Friday, July 23, 2010

An Open Letter to DonorsChoose.Org

UPDATE: If you want to boycott DonorsChoose after reading this post, click here.

I was rather surprised to see a reply from DonorsChoose.Org in the comments section of my post accusing them of having stabbed teachers in the back. I do welcome the response, however, because if it is genuine, perhaps there is an opening to set the record straight. In brief, DonorsChoose has seen fit to urge their members--who are teachers--to pledge see the film Waiting for Superman. In return, DonorsChoose will get money for every pledge. Apparently, DonorsChoose sees nothing wrong with this, but I know a lot of teachers do, as well as some of my fellow bloggers, such as NYC Educator. I'd prefer to continue the dialogue here, in public, as DonorsChoose themselves claim to want to spur debate. So here's my open letter to you, DC--I'd love to hear your response (in email as well--I want to be sure you're really who you claim to be).

Dear DonorsChoose.org:

Thank you so much for replying. I'd like to respond by asking you a rather simple question: Why do you exist?

I'm not being facetious--I am dead serious. In my view, you exist because of the sorry state of public education funding today. In NYC, public school teachers receive a measly $150 a year for supplies, which for many of us works out to less than a dollar a year per child. We don't get a pencil, or a piece of chalk, or a sheet of paper unless it comes out of our own pockets. Many of us work in dilapidated classrooms and trailers, with no air conditioning in the summer and not enough heat in the winter. We work in severely overcrowded classrooms--the highest average class size in the state--and we take on any and all comers. No child is ever refused entrance to a public school, even if they're disruptive and completely unmotivated. Public schools take on this challenge every day, and we do a damn fine job.

On the other side of the coin, we have charter schools--the kinds of schools being touted in films like Waiting for Superman. Charters are often given the most prime locations in their neighborhoods, frequently pushing out public school kids. I have never heard of a charter classroom being run from a trailer. Similarly, I have never heard of a charter school that didn't have more than adequate supplies. They are given the basics that are denied to public school teachers. Add to that the fact that many charters cherry-pick their students, and the ones that don't can kick out unruly children or even kids who don't perform up to their standards. When they are thrown out, guess where they go? Back to public schools.

Despite the huge advantage for charters, they show no better results than public schools nationwide.

Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein are pictured as the heroes of Waiting for Superman because they want to "reform" schools. By reform, they mean they want to eviscerate teacher contracts, eliminate seniority and tenure, and create charters where teachers are hired as will employees who can be fired at the drop of a hat. Check out any review of the film--this one by Roger Ebert, for example--and you will see that teachers and unions are cast as the villains in this script. According to the reviewers, teachers are seen as do-nothings who hide behind their union for protection. The truth is that all teachers are hired by the system, and the system has 4 years to evaluate whether a teacher is good enough. After that, if they believe a teacher is incompetent, there is a process to remove teachers by giving them a due process hearing.

What message does it send to teachers when an organization like yours, that claims to be working in the interests of teachers, accepts money from the producers of a film that casts public school teachers as the enemy?

Now, I'll be the first to admit I'm no Superman. There's no S on my chest--just a little chalk dust. I do my best to instruct whatever students show up in my room, in whatever numbers, and with whatever paper I can buy at the dollar store. I've been doing this for more than two decades. The vast majority of my 80,000 colleagues do the same thing, day in and day out, even when the roof is leaking.

So yes, DonorsChoose, there IS a superman, but if you're looking for red boots and a cape, you'll surely be disappointed. But if you peek into the typical public school classroom, you'll see dedicated teachers working hard every day. They are your members, and they want you to lend us a hand in a very difficult job--not to add another brick to an already far-too-heavy load.

If you want the support of teachers, reject the funding of those who want to see us lose our jobs.

I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Mr. Talk

5 comments:

TFT said...

I am right there with you!

Anonymous said...

Great Letter! Love the line of no S on your chest, just a little chalk. What a great line.

I will tell others to stop their membership with DonorsChoose.

Clix said...

I think it would be more effective to ask other DONORS to pull support from DonorsChoose.

Also? I totes heart you, Mr. Talk! You RULE! ^.^

Smellington G. Worthington III said...

I say, sir, how dare you question the value of this cinematic gem? These are clearly the values of which we approve, and which you should embrace. Bravo to these Donors Choose fellows for standing up for those who know what money is and what to do with it. The bootless and unhorsed should know their place, and I'm overjoyed to find a plainly plebeian organization looking to do the right thing for a change.

I bid you good day.

DonorsChoose.org said...

DonorsChoose.org believes that public school teachers know their students’ needs best, and we exist to facilitate as much support for their classrooms as possible.

To do so, we work with people and institutions from a variety of education policy perspectives. For example, we collaborate regularly with school districts, AFT and NEA chapters, traditional schools of education, alternative teacher certification programs, traditional public schools, charter schools – organizations that all want to encourage public school teachers to seek classroom resources through DonorsChoose.org.

The individuals and institutions supporting these teachers’ requests represent equally diverse viewpoints. We think "Waiting for 'Superman'" has the potential to make public education top-of-mind for even more people throughout the country, and we look forward to channeling this expanded interest into direct support for teachers and students.