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Virginia Journal of Education

VEA News & Advocacy


VEA, NEA Delegates Call for Overhaul of ‘Toxic Testing’

Nearly 200 VEA members made the trek to Denver this summer for the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly, joining some 9,000 fellow educators and making the Commonwealth’s presence felt during debates on the issues facing our nation’s public schools.

Delegates voted to launch a national campaign, drawing attention to the over-emphasis in today’s schools on “toxic testing” and the “test, blame and punish” atmosphere that’s developed as a result. Pointing out that American teachers and students now spend nearly a third of their time preparing for and taking standardized tests, NEA delegates called for government oversight of the powerful testing industry through the creation of a “testing ombudsman” by the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Consumer Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. The position will serve as a watchdog over the testing industry and monitor testing companies’ impact on education legislation.

“Our schools have been reduced to mere test-prep factories,” said outgoing NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “Whatever valuable information testing mandates provided has been completely overshadowed by the enormous collateral damage inflicted on too many students.”

One convention highlight for VEA delegates was the passing of a New Business Item (NBI) put in by Stafford Education Association member Carol Huebner. As she did at VEA’s convention a year ago, Huebner asked for support from school systems for educators who are nursing mothers. The VEA NBI led to a new state law guaranteeing new mothers a private, non-restroom site for expressing milk. After the NBI was passed by NEA delegates, Kimberly Adams, president of the Fairfax Education Association, introduced a motion to have the issue of support for nursing mothers in schools added to NEA’s legislative agenda. It also passed.


Moss Elected to National Office

Former VEA President Princess Moss, a music teacher from Louisa County, continues her rise through the leadership ranks of the National Education Association. After serving as a member of the NEA’s nine-member Executive Committee since 2011, Moss was elected to the position of Secretary-Treasurer of the NEA at this year’s convention. She will serve a three-year term.

In her new office, which is NEA’s third highest leadership post, Moss will be responsible for the Association’s multimillion-dollar budget and the organization’s fiscal integrity.


Gearing Up for Political Action

Elected officials have a lot to say about working conditions for educators, making decisions on everything from salaries to class size to academic standards. To help members prepare for the November 4 elections and the General Assembly session ahead, VEA will hold a series of pre-legislative workshops around the state.

Dates and locations are below—check with your UniServ office for details, because reservations will have to be made quickly.

October 6 -- Hampton
October 7 -- Norfolk
October 8 -- Spotsylvania
October 20 -- NOVA
October 27 -- Abingdon
October 28 -- Salem
October 29 -- Staunton
November 6 -- Danville
November 10 -- Brunswick
November 13 -- Richmond


A Message from the VEA President

Leading On Instructional Issues
As I said in this space a few months ago, VEA members have been telling the world for a long time that our Standards of Learning assessment system needs some serious, thoughtful revamping. There’s been too much testing, far too much valuable time taken away from instruction and spent on test prep instead, and too much misuse of test results.

We’ve been heard.

In the 2014 General Assembly, elected representatives from both sides of the aisle finally agreed that the SOLs do indeed need significant attention—and did something about it. One of the first steps was the creation of the SOL Innovation Committee, of which I am a member. Also joining the committee of some 30 educators, school board members, legislators and others, are VEA members Karen Cross of Bristol and Benjamin Williams of Roanoke County. All of us were appointed by Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Our committee began work in July and will be offering our ideas on how to reform SOL assessments and how to more accurately gauge student growth to the Virginia Board of Education and General Assembly this fall. It’s been exciting work. And it’s vitally important work, too: What we’re doing will go a long way toward realizing our goals of seeing students not only get better test scores, but learn to be better critical and creative thinkers, and that any accountability system is backed by the professional development that educators will need to make it work effectively.

I am extremely proud of VEA’s leadership on reforming the SOLs, and the momentum we helped build to actually get the process started. I’m also thrilled to be able to play a part in that process, along with other members, representing those who do the hands-on work in our public schools every day.

VEA members have also been out in front on the issue of alternative assessment, advocating for educators to be able to use various (and more useful) ways to measure our students’ progress.  In response to our activism, the Virginia Board of Education and Virginia Department of Education (VDoE) have developed some new local assessment guidelines.

The subject areas affected are grade 3 history and science; grade 5 writing; and U. S. History, both pre- and post-1865.

The new guidelines free teachers to use, as a form of authentic assessment, some of what they’ve already been doing, including projects and portfolios. The guidelines also allow local (and even school-level) control over those assessments—and they discourage the idea of local school divisions just creating their own multiple-choice tests to get the job done. School divisions will have a lot of latitude, as long as they submit a plan to VDoE detailing how their staff members are going to handle assessments in the affected subject areas.

Check with your administrators and make sure they’re up to speed on these changes, which could make a huge impact on your work. Do everything you can to ensure students are not subjected to local standardized tests. Take charge and lead the profession!



