obama-on-the-phone2OK… so he didn’t really solicit my opinion.  I think maybe I just had a dream that I was sitting in my office talking to a couple of students when I got a phone call– totally unexpected– from President-Elect Obama.

“Dr. Riley”, he says. “It’s good to finally reach you. I know you have been busy running a pretty amazing charter school there in Chula Vista, but man, you are hard to reach.”

“Yes sir, I am usually out in classrooms so I don’t always get to take calls.”

“Well, listen, I just wanted to let you know I finished your book The Lights of El Milagro, and I really enjoyed it. You are doing some great stuff there.”

“Thank you Mr. President. I am honored. I read your books too. Mine hasn’t made the NY Times Bestseller List like yours have… but we are definitely telling our story.”

“And that’s why I wanted to talk to you. You know I have to name a Secretary of Education… right?”

“Yes sir. And no thank you I can’t leave El Milagro.”

I think he laughs.

“Well what I really want to know is what is on your wish list for the new Secretary of Education. You know, what has to happen for you to get your kids to grade level and not sacrifice the quality teaching and learning that our students and teachers deserve?”

So I think about it for a second and consider whether I am dreaming or maybe I’m getting punked by those French deejays who bamboozled Sarah Palin or maybe I have just been working too hard lately and I’m hearing voices-like President-Elect Obama’s. But sometimes you suspend judgment long enough to roll the dice. And so I did.

10-priorities“Well sir… I have Ten Items on My Wish List For The Newly Appointed Secretary of Education To Address While We Work To Overcome Circumstances Created Less By Pedagogy than by Public Policy. If you wouldn’t mind passing them along to the Secretary, I’d really appreciate it.”

“Of course. What are they?”

“Well, if we are going to provide the world class education that everyone has been talking about, here is what your Secretary of Education could do:

1. Provide health care for all of my students to address the scourge of childhood obesity, diabetes, and poor nutrition;health-care

2. Ensure that every child has access to comprehensive eye exams and appropriate interventions when they are struggling just to see– let alone to read;

3. Ensure that every child has regular dental checkups and access to highly qualified dentists so that my students’ baby teeth aren’t rotting in their heads;

4. Provide the funding support and infrastructure so that all of my students can attend preschool like the affluent kids do;

5. Create a way for every child in America to have a laptop and access to the Internet so that poor children aren’t pushed further behind by the technology divide that favors their more affluent counterparts;

6. Divert the 10 billion dollars we are currently spending every month in Iraq and re-invest in the modernization and construction of state-of-the-art school buildings in every community in America;

7. Guarantee a college education of the highest quality for all children so they are motivated to apply themselves academically;

8. Eliminate unemployment so that the parents of my students can properly provide the basic necessities for their children-food, clothing shelter;

9. Significantly raise the minimum wage so that our parents are not forever struggling against the tide…fighting the unwinnable battle to stay ahead of a runaway economy and its stunning indifference to the working poor…standardized_testing

And… let’s see… I guess this is a big one…

10. Eliminate politically motivated accountability systems that, for the most part, test our students’ ability to test while ignoring all of  their other assets: like their creativity and their critical thinking and problem solving and communication skills; and their proficiency with technology and their ability to speak in multiple languages or lead others or serve their community…”

“Sir… are you still there?”

I can hear only music in the background and I am in the foggy no-man’s-land that exists somewhere between blissful sleep and consciousness. Still, I wonder if he got my list. I wonder of his new Secretary of Education: Linda Darling-Hammond or Joel Klein or Kennedy or Powell or Weingarten or Cornell West or Rhee or you or whomever he picks– will get my list. I hope so. El Milagro is no dream and our children are depending on it.




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  1. What a cool story! When did this happen? I do think you should have take the position as Secretary of Education if offered!

  2. There is a magic space that exist between dreams and reality. If ideas make it out of our dreams and we can share them like you have here, they are on their way in becoming a reality. I think that your recommendations are right on target. There is a reason why a lot of us are working in the inner-city. It’s our attempt to level the playing field. Although we can do a lot change is long due in education and especially in the underserved communities like ours. So, if Obama is to be the “change” president, your ideas are a great start.


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