Dear Jim -
I already wrote you another Dear Congressman piece on the subject of school libraries after our meeting last year. Today you asked me "So it's bad for a legislator to ask for facts and data?"
Well Jim, of course it isn't, and I feel, once again, you are asking me a disingenuous question, which makes me lose even more of the respect I once had for you. Because Jim, you know I once had a LOT of respect for you. What's more, I BELIEVED in you. I really thought that if we sent a smart guy like you to Washington it could really make a difference for our country. I lost my columnist gig with Hearst over you - but I even thought it was worth it, because I believed in you that much.
But you want to know something? You have done more to make me discouraged with our political system than anyone. It's the people we believe in most that cause the greatest damage to our beliefs.
So why do I feel you are being disingenuous?
Let's see...perhaps because when we met to discuss education, I brought you lots of "facts and data." I brought you studies that showed that TFA are less effective than traditionally trained teachers, and the higher costs to school districts of their frequent turnover.
I brought you data about how despite charter schools like Achievement First claiming 100% graduation rates, if you look at their cohort graduation rate from the students who start 9th grade it's nothing too special.
I told you about charters not serving the same special ed and ELL populations and Achievement First having the highest kindergarten suspension rate in CT, and the lawsuit against them for special ed violations and how it made me furious when I read it because some of the things they were PUNISHING kids for were the kinds of coping strategies my son would use when he was trying to avoid a meltdown when he was having sensory overload. But these kids were being PUNISHED for that.
But despite being my legislator, you didn't appear to have the same intellectual curiosity about THOSE "facts and data."And I can't help thinking that it's because it's too politically inconvenient for you to do so. That's why when you asked me the question about research on school libraries, it seemed more like you were deflecting me so you didn't have to answer my question, rather than requesting actual facts and data.
I gave you the facts and data anyway, because there's over 40 years worth of studies proving the efficacy of having certified school librarians. Annual Testing like SBAC that we're wasting so many billions of dollars on? Not so much. But that doesn't seem to make a difference to policy makers, does it? Because facts and data don't appear to be driving education policy.
Why weren't you, and Dan Malloy, and Arne Duncan et al asking such questions BEFORE making the policy that is destroying our education system, driving teachers out of the profession (despite Gov Malloy's utterly ridiculous claim that they are all leaving "because they were hired at the same time, like the state troopers") and wasting billions of taxpayer dollars? Why weren't you asking questions about no-bid contracts by all the crony edreform folks? Because I've been asking those questions.
Here's another thing that seriously rattled me about my Congressman: your reaction to being told of a Democratic elected official threatening to sue a member of the press, despite not being able to point to anything factually inaccurate in the piece. There's a name for when someone does that - it's called a SLAPP suit - stands for "strategic lawsuit against public participation", and it's intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense.
If a Republican had done this during the Bush years, I know you would have had something to say about it. But instead you laughed it off, like it wasn't an attempt at press intimidation by your own party. Now you're probably going to tell me you're a supporter of the First Amendment, but your reaction sure didn't give me a whole lot of confidence that as my Congressman you're going to do much to protect me, a constituent of yours and a journalist, if it's someone in the Democratic Party at fault. In fact, it showed me that you are happy to put party over process.
And that, Jim, is why I am not a party member anymore, and why you, personally, have made me so incredibly disillusioned with the political process. Because if someone I thought was a smart, good guy ends up like this after a few terms in Washington, what the hell hope do we have in this country?
I would write more, but I spent four hours today doing a library program with seven other authors getting kids excited about writing - because they don't get the chance to do enough creative writing in school these days. Too much testing. Too much Common Core. All those things you told me were so wonderful and needed.
I spent the afternoon with kids who crave creativity - who couldn't wait to use their voices. Isn't that what we should be encouraging in a democracy instead of test taking?