Association Backs Candidates, Plans ‘Day of Action’ Oct. 25

Because it’s so vitally important to have solid supporters of public education in elected offices, the National Education Association’s Fund for Children and Public Education has recommended seven candidates in this November’s federal elections here in the Commonwealth (the VEA Fund only makes recommendations in state contests). NEA’s recommendations were made based on candidate interviews, positions and voting records. Here are the candidates in Virginia NEA believes would offer our public schools difference-making support:

U.S. Senator --   Mark Warner
Congressional District 2 --  Suzanne Patrick
Congressional District 3 --  Robert “Bobby” Scott
Congressional District 7 --  Jack Trammell
Congressional District 8 --  Don Beyer
Congressional District 10 -- John Foust
Congressional District 11 -- Gerald E. “Jerry” Connolly

To help boost the campaigns of these candidates, VEA is mobilizing members for a “Day of Action” on Saturday, October 25. On that day, Association members across the state are encouraged to join in concerted canvassing efforts across the state on behalf of Sen. Warner and the NEA-recommended candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Knocking on doors, making calls as part of a phone bank, helping with logistics, and distributing postcards are all among Day of Action options for VEA members. For more information on where and how you can help, contact Roger Gray in the VEA’s Office of Government Relations and Research at


Association Leaders Go To Summer School

Summer school was very much in session for hundreds of VEA activists in July, as presidents of local Associations gathered for a retreat and then many others joined in for the Reggie Smith Organizing School (RSOS), with both events held at the University of Richmond.

The annual local presidents’ event offered sessions on topics ranging from the roles and responsibilities of their office to building bridges with local government.

Current and former local presidents offered hands-on breakout sessions focused on engaging members, creating a media presence, running successful meetings, reaching out to the community, time management, supporting building representatives, effective communication, and organizing member events.

 “I’d like to improve communication between our executive board, our members and myself,” said Theresa Thompson, president of the Stafford Education Association. “I’m finding some quick and easy ways to do that.”

At RSOS, VEA President Meg Gruber urged members to, “Tell your story—it’s powerful and it’s the truth. No one can take the truth away from you. Be proud of who you are and what you do.”

Gruber also asked attendees to put what they’d learned during the three-day training into practice when they returned to their schools and communities. “Use your skills to engage members and not-yet members,” she said. “We need to be strong advocates for public education and we must speak with a unified and persistent voice.”

RSOS participants do indeed now have new skills in their portfolios. They were able to choose among several strands to focus on during the School, which was held at the University of Richmond: political action, organizing, compensation, and teacher evaluation.

     • In political action, members learned the ins and outs of campaigns and heard from several guest speakers, including Delegates Jackson Miller and Ken Plum.

     • In organizing, participants practiced creating and thinking through collective action strategies for local Associations.

     • In compensation, members focused on how the process of school finance works and some ways they might influence it.

     • In teacher evaluation, participants learned how the evaluation process has changed, ways it might be used effectively, and how local Associations might play a role.

             Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association and founding editor of Rethinking Schools, an education reform journal, gave the RSOS keynote address, emphasizing social justice in education.

             He drew his loudest applause when he bristled as he described all the "data"-related meetings he must attend as a teacher in Milwaukee, declaring, "We are child-driven and data-informed. We are not data-driven. We don't deliver curriculum, we inspire children."


VEA Spreads the Word

Millions of Virginians heard about the value of strong public schools and the VEA during the Association’s fall media campaign, which reached statewide audiences from late August through late September.

Funded by the Association’s PR Campaign, the effort included radio spots in three major media markets (Hampton Roads, Richmond, Roanoke) and short “pre-roll” videos that appeared statewide on major news, family and parenting websites. A total of more than 11 million advertising “impressions” (a count of each time an ad comes up on an Internet page someone is using) were delivered during the campaign.

Last year, polling before and after our fall media campaign showed that our efforts substantially raised the public’s awareness of the VEA, as well as increasing the public’s perception of the quality of public schools.

This summer, Association members Carol Bauer (York), Charlotte Hayer (Richmond), Kevin Hickerson (Fairfax), Mattie Gould (Chesapeake) and Tracey Mercier (Bristol), were videotaped at a Richmond-area school, with that footage used to create 15-second videos for advertisements and a two-minute video available for broadcast at meetings or events. VEA also has brochures, available upon request, to distribute at public events.

All campaign products are available through the dedicated website,


Getting Your Professional Bearings

The GPS Network is a free, open-to-everyone online professional learning community created and maintained by NEA. Its aim is to bring together educators, parents and stakeholders in public education who are interesting in connecting and collaborating.

Using a discussion-group format, the GPS Network provides searchable data and resources that allow users to know what’s important and to share what works to support student success. Anyone can become a member, anyone can start or join a discussion group, and anyone can share resources and post questions, ideas, and experiences with other site members.

Get involved with other great minds in education today at


NEA Director Position Open

Delegates to VEA’s 2015 convention will elect someone to an open spot representing VEA on the NEA Board of Directors. If you’re interested in running, you’ll need 100 VEA-member signatures on an official petition by January 12, 2015. You can get a petition by contacting VEA’s Barbara Rackley at

The NEA Director position is a 3-year term running from Sept. 1, 2015 through August 31, 2018.



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