A Letter to Mr. Barrett and My Mother

Dear Mr. Barrett,

I love Intel.  Almost everything I have has “Intel Inside.”  Your ex-corporation is a powerful and dynamic employment force in the valley, hiring thousands of technologically skilled Arizonans to work in the goliath complexes of South Chandler.  Before Intel came to town, Firebird Lake and Compton Terrace were considered halfway to Mexico.

Or, at least Tucson.

Mr. Barrett, I write to you today because I’m concerned with recent comments you made after being appointed by Governor Brewer to lead her powerful education task force.   In the past, I’ve been impressed and inspired with some of your thoughts on the state of Arizona’s education system, and your blistering assertion that Intel would not set up shop in this state today because we lack commitment to education infrastructure.  I particularly loved your assertion on NPR that work visas should be “stapled” to diplomas as foreign students graduate from college.  You accurately argued that it is “stupid” to send these graduates home armed with our elite university education to compete with American corporations.

I’d assert that there are ample examples of stupidity in much of what we do.  This lack of thought and innovation leads to far fewer diplomas that would need staple holes, anyway.

However, in a story that ran in the East Valley Tribune, you continued your assault on the state of our system, and you had much to say.   However, I was surprised to hear the same argument that Governor Fife Symington made in the early 1990’s.  And, at least partially, those ideas are how we’ve gotten into this mess.

I commend your efforts with your BASIS schools and honor the results your students have achieved.  More importantly, I would love to see those results clinically replicated. Some public schools have done just that, using different and even more traditionally “public” methods. Not surprisingly, however, they are in affluent communities and draw from the same demographics as BASIS.  I certainly do not need to lecture the ex-CEO of Intel on science and research methodology, however, for the sake of my two readers, I’ll explain.

(Excuse me.  I meant one reader.  Mom, seriously, quit hitting refresh so that it looks like I have two.  It’s so embarrassing…)

In science, results must be replicated and variables isolated.  I sincerely hope you have found the key and have some answers.  We need them.  However, before sweeping changes are made based upon your BASIS model, can these results be replicated while removing powerful variables: socio-economic status and parent interest and investment?  Please tell me that such research will be generated before we “blow up” the Arizona education system.  I’m fully supportive of serious renovations, but let’s make sure they aren’t based upon snap judgments and bad science.  The data that I see shows no statistically significant difference between BASIS and other affluent schools, particularly through sixth grade.  However, I do see a difference beginning in 7th and continuing through 12th.  Could it be demographics and class size?  Or, perhaps it’s demographics and parent involvement?  We know such investment notoriously declines in many schools beginning with middle school.   Could it be that BASIS students’ education doesn’t typcially end when most students go home, due to significantly invested parents? What else is happening with cases of both success and failure?  I assure you that the answers are more than surface deep.

Competition can be a wonderful tool to promote success among schools.  However, by definition, competition means some will fail in their efforts.  How do we protect the students whose schools will collapse in such a model?  And, it will happen, just like there have already been catastrophic failures of schools that are public, private, and charter.

There’s a lot to look at, and I am with you on working to find a way to achieve better results.

So, I’m hoping that the first recommendation your task force makes is for an exhaustive and research-based examination of what seems to be working in all schools that are successful.  Further, which BASIS practices only work within the context of the school’s demographics?  You bring much to the table, but please realize that the table already is stacked with strong research on what works with children of varying backgrounds.

We certainly could use your innovative ideas to help better implement those practices in all classrooms.  Fair warning, however, many cannot be taught in a “crash course.”

Mr. Barrett, I have one last request while I have your (and my mother’s) ear. Research has identified a correlation between teacher attendance rates and student achievement.  I literally had a five year-old sneeze in my face today, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to contract leprosy.

Or, maybe a cold.  Being a ‘guy,’ both will produce the same insufferable whining on my part.  That said, is there any possibility you secure us a deal on a bulk purchase of those clean room “bunny suits” that Intel employees wear?

There seems to be something nasty going around.




Mike Lee

Mike Lee

Phoenix, Arizona

I am the Director of Outreach and Engagement for The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and certified as a Middle Childhood Generalist in 2004. In 2012, I received my doctorate in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University, however, I began my work in education serving as a para-educator in a special education program while still an undergraduate. My passions in the field include assessment and reporting strategies, the evolving role of technology, teacher leadership, and effective professional development that permanently impacts instruction. I consider myself a professional teacher first, as well as a professionally evolving lifelong learner, who is incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to impact the lives of children.

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