Parents and teachers want McAuliffe, Cuccinelli to listen

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This semester WTVR.com has partnered with VCU’s School of Mass Communications “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project. Students from the project reported the following story.

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR.com) – The wish list of parents and teachers for the leading gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli is long. More funding for schools reforming tests and increasing community engagement are the key issues that parents and teachers want addressed by the next governor of Virginia.

In order for either of the candidates to be successful with their education agenda, they have to look at the perspectives of parents and teachers, said Donald Wilms, president of the Chesterfield Education Association.

The next governor “would have to listen to the practitioners. Teachers are not greedy people. They wouldn’t be in education, if they were. If you listen to teachers, they will tell you exactly what they need. Then we need to find a way to fund it,” said Wilms.

Sarah Gross, legislation and education committee chair for the Virginia Parent-Teacher Association and parent of two, said that she has seen the effect of budget cuts on schools throughout the state.

“Every year as we try to make our schools safer and build better students, our schools and teachers are having to do it with less,” Gross said. “As a parent, I’m mostly concerned with restoring funding to public education. I also believe that is one of Virginia PTA’s primary concerns.”

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that many states are still funding schools at lower levels than before the recession. Virginia ranks among the states with the deepest cuts per student.

The state spends 11.5 percent less per student than in 2008.

Wilms said that there is a shortage of teachers in Virginia as a result of the funding decrease.

“There’s not a national teacher shortage, there’s a teacher shortage in the states were the pay is performing noticeably below average pay. Certainly in Chesterfield, a very large percentage of our teachers are imported from out of state,” Wilms said.

Each of the leading candidates calls for more funding to schools.

In his “Academics, Parents, Principals, Leaders, Educators and Students Program,” Cuccinelli plans to set aside funding in order to expand more on digital learning as a way to spread effective teaching, according to his spokesperson Anna Nix.

McAuliffe lists on his website that he wants to set aside funding in order to increase teacher pay to retain the best teachers in the state. Despite several requests by VCU’s “iPadJournos” project for an interview on education policy, McAuliffe’s campaign was not available for comment.

The lack of funding and the teacher shortage have burdened both parents and educators since the beginning of the recession in 2008, Gross said.

Another struggle for parents have been the Standards of Learning tests that were established in 2002. According to Bill Bosher, distinguished professor in education and public policy at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU, people across the state are conflicted on what to do with the testing.

“Parents and teachers worry about the amount of testing. It’s interesting, people like standards and they like accountability, they just don’t like tests,” Bosher said. “But standards without tests are suggestions, so the real challenge for any policy maker is to maintain an accountability system while addressing the concerns for how much testing you will provide.”

Wilms, who has taught at Manchester High School in Chesterfield County, has had experience with the tests and thinks that SOL testing has gotten out of hand.

“About a third of the school year is spent preparing for testing, testing, reviewing and re-preparing for the students who did not pass the first go-around,” Wilms said. “It takes so much time out of content, out of actually getting students to learn critical thinking skills, all the kinds of things they’re going to need to go on to jobs or go on to college careers.”

Both leading candidates have plans for reforming SOL testing. McAuliffe’s website states that he wants to reform the test so that it is more progress based, showing the students’ evolution throughout the year, as opposed to the current year-to-year standard. Cuccinelli’s website states that he wants the test to be based more on competency and cognition rather than memorization.

Cuccinelli also added that comparing schools’ tests results in different economic locations is unfair.

“It’s not good enough if the children who live in the right zip code are excelling in the classroom and moving on to college and graduate schools, while families trapped within a low income community have a mediocre education at best and a failing school at worst,” Cuccinelli said on his website.

“We need to implement an education plan based on the idea that every Virginia child deserves a high-quality education—no matter where they live,” he added.

Parents, such as Amy Harbert, president of the Chesterfield Council of PTAs, have also said that while funding and standardized testing reform are important, parent involvement through volunteering with the schools also helps garner childhood success.

“The community engagement is vital to the success of your entire community, not just your family or your school or a business because it truly does take a village to raise these children,” Harbert said. “When you invest in education, you’re investing in everyone’s future because the children that are in our community now are the future teachers, principals, business owners and leaders. And people need to realize that.”

By Mason Brown and Amir Vera (Special to WTVR.com)

This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between WTVR.com and VCU’s School of Mass Communications.

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