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Dear President Trump

Dear President Trump,

In your State of the Union speech last week you said, “for too long, countless American children have been trapped in failing government schools.”  I suppose that sentiment isn’t surprising for a man who appointed the least qualified Secretary of Education in history.  Neither you or Ms. Devos have ever spent any meaningful time in America’s outstanding PUBLIC schools.  You call them “government schools,” because that somehow ties our education system to the dysfunction in Washington, D.C. that you preside over.  In truth, the heart of America’s PUBLIC schools are the families who send their children to their neighborhood school, vote in local school board elections, as well as the teachers who live in these communities and understand that a PUBLIC school education is an investment in our communities and the key to a better future for ALL of the young people who walk through our doors every day.

You and Ms. DeVos wish to take our tax dollars and put that money into the hands of those who wish to make a profit off of our students or who have a religious or political agenda to promote.  The private, religious, and charter schools that you and Ms. DeVos hope to send public tax dollars towards can (and do) discriminate against all types of students.  They don’t have to open their doors to students with disabilities if they choose not to.  They can discriminate against LGBTQ students.  They are not held to the same regulatory standards as true PUBLIC schools.  And there is scant evidence that charter schools (like those promoted by Ms. DeVos in Michigan) outperform PUBLIC schools (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/05/magazine/michigan-gambled-on-charter-schools-its-children-lost.html).  All that happens is that wealthy men and women who are eager to take our public tax dollars away from public schools get richer, wealthy Mega Churches open schools using public tax dollars to get bigger and richer, and PUBLIC schools (who open their doors to ALL young people) have fewer and fewer resources to meet the needs of their communities.

President Ulysses S. Grant came to my hometown of Des Moines, Iowa and said the following, “Encourage free schools and resolve that not one dollar of money appropriated to their support, no matter how raised, shall be appropriated to the support of any sectarian school.  Resolve that either the state or Nation, or both combined shall support institutions of learning sufficient to afford every child growing up in the land the opportunity of a good common school education, unmixed with sectarian, Pagan, or atheistical tenets.  Leave the matter of religion to the private school supported entirely by private contributions.  Keep the church and state forever separate.”

For all of the talk about the need for “choice” in schools, students would be best served by having more choices in their neighborhood PUBLIC schools.  In Iowa, the continued underfunding of PUBLIC education has led to larger class sizes, reductions in fine arts and related arts offerings, and is leading to a growing exodus of outstanding teachers from the profession (with fewer and fewer young people wanting to teach).  In the State of the Union you encouraged all schools to have vocational and technical education programs.  I agree wholeheartedly with your desire to see those programs grow, and yet the chronic underfunding of PUBLIC schools is making it impossible to create or maintain these programs.

Mr. Trump, I encourage you to visit some public schools and see what is really happening.  Don’t listen to a Secretary of Education who has no experience in PUBLIC schools. Don’t allow our country to repeat the horrific model that she inflicted on the people of Michigan.   I invite you to see schools where kindergartners are doing science experiments in small collaborative groups where they problem-solve issues with the movement of water.  I invite you to a middle school jazz rehearsal where young people are playing music from one of our countries truly authentic art forms.  I invite you to attend a high school literature class where they are studying Elie Wiesel’s “Night” and are talking about the horrors inflicted on an entire class of people by an authoritarian government.  I encourage you to attend a Friday night basketball game anywhere here in Iowa where the community comes together in their PUBLIC school and celebrates the talent of their young people.  I encourage you to attend a physical education class where students with special needs are supported by their peers in building life-long fitness habits.  I would encourage you to attend a school’s Community Night where interpreters are available so that teachers can talk with our immigrant families and discuss the future of their children, encouraging them to dream big.

PUBLIC schools are the cornerstone of American communities.  PUBLIC schools are an investment in all of our futures.  PUBLIC schools open their doors to EVERY young person craving an opportunity to learn, grow, and embrace the future.   No one is trapped in a PUBLIC school; students are welcomed, supported, and lifted up every day in PUBLIC schools.  Great PUBLIC schools shouldn’t be a partisan issue.  Everyone is better off when our PUBLIC schools succeed.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney

By patrickjkearney

Middle School band director in Iowa. Past President of the Iowa Bandmasters Association. Views expressed on this blog are my own.

126 replies on “Dear President Trump”

I wrote a response to this letter on my blog, if you’re interested. In a nutshell: I feel you are overestimating the power of voice, underestimating the power of exit and what you support keeps poor families from enjoying similar education freedom that middle and upper income families already have.

