Letters to Diane

Peggy Pastor

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I just finished reading your latest book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, and I not only enjoyed the historical perspective on how we came to our present state but also found myself nodding my head at your description of the consequences to today’s schools.

I have been in both private and public schools and have been, among other things, a building principal for a total of over 20 years. I presently am principal of a public school with high poverty, a large and growing ESOL population, and a very large program for the cognitively disabled. We have made steady progress in reading and math over the past 10 years according to the results of our different assessments, including the state tests.  However, the fight to keep history, science and the arts in the instruction and to ensure that instruction is engaging and appropriate is constant.

I chose this job at this point in my career because I felt my experience and knowledge could make a difference. I also believe that these children will be handicapped and not competitive with their peers from private schools and from wealth if they do not have the opportunity to have a well- rounded education.  But the “reign of terror” that results from NCLB is hard to counteract and I know that my teachers fear for their livelihoods in spite of all I do and say.

This past year in a neighboring school in “restructuring” the principal was removed and all of the staff told to reapply for their jobs. This was a school that had made significant progress against mounting odds.  We know that there is no reason to believe that the school will now do better because there is a new leadership team and the staff feels threatened. Families who have the money to have other options are leaving the school.  Teachers who can find other options are leaving the school.

I had high hopes that the election of President Obama would herald the arrival of a more thoughtful and informed approach to the complex business of teaching and learning.  The continued use of simplistic language and policy is disheartening. Do our elected officials really believe that schools and educators are simply holding back the “good stuff” and that with the right threat there will be “no child left behind”?

Thank you for your voice of professional knowledge in a nation in which only those with little real  understanding have been the dominant voices.

Peggy Pastor