Maya Angelou and Fellow Authors Against Race to the Top

Award-winning author, Maya Angelou, and over 120 other well-known children and young adult authors, have written an open letter to Pres. Obama voicing their opinions against "Race to the Top". This group of well-respected author's feels the Obama administration is faltering on education and driving children away from reading due to excessive standardized testing. They have signed a letter to Mr. Obama requesting his administration scale back federal education policies that require across-the-board testing due to their anti-reading fallout.

Ms. Angelou, in particular, has specifically condemned Obama's "Race to the Top" legislation as a "contest" that doesn't really drive children to read, or to glean an understanding of happenings around the globe. These authors have joined a growing list of critics who say Race to the Top has increased standardized testing as a means of rating which schools and states win the federal funds. They feel that “Race to the Top” is more like a context seeing how much children can memorize instead of giving them the opportunity to read and absorb a novel and become engrossed in the story- telling and the outcome of the events of the book.

Content of the letter appears below:

Dear President Obama,
We the undersigned children's book authors and illustrators write to express our concern for our readers, their parents and teachers. We are alarmed at the negative impact of excessive school testing mandates, including your Administration's own initiatives, on children's love of reading and literature. Recent policy changes by your Administration have not lowered the stakes. On the contrary, requirements to evaluate teachers based on student test scores impose more standardized exams and crowd out exploration.

We call on you to support authentic performance assessments, not simply computerized versions of multiple-choice exams. We also urge you to reverse the narrowing of curriculum that has resulted from a fixation on high-stakes testing.

Our public school students spend far too much time preparing for reading tests and too little time curling up with books that fire their imaginations. As Michael Morpurgo, author of the Tony Award Winner War Horse, put it, "It's not about testing and reading schemes, but about loving stories and passing on that passion to our children."

Teachers, parents and students agree with British author Philip Pullman who said, "We are creating a generation that hates reading and feels nothing but hostility for literature." Students spend time on test practice instead of perusing books. Too many schools devote their library budgets to test-prep materials, depriving students of access to real literature. Without this access, children also lack exposure to our country's rich cultural range.

This year has seen a growing national wave of protest against testing overuse and abuse. As the authors and illustrators of books for children, we feel a special responsibility to advocate for change. We offer our full support for a national campaign to change the way we assess learning so that schools nurture creativity, exploration, and a love of literature from the first day of school through high school graduation.

It is feared that the new standards will be easier for affluent students and harder for disadvantaged students. There is no indication that they will close the achievement gap.

Many English teachers have said they would not be able to teach classic novels such as To Kill a Mockingbird or The Great Gatsby anymore as they are not informational novels. Teachers have said that they would just have to give up assigning whole novels. Now, students will read excerpts. Authors write whole novels, not excerpts. You cannot understand what the book is about unless you read the whole thing. The enjoyment of classic novels will be ruined by the performance-based requirements of "Race to the Top".

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