Sorry. You can’t pin this tail on Trump. As a child of two public school teachers it is your local educational leadership that is prioritizing your tax dollars to athletics over music over special education over inequality. In fact after working with parents in the legal arena, who attempt to get their child a much needed 504c plan or an IEP, it is the principal or the teacher or the school board that causes the resistance (in some cases). I have seen a principal deny a student an iep over the color of their skin. The politics I witnessed my parents go through from teaching core classes clash with the athletic director in order for his athletes to pass is something I will always remember. I was in high school and witnessed this personally. This isn’t Trump, this is your local education leadership at its finest, in its own swamp. Drain the Washington DC swamp and maybe you should drain your local school board swamp too.

I don’t know where to begin, but thank you for your thoughtful ,insightful, factual respect for public schools. I don’t mind opinion and debate, but the comments of some here
are deplorable! How do they get like that?

Patrick, your opinion of the US public ed system as currently administered is objectively incorrect. It is racist. It is wasteful. It needs to be fundamentally reformed.

I don’t have an answer BUT BAWLMORE school are BAD!! Utilize the building by having SCHOOL ALL YEAR LONG … vacations only 3weeks in summer and at 2 week intervals during the rest of the year… The perception is: TEACHERS ONLY WORK 180 days! School day should be 9to5 ..one hour for lunch and one hour for exercise. School uniforms should be the order of the day.

I taught in a public school and was on the budget committee I can tell you about the waste of money. About how we didn’t thousands on stuff we didn’t need, because if we didn’t we wouldn’t get the same amount next year. Plus a lot of funds went to the “special opportunity” kids or smart kids for extra curricular activities and trips n speakers. Wasn’t fair at all.

If you want to see how excellent public schools can serve their community, come to Clinton, MS. These public schools have successfully navigated the change from “segregated” schools to a 50/50 breakdown between black and white (with other races accepted easily). This school.district has the best or one of the best performance records on standardized tests. This record has never failed since 1979, when we moved to Clinton. Education, excellent teachers, diversity, and a respect for our constitution that talks about searaof church and state. And, by the way, this is a southern community churches flourish.

My late wife, daughter and I have taught in the PS system. Sadly, the system is in poor shape and I’m not sure what the answer is. We homeschooled our three kids, thankfully!

So, if you thought the public schools are in such poor shape why did all your late wife, your daughter and you all teach there? Would you consider yourself part of the problem or part of the solution?

Mr. Kearney,
I applaud your stance. I grew up in Michigan. We BEGGED our parents to let us go to PUBLIC school. WE WON! I LOVE my PUBLIC school education. I only wish kids had more opportunities in those same PUBLIC schools as we did years ago. I think children deserve to be bused to these same schools regardless of grade level (senior high students don’t get bus transport where I grew up any longer due to all of the charter school nonsense).
Thank you for standing up and putting all of this into words. I pray the President heeds your words and does take the time to attend PUBLIC school functions there. I would ask that if he does, please update the rest of us on how it goes. But I would ask that NOTHING special be done at these events or school days just because he will be in the facility. Let him see just what goes on EVERY SINGLE DAY there.

I went to public schools and got a great education, but others in my class got little out of their time in school. This is still true today.

With public schools, you’ll get back exactly what you put in to it. I was blessed with common sense and great parents, so I applied myself and graduated in the top 5%.

Alas, children have to be TAUGHT that an education is very important, but too many children DON’T have any positive role models that help them understand that. I suspect

Now, add increasing federal-level fiddling with school standards, and you have the perfect storm for a bad education:

1. Huge bureaucratic, union and liability requirements that stifle positive change, innovation, and creativity in teaching today’s children

2. A large percentage of at-risk students that just don’t give a darn, as long as they graduate

A little about me before my comment.
I was awarded an Education Scholarship after HS but joined the USAF after my first year. After 25 years of military service I became a manager at a Big Box Electronics Retailer. After 8 years I left retail and finished up my working life in the local Public School Custodial/Maintenance Department .., mostly as a custodian.
I have always been very pro-education but the amount of waste astounds me. At the end of every school year we were directed to throw away dumpsters full of unused books and equipment. One year every computer and laptop in the entire district was sold for scrap to make room for newer models. Many of those computers were only 1 or 2 years old. The entire Wi-Fi network in every building (40+) was ripped out and replaced 3 times in less than 2 years. One summer the District decided to replace every T-12 light fixture with T-8’s. Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars and then they did it again with LED’s. I cannot begin to tell you how many times we painted, repainted, and replace perfectly good furniture.
When 2 schools in another district merged and one of the Principals had to finish up her last 5 months as a Teacher, our District hired her as a Kindergarten teacher but paid her the same that she was making as a Principal. Her salary was over $120K but the other Kindergarten Teachers were only making $35K and doing much more work than she was.

