Monday, April 12, 2010

Dear Dr. Bennett.....

A concerned educator, parent, and citizen responds to the misguided efforts coming out the Indiana Department of Education.....

Dear Dr. Bennett,

You have invited teachers to give you thoughtful feedback, and so I am taking you up on your invitation. I do agree with you on one point: there should be no filter between you and the teachers of Indiana. I am disappointed that you have chosen to present your questions in an either/or format when in fact the situations that you describe are complex, nuanced, politically charged and far too important to reduce to such inflammatory questions. If you are sincerely interested in open, honest and thoughtful dialog with teachers, you will first have to create conditions in which it is safe for teachers to tell you what they honestly believe and up to this point, I see no evidence that you have done this. In fact, I find myself having to face the possibility that writing to you will result in negative consequences for me personally and professionally, but I cannot remain silent in good conscience.

I have attended many sessions over the last year in which you professed to be hosting an open forum, but the reality was the forums were created to give the illusion of openness. I attended each and every one of the REPA Advisory Panel meetings and hearings in Indianapolis. Each time I have left feeling an increasing sense of despair for schools, administrators, teachers, and most importantly, students. I have seen first hand the consequences of the increasing pressure to perform on standardized tests as the State of Indiana dumps millions of dollars into McGraw-Hill's coffers at the expense of authentic teaching and learning. Schools have become spirit-killing sites of compliance, of drill, skill, and kill test preparation, and of joyless memorization of "facts."

Our brilliant, talented, creative and thoughtful students in Indiana deserve schools that will allow them to read deeply, engage in meaningful dialog, write inspiring works, and imagine a future beyond lock-step uniform compliance and worksheet completion. I want this kind of school for ALL Indiana children, and for that to happen, you will need teachers who understand how to create those conditions for teaching and learning. If you really want Indiana to lead the nation, as I have heard you profess, then Indiana will have to boldly break away from the mindless plodding toward the insanity and chaos that could potentially break out in states like Florida. You are our State Superintendent and I believe your primary responsibility is to lead schools, administrators, teachers, and students into a renaissance of authentic, meaningful, and exciting teaching and learning. I hope right now you are asking yourself how to begin. You could begin by sitting down with teachers and listening to them, really listening to understand what is happening in schools. You could also listen to students and to parents. Listening to highly-paid consultants and "experts" does not seem to be leading us to a shared vision of excellence.

Please, I beg of you, take seriously this moment in which we stand poised on the brink. An entire generation of students and the careers of dedicated professionals depend upon your next moves. This is bigger than politics and more important than relinquishing everything and anything to compete for federal dollars. For some students and their families, these impact of the decisions you make will literally be the difference between life and death.


Citizen, life-long Resident, and registered Voter of Indiana
Licensed 9-12 Spanish and K-12 ESL Teacher
Parent of 3 Indiana High School Graduates and current Indiana college students
Teacher Educator and Professional Developer


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