California teacher warns Obama: Dump Duncan and stop attacking teachers or lose in 2012

[Editor's note. The following letter (and bibliography) was forwarded to Substance from a number of lists by one of our friends, California teacher Claudia Ayers. It has already generated a good deal of response, and we are reprinting it here for our readers who have not yet seen it. The letter is shared here with Substance readers with permission of Ms. Ayers].

Arne Duncan arriving at Chicago's Carl Schurz High School on September 9, 2011. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.President Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, D.C. 20500

September 17, 2011

Dear President Obama,

Do you want to be re-elected? Do you not know that TEACHERS are the largest, most effective, and most essential component of your base?

If you don’t have teachers with you, then you cannot win in 2012. When you ask Arne Duncan to resign and replace him with a knowledgeable educator your approval ratings will jump 10 points within two weeks and steadily climb right through Election Day. The vast majority of all US teachers want you to win, but right now (other than their 50 hour work week) they are sitting on their hands, anguished. They wonder how you will be able to solve so many complex international and domestic issues if you cannot figure out that education is a collaborative effort, not a “Race to the Top.”

All things considered, teachers are doing astonishingly well. You would never know it based on the images presented by your Secretary of Education, by you, and by the press. Until you understand the concept of bi-serial correlation and the relative insignificance of standardized test scores, you will continue to under-serve public schools. Again: there are virtually no intelligent teachers who support Arne Duncan, and merely replacing him with a solid educator will give you an enormous bump in your approval ratings.

One of every hundred people in the US is an active teacher, each with an average number of daily contacts of around 40 other voters (including parents, grand-parents, and all students over the age of 18). Teachers will be with you if they think you know anything about education. You send your kids to a private school for God’s sake. Trust me, when you discuss the needs of public school children, you are not credible. Yet.

[img=4019]I myself attended Woodrow Wilson High School in the District of Columbia; Frank Rich was a classmate, and remains a treasured friend. I’ve been a teacher in inner city and suburban California public schools for 22 years. I have done extensive research, and have a good sense of what works in classrooms: I know without a doubt that Arne Duncan is a severe liability for you. He is profoundly out of touch with authentic teachers and terribly ill-informed.

To quickly improve your education policy perspective, PLEASE invite Deborah Meier, Alfie Kohn, Susan Ohanian, Stephen Krashen, Diane Ravitch, and Monte Neill to an informal, confidential meeting. In just a few hours they could deepen your understanding of education, tell what is at stake, and help you to better proceed with a much improved national education policy. They have proven experience and dedication. Their collective understanding of education research reaches profound depths. The attached will tell you more about them.

Most sincerely,

Claudia Ayers

181 Chimney Creek Road, Soquel, CA 95073 (831) 462-4823

Deborah W. Meier is currently at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education, as senior scholar a as well as Board member and director of New Ventures at Mission Hill, director and advisor to Forum for Democracy and Education, and on the Board of The Coalition of Essential Schools.

Meier has spent more than four decades working in public education as a teacher, writer and public advocate. From 1997 to 2005 she was the founder and principal of the Mission Hill School a K-8 Boston Public Pilot school serving 180 children in the Roxbury community.

The schools she has helped create serve predominantly low-income African-American and Latino students, and include a typical range of students in terms of academic skills, special needs, etc. There are no entrance requirements. These schools are considered exemplars of reform nationally and affiliates of the national Coalition of Essential Schools founded by Dr. Ted Sizer.

A learning theorist, she encourages new approaches that enhance democracy and equity in public education. Meier is on the editorial board of Dissent magazine, The Nation and the Harvard Education Letter. She is a Board member of the Association of Union Democracy, Educators for Social Responsibility, the Panasonic Foundation, and a founding member of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, the North Dakota Study Group on Evaluation and the Forum for Democracy and Education, among others.

Meier was born April 6, 1931 in New York City; she attended Antioch College (1949-51) and received an MA in History from the University of Chicago (1955). She has received honorary degrees from Bank Street College of Education, Brown, Bard, Clark, Teachers College of Columbia University, Dartmouth, Harvard, Hebrew Union College, Hofstra, The New School, Lesley College, SUNY Albany, UMASS Lowell, and Yale. She was a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 1987.

Her books, The Power of Their Ideas, Lessons to America from a Small School in Harlem (1995), Will Standards Save Public Education (2000), In Schools We Trust (2002), Keeping School, with Ted and Nancy Sizer (2004) and Many Children Left Behind (2004) are all published by Beacon Press, as well as her latest, Playing for Keeps, with Breda Engel and Beth Taylor publiched by Teachers College Press.

Deborah Meier can be reached at: email:

Alfie Kohn has a powerful website at where he can be reached. His many books include:

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WELL EDUCATED? And More Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies (Beacon Press, 2004) A collection of articles that were originally published between 1999 and 2003, dealing with topics ranging from the purposes of schooling to the SAT to the implications of Sept. 11.

THE CASE AGAINST STANDARDIZED TESTING: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools (Heinemann, 2000) A short, accessible, Q & A-style book on tests and what we can do about them, expanding on information in the Schools book described below.

THE SCHOOLS OUR CHILDREN DESERVE: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and "Tougher Standards (Houghton Mifflin, 1999) Challenges widespread assumptions about back-to-basics and "bunch o' facts" teaching, as well as the current test-driven accountability movement.


(Jossey-Bass, 1998) A collection of articles that were originally published between 1989 and 1998, dealing with topics ranging from character education to caring classrooms to the effects of watching TV.

PUNISHED BY REWARDS: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes (Houghton Mifflin, 1993/1999) Makes the case against using rewards with students, children, and employees; lengthy chapters offer alternatives to traditional carrot-and-stick practices at school, at home, and at work.

