Should the State Control Local Schools? (Part 4/5)

Jeremy Aldrich -- May 27th, 2010

Candidates for the 26th District House of Delegates race spent time answering questions generated from a discussion among hburgnews readers.  This is the fourth video in a series.

More background:

While the federal government’s role in education has taken center stage in recent years, more day-to-day control is exercised by state governments.  Virginia’s constitution states: “The General Assembly shall provide for a system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children of school age throughout the Commonwealth, and shall seek to ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained.”

The state influences local schools primarily through the Virginia Department of Education, which oversees teacher certification, the state’s “Standards of Quality” which set rules for staffing and school policies, and the “Standards of Learning” which drive exactly what content is taught.  The state first began prescribing the Standards of Learning in 1995 (a cause championed by Governor George Allen), and a few years later began testing students on their mastery of the standards.  School accreditation as well as state and federal sanctions are based on the results of those SOL tests.

Image by Brent Finnegan.

19 Responses to “Should the State Control Local Schools? (Part 4/5)”

  1. Lowell Fulk says:

    Actually, the SOQ or Standards of Quality deal primarily with pupil to teacher ratio, classroom size, and the type of things deemed necessary to provide the best learning environment and materials. Policy is another issue.

  2. Erik Kimsey says:

    The should hold local schools to certain elastic standards. I say elastic because there is no such thing as uniformity between localities there’s no uniformity between individuals. Demographics shift between school districts within localities. So it should be the relative determination of each school, ideally, to draw methods of education for their school. Further, the SOLs are lifelessly rigid and exemplify an undeveloped conception of psychology, individuality, education theory, and TIME (my dad’s a teacher in w’boro and is always complaining about the time constraints of the SOLs and how such constraint promotes little actual learning). Public schools have much growing to do. Schools should be thought of merely as an extension of the communities students inhabit -think organic, look toward Montessori, for example.

  3. Gene Hart says:

    I think I finally figured it out: a “revenue stream” is a tax or fee imposed or increased by someone or some entity that is not a Republican legislator in Richmond. No new taxes but give some more of that revenue stream!

  4. Dany Fleming says:

    “Control local schools” is an interesting way to frame the question. I understand the legitimate debate over standards. However, it’s not accurate to say the state “controls local schools” – which it certainly shouldn’t.

    I’d point to the vast differences in student performance between say Clarke County and Highland County as one example of why there is is local control. I also know there are other significant factors.

    The “standards” certainly fall way short of addressing learning and teaching. This may be boring stuff, but it’s important to understand the difference between teaching standards and the testing system.

    SOL’s were developed by content experts across the state – including our own local experts. They’re smart folks in their field and most teachers think the SOL’s are reasonable and minimal “things” kids should know. I still have concerns about the SOLs

    The big problem, though, is in the horrible multiple choice testing system in place. The penalties for failure make it too difficult for schools to resist “teaching to the test.” Teacher assessment is devalued. The varying learning styles and growth of children is neglected. The individual abilities and styles of teaches is diminished.

    Most importantly, learning how to connect ideas, work with people, have experiential education and imagine other possibilities is just strangled. On our current standards testing path, we’ll end up just training good workers to follow the leaders educated elsewhere.

    Ironically, the increase in both federal and state influence in education has been a Republican charge – with plenty of Democrat collusion. George Allen followed the lead of George Bush, which started with Ross Perot and his business ideas for education. This system was certainly not the idea of teachers, powerful teacher unions and the Democrats they mostly support.

    We need to move away from the “business of education” and towards the “idea and foundation of education.” State and federal government can be critical to supporting or hindering either concept. We need representatives in Richmond who know the difference – this interview gives me a good idea of who understands that.

    Of course, we didn’t even deal with the disastrous funding allocation system – something that could be radically altered in Richmond.

  5. Lowell Fulk says:

    Good observation Dany. The idea that Richmond should control local school systems stood out for me as well and should be emphasized as part of Mr. Wilt’s platform, according to his own words.
    People need to be aware of the intention to take away the authority of locally elected representatives of the community.

  6. Instead of shrinking “big government” just enough to fit it into the classroom where it mandates “Standards of Learning” and tells us we must “Leave No Child Behind”…how about we just cough up the funding for good teacher pay, attract the best and let the results speak for themselves? Teaching is fast becoming a charity service job. It is not an attractive career choice, and that should bother us all.

