Virginians asked to join a rally on the capitol grounds in Richmond Saturday to urge lawmakers to “Put Kids First”
Smaller class sizes, increased funding, quality early childhood education, and reducing excessive testing – these are the items that will be the focus of a rally on the capitol grounds in Richmond Virginia Saturday April 18th, at 3pm. The rally is being spear-headed by the Virginia Education Association and the Virginia Parent Teacher Association. Meg Gruber, VEA President, explains the impetus for the rally.
“When we talked together and we talked about how the state still wasn’t giving us proper funding, our public schools, and giving us proper support, we just kind started to brainstorm about what can we do?,” said Gruber. “I think this rally just kind of came as a natural flow from talking about how can we get our legislators paying attention and our community more engaged in helping support our public schools.”
Congress is in the process of assessing the standards of No Child Left Behind, a federal program enacted under President George Bush in 2001 to set standards for achievement in schools across the country. However, critics have said the act places too much emphasis on testing to the detriment of real learning. Gruber agrees.
“Really you know, when you think about it, how many times once you’re an adult and you’re out in the work force, are you taking a multiple choice test – you’re not,” she said. “It’s not preparing our students for what they need to do to be successful in life, and it’s also putting way too much emphasis on a one time test score to evaluate students, to evaluate teachers and to evaluate how good our schools are.”
“When you put that much pressure on a test you know then that you’re going to spend most of your time preparing to do well on the test. You end up taking tests to do well on the test.”
Brenda Sheridan, President of the Virginia Parent Teacher Association agrees, saying the emphasis needs to be on teaching, not test taking.
“Teacher don’t have time to plant gardens, and do some of those really great projects, because they’re taking tests to prepare for tests,” said Sheridan. “Students don’t learn from taking a practice test, they learn from doing, they learn from having hands-on experiences, and we want to get back to that methodology of teaching.”
Gruber said teachers are not opposed to assessments and in fact are assessing themselves and students on a regular basis. And she said she agrees that there should be some federal guidelines that assure that all students are receiving an equitable education regardless of their socio-economic status.
“But I don’t think the federal government needs to be anywhere near as prescriptive as it has been over what a school and/or a state can do as far as education,” said Gruber.
Early childhood education is another area where Gruber said there is room for improvement in Virginia. She said about three-fourths of students in low income homes are not getting the quality pre-K education that they need. Head Start, an education program started in 1965, provides for pre-k education for low income children. But even this critical program has seen reductions in funding, according to Gruber.
“When we look at Virginia and in-state funding, we’re still at 2009 levels,” she said. “When you look at adjusted for inflation, Virginia is spending is spending 16 percent less in funding our public schools than we did in 2009. It’s just tragic.”
Brenda Sheridan said community involvement is also crucial.
“There’s a lot out there that our parents can take advantage of,” she said. “And they get a lot of that information through joining their PTA and being informed and active members of their local school. We really want to make sure that the community’s informed about the whole picture.”
The VEA/VPTA education rally is Saturday, April 18th, at 3pm on the grounds of the state capitol in Richmond.