Dear President Obama: As a scholar in African American History and a teacher and coach for more than 45 years- it is my unhappy duty to inform you that your education policies have contributed to the lowest morale among teachers that I have seen in my lifetime, while failing to narrow gaps in opportunity or achievement based on race or class.
You may not believe me, but if you were, as I am, in daily contact with thousands of teachers from inner city to suburb to small town, you would be as worried as I am. Judging teachers on the basis of student test scores, as your Race to the Top policy requires, has been an unmitigated disaster; so has closing allegedly failing schools on the basis of such scores. Teachers everywhere now feel they have to teach to the test; in poor neighborhoods, they fear they will lose their jobs if they don't make this their sole priority.
Such policies undermine the arts; turn recess and physical education into a luxury only high performing schools can offer, drive mentoring and relationship building out of the classroom, and place teachers at the mercy of accountability officers and data collectors.
The joy and creative learning that your own children experience in one of the nation's top private schools are being driven out of public schools throughout the nation with startling rapidity. Teachers work in fear. Students learn under extreme stress. Parents wonder why their children have started to hate school.
I don't always agree with your policies; but I never thought of you as living in a bubble; unwilling to hear inconvenient voices that force you to re- evaluate and revise ideas your administration has put forward that fail to stand the test of experience. However, your stubborn adherence to education policies that have destabilized neighborhoods,undermined the teaching profession, demoralized teachers and squeezed joy from the nation's public school classrooms, have forced me to conclude that you are no long are willing to keep your ear close to the ground the way great leaders do.
You may think that health care and foreign policy are higher priorities than education as they deal with issues that are quite literally matters of life and death; but mark my words, your education policies will leave as much a blemish on your Presidency as the Vietnam War did on the Presidency of Lyndon Johnson.
You have two more years to change course and rescue the legacy of your Presidency in this critical sphere of policy. The first step in doing this would be to invite public school teachers to The White House to tell their stories; the second is to replace Secretary of Education with someone who has spent at least 10 years in a public school classroom.
Mark D Naison Professor of African American Studies and History Fordham University Co-Founder, Badass Teachers Association