Charter Schools, Testing, and Michelle Rhee. My Open Letter Response to Hari Sevugan

Last week, Diane Ravitch posted a blog regarding the departure of top Democrats from Michelle Rhee’s organization, StudentsFirst. As I was reading the comments below her article, I noticed one commenter who spoke in favor of Rhee’s policies. I decided to draft a response.

I later learned that the person I addressed my letter to was Hari Sevugan, former national press secretary for the Democratic National Committee. He also served as the senior spokesman for the Barack Obama presidential campaign. Most recently, he served as Vice President of Communications of StudentsFirst.

The day after I wrote my comment/letter on Ravitch’s blog, she kindly published it. Surprisingly, Sevugan responded with a letter to me a couple days later.

I decided to answer his letter. Here is my second response:


Thank you for your response. It is encouraging to hear back from you.  Although we may differ greatly in our opinions, I do commend you for answering my letter.

You wrote much about data and statistics with regard to ratings, results, test scores, (etc.) in your letter to me. And, yes, I agree, those numbers can be diced and spliced by both sides to make any particular point. So, I won’t waste your time or mine doing that. Instead, I urge you to look deeper.

Looking deeper at our nation’s schools, you will find that they are being strangled by high stakes standardized testing.  I believe, as both a parent and as a teacher, that this focus on test scores suffocates the educational process. I have seen this, personally, raising two daughters in Florida public schools. I have watched important programs, such as PE and Art, be pushed out of the public school curriculum to make room for test prep – oriented classes. There is only so much public money to go around… something has got to give. Unfortunately, when high stakes testing costs as much as it does, what gives are sports, art, foreign languages, Special Education, ESOL programs, resource officers, and many other vital programs needed by our children.

Rather than debating the merits of public schools and charter schools, we should be asking some important questions. Why should there be such competition and division fostered among schools, teachers, and students? Why are our public schools being strangled by these directives while charter schools are given free range to flourish? You described charter schools as “unencumbered by bureaucracy.” I wonder, why are those charter schools free to plan curriculum, free to try creative techniques, and free from the excessive testing while the public schools of my own children are not? Why is public funding being shifted from our public schools to these charter schools? And, I wonder, why are we giving so much energy and funding to these charter schools when, no matter how you dice the data, they are not proving to be innovative or an improvement. Most importantly, why are we entrusting corporations with the education of some of our children while the others we leave in poorly funded, overcrowded public schools?

Plain and simple, it is just not right. We should be focused on providing equal opportunities to ALL children. The fact that two different children at two different ‘publically funded schools’ are given two different chances for success is not fair. It is certainly not representative of the democratic institution of free and equal education that you speak of.  As I reminded you in my last letter, our US Supreme Court once ruled that ‘separate is not equal.’ The same holds true today.

As to where we agree, it is hard to say. So, I will simply tell you where I stand. I believe ALL children, whether rich or poor, should be given the opportunities for a quality, free education. We should not be splintering off into divisions, fostering an atmosphere of divisiveness, or redirecting public funds away from public schools. And, most importantly, we should not be treating our children like widgits; essentially placing the burden of ‘stimulating our global economy’ on their young shoulders. It should not be a race… NO child should be forced to fight their way to the top for fear of being left behind.

It is just not right.

So, when corporate lobbyists and organizations, such as Michelle Rhee’s Students First, lobby for this separation by charter schools and these high stakes tests, we parents and teachers have no recourse but to fight these policies tooth and nail. As I said before, these are our children. Of course, we will fight for their rights. Of course we will fight for their education.  It is what we do. I hope you will take a step back and look at this issue from our perspective … from the perspective of our children. Join us rather than divide us. Stand up for all children and focus on the true issues at hand, such as poverty. We need help in our communities. We need help feeding hungry kids and providing shelter to homeless families. Testing is not the answer. Bubble sheets do not satisfy appetites nor improve education and, believe me when I tell you, hungry kids do not bubble well.

Those are the true issues as I see it. Having had the opportunity over the years to work and organize with many caring parents, teachers, administrators, school board members, and leaders, I think I can say, in all confidence, that there are many people out there who agree with me. Will you?

Finally, I hope parents, teachers, and advocates for public education everywhere, will see this exchange as a glimmer of hope and use it as a way to revitalize, reorganize, and readdress the issues at hand. To all those reading who agree with me… I say, BE ambassadors for the children.  ALL children deserve the opportunity to excel and grow in a cooperative, collaborative learning environment – not one riddled with divisiveness, competition, and inequality.   Stand up. Speak up.

Just one voice,

Florida parent and teacher.



5 thoughts on “Charter Schools, Testing, and Michelle Rhee. My Open Letter Response to Hari Sevugan

  1. EXCELLENT response, Bonnie. Couldn’t have said it better myself!! Keep up the awesome work. We are many…they are few. And VERY few of them actually work in a classroom (except a few poor Teach for America kids struggling hard at this point in the school year to hang on to those beliefs…and beating themselves up for not meeting their own “high standards”), and I doubt many of them have kids in Florida public schools where there is no real education unless it can be tested on a bubble test.

  2. Well said. If I may be presumptuous and answer for Mr. Sevugan? He won’t stand with us, or Florida’s children. He and Rhee have sold out to the corporate interests that are striving to take down our public education system. Put simply, they have put the acquisition of filthy lucre over the well being and education of our children. You can stoop no lower than that. Mr. Sevugan has completely debased himself and sullied an impressive body of work by his association with, and shilling for, Rhee and their corporate masters. An old Irish folk saying comes to mind; I hope they both die screaming for a Priest . . .

  3. This letter could not have been written any better! As a public school teacher and former lifetime public school student I really thank you for voicing many of the sentiments of teachers!!!

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