Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My Letter to Bill Gates -- details to follow

Dear Bill Gates:
You and I took very different paths to where we are now. You chose to drop out of college (I hear that hasn’t hurt your success any); I chose to follow my father and grandfather into teaching (bachelor’s degree, Reading Specialist, hours past my masters, National Board Certification, renewed until 2020). I have earned awards from my peers and from the state of Oklahoma. I have had the honor of teaching thousands of young people. I have had a very successful career, also. but even though I’m the career educator, YOU’RE the one affecting policies that directly affect the way I do my job.

Without any research, you dabble and try this idea and that. What do you use for credibility? Your bankbook.

Using extensive educational research on how students learn and how to help them learn more, I invented an English elective, Reading for Pleasure. Don’t, as other critics do, assume this is a blow-off class. It’s grounded in educational research on reading and writing. It affects lives. It raises test scores, it inspires students to read long after they’ve left high school. It creates life-long readers and role models for children.  All in one semester. Because I know how to teach, how to respond, how to do my job. What have I used as credibility? Two education degrees, National Board Certification, and 39 years of experience -- all of which you discount as important for my job.

Because of you and your reform ideas, states around the country, including my own, have moved toward more high stakes testing, high stakes for students and for teachers. We have had to cut back on electives that we KNOW help students become productive adults, so we can put them in classes that will raise our school’s state grade. We have been forced to turn students into tools – widgets -- for our own survival.

My class, ten years of documented success, will dwindle to nothing so students can take more AP classes…because AP enrollment raises OUR school grade. My class, ten years of documented success will die as my former school focuses more and more on test scores, school scores, in a desperate attempt to game the new system and the system after that. No longer is school a place for students to discover who they are, and what they love. Now, because of your reform ideas, school is a constant pursuit of test scores. The joy and love and passion is draining out of every classroom. I hold you and your money partially responsible.

Your ‘reforms’ have killed my class. Common Core will hammer the last nail into the coffin of true student-centered learning and teaching. No longer will students be allowed, as they were in my class, to choose what to read, to read for their own reasons, to write reflectively (David Coleman, also with no teaching experience, has decided Readers Response, a time-honored tool for helping students reflect about what they’ve read, is of no value), to become part of a reading community for the first time in their lives. No longer will student discover they ARE good readers, they CAN comprehend. They DO have good ideas.

So, you, the non-educator, have deeply affected me, the educator and all my students. You have helped destroy a class that truly allowed and demanded students find their passions, their gifts, their way in the world.

I would never assume I knew how to do your job. I understand there are intricacies and procedures that are vital to your success.

I would never dream of coming into your workplace, elbow you out of the way, and take over. But you and your money and your success have done just that in MY job.

You have helped destroy my legacy.


  1. Claudia Swisher, has been an amazing inspiration for many many students and educators at Norman North High School. She has reached students with all levels of reading abilities, and each has achieved some level of success. With the implementation of common core we are being told ALL students will read at grade level by the end of third grade. What if they don't? What happens to those with learning disabilities? Claudia and the other great teachers won't be allowed to inspire them to push forward in their abilities, and these students will lose. WE ALL LOSE!

    1. Virginia, thank you for your words. This class has been my heart in so many ways, and I KNEW it, and other electives, would be pushed aside in the quest for high numbers for our school. All the "reform" just speeded the process. I'll miss you, friend, and our kids.

  2. Claudia,

    This is wonderful. I'm so sorry to hear of the loss of your course, which was based on "extensive educational research." Of course it was. Do people think educators have made decisions based on no information all this time? But what policy makers now call "data" is not information---but numbers. A chart that shows growth--or "mastery" will never give teachers and students the same information that a reflective piece of writing will. We don't know a student has comprehended what they've read when they can pass a multiple choice test. We know it when they can write and speak about how a book has changed who they are--how it has helped them become more empathetic humans. At what loss do we ignore the human factor in education? Human history has all too many chilling examples...

    1. Thanks, Wendy. I am so proud of my students' accomplishments in my class. Sometimes they DID result in higher ECT scores (OFTEN), or confidence when taking EOIs and AP tests, but the huge payoff is just the number of kids who are NOW readers, the number of adults who were my students who read to their own kids, who still contact me about books.

      We made a difference...and in a few years it will all be gone. The human factor had to go...that's the only way administrators who know better can take all choice away from students so we can pursue OUR OWN agenda.