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Virginia Journal of Education


They’ve Got Our Backs


Virginians support public schools and educators in annual poll.

By Tom Allen

Our communities stand behind us: When it comes to some of public education’s most pressing issues, like investing the money in our schools that they need and deserve, and fixing the burdensome Standards of Learning testing system, Virginians have educators’ backs.

“Families and communities, the people who put the ‘public’ in our public schools, have always been very supportive of the work we do every day,” says VEA President Meg Gruber, “but now some of the specific challenges faced by schools seem to be really gaining traction now.”

Gruber was speaking of the results of the 2013-14 Commonwealth Education Poll, conducted annually by the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute, which is based at Virginia Commonwealth University. Here are some of the conclusions from this year’s survey of the public:

The SOLs need work. Poll results show that while a majority of Virginians still believe the SOLs have value because they hold schools accountable and ensure that all students must meet the same academic goals, they also have serious concerns about the effect SOL tests have on instruction. How serious?

• A full three-quarters of poll respondents either strongly or somewhat agree that time spent preparing students to take SOL tests means teachers can’t cover all the important subject matter students need to learn. Fifty-five percent strongly agreed, up 10 percent since the question was last asked in the Commonwealth Poll.

• SOL tests have become such a focus that they ratchet up the level of pressure students feel, leading 63 percent to say that the pressure has become too high on our young people.

• Furthermore, 68 percent aren’t buying the argument made by some that SOL tests boost student achievement: 33 percent say the testing makes no difference in achievement and 35 percent say is actually hurts it.

• Respondents were also asked how much they agreed with the statement, “SOLs improve student achievement.” A majority (54 percent) strongly or somewhat disagreed, an increase of 16 percent since the question was last asked.

“Our hard work and the growing public consensus about there being too many SOL tests paid off in this year’s session of the General Assembly,” says Gruber. “Students used to have to pass 34 separate standardized tests before they got out of high school, just to meet SOL requirements. Educators have felt that number was too high for a long time.

“Some significant changes have now been signed into law by Governor McAuliffe, including the elimination of five of those tests for students in grades three through eight. Also, an SOL reform commission will be created and the language in the law guarantees VEA a representative on that commission.”

Slightly over half (53 percent) also oppose the idea of the state—or anyone else—taking over a school that fails to meet testing score standards.

Don’t mess with the purse strings. Despite the fact that budgets are tight and negotiations tense on both the state and local level, Virginia’s citizens don’t want to see funding for public schools suffer. Here’s what they said:

• Just less than two-thirds (65 percent) say the Commonwealth’s public schools don’t have the funds necessary to meet their needs. Only 27 percent say the schools currently have enough money to do the job.

• Virginians also see a link between funding and the quality of education offered: A full 75 percent say the amount of money invested in schools affects their quality a great deal, an 8 percent jump from last year.

We’ll ante up for schools. Virginia’s citizens know that paying for top-quality schools is everyone’s responsibility, and they’re willing to dip into their own pockets to make those kind of schools possible.

• Seventy percent say they’d pay more in taxes even to keep schools funded at current levels, and 59 percent would do so if that’s what it would take to improve funding.

• In addition, 57 percent say that spending to ensure a top-quality system of public education should be a higher priority than deficit-cutting.

“Virginians understand that while money isn’t the only answer to all our challenges, proper funding goes a long way toward enabling our schools to provide the type of education we want and need,” says Gruber. “They’ve watched us educate Virginia’s children with too few resources for far too long.”

We feel safe sending our kids to school. While incidents of violence in schools garner huge amounts of media attention (and deservedly so), most Virginians don’t lie awake at night worrying about the safety of their children when they’re in school.

• An overwhelming majority, 80 percent, believe the schools in their community are safe, with 29 percent saying “very safe” and only 17 percent feeling their schools aren’t safe.

• A slight majority, 54 percent, believe that additional security measures should be put in place to address safety issues, and 27 percent would like to see the mental health system more activated to bolster school safety.

Our schools build a strong foundation. Most Virginians feel good about the readiness of our public high school graduates to move on to the next educational level.

• Sixty-three percent believe our grads are prepared to take on higher education after earning their diplomas.

• When asked what type of school provides the best education, poll respondents went with public schools (51 percent) over private (32 percent). Another 8 percent chose charter schools.

A complete report on poll results is available at http://www.cepi.vcu.edu/publications/polls/.

Allen is the editor of the Virginia Journal of Education.

 


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