A Virginia parent speaks truth to Arne Duncan

We welcome our first chapter in Virginia, PAA-Roanoke Valley, and its leader, Laura Bowman.Check out (and like!) their new Facebook page!

Here’s the story Laura told us about why she wanted to start a PAA chapter:

I think it’s so important to have a parent group in my area speaking up in support of our public schools, teachers, and students.  I believe that high stakes testing and the education reform movement have hijacked our schools and turned them into testing factories.  In Virginia we have the SOLS–the Standards of Learning.  While I believe it’s important to evaluate teachers and students, they are more than their test scores.  I have so much to say on the subject but I think I will let you read what I said to Arne Duncan in September, 2012.  He came through Roanoke on a bus tour.  Roanoke was his last stop before returning to his home in northern Virginia.  He had a town hall meeting at our local community college.  That morning I decided to go to the meeting.  I quickly wrote up something to say and sat close to a microphone down front.  Students from the community college asked great questions about higher ed and I let them all ask their questions first as higher ed was the focus of the meeting.  The president of the community college said the question time was over and the mayor would speak.  I stood and asked if Mr. Duncan would take one more question.  The president reluctantly said yes.  So I stood up and said the following:

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Thank you for coming today.

I’m the PTA president at my son’s school just down the road here in Roanoke County.  We have great schools here and one of them was just made a Blue Ribbon School. I’m not speaking on behalf of the PTA today, just as a concerned parent. However, as PTA president many people in this community share their concerns with me. They’re upset that our schools are under-funded. We have a  $12 million dollar shortfall in Roanoke County and we’re facing losing almost half a million more due to sequestration. We’re facing losing a wonderful elementary school. Even if the fiscal cliff is averted, school funding cuts will continue to happen as Washington tries to pay down the U.S. debt and frankly gives lip service to the importance of education while cutting the funding that keeps schools running properly.

Parents are concerned about class sizes. They’re concerned that the federal government sees their children as merely test scores. They’re tired of the current climate where teachers are expected to bear the sole blame for the failure of some students in public schools when the real enemy of a good education is poverty and parents who aren’t involved.

Parents want their kids to have more art, music, and physical activity in school.

Our kids need smaller class sizes, individualized attention, and nurturing of the following skills: critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, agility, adaptation, initiative, entrepreneurism, oral and written communication, curiosity, imagination, and the ability to collaborate and access and analyze information. These are skills they won’t learn if teachers are forced to teach to the test.

It’s easy to blame teachers and make a test the sole way of evaluation for teachers and students. It’s much harder to solve the real problems: poverty and parents who aren’t involved. So we think you’re taking the easy way out here. Our kids are more than test scores, and it’s not right to evaluate teachers solely by them either.

You’re asking people to perform well in a climate of fear, and that’s not conducive to learning or teaching…. Isn’t it counter- intuitive to under-fund, under-staff, and over-test, and then expect great results?

Thank you.

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When I finished speaking the auditorium broke out into applause and there were even some “whoo-hoos”.  My question had hit a nerve in that room and when the meeting was over people came over and thanked me for what I said.  Local reporters asked me for my contact info, but nothing came of it.  It was great to be able to convey my frustration to Mr Duncan.  He told me that the DOE has no control over funding, that Race to the Top was much better than NCLB, and that teachers weren’t just evaluated by test scores.  I wasn’t discouraged by his response as I expected it.  I was just glad I had the opportunity to tell him what so many people in this country think about the DOE’s over-reliance on high stakes testing.

Posted on by Julie Woestehoff Posted in Misc

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