Thank you for your letter. You make some good points.
But they often ring hollow as we are used to Reform Initiatives that teachers recognize as band-aids for a broken system.
Teachers do know what we need in the classroom for children to learn, and frankly we also know what our students need before they come into the classroom each morning. Breakfast. Enough sleep. Safe communities in which to walk or ride to school. A beautiful school building that appreciates creativity in the hallways, where I can walk by and hear band and orchestra practice or see my students paint a mural on the wall. Luckily, my school does appreciate art. I wish it were the case in every school I have had the pleasure of visiting.
Students need healthy meals at school. Enough of this Corn-Syrup-laden prison food that makes them bounce off the walls when they get back to my class.
Students need safe places to play in and near school, help with homework, local mentoring and employment opportunities, and people to read to them before bedtime.
You are right about the narrowing effect of NCLB. We have dumbed down our craft to a flacid set of “skills” that would do No Child Any Good once they graduate.
Last week, as I set up a make-shift triangle stand with which to balance a DVD-player in my classroom, I quietly proclaimed, “Thank you, Pythagorean Theorem,” and a student responded, “Wow, Mr. H. I didn’t think you could use that after the tests in high school.” No joke, Mr. Secretary.
But it is not enough to say to us teachers that should change their curricula. Policies other than NCLB must change too. That will only happen in the courts after we establish a radical precedent. We need to make a strong commitment to the youth of this country that their education in all its forms will be valued and protected as they grow and develop as young Americans.
In this climate of Edu-Reform, it is time for America to adopt an Educational Bill of Rights. Please humor me to read my suggestions (This was part of my Master’s Thesis):
I. All Teaching and Learning Partners have a right to a clean and safe environment in and around which learning takes place.
III. All Students have a right to a high quality school experience that appropriately addresses their needs.
IV. All Teaching and Learning Partners have a right to a class size that is developmentally appropriate.
V. All Teaching and Learning Partners have a Right to equitable and appropriate funding for education.
VI. All Students have a right to have access to adults with expertise in adolescent psychological and socio-emotional health.
VII. All Teaching and Learning Partners have a right to affordable and high-quality health care.