Monday, March 1, 2010



Click to enlarge
The Newport Daily News opinion article of February 25, 2010

Dear President Obama,

When I was volunteering for your campaign during the primary season in New Hampshire, you said that you expected and wanted citizens to tell you when you were off track or wrong, if you were elected President. I have been doing that for a year now, regarding Darfur and genocide. This letter however focuses on the issue of what makes our schools successful. What are the ingredients that make a school one that provides a quality education? It is an uneducated thought that results in believing high school students dropping out or doing poorly because of current teachers in a high school are the isolated rationale for the failures.

The comment that you said today: "... a school that fails its students year after year. That's what happened in Rhode Island," is simply the wrong choice of words and the lack of understanding is so sad to me. You are the President, you bear the responsibility to be more thoughtful and have a better grasp of what is going on about our schools.

I think you know this: schools are a microcosm of the larger society. The teachers are a very important part of the school system, but year after year what teachers are expected to be in order to fix the society's ills and the children that are immersed in that society is simply astonishingly overwhelming.

I taught in the Sturbridge, Massachusetts public school system my first year and had 950 students. Yes, 950. My second year through my 29th year, I taught in the Portsmouth Public Schools in Rhode Island and only had 700 students originally, which at the lowest number I had only 450 students. After that I retired, only to teach again, but in a private school, so that I could send my son to a private Quaker upper school, high school. He was a student of mine that I met in his second grade class. When I met him, he could not read, not because he wasn't bright, because he is extremely bright, but because of the hell that he lived in as a child with his birth mother. She was the reason his life was a hell. She was also poor.

I offered to be his mentor in school, gave him free piano lessons, took pictures of him, put them in a little photo album and wrote long captions on the backs of each picture to encourage him to teach himself to read. He loved that photo book. He didn't have photos of himself and he couldn't thank me enough the afternoon that I gave him the album. Long story short ~ eventually, I adopted him. But he moved in when was 10 years old. The groundwork had been set for him to fail. He had moved from foster home to foster home. And he had already experienced one failed adoption placement. Detachment disorder, PTSD, abuse and the worst, neglect, were all contenders for his wholeness to be splintered.

The reason I wanted him to be accepted to go to a private high school was many, but centrally because he had so many disadvantages in his childhood and I wanted him to have some advantages to help him be the best that he could be. I wanted him to have an excellent education. I didn't want him to lose his natural love of learning, which was evident when I first met him when he was 8. Here I was a public school teacher most of my life and I was choosing to send him to an expensive private school that had a high standard of excellence. But, then I had a high standard of excellence in my public school music classroom all the years I taught.

Here is my point of bringing up my son's situation. It wasn't the schools that failed him as much as it was his family, the adults in his life that should have provided a safe environment, but provided an environment that should have cemented a life of failure and depression for him. And it did for his older brother who never had the benefit of having someone tuck him in at night or read him a bedtime story or care that he have a good education. And it was the terrible mistakes of the foster care program which I would love to expose for the tragic and unspeakable handling of my son's life and his brothers'. Simply wrong - what they did time after time.

Although I live in Rhode Island, I don't know much about Central Falls, the town you slammed the teachers in the high school for the poor record of education. But I googled it and found it is a very poor town. The median income in 2000 was $22,628. Granted that is 10 years ago, but Rhode Island unemployment is very high, so I will assume the median isn't relatively any better today. It also has a high per centage of people who don't speak English.

This means that these are poor families, at best. Many families have no father. If there is child humiliation, abuse, neglect, abandonment, then also being poor is pretty much going to be a life of extremely difficult barriers to overcome for a chld. Furthermore, drugs may be an issue with at least a fair number of the adults in this town. Drugs were with my son's mother. And as he said, she was better when she was on the drugs, than when she wasn't. People who are addicted can be nastier when they need a fix, than when they are on their high. But regardless, neglect is the result of a parent on drugs.

Below is pasted what was found at wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Falls,_Rhode_Island

Here is the last line of this section, highlighted for you:
About 25.9% of families and 29.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 40.8% of those under age 18 and 29.3% of those age 65 or over.

As of the census[1] of 2000, there were 18,928 people, 6,696 households, and 4,359 families residing in the city. The population density was 15,652.0 people per square meli (6,039.8/km²). There were 7,270 housing units at an average density of 6,011.7/sq mi (2,319.8/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 57.16% White, 5.82% African American, 0.57% Native American, 0.68% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 28.35% from other races, and 7.38% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 47.77% of the population.

There were 6,696 households out of which 38.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 36.4% were married couples living together, 21.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.9% were non-families. 29.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.74 and the average family size was 3.38.

