Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Letter from Barack Obama to the NEA Membership

July 1, 2008
Members of the National Education Association
c/o Reginald Weaver, President

Dear Friends,
I firmly believe that teachers and education support professionals are the heartbeat of our public education system, and that the tremendous effort you've made in partnership with parents has improved and expanded children's knowledge of math and reading, writing and science but also character and confidence, curiosity and creativity. Indeed, teaching is the most important profession in our society because it is the profession on which all others depend.
I thank you for your commitment to our children and your determination to improve our nation's schools. Together we can transform our public education system and ensure that all students in this nation receive the world-class education to which each is entitled.
The agenda for a stronger America starts with education. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and. conservatives, economists and educators all agree that in this digital age, a highly-educated and skilled workforce will be the key not only to individual opportunity, but to the overall success of our economy as well. We cannot be satisfied until every child in America has the same chances for a good education that we want for our own children.
I applaud the NEA for its efforts to frame the agenda outlined in Great Public Schools for Every Student by 2020. This document provides a roadmap for educators, elected officials, policymakers, and all who care deeply about the future of our children to consider and debate in the days ahead. And it provides critical starting points for a new educational compact.
The first point is that the status quo is not acceptable. There are enormous educational and fiscal inequities among public schools. A few years ago, I visited a high school outside Chicago. The number one concern I heard from those students was that the school district couldn't afford to keep teachers for a full day, so school let out at 1:30 every afternoon. That cut out critical classes like science. These students knew they were being short-changed, like others in poor communities across America who lack the programs, textbooks, computers, science labs, and qualified teachers they need.
Second, although No Child Left Behind had the right goals - raising achievement for all students - it has not solved the problems we face. States and districts continue to struggle with how best to help lowperforming students. High-quality professional development for educators and staff has often been lacking. The focus on a single, high stakes standardized test too often distorts how eductors teach.
We can fix the failures of No Child Left Behind while focusing on accountability. We must provide the funding that was promised, give our states the resources they need, and finally meet our commitment to special education. We must ensure that the federal government provides a helping hand in enabling schools to improve, rather than a heavy hand that deflects attention from delivering great educational programs for every student in our public schools.
But, as you well know, fixing the problems of No Child Left Behind is not an education policy on its own. It's just a starting point. A truly historic commitment to education - a real commitment - will require new resources and new reforms. It will require a willingness to move beyond the stale debates that have paralyzed Washington for decades. It will require leaders in Washington who are willing to learn a lesson from students and teachers in local communities about what actually works.
Real reform begins with the understanding that from the moment our children step into a classroom, the single most important factor in determining their achievement is their educator. It's the person who stays past the last bell and spends his or her own money on books and supplies. It's all of you who go beyond the call of duty because you believe that's what makes the extra difference. And it does.
That is why the third critical point is that we must invest in educators. The federal government must support access to high-quality education and professional development for educators, as well as research and resources for obtaining additional skills that contribute to improved teaching practices. We need to collaborate with states on policies that help attract and retain qualified educators to high-poverty and hard-to-staff schools. My plan includes service scholarships to underwrite preparation for those who will teach in high-need fields and locations, new investments to ensure mentoring for all beginning educators, effective training through residency programs for teaching urban districts, and models to attract and retain diverse and talented educators to the profession. And when our educators succeed, I will not simply talk about how great they are; I will reward their greatness with better pay and more support.
Transforming our education system will require sustained effort from all of us - educators and parents; federal, state and local governments. I look forward to joining hands with you in this critically important work.
Barack Obama