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Virginia Journal of Education

On Point

Speaking Truth to Power

By Jim Livingston

Editor’s note: Livingston, president of the Prince William Education Association, like local VEA leaders across the state, regularly takes members’ issues before governing bodies. Here are excerpts from what he’s had to say to either Prince William’s Board of County Supervisors or School Board:

Today, I am going to talk about the fact that Prince William County spends less now on its children on a per-pupil basis than it did in 2005, when adjusted for growth and inflation. I’m going to talk about the fact that Prince William County Public Schools receives less local support than any other school division in northern Virginia except one. 

My colleagues and I are here today with a simple request. Help us do our work. Help us make a difference in the lives of our students. Help us do our part to maintain Prince William County’s status as one of the “100 best communities for young people.” 

As you are aware, more than a year ago I stood before you and spoke of the growing crisis of overcrowded classrooms in Prince William County, brought about by reduced state funding and county revenues that have not kept pace with enrollment growth.

We are aware this board has asked the superintendent for a plan to begin addressing the class size issue and we welcome that step.

It is our belief that we have a responsibility to not only identify concerns but to also suggest solutions. Therefore we would like to make a recommendation regarding setting a goal to address the class size issue in our schools.

Data from the Department of Education indicate Prince William County has the highest total pupil/teacher ratio of the 132 school divisions in the Commonwealth. We believe a reasonable “target ratio” could be an average of the 14 largest school divisions. Such a target would still place us on the high end of the listed divisions. As you can see by the calculations, an additional 760 positions are necessary in order to reach that target ratio, assuming all other factors remain the same.

We recognize any plan must be long-range, therefore our proposal is the addition of 76 positions per year for the next 10 years, excluding attrition and growth. 

This proposal is specific, it is measurable, it is attainable – provided the necessary revenue is forthcoming from the county and the state— and it is relevant. Keep in mind, class size reduction does not necessarily mean taking students out of classes but can mean the addition of resource positions which enhance student instruction. Lastly, this proposal is also time-bound.

We offer this proposal simply as part of the discussion toward a solution to this community concern. We believe that only by working together can we continue our journey to becoming a “world class” school division.

Along with class size reduction must come improved professional development for teachers and all employees if we are to achieve our goal of continuous improvement.

This past Saturday The Prince William Education Association hosted its annual Education 411 Symposium. Members participated in a variety of professional development sessions designed by members for members to enhance their professional practice in working with both students and adults.

One of PWEA’s core values is the belief that the expertise and judgment of education professionals are critical to student success. We expect the highest professional standards from our members, and in turn, we expect the status, compensation and respect due all professionals. In keeping with this core value, PWEA is dedicated to advocating for the needs of a diverse student population, as well as providing high-quality professional development designed to meet their needs.

I wish to speak this evening to the “Resolution Concerning Virginia Public School Students High Stakes, Standardized Testing.” Two years ago, I and some 1,000 colleagues from across Virginia approved a similar resolution at the Delegate Assembly of the Virginia Education Association. The resolution you have before you this evening speaks to the same concerns we as educators and a growing number of parents in Virginia and across the nation have with the current over-reliance on standardized tests. To paraphrase from the resolution: There is little research verifying Virginia’s method of applying criterion-referenced test results as valid and reliable measurements of authentic student achievement growth, and there is little research verifying this measure of student growth as a valid and reliable indicator of teacher, principal or superintendent performance. 

I encourage you to join the growing numbers of Americans who recognize that, “imposing relentless test preparation and boring memorization of facts to enhance test performance is doing little more than stealing the love of learning from our students and assuring that we fall short of our goals” of providing a high-quality education for all students. I encourage you to adopt this resolution. (The resolution was adopted.)

Livingston, a middle school math teacher, is currently on leave in order to serve as president of the Prince William Education Association.



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