THE BRIGHTER SIDE OF HUMAN NATURE: Altruism and Empathy in Everyday Life

(Basic Books, 1990) Draws from hundreds of studies to argue that selfishness and aggression are no more "natural" than caring and generosity.

NO CONTEST: The Case Against Competition (Houghton Mifflin, 1986/1992)

Argues that competition is counterproductive in all areas of human life - work, school, play, and family - undermining achievement, damaging self-esteem, and poisoning relationships.

EDUCATION, INC.: Turning Learning into a Busines. (Heinemann, 2002)

A collection of essays by various authors critical of corporate involvement in schools, including such topics as advertising to children and efforts to privatize education.

FEEL-BAD EDUCATION: ...And Other Contrarian Essays on Children and Schooling

(Beacon Press, 2011) A collection of articles that were originally published between 2004 and 2010, dealing with topics ranging from cheating to national standards to Supernanny.

UNCONDITIONAL PARENTING: Moving from Rewards and Punishments

to Love and Reason (Atria Books, 2005) Begins with the question “What do children need – and how can we meet those needs?” rather than “How can we get kids to do whatever we tell them?” Helps parents to move from techniques that emphasize control (and conditional acceptance) to an approach designed to help kids grow into good people.

Susan Ohanian is the winner of the 2003 National Council of English Teacher’s George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language; her vast website is located at Her books include:

WHY IS CORPORATE AMERICA BASHING OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS? (Heinemann, 2004) Because it's in their interests-not yours. Where exactly did high-stakes testing come from anyway? Neither parents, teachers, administrators, nor school boards demanded it, and now many communities feel powerless to reverse its appalling effect on our schools.

CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE: Nonstandard Kids and a Killing Curriculum (Heinemann, 2001)A follow-up to One Size Fits Few, this book cuts to the heart of classroom dilemmas. Heart-wrenching and heroic portraits of students show what teachers and students do when standards are shipped in from State Ed. Here's what Deborah Meier says in the Foreword: "To me, Susan is the quintessential teacher. . . Thanks Susan--on days when the going is toughest, you and your students will always be there with me to help me remain sane. And hopeful."

ONE SIZE FITS FEW: The Folly of Educational Standards (Heinemann, 1999)

A scathing indictment of standardized testing, delivered with sharp wit (reserved for the proponents of testing), and love and empathy (for the students whose lives and learning is profoundly affected by it). Ohanian crafts a powerful argument against the use of standards.

Stephen Krashen has a website at He is professor emeritus at the University of Southern California. He moved from the linguistics department to the faculty of the School of Education in 1994. He is a linguist, educational researcher, and activist. Dr. Krashen has published more than 350 papers and books, contributing to the fields of second language acquisition, bilingual education, and reading. He is credited with introducing various influential concepts and terms in the study of second language acquisition, including the acquisition-learning hypothesis, the input hypothesis, the monitor hypothesis, the affective filter, and the natural order hypothesis. Most recently, Krashen promotes the use of free voluntary reading during second language acquisition, which he says "is the most powerful tool we have in language education, first and second." His books include:

THE POWER OF READING (Second Edition, 2004)


THE CASE FOR LATE INTERVENTION: Once A Good Reader Always A Good Reader (1996)

UNDER ATTACK: The Case Against Bilingual Education (1996)

Diane Ravitch is, according to Wikipedia, “an historian of education, an educational policy analyst, and a research professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Previously, she was a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education. …Ravitch said that the charter school and testing reform movement was started by ‘right wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation,’ for the purpose of destroying public education and teachers' unions. She reviewed the documentary Waiting for Superman, directed by Davis Guggenheim, as ‘propagandistic’ (pro-charter schools and anti-public schools), studded with "myths" and at least one ‘flatly wrong’ claim. Of Education Secretary Arne Duncan's Race to the Top program, Ravitch said in a 2011 interview it ‘is an extension of No Child Left Behind ...[,] all bad ideas.’ She concluded ‘We are destroying our education system, blowing it up by these stupid policies. And handing the schools in low-income neighborhoods over to private entrepreneurs does not, in itself, improve them. There's plenty of evidence by now that the kids in those schools do no better, and it's simply a way of avoiding their - the public responsibility to provide good education.’" She received a Ph.D. in the history of American education in 1975.

Diane has written at least 20 books, but it is her last that she will be remembered most for:

THE DEATH AND LIFE OF THE GREAT AMERICAN SCHOOL SYSTEM: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (Basic Books, 2010)

Monty Neill, Ed.D., is currently Executive Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest). He has led FairTest's work on testing in the public schools since 1987. He has initiated national and state coalitions of education, civil rights, religious and parent organizations to work toward fundamental change in the assessment of students and in accountability. He currently chairs the Forum on Educational Accountability, an alliance working to overhaul federal education law (the No Child Left Behind Act, in particular) based on the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB, signed by nearly 150 national groups. Under his leadership, FairTest has worked on graduation tests and other high-stakes tests with organizations in many states.

Among many publications, he is co-author of Failing Our Children, a report analyzing the federal No Child Left Behind Act and providing guidance toward new, helpful accountability systems. He led the National Forum on Assessment in developing Principles and Indicators for Student Assessment Systems, signed by over 80 national and regional education and civil rights organizations. He also authored Implementing Performance Assessments: A Guide to Classroom School and System Reform, and Testing Our Children: A Report Card on State Assessment Systems, the first comprehensive evaluation of all 50 state testing programs.

He earned a Doctorate at Harvard University with his dissertation The Struggle of Boston's Black Community for Quality and Equality in Education: 1960-1985. He has taught and been an administrator in pre-school, high school and college, and he is a grandfather of three children in the public schools.

Monty can be contacted at (617) 477-9792 or at I’m sure he would be willing to find a date when all these activist educators could be available to meet with you.


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