A DCPS education for the president
By Fred Solowey
Dear President Obama,
I don’t want to make a big deal over the fact that your wife and I have hugged, and I wouldn’t even mention it except for the fact that where and when it happened has a bearing on why I’m writing to you.
That hug was in the garden at Bancroft Elementary School in May 2009, when I was the school’s PTA president. The first lady came to thank our students for the work they had done in the White House kitchen garden, and she listened as several students read beautiful essays they had written about what the experience of planting, tending, harvesting — and cooking — at the White House had meant to them and how it had affected their approach to nutrition and eating.
Months earlier, many of us at Bancroft had hoped that Malia and Sasha would be enrolled in a D.C. public school, and we, of course, had a particular school in mind. Once you and your wife made your decision, I knew it was not for me to judge: Many factors go into the decisions parents make about schools, and issues of privacy and security must add enormous weight and complexity to the decision-making process when the first family is involved.
But today I learned — from comments you made on the “Today” show — that Bancroft Elementary School and the rest of the D.C. public schools do not provide as good an education as your daughters deserve.
Mr. President, it is time for a bit of education.
I’m sure it was not intentional, but you just sent a message that anyone with school-age children in the District who can scrape together the money to pay private school tuition ought to do so — at least until your Race to the Top program bears fruit.
Most DCPS parents cannot afford private school. I suppose that my wife and I could have come up with the funds, but we knew something that you ought to know: Students with parental involvement and educational support and resources at home thrive in regular urban public schools like Bancroft.
Your daughters would have thrived, received a bilingual (English and Spanish) education and gotten the invaluable social education not possible at most private schools. Through interaction with children from the many immigrant and mostly working-class families, they would have been as enriched as my son, now in his fifth year at Bancroft, has been.
And you, Mr. President, as you got to know the staff at Bancroft, would have realized that problems in raising overall student achievement have very little (if anything) to do with inadequate teachers and much more to do with problems of class and poverty and language and cultural barriers. Improvement has also been held back by the failure of leaders to appreciate that effective school reform begins in schools by unleashing the creative capacity of teachers and families working together.
I trust that your daughters will continue to thrive in their school setting, and I urge you to spend some time at my son’s school. Perhaps, if the first lady returns this spring to dedicate the vegetable garden in the new Bancroft playground, you could spend some time inside watching some other growing taking place.
It would be good for you and good for America.
The writer served as president of the Bancroft Elementary School PTA from May 2007 to May 2010.
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