This is one example of the problem. Some and I repeat some teachers have one goal and that is to be tenured or protected working class. The teachers the become long term teachers are those that have attachment to the community through family or enjoy where they live. The school district is fortunate that some of the teachers are the type of teacher that has that ability to positively impact their students regardless of learning ability.

The public school system no longer is considered one of the best careers because they are disrespected undervalued and required to buy school supplies because the school can’t afford them..please see Bill Maxey’s comments above. Capital expenditures are not the same as day to day operational expenses. If the district can depreciate capital expense so it actually helps the bottom line. So, how do we help our students, offer better careers for teachers and secure funding to meet the demand of the new careers of tomorrow? One thing for sure is stop doing what we are doing now. Maybe bring in the job providers of today and tomorrow in and have them share what their needs will be so a curriculum could be designed to best prepare the students. While they are there ask them how best to pay for it. Keep the politics out of it.

Computers and technology change so quickly that by the time Computers are purchased and installed they are obsolete. The problem is federal education funding was cut in 2008 due to the recession. Sports, Arts and Music were cut or scaled back in a lot of public schools. We need to raise teacher salaries and increase federal education funding. Each public school district is unique, if the former principal, now K teacher made over 100,000, that’s a District Superintendent problem. First I’d ask why a Principal is making so much more than your teachers. Each State controls their own school districts funding, minimum and maximum testing requirements, and graduation requirements. Instead of our President increasing budgets for his wall and military, he needs to increase education budgets for public schools so our children I pay taxes for Public schools not Church and private schools. If parents want their children to attend private or church schools then let them pay for it. We don’t want a voucher program, we want better teachers and programs in our neighborhood schools!

For those of us who chose to send our children to private schools- YES- we paid out of pocket for that education! We willingly chose this! But, we also continued to pay our taxes for our local public schools! That’s not right! Vouchers would allow us to financially support the school of our choice! I’m guessing since you are an advocate of public school education that you wouldn’t appreciate legislation that would force you to also pay tax dollars to private education!

Well yeah…that’s Ms. Devos wants to happen. Also, I want a public park voucher so I can join the local country club instead of the public park and pool. And I’d like a voucher for private security instead paying for GOVERNMENT police.

Thank you Patrick Kearney for your letter. I am a retired public school teacher and believe strongly that if there are problems in our educational system, then fix them, don’t destroy the system that provides education to all children.
A relative living in Michigan teaches at a charter school near Detroit. In his classroom students are allowed to call their parents if they are reprimanded by him right there in the classroom. Parents are allowed to walk into the classroom and challenge the teachers if their is something they disagree with and there is no support from the administration to help with discipline problems.
Our children are being sold to the highest bidders and big business and the religious right are trying to run the show.

Big government /the president are not responsible for the success of our public schools! You really don’t want big government dictating what happens in your neighborhood school! Local control is the key! Your reference to one family and their charter school woes is not the norm! I can tell you that is the public school scenario: no discipline for fear of upsetting parents or kids! Religious rights are absolutely not trying to run the public schools! It’s absurd to think they would have that kind of power! People who are passionate about private schools or charter schools are willing to pay their due taxes to their local public schools AND pay tuition to the private schools!

Actually, the religious schools have a better grip on discipline than public schools could ever dream of having. Those students who attend public school have an attitude of entitlement that most private schools won’t tolerate. I liken it to the inmates running the prison at public schools and the teachers unions protecting teachers regardless of their abilities to teach.

Fix, don’t destroy! It’s less expensive than most private alternatives!
Private schools are good for some students, but they are also able to screen and exclude students that they deem are beyond their ability to manage. Their “better grip” arises from exclusiveness, not better management or better teaching. Five of my 27 years in education were spent in testing, both public school students and home-schooled students. Testing for home-schooled students was too lax to be comparable to public school testing. Public schooling, private schooling, and home schooling all have the potential to succeed, if they are well-managed. There seems room for improvement in all three venues, but the experience of teachers in public schools, at least where I was in North Dakota and Minnesota, seems superior. My impression comes from years of teacher training, but it shuts off in about 2007, when I retired, and it completely quit when we moved to the west coast in 2011.

