Thursday, March 15, 2012

An Open Letter to Virginia's Education Policy Makers

The following message was sent yesterday to the Secretary of Education in Virginia and her Deputy as well as the State Superintendent of Instruction in Virginia and all of the members of the Virginia Board of Education. I shared it with VEA Board of Directors members and was asked today to publicize it more broadly. This is one way to do that. Please feel free to share. My request for cooperation in moving forward is heartfelt and sincere. So far, I have not heard back from anyone. I am waiting to see if anyone will respond.

Good Afternoon All:

I am writing this message this afternoon to all those at the state level who are in a position to have a positive impact on public education and the practitioners who are teaching in our classrooms even as I write this message all across Virginia.

I grow increasingly concerned about the level of negative rhetoric that was generated by our legislators and policy leaders regarding "bad teachers" this year. The final insult was offered in last Thursday's debate on the Senate floor when elected officials began to characterize teachers as "lemons" doing the "lemon dance." Having never seen the film, "Waiting for Superman," it was news to me that teachers had ever been characterized as such, and as Senator Puckett so eloquently pointed out, it was an insult to every teacher and every principal in Virginia.

I believe that most of you would agree that the vast majority--by your own accounts, over 95% of our teachers--are doing an outstanding job. If that weren't the case, there would be no way that Virginia would enjoy the ranking we received from Education Week as recently as January. A ranking of 4th in the nation is nothing to take lightly, and in fact, I was there to hear members of the Board of Education speak of it with pride.

That ranking is the result of the hard working teachers who ask for little enough and yet have been targeted for ridicule, disrespect and disregard that has reached untenable heights. I call to your attention the MetLife Survey that came out just last week regarding teacher morale. I am also including links to two blogs that I believe are worth reading if you share my concerns that the morale of our teachers is hitting a new, all-time low. The MetLife survey was national in scope, but I can assure you that it is representative of what I hear every day from those who communicate their concern and their dismay at what is happening to the teaching profession in Virginia.

My concern is two-fold, and I feel compelled to share it with you. First, I suspect that given the open attack on teachers that was evident in this past General Assembly session coupled with the changes that were voted on the dark of night on the VRS issue Saturday, we will begin to see an imminent exodus of teachers. I don't have to tell you the number of teachers who are already eligible to retire. That figure has been public knowledge for some time now. How to replace the number of teachers who are eligible to retire has been an issue that deserves attention, it seems to me, if we hope to be competitive with other states who are paying more (the average teacher salary in Virginia is now $7000 below the national average). Add into the mix that job security remains in jeopardy given that the contract issue hasn't gone away but has simply been delayed along with the decreased retirement benefit and the added burden of having to pay for their own retirement benefit as new employees, and I am very concerned that Virginia will start to have a very tough time of it recruiting the best and brightest talent to our classrooms as our older, more experienced teachers leave.

As we move forward into a period of reflection on what occurred this session, I hope that we can figure out a way to address these very serious issues and concerns with a sense of the importance that they have for the thousands of teachers who are working in our classrooms and
who are feeling really beaten up right now.

This isn't just about representing my membership although I would be remiss in my representation of them if I didn't share these concerns--but beyond that, I am deeply concerned about how all of what has happened this session will play out to negatively impact the quality of Virginia's schools in the future.

I am near the end of my career. I have dedicated 37 years of service to a profession that coming in, I believed was an honored one and I have certainly attempted to serve with honor and dedication. It has been painful for me personally to see what happened this session...and I know that it has hurt the thousands of hard working professionals who have been out in our schools and classrooms observing but not understanding how it has come about that they are the sudden scapegoats for things over which most of them have absolutely no control.

I sincerely and respectfully request that you consider these issues, and I remain, as always, ready to try to figure out how we can move forward positively during the remaining months of my term as VEA president.