Thursday, September 4, 2008

Open Letter to the Presidential Candidates

What follows is an open letter we sent to the presumptive candidates in July - urging them to make education a top issue in the campaign and in the policy agenda of the next president of the United States.

Dear Senators McCain and Obama,

Though there are many issues in this election, few are more important to the future of our country than education.

Center for Inspired Teaching is transforming education by investing in teachers. Our work with thousands of teachers, through courses, mentoring, and whole school partnerships over the past 13 years has proven that teachers are the solution. They are where the rubber meets the road in our schools. Yet all too often teacher quality is not the focus of school reforms. Improving accountability systems, establishing programs to attract new teachers and retain experienced ones, and encouraging new curricula are all valuable strategies in and of themselves, but they will accomplish little if we are not simultaneously investing in the quality of our nation’s teachers.

Inspired Teachers like Carolyn Wells prove this point. Carolyn teaches second grade in a school where less than 30 percent of students are reading on grade level. Her school tried every intervention you can imagine to get kids reading: after school tutoring, new textbooks, less recess, more testing. But what Carolyn noticed was that none of the one-size-fits-all strategies were working for her class filled with 22 individuals. So she came to Inspired Teaching looking for new ways to reach the students who were struggling to keep up. She took an Inspired Teaching course in which she learned to teach vocabulary through movement, to tap into students’ imaginations through storytelling, and to let her children’s various interests guide the reading material – not the chapters in the textbook. She applied what she learned in the classroom and at the end of the year she had the highest reading scores in the school. Carolyn was the solution, and there are hundreds of thousands of teachers out there just like her who have the potential to change what happens in their schools.

With this in mind, as you continue to develop your education agenda Center for Inspired Teaching asks you to consider the following:

1. If our nation is to remain strong and healthy, it is time to establish a higher, and more meaningful, standard for student success. It is not enough for young Americans to do well on standardized tests that assess a narrow set of basic skills. Rather, the graduates of our K-12 system must be prepared to engage fully in civic life. All of our children deserve a rich, relevant, and rigorous school experience that prepares them to think critically, demonstrate understanding, solve complex problems, and apply their learning to the challenges facing our communities.

2. A higher goal for students requires a new role for teachers. It is time to redefine the role of the teacher in the United States from deliverer of facts to developer of future citizens in our democracy. Redefining the role of the teacher will require rethinking our policies and practices in the areas of teacher recruitment, preparation, and evaluation. The effectiveness of an excellent teacher cannot and should not be measured by credentials or test scores alone. Rather, teacher quality policies for a strong democracy will encourage fresh approaches to evaluating what matters: the quality of actual classroom instruction, and impact of that instruction on students’ abilities to be active, productive citizens.

At Center for Inspired Teaching we know there is tremendous potential in our nation’s classrooms. We are calling on the next President of the United States to push for comprehensive education reform that addresses the needs of the new global economy. In order to be successful this reform must include a strong focus on teacher quality. We urge you to bring the challenges we identify above into the current political debate so that the potential of our teachers can be turned into practice.

As you craft your education policy agenda, we would be honored to share with you our years of experience in schools and classrooms and our advice on the best and most effective way to reform our schools.


Aleta Margolis
Executive Director
Center for Inspired Teaching

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