Well that is an illusion caused by the fact that private schools can keep any student they want out and freely remove any problems on the spot. That can’t be done in a public school. They have a card to play that no public school can, the right to include only those who they want. Has nothing to do with unions and everything to do with the fact that public schools have to include students that private school would never give access to. On top of that schools are told by the state that graduation rates are important for funding so many kids are listened through when they should have failed out, causing them to realize they don’t have to follow rules and make the grades. The teachers have no control of this.

I attended a school board meeting several years before I became a school district employee. The meeting was about hiring a new Superintendent and I wanted to ask one question and make a statement.
My Statement:
The School District should ask themselves 3 questions before making any policy or any expense.
1. Will this benefit the Students?
2. How does it affect the staff?
3. What will the impact be on the parents and taxpayers?

My Question:
If a Hospital Administrator doesn’t need to be a doctor, then why must a Superintendent be an educator?

I was asked (politely) to give up the microphone and return to my seat.

most parents cannot homeschool as two paychecks are required to make ends meet, but often even with open house parents never come to school to meet teachers or become involved in their child’s education because education starts in the home by reading and sharing ideas, so put responsible education back where it belongs.

Dinah-I agree totally with your comments…with the exception of the cost related to homeschooling. Too many are not inclined to make the sacrifice that it might entail. They might have to give up the cable, eating out, new clothes (instead of the thrift store), etc. And today it is even easier with many income opportunities available working from home, if the internet isn’t one of those sacrifices 🙂

I am the father of 6 children who attended PUBLIC SCHOOL in our community and now have one of them teaching in our PUBLIC SCHOOL system. My grandchildren are now in the school system. It is far and above the Charter BS floating around. Keep our hands out of our PUBLIC SCHOOLS EVERYWHERE!

My intelligence level is far above that of Donald J. Trump, as is most of the readers of this well written letter. And this is because of public school, and the help of public school educated parents..The failure of any school system is because of the politics of the past few years.A over worked under paid system set up to fail. Among other things.

What most of you forget is that Trump doesn’t or can’t read. Ms Vos is a private school advocate. I don’t know what she did to be appointed to her position, but any Public School teacher would have been far more qualified.

I taught for 10 1/2 years in public schools. Five of those years were in title I and five 1/2 of those years were in the wealthiest school of our district. Year after year the system became worse, lowered the standards and expectations of the students, and made teaching a more horrible job for the teacher. To those teachers that think the system is working, I am glad you enjoy what you are doing. To those of you that got out because you could no longer take what was happening, my wife and I are with you. We both quit teaching and took the risk of opening our own business. Also, we are a home schooling family.

To quote Mr. Kearney, “…the heart of America’s PUBLIC schools are the families who send their children to their neighborhood school…” If this is the case, then there are far too many terrible families screwing up the system. I would like to think that what he said is not true because I have a slightly higher hope and expectation of people. Our home schooling system does not have any drugs, sex, violence, or sjw nonsense. Can you say that about your PUBLIC school? My wife and I raise our child, not the government. His statement is also incorrect because what we teach is voted on more than just a local level. Unfortunately, there are many schools that have to push some insane agendas because it was voted on, but not by the parents of the students.

I know that not everyone is ready to home school, and there are plenty of really bad parents out there that could not handle it anyways, but funding PUBLIC schools more is not the answer I would recommend. To directly address CHARTER and PRIVATE schools… I have taught students from both. Some students came in on level, some came in a year or even two years ahead, and I have one or two students that came from PRIVATE schools behind my students. So, those schools are not guaranteed to be better than PUBLIC schools. More often than not though, the alternative schools out performed our public school system. I really like classical academies. There is a reason they have multiple year wait lists.

Whoever wrote this is one of the lucky teachers who teaches at one of the top 10% of public schools. Half of them pack the students in like sardines and give them about as much dignity as chickens at one of those food mills you see in PSA’s. And some of them have good people in charge, but they just don’t have the money or resources it takes to keep a school of eight thousand sixth graders from killing each other. I didn’t hear the State of the Union or everything Trump said, but whatever he said, I’m positive he wasn’t exaggerating about ALL public schools. I know there are some really great public schools out there because I go to one. But I also know that not all schools have near as much money as we do. Most places have bigger graduating classes than us, and my high school is the perfect size for a strong community of people that the cops can manage. And most high schools (and middle and elementary, for that matter) have okay teachers, and okay principals, and okay janitors and other workers. We don’t settle for that where I’m from, but we have to realize that most places do, and because of that, America has a huge crisis in the public school system, which is due to everything from poverty to laziness to corruption to the student body being to big.

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