Principal: “The part of the story that has been kept from our public is that the cost of being ranked No. 1 are the 2,000 students who have been denied their high school diploma over one state math standard.”

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Gates,

We have come to a very dangerous crossroad in our state of Washington, and perhaps in other states across the nation. We have non-educators writing educational policy in isolation.  You have built a fortress and their attack on education has been reflected in the punitive policies that have been written and voted upon. I hear the echo of false accusations and familiar spin that is so common with legislators: “We will tell you part of the story, but not all of it.”

It is my belief that our politicians have discovered that by attacking teachers and administrators, and by judging our schools with letter grades, that this provides them an arena to grandstand.

An attack on teachers, administrators and schools is an attack on children. Every punitive policy that Washington State legislators have written filters down to the students. Who are these students?  They are our most vulnerable students who have no voice, no political ear, and they are the victims of the legislators’ efforts to have the strictest test standards in the nation.

The part of the story that has been kept from our public is that the cost of being ranked No. 1 are the 2,000 students who have been denied their high school diploma over one state math standard. Even though they met every other criteria — passing grades, attendance, and even passing other state-mandated tests — they are now high school dropouts, ineligible for most jobs, including the opportunity to serve our country in the military.

If this were 2012, all of these students would have graduated. I sent emails to many state senators about this issue. One of the few who emailed me back said, “We are always going to lose some kids every year.”

I fired back, “These are not your regular dropouts. These are kids who have stayed connected to their education for thirteen years, and you are going to judge their educational experience over one Algebra test?”

The students who are coming to us from home environments filled with toxic stress and who are  accumulating adverse childhood experiences that are out of their control are the ones who make up a high percentage of the 2,000 students who were rejected and abandoned by our state.

The students who have shown great resiliency, who have been champions just making it out the front door to come to school each day, are the same students that put their trust in us.

Why is the new policy harmful?

  • It blocks opportunity by requiring all students to adhere to the “one size fits all” model.
  • It has no evidence-based research to justify the punitive outcome.
  • It judges a student based on one math exam.
  • It does not recognize or consider the other gifts and talents a student has developed.
  • It labels students as failures, rejects their efforts to move forward, and forces them into dropping out of school.
  • Without a diploma, a student is qualified for very few jobs; 90% of employers won’t consider hiring a person without a high school diploma.

How important is this policy to those who stand behind it, but hide from the general public?

  • When it was discovered in April that there were gross inequities across our state, and that not all students were given all of the options for meeting the math standard, the legislators chose the policy over justice.
  • The state legislators are pushing hard to add additional standards that will make it even tougher for our most vulnerable students to succeed.
  • The party leaders who were publicly stating that the children of poverty and minority were very much a concern of theirs and that they cared very much for these kids blocked an amendment that was to come up during the special session to ask for an emergency vote to not require the math test this year.

This “high stakes testing” is crushing our children who come from disadvantaged homes. We are failing the children whom the ACEs movement is advocating to protect. We can’t allow one math exam to define our kids and their potential. We can’t sit on the sidelines and watch this tragic policy continue to destroy lives.

Mr. and Mrs. Gates, who will speak for our children?  Will you?  Will teachers? When given the chance, please stand up and say, “Enough is Enough”.  You and I are the voice for these students, you and I are the ears that listen……if we don’t carry their voice, then who will?

Jim Sporleder,

Principal, Lincoln High School, WA State

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About Teachers'LettersToBillGates

Our mission is to create a dialogue with Bill and Melinda Gates in order to achieve a democratic influence on public education through the voices of education researchers, professors of education, administrators, school board members, professional teachers, parents, students, and community members. We would appreciate Bill and Melinda's feedback and want to influence their education policy and financial decisions by adding democratic voices to create meaningful relevant education for children.
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9 Responses to Principal: “The part of the story that has been kept from our public is that the cost of being ranked No. 1 are the 2,000 students who have been denied their high school diploma over one state math standard.”

  1. timmcfarland says:

    Thank you for writing this passionate letter!

    Since I’m a a special ed. teacher, I know that “one size fits all” means discrimination against students with disabilities. My K-5 students struggle, but all make progress. Some might be able to pass the test you describe in high school, but many probably won’t. As with several issues in special ed., this will probably change as the result of a lawsuit. Maybe that’s a good thing.

    • Teachers'LettersToBillGates says:

      I agree, Tim. We need a class action lawsuit brought by parents. I hope parents of special education students read this and take action together. It only took 2 parents from Washington state to get P.L.-9442 pushed through, but legislation today is far different due to so much corporate control over legislators/legislation. A class action lawsuit would do it. We need the ACLU, NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Wright’s Law on board.

      Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates

  2. Lee Schillinger says:

    Those that can Teach…..those that can’t try to pass laws to tell the teachers how to do their job.

  3. Dain Hansen says:

    When the polititions who wrote these laws can all pass the Graduation Requirements, then they may enforce it. Until then, they should stay out of office until they can pass all of the testing requirements to graduate from High School.

  4. Kim Allen says:

    I would also like to address the push towards STEM – there is nothing wrong with science, technology, engineering and mathematics – but I can tell you the emphasis on these subjects will be the death of education. Even though I am an elementary school music teacher, I would never advocate forcing every child to take course work in the arts as rigorous as those that are now required for students in math and science. What ever happened to teaching the whole child?

  5. eatingon1 says:

    More of us could write like this. If we could see through our tears. These are our children. All of us- these are our children.

    • Teachers'LettersToBillGates says:

      I wish we could be there to wipe the tears so you could write, Amanda. Please do… our children need us to write.

      Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates

  6. Pingback: Those who can….

  7. Kim Fergus, NBCT Math Teacher says:

    Please spread the word. Students do NOT need a HS diploma in order to attend community college in WA. If you know any of the 2,000 students who were denied diplomas this year, please encourage them to get back in school and get a degree or a trade certification.

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