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My Letter to President Obama--Campaign for Our Public Schools

Dear President Obama:
I'm writing to you about your education policy. Although my children are no longer in the K-12 system here in Sacramento, I remain involved in our public schools because of their importance to the future of our country. It's clear to me that our public school system is being undermined by the very policies that are supposed to improve it. I believe that the focus of federal policy should be educational equity, not "accountability".
I grew up in California in the "golden age" of public education before the passage of Proposition 13. When I attended school we had art, science, music, counselors and school nurses, field trips and extra-curricular programs all without having to pay extra for them.  My children's school years were very different. Due to the fact that Sacramento City Unified was and is in declining enrollment, every year the district faces cutbacks. Most of the things I took for granted as part of an excellent public school education now have to be paid for with constant fundraising. Parents are asked to contribute financially to support programs that used to be paid for with tax dollars.  Parents in low income areas are unable to backfill in that money to provide the educational experience their children need to keep pace with their more affluent peers in the school system. While parents at some schools in SCUSD can write a check to pay for a week at environmental camp in the Sierra foothills, other parents must spend the whole year fundraising for their sixth grade class to afford the trip. Educational inequity in our schools is at the root of the "achievement gap".
No Child Left Behind, with its pursuit of the impossible goal of all students being proficient, its regime of constant testing, and its punishment of schools that fail to achieve ever higher scores has only made the achievement gap wider. Precious education dollars go to pay for testing and consulting by outside providers. Twenty per cent of Title 1 dollars, which are meant to help provide educational equity, are sequestered for tutoring and for transportation to non-program improvement schools, even if children don't make use of them.  SCUSD is now a "Program Improvement" district. This means that only outside consultants can be used to suggest strategies for raising test scores. More dollars going to the consultants means even less money  to the classroom. Children in low income schools, which not surprisingly have the lowest test scores, are then subjected to a narrowing of the curriculum and more test preparation in order to avoid the fate of having their school "restructured" or even closed.  Losing a neighborhood school is devastating, and I speak from personal experience; but losing those opportunities for a broader experience of the world through the arts and sciences is also devastating. The educational inequity in our schools is being compounded by NCLB.
Now in this perfect storm of economic depression, tightened state budgets, and increasing class sizes, when schools find it difficult to provide janitorial services let alone a rich educational experience for students, the federal government dangles dollars in front of school district in a competition.  To win the competition a district must commit to adopting programs and practices that have not been proven to increase student achievement.  On line learning or a personal educational tracker is no substitute for an education that includes the arts, music and drama. Placing even more  emphasis on test scores by linking them to teacher evaluations won't  replace those valuable experiences. it will only result in more teaching to the test. Race to the Top does nothing to address educational inequity in our schools.  It's an experiment  being conducted on our children without our permission.
All the money being spent to develop tests, to administer tests, to pay consultants to tell teachers how to teach to the test, could be spent on providing all children with smaller class sizes, art and science instruction, and field trips to explore the world and bring the lessons in school books alive.  Children need nurses, librarians and counselors in their schools.  We know that these things work to help kids achieve. These very things are offered at your daughters' school. Please change federal education policy to focus on educational equity, so that every child in public school can have an education experience like your children have.
Kate Lenox
Sacramento Coalition to Save Public Education

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