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"Letters to the Next President" Forum Addresses the American Education Crisis

If you could send a message directly to the next President of the United States suggesting ways to improve the condition of education, what would you say?
If you could send a message directly to the next President of the United States suggesting ways to improve the condition of education, what would you say?

This question was posed to a diverse group of thinkers including prominent educators, lawmakers, students, and others who have made unique contributions to society. The result is Letters to the Next President: What We Can Do About the Real Crisis in Public Education, the new book published by Teachers College Press (February 2004). This collection of 33 thought-provoking letters presents a diverse array of viewpoints, covering topics ranging from No Child Left Behind to the physical facilities in which children are taught. On the evening of April 26, a group of authors whose letters appear in the book participated in a panel at TC's Horace Mann auditorium.

Scholars who have written letters for this book include Linda Darling-Hammond, former TC professor and current Charles E. Ducommun Professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education ("Schools that Work for All Children"), Thomas Sobol, who is Christian A. Johnson Professor of Outstanding Educational Practice at TC ("A President That Gets It"), TC Professor Emerita Maxine Greene ("Learning to Come Alive"), and Theodore Sizer, University Professor Emeritus at Brown University and founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools ("What We All Want for Each of Our Children"), among many others. The book opens with a prologue by Bill Cosby, and closes with an epilogue by the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota.

Many of the authors on the panel commented on the ways that the No Child Left Behind Act is impacting students and schools, for better and for worse. Pedro Noguera, a Professor at NYU's Steinhardt School of Education who is currently a Visiting Professor at TC, summed up the views of many on the panel when he said, "Teachers and students are being held accountable for an education system that they have no control over." Noguera continued: "The whole focus on standards is far too narrow, it's too simple to focus on academics. We also need standards for the conditions in the places where children learn, the conditions under which teachers teach." He added that the current system virtually ignores the non-academic needs of children, as well as the most basic educational needs such as access to qualified teachers. He did, however, point out the more positive aspects of the law, including the disaggregation of student data, and noted that "for the first time, our policy mandates that we educate all children."

Student voices are represented as well, including that of Wellesley College freshman Rosa Fernandez, who at 14 emigrated from the Dominican Republic to New York City with her twin sister. The sisters were placed in two very different schools-Rosa's sister went to a large "warehouse" high school, while Rosa was able to attend Manhattan International School, a small public high school that helped give her the education she needed to succeed. Her experience led her to become active on the planning team for the New Century High Schools in the Bronx.

Letters was edited by Carl Glickman, a veteran educator who holds the Roy F. and Joann Cole Mitte Endowed Chair in School Improvement at Texas State University, and an advisor the Georgia League of Professional Schools.

All royalties from the proceeds of the book are being donated to three children's advocacy organizations. For a full list of authors and more information about the book, visit www.letterstoprez.com.

Published Friday, Jun. 10, 2005