Saturday, September 26, 2009

Future Prospects for Public Education in Virginia and Why the VEA Supports Creigh Deeds for Governor

Since my last posting, I have turned my attention to several different issues and important events in a variety of arenas including politics, policy, and association business. Last weekend, for example, I attended a VEA Board Retreat at Mariners Landing in Bedford County on beautiful Smith Mountain Lake. Our VEA Board of Directors embarked on a new membership year with an important training on diversity followed by a discussion of the need to create a new vision and mission statement for the VEA followed by the conduct of business with a full board agenda before adjourning at noon on Sunday.

Midweek, I went to Washington, D. C. in order to attend part of NEA's "Super Week." Quarterly, the state presidents and national officers and all of the NEA Board of Directors descend upon our nation's capital for the purpose of conducting the association's business between Representative Assemblies. It's called "Super Week," I suspect, because it involves a super human effort to cram as many meetings into four days as possible.

I came home from "Super Week" earlier than usual this time because I wanted to meet with the UniServ Directors who had been conducting their own staff meeting on Thursday and Friday; and today, I convened a brief meeting of our VEA Fund for Children and Public Education Executive Committee and PAC Directors in order to finalize some of our local candidate recommendations in preparation for the November 3rd state election.

With regard to the upcoming state election, we at the VEA have launched a series of political messages and mailings including a television ad that I hope will help to communicate to the public and to our members that the gubernatorial race that looms ahead is one that warrants their serious attention. We have made a recommendation for Creigh Deeds for Governor of Virginia because of Creigh's excellent 18-year-record of support for public education. His record in contrast to his opponent's legislative record made our choice fairly easy this time. Creigh had a 93.5% voting record (compared to his opponent's 52% voting record) over the course of his tenure in the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate. He has been a champion for the goal of bringing Virginia's teachers' salaries to the national average, and he recognizes the importance of providing every child in the Commonwealth of Virginia with an opportunity for a great public school and a highly qualified teacher. Creigh's own history is a testament to the power of a public education and the importance of every Virginia student being given an opportunity to succeed.

Creigh Deeds has a long road on the campaign trail ahead of him, however. The economy continues to create worries about the future. President Obama's popularity has taken some serious blows as the result of the health care debate which has, unfortunately, reached new lows as far as public discourse and debate. People are afraid and uncertain about their own futures, much less the futures of the Commonwealth and the nation. It's a tough time to be in public office or to be seeking public office.

One thing I know for sure, however. The future of public education in Virginia hangs in the balance as this political race heats up. We have on the one hand a candidate who clearly and unabashedly supports public schools and public school employees. We know that not just from his rhetoric but from his accumulated actions over the course of an 18 year legislative record. That candidate is Creigh Deeds.

We know from Creigh's opponent in this race for Governor that he is not so much a fan of the opportunities to be found in a system of high quality public schools. Instead, he is a proponent of vouchers and tax credits, and he claims to be a candidate in favor of "bold reforms" such as charter schools. The odd thing about that claim is that when asked for specifics about his plan for charter schools, he had nothing to offer with regard to any specific proposal or outline. He also admitted that given our current laws in Virginia, pursuing an expansion of charter schools in Virginia might be "problematic" but he dismissed the "problem" as being something that he would work out later.

The "problem" is that in Virginia, we have legislation already in place that addresses how charter schools can be established. Furthermore, Virginia's Constitution requires that public schools--including public charter schools--be established, operated, and overseen by local school boards.

For more on how and why charter schools are not the answer for Virginians, please see the following article that was printed in the Washington Post last July: (To see the article, click on the link.)

What has become increasingly apparent in recent weeks and months is that the line between politics and public policy--including education policy--has become blurred. What used to be relegated to the realm of policy--the establishment of schools and the rules they are run by; the development of "alternative" forms of public education; the discussion of what constitutes educational innovation, creativity, experimentation, etc.--these are increasingly included in the political debate about schools. Worse, the debate is increasingly driven by ideology as opposed to what is research based, considered best practice, or is in the best interest of the children whom are in need of the education.

The fact of the matter is that the research is mixed regarding the success of charter schools in the nation. You can find examples of great ones; but you can also find examples of failing ones, many of which are being closed down daily.

The same can be said of our neighborhood's public schools. There are some great ones, and there are some that are in need of support.

So why the push for charter schools as the silver bullet that will solve the problems that are being faced in some of our nation's poorest public schools? The media has certainly helped to create the sense of crisis around the current public school system in this country; and it's been egged on by our current Secretary of Education and our President who are familiar with one type of charter school that they have seen succeed in Chicago. I respectfully disagree with their point of view that what may have been good for the troubled schools in Chicago's urban centers necessarily translate to what would be good for the rest of the nation.

The fact of the matter is that most parents are satisfied with their own public neighborhood school! And aren't they the ones to have the best idea as to what is really going on in their kids' schools? For the research on that finding, see (To see the article, click on the link.)

Furthermore, just a few days ago (September 23rd), Forbes once again announced that Virginia is the best state in the nation for business, and included in that ranking is a comment on the quality of life in Virginia which includes an index of schools. (For the article, clink on the link:

What Creigh Deeds promises to do is to continue to move Virginia forward. His opponent would like to take us back to the Leave to Beaver days. If you don't believe that, you need to read his thesis (see full thesis, click this link: which he has alternately denied and then refused to retract. For his latest comment on the content of his thesis, see the following link entitled "I'm Not Apologizing:"

Moving forward? Taking us back? The choice for me is clear. The choice for our VEA Fund Directors was clear. Creigh Deeds is our recommendation, and I encourage each and every one of our VEA members to get informed and then get involved so that we can make the difference for Creigh Deeds. We at the VEA want to move Virginia forward.

We will need your help. Creigh will need your help.

Until next time.