    • kuato says:

      There are certainly some very good teachers in the Harrisonburg City Public School system, but they all work in spite of the compensation package instead of because of it. We have been shrinking that compensation package for the past few years, taking away benefits, support programs, and reducing salaries (through a mixture of raise freezes and an increase in teacher cost for benefit programs). We have also seriously reduced the number of teachers (and support staff) on our payroll, increasing the burden on the teachers who are still hanging on. The outgoing superintendent of schools, Don Ford, made reference to this crisis in his most recent State of the Schools address. The schools need more money, and a good bit of that money needs to go directly to teacher compensation.

      I realize many are opposed to raising taxes in order to support public programs, but we all need to ask ourselves what we want the future to look like and what role we hope our children will be prepared to play in that future. Research has shown that even two bad teachers in a row can have a permanent impact on a student’s development. Short-funding schools pretty much guarrantees that our children are screwed.

  7. seth says:

    no comment

  8. Dany Fleming says:

    Bubby, you’re right about better compensation for better teaching. However, it’s not just as easy as letting the “results speak for themselves” – especially when you’re using public $$. There needs to be agreement on accountability and assessment for teachers and students (see articles on BP self-regulation for reasons why).

    Erik, I agree about Montessori education. It’s well-developed and researched and perfect for many kids. Both of my kids went through it and loved it.

  9. republitarian says:

    Gene, that was pretty funny. I can picture republicans up in the mountains looking for these “revenue streams”….they don’t know where they come from, they just appear out of nowhere.

  10. Speak Truth says:

    so, how much of the video was left on the edit room floor?

    since the Mayor was a member of the hburgnews team, can the blog claim to be unbias?

    • Alex Sirney says:

      Kai Degner has not had posting privileges on this blog since he started his campaign for city council in the 2008 election, and is not a part of the newly formed editorial group. He, like all members of the public, is able and encouraged to post comments at any time.

      We don’t claim to be unbaised – we claim to strive for it. In the interest of that, we’ve all provided background information in the “About Us” section – I encourage you to read it and consider the character of an organization that is willing to provide that information at all.

  11. Hey, Speak Truth.

    I don’t disagree with the contention that this blog is biased toward the left, however, I’ve now seen all three candidates speak…Kai’s as good in person speaking as he is on the videos and going all of the way to Mr. Wilt, who is just as bad and without substance in person.

    You may not like to read this, but in my view after this morning’s debate, the “least open” candidate is clearly Mr. Wilt…while the two most experienced candidates with experience in local government, are the most open about their goals and intentions. Kai was even specific on some issues and his performance in the debate was the most surprising to me.

    Actually, I was shocked.

    In addition, I was concerned about “facts” that Mr. Wilt was making up out of whole cloth…while I’ve heard of increasing (quadrupling, in fact) the taxes on oil on a per-barrel basis from $.08 to $.32/barrel, Mr. Wilt stated an intent to raise taxes on individual taxpayers to pay for BP’s ecologic mess down in Louisiana.

    I believe that Deb Stevens-Fitzgerald and I were in agreement that we’ve heard of no such “revenue stream” to pay for the mess coming from individuals, however, I think we’d all agree that any tax increase on corporations are automatically passed down as a cost of business onto the backs of consumers.

    I’m less-impressed with Mr. Wilt, not more, after having seen this morning’s forum. It was not really a debate.

    Pretty damn pathetic that only about 20 people, plus media and chamber personnel, attended.

    • Deb SF says:

      Dave’s right… I guess it’s possible that Mr. Wilt was imprecise enough in his comment referring to the Gulf clean-up-tax-increase that he didn’t mean a tax increase on individuals. But it sure sounded that way.

  12. Speak Truth says:

    Well the debate was on a Tuesday morning…most people have to be at work. Why not do it, in the evening? None of these people are very experienced in my book…but then again, this isn’t a job where you are going to have people running with a ton of experience.

    As far as the revenue stream comment, I took it as looking for sources of revenue besides an increase in taxes.

    And I checked the about us…and Kai is mentioned. I don’t think you all are of bad character…just highlighting that there is a bias, and I’m glad you owned up to it.

    • Deb SF says:

      About the timing- really, really good question. It’s one for the Chamber of Commerce to answer.

    • Alex Sirney says:

      We “own up” to our personal biases so that our readers know where the news is coming from, but I reiterate that we strive for an unbiased presentation of the news.

      Our readers and community are an integral part of this process, and we regularly change stories that are inaccurate. The discussions that happen here are just as important as the news we present.

      All that said, welcome! I’m not trying to belabor the point, just to give you a more complete picture of who we are and what we do.

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