Dear Dr. Carson, Secretary Clinton, Senator Cruz, Governor Kasich, Senator Rubio, Senator Sanders, and Mr. Trump:
An issue that you have barely touched on in the televised debates and town hall meetings is K-12 education. Yet the education policies of the next President will affect every child and adolescent in the United States and will determine the future of our nation. Therefore, I am writing to ask you some crucial questions about K-12 education. I will post your responses on my blog, which has more than a quarter of a million readers who are concerned about education in this country.
The questions for you are:
- More than 500 experts in early childhood education, including the most respected professionals in the country, issued a public statement opposing the Common Core Standards for Early Childhood Education because those standards are developmentally inappropriate and cause harm to young children. The National Council of Teachers of English, comprised of elementary, middle, and high school teachers as well as college professors, did not endorse the Common Core Standards. In their analysis of the Common Core Standards, they noted that they are not internationally benchmarked and are lacking vital elements of literacy education that countries with which we compete have. No experts in the field of teaching reading and writing and no early childhood professionals were asked to participate in the writing of the Common Core Standards. The Common Core Standards were not written by educators who know how to teach and how students learn best; they were written by people who produce standardized tests and analyze student data. What do you think the federal government or state governments should do about these standards, which are neither based on a reliable foundation nor have any evidence that they make students “college and career ready”?
- Private foundations have funded and mandated what and how all students in the country will be taught and have been a strong force in determining how teachers and administrators will be trained. The leading funders are Bill and Melinda Gates who have spent billions to create and implement the Common Core. Bill and Melinda Gates also control the discussion of the Common Core in the media and promote the Common Core by giving grants to organizations, ranging from the national teachers unions to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters. Do you think such control over public education by billionaires is true to the nature of a democracy? Or does it make the United States an oligarchy with major decisions made by the wealthy few?
- Rupert Murdoch has said that the public education sector in this country is a $500 billion market. We have seen the privatization of public education as charter schools proliferate. Charter schools use public money but are not publicly accountable and operate for the profit of their investors. What is your position on privatizing public education? Do you think it acceptable to provide taxpayer dollars to charter schools that are not accountable to the public for the use of that public money?
- States fund charter schools for a relatively small number of students and, thereby, deny those funds to traditional public schools, which have the responsibility to educate all of the students. What is your opinion of that use of public funds?
- Charter schools, on the whole, do not perform better than public schools, even though their students are more select due to their family background and come from less impoverished homes than students in traditional public schools. Charter schools also have students with fewer special needs and and fewer students who are English language learners, and charter schools control what students they keep and what students they dismiss. What, then, is your justification for supporting charter schools if you do and your reasons for not supporting them if you don’t?
- According to Valuing Public Education: A 50 State Report Card, only five states, Alabama, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and Vermont, earn the mark of A for rejecting high stakes tests as a way for determining if students are promoted to the next grade and graduate from high school and for evaluating teachers. What is your opinion about the test-and-punish practices of the other states?
- Valuing Public Education: A 50 State Report Card also discusses and provides data about racial segregation in our schools. It states: “To a large extent, residential segregation is responsible for school segregation. However, state policies that promote school choice typically exacerbate segregation and charters often isolate students by race and class. Therefore, even beyond housing policies, the education policies and incentives that states put in place influence the degree of segregation in their public schools. In some schools, segregation is so extreme that the UCLA Civil Rights Project describes them as apartheid schools.” What would you, as President, do to reduce or eliminate the segregation caused by school choice programs and publicly funded but privately managed charter schools?
- Affluent students in our country receive a far different education than less privileged students do. School officials in affluent school districts are confident that their students’ standardized test scores will be fine so do not limit education to the totally inadequate Common Core. They provide their students with an education rich in inquiry and independent thinking. However, in poorer school districts officials are concerned with their history of low test scores. Therefore, students in those lower income districts often have their school days filled with test prep instead of authentic learning experiences. How do we, as a nation, make sure that we do not have two separate and unequal educational systems determined by class, one for the haves and one for the have-nots?
- Perhaps it is not the curricula or the teachers but rather the poverty of a large portion of our population that creates problems in student achievement. Depending on how poverty is defined, either 1 in 5 children or 1 in 3 children are living below the poverty level in the United States. Either statistic is shameful. We, the richest nation in the world, have staggering amounts of child poverty compared with other industrialized nations. How will you address the issue of poverty? Do you have plans for making resources and opportunities more equitable for students in affluent, middle class, and impoverished school districts?
- It is abundantly clear that standardized tests cannot measure the quality of an educational system or the capabilities students will need for their future. They will need to know how to ask good questions, collaborate with diverse people, be innovative, have strategies for learning how to learn as they solve new problems and address issues that we can’t yet imagine. How will you, as President, ascertain if our educational system is working well so that students are learning what they need to learn in order to live satisfying lives, have productive careers, and be contributing citizens of a democracy? How will you measure the quality of American education?
Dr. Carson, Secretary Clinton, Senator Cruz, Governor Kasich, Senator Rubio, Senator Sanders, and Mr. Trump, thank you for your time. I will post your responses as soon as I receive them. Your answers will be of great interest to the many readers of this blog.
Ann Policelli Cronin
Note to readers: While we wait for responses from the candidates, let’s start the conversation. I encourage you to write in support of a candidate for President of the United States, based on that candidate’s positions on education. You may post your comments below, or if you wish to write a longer piece, send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will post as many statements as feasible.