In the city the population was spread out with 29.2% under the age of 18, 11.8% from 18 to 24, 31.6% from 25 to 44, 15.8% from 45 to 64, and 11.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30 years. For every 100 females there were 98.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93.7 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $22,628, and the median income for a family was $26,844. Males had a median income of $23,854 versus $18,544 for females. The per capita income for the city was $10,825. About 25.9% of families and 29.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 40.8% of those under age 18 and 29.3% of those age 65 or over.

1) Central Falls - this is a high school that the whole staff was fired. And anyone knows, with any sense at all, that failure in our educational systems happens way before high school. So, to fire the high school staff, blaming that staff for the sins of the entire society, is ridiculous.

2) I would wager that many of these children in Central Falls go to school hungry and go to bed hungry.

3) Keep in mind that children who don't have a stable home life, cannot concentrate in school. No matter how excellent a teacher is.

When I was a teacher, it wasn't as bad as it is now. The paper work is overwhelming for teachers today. Teachers serve as more than just teachers. We are to solve all of society's ills. We are to take a child who is tired from lack of sleep, from extreme neglect, hunger, abuse, anxiety from a strident home life and bring up their test scores to compete with our mind's model. And don't think just because a child comes from a home that has the money to provide is simply better off and ready to learn. Oftentimes, that child is overindulged, has too much given to them without thought or merit and this child suffers from unengaged parents many times. I even saw this in the private school that I taught in. I can't remember where I heard this, but an overindulged child has been given a major disservice.

The private Quaker high school that my son graduated from has an excellent success rate, as I am sure your daughters' school has. But the enrollments at these schools are handpicked. The public school staff that you reprimanded and yet praised the superintendent for firing the teachers and principals didn't handpick the enrollment. And public school's "hands" are limited in dealing with behavior and what can be required by the parents and the students. Unlike a private school that has much more room to make its own rules.

We have children in the USA who are supposed to come to school ready to learn, yet they have multiple distractions in their lives that I didn't have when I was growing up. When I was a child, we had television, but much of the time there wasn't even a show on the two or three channels we had. And we had phones, but all the technology that is available to shorten our attention spans today wasn't present to cause us to have too many choices to soak up our abilities to concentrate.

We are asking a lot of our teachers and we give so little support to their effort. When I was a teacher, I never heard a parent say to me, "expect more of my child". Quite the contrary.

So, in the end the solution is not to fire the teachers and expect a different outcome. From the day the child is born, we as a society and the society within the child's family life, set the expectations, show our examples, and raise the child in an environment that sets him or her up to be ready to receive what the teacher can build upon.

So, we better begin way before high school to change what needs to be done to offer our children their optimal chance at learning. If a child can't read in the second grade, then he is not as likely to reach his potential in high school. And we failed that child way before high school. I found as a teacher of 5 to 10 year olds most of my career, that by second grade, children were set in their thinking as to their potential. Whether it be like my son who had been beaten, told he was worthless and stupid in an on-going routine before he moved out of his mother's reach or that a child feels worthless sitting in a classroom when he thinks everyone else gets "it" but him - it isn't just the teachers' jobs to make our education for our children the best. It is our job, too. The adults outside and inside the school system.

And yes, teachers aren't all excellent. As in all professions, some are excellent and some are mediocre and some are bad at what they do. But, then our government is also a microcosm for our society. It has been failing us, too. For a long time.

The four options given to "failing" schools are wide open for criticism. The teachers do have a contract. And I am certain this will be a court case. Your statement today, I found off base, full of some misguided arrogance. And not helpful. I wonder how many of these teachers would have glowing evaluations if they were teaching in the private school that your daughter have the fortune to attend. We as teachers have to work with the students in front of us. I imagine teachers are not too fond of you right now. And I am quite certain the teachers unions all recommended voting for you.

What now?

The turnaround you are assuming will happen because the entire staff at Central Falls public high school was fired will be a bit more complex than you dream of.

Just like the Darfur issue is a bit more complex than General Gration and you seem to think it is and warrants some serious thinking.

Not too happy with you.


Click on post title for Portsmouth website.

Census 2000 Data

A summary profile for all Rhode Island towns from the Census 2000 characteristics is available from the RI Office of Statewide Planning at: http://www.planning.ri.gov/census/citytown.htm

Central Falls School Website

Central Falls RI USA website


My son is proof that hard work, parental involvement (though late for a child's development) and a good school environment can work wonders for a student. But, I maintain it takes all three, at a minimum. He is one of the most exceptional students in the engineering school he attends - so much so, that his university in Boston offered him the opportunity to double up his undergraduate courses with graduate courses, earning both his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in the amount of time it takes a student to earn only their Bachelor's.

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