“We would be foolish and irresponsible to place our children’s future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington.” – Governor Rick Perry
Mr. and Mrs. Gates,
As you know, Texas is the second-largest state in the United States of America, both in size and in population. What you may not know is that if Texas were its own independent nation, it would have the world’s seventh-largest economy. As of 2012, the population of Texas exceeded 26 million documented citizens. According to the Texas Education Agency, during the 2011-2012 school year, there were 4,998,579 students enrolled in public schools, which is the second-largest number of public school students of any state in the Union. With nearly 20% of the state’s population enrolled in the public school system, and with the enormity of the state’s economy, why would Texas choose to exempt itself from the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top program?
Having lived in Texas for several years, I can tell you that I do not often agree with Governor Rick Perry or his policy decisions. That being said, the governor hit the nail squarely on the head when faced with a decision about what Texas’ involvement would be with the Race to the Top program. On January 13, 2010, he declared, “We would be foolish and irresponsible to place our children’s future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington.” While he was referring to Washington, D.C. in his speech, he could very easily have been pointing to Washington State and your organization.
When Race to the Top was launched in 2009, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave $650 million in grants to states who chose to participate in the program because it was estimated that each state would require in excess of 680 personnel hours just to get Race to the Top off the ground. In a time of serious financial concerns, this is a woefully irresponsible use of money for educational purposes. Furthermore, the program was radical enough in its construction and expectations that four states chose not to participate at all, and an additional fifteen states withdrew after entering the program initially. The primary facet of the program is the Obama Administration’s push for teacher evaluations via student performance through high-stakes, standardized testing. Likewise, to support the Race to the Top program’s emphasis on testing is to be identically in support of the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind legislation, which is wildly unpopular among educators because it is the law most credited with establishing annual standardized tests as a means of evaluating student performance. While both programs were developed with the best intentions of curing the ills of our education system, the combination of teacher evaluation and student evaluation through high-stakes, standardized testing has proven time and time again to be destructive to teachers and students alike.
How can an organization as powerful and influential as the Gates Foundation choose to fund and support these programs when they are so widely and stiffly opposed by the people they affect the most? Now is not the time to be disengaged with the people in the trenches. We, the educators, need your support, not the government. When teachers struggle, students lose. It’s just that simple, and it’s shameful that politics would be allowed to stand in the way of providing our teachers and students with the best possible opportunities for success.
By supporting and funding the central principles of the Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind programs, the Gates Foundation has effectively pulled the rug from beneath educators all over the country. To base teacher performance on standardized test scores is to unfairly and prematurely incriminate teachers everywhere. Certainly, there are bad teachers in our education system, but they are the exception, rather than the rule. It is vitally important that people in a position of power and influence, such as yourselves, recognize how critical the situation is for those of us who are trying so hard to make a difference. Teachers should never feel as though they must “teach to the test”, nor should they ever have to look over their shoulders in fear of punishment for under-performing students.
I wholeheartedly believe that the mission of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is to improve education in this country, but Mr. and Mrs. Gates, you have put your faith and your money in the wrong people.
Put your faith in those of us who have dedicated our lives to giving our students everything they need to be successful and productive members of society. No one knows what the future holds, but it is entirely possible that the next Bill Gates sits in my band somewhere. It is possible that one of my Chemistry colleagues will teach the brilliant child who will one day find the cure for cancer. One of my English colleagues may inspire the next J.K. Rowling to write a series of books that will take the world by storm. Standardized tests are never going to help those students reach their potentials. Inspired and passionate teachers will.
The Gates Foundation needs to re-evaluate its position on education reform before it is too late to turn back. Texas has already begun to catch-on. When will you?
Please, I implore you, rethink testing.
Very sincerely and respectfully yours,
Mr. Wesley McCall