Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Dear Senator Toomey - Some thoughts on education

I receive email newsletters sent out by my state and national senators, congressmen and legislators. My dad had been a state legislator when I was growing up and I’ve always been involved in the political side of things. I’ve managed to vote in 100% of the elections since I was eligible. Letting my representatives know the issues that are near and dear to me is important if they are to represent me in lawmaking. While Senator Toomey and I rarely see eye to eye on issues, I was moved to write him when I read his recent newsletter.

Dear Senator Toomey,

In your most recent newsletter to constituents you stated:

On Tuesday, I met with representatives from the Pennsylvania American Legion. Our veterans should be first in line for the best quality medical care in the world. Last year, the American people learned about outrageous examples of mismanagement at the Department of Veterans Affairs that included excessive wait times for needed care; substandard care; dishonest reporting on care; and cutting corners that

Our veterans deserve better. We discussed ways we can work together to improve care for our heroes, and their input was valuable…

I certainly do not begrudge our veterans their just benefits and feel that they should be fully supported. These changes need to be made in order to make it right for our veterans, who are not being taken care of. But teachers have been under attack for so long and I’d like you to think about listening to us, too.

You need to meet with teachers from Early Childhood, Elementary, Middle and High School. Our schools should be the first in line for the best quality education in the world. For the last decade, Philadelphia, Allentown, Duquesne, York, and other distressed cities endured the Commonwealth’s mismanagement of their school districts. They saw layoffs, program cuts, school takeovers and closings, privatization of schools, mismanaged charter schools that remain unaccountable for their finances and curricula. In Philadelphia’s case, cutting counselors and nurses has led to violent incidences and death for two school children. Teachers in Philly have no books, paper, supplies or programs to prepare for the Keystones. Indeed, Overbrook High and a few others don’t even have a biology teacher to teach the kids the required information for the mandatory-for-graduation Biology Keystone test. Schools are so underfunded that it would be criminal to hold them accountable for any federal and state educational requirements.

Our schools deserve better. If you were to sit down and discuss with us ways we can work together to improve education for our students, you may find our input valuable. We’d tell you that high poverty areas make strange bedfellows with education. Students whose basic physical, emotional or medical needs are not being met find it impossible to focus on the everyday school lessons. They are worried about heat, water and electricity at home, whether their parent will be home to prepare dinner or will they have to, whether their parent will be drunk or high and incapable of taking care of the kids’ needs, whether someone in their family, street or neighborhood will be shot, beaten, raped or arrested. Yes, children who have been traumatized repeatedly by familial or neighborhood violence have changes in the structure of their brains that make it even more difficult to learn in school. If you haven’t read the report, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network presents a sobering picture of the effects of traumatic stress in childhood. Here is the link to their report.

We’d also show you that class size matters for kids who begin schools already behind. We’ll demonstrate that charter schools release their hard-to-educate students after the new year so they’ are not counted for their test results. We’ll prove that children re-entering our public schools after cyber school are typically 2 years behind. We’d also give you information about how high-stakes testing is ruining education as we know it, pinning graduation and promotion on a 4 day test while ignoring what the child does for the other 175 days of the year. Or in the case of high school graduation, how can three tests given on one day each going to negate four years of performance by the students. We could show you how charter schools skim the kids who have the best chance to succeed from the public schools and pawn off their behavior problems and special ed kids on the school district teachers.

We could prove that while we’ve been contributing to our pensions for the past umpteen years without fail, the Commonwealth has broken their agreement with us when they didn’t pay their share of the pension contributions but used that money to give tax breaks to corporations. This is not only happening here in Pennsylvania, but all over the nation.

We could show you that tenure in the K-12 system is only due process, giving teachers who have been accused of something the right to know what it was and the right to defend themselves. Teachers have been in the news quite recently being fired, let go, or harassed because they dared to speak out against the high-stakes testing or Common Core. Tenure allows them to defend themselves. Indeed, in Philadelphia the Feltonville 6 are the perfect example of what could have been disciplinary action resulted in information distributed throughout the city instead of firings.

We could prove, without a doubt, that the Common Core State Standards are not the correct standards for the schools. They are too hard in the lower grades and too easy in high school. In K-3, the standards are requiring that children perform tasks that are not developmentally appropriate. Kindergarteners need to PLAY and EXPLORE, not learn to read before first grade or have to write sentences before their fingers are able to even hold the pencils properly. Here is an example of what developmentally inappropriate standards translate down to in Kindergarten. For a real example see the link below:

We could also given you thousands of reason why actual teachers should have written the standards instead of the testing corporation writers that did. Diane Ravitch explains very well what is wrong with the Common Core State Standards here:

And we’d also like to give you some input on school funding. All across the nation, state legislatures are decreasing the amount of money needed for schools rather than raising taxes. They have caused thousands of layoffs, school closures, inadequate facilities and insufficient books and supplies for our students. Such tactics in poorer cities such as Philadelphia in your own state have caused already underfunded school districts plunge headlong into a funding abyss they just might not be capable of pulling themselves out of. I realize that the states bear the majority of the burden where school funding is concerned but the federal government might consider funding future mandates instead of making the states fund federal mandated programs and testing with shrinking funds.

I’d also like to address another part of his newsletter in my Dear Senator Toomey Part 2.
In the meantime, what else would you tell Mr. Toomey about what's needed in education? Please comment below.