the organization, donations, and boots on the ground to defend the last of the social safety nets? Will your billionaire buddies fight for civil rights, the minimum wage, job safety or health services for poor families? Please remember who your true friends are and don't forget that we are the true friends of poor children of color. Please listen to our pleas.