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American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia wants to reclaim the promise of public education

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On Dec. 9, American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, or AFT-WV, reclaimed the promise of public education via news conference in the West Virginia House of Delegates conference room.

At 11:00 AFT-WV President Christine Campbell and Speaker of the House Tim Miley, D-Harrison, spoke to the importance of reclaiming public education.

Campbell said providing quality public education is a collective responsibility and called for parents, educators, community members and legislators to come together to reclaim "the promise of public education."

The things Campbell said will help reclaim "the promise of public education" are: good neighborhood schools, schools that are safe and welcoming for teaching and learning, prioritizing small class sizes at all programmatic levels, adequate preparation for teachers and service personnel, investing in early literacy programs and wrap-around services in schools and ensuring art, music and physical education."

What is not working, Campbell said, is the fixation on testing.

"The fixation on testing is clearly not working," she said. "Assessments are best used to guide instruction, not punish the system."

What should be the focus?

According to Campbell, it is attracting and retaining highly qualified educators and forming a long-term solution to address the salaries of teachers and service personnel.

When it comes to the teachers themselves, Miley said there has been more of a burden over time for educators to test more in the school system. With the constant call for more testing comes a decrease in time spent teaching, he said.

"When we went to school, we had it good," he said. We had parents who cared, we had teachers who cared. We had teachers who were comfortable in their jobs, both in their compensation packages and in the methods by which they taught kids."

In order to better the education system and help children succeed in life, Miley said it takes three things. One is having support from the family at home.

"I think over the past 25 years or so there has been a considerable erosion of the traditional family nucleus," he said. "Because of that, some kids aren't at home with an encouraging parent because the parent has two, sometimes three, jobs.

"We need to encourage the parent to support the kids and their educational efforts. We need to encourage them to have their kids attend school. Not just attend school, but do well in school."

Part of doing well in school is encouraging parents to put standard on kids for academic success, which Miley said will lead to economic success. What needs to be brought back to the Mountain State is having an expectation for children to make good grades.   

The second building block is focusing on educators.

"We need to work with educators both at state and local levels to make sure these kids are being taught in a meaningful way, not being taught towards succeeding on a test but being taught in a way that allows them to learn," he said.

Someone to learn from, Miley said, is Finland.

"I've been recently learning a little bit about some other countries that have had great success in educating their students," he said. "(In Finland) they test very little but (educators) have time to collaborate with each other."

As a result, Miley said educators have time to educate and teach their students to learn rather than how to test well.

According to Miley, taking a cue from other places and people in order to learn is not a bad thing.

"I don't think there's any shame in looking around and seeing who's succeeding and teaching their children and adopting some of those same policies," he said.

The third building block Miley cited is continuing to hire and retain good teachers at competitive compensation packages.

"We are losing teachers to retirement every year in significant numbers and if we don't do something to attract teacher to come to the profession, and allow them to teach, and not just teach toward a test but in a meaningful way, and invest in the lives of their students, we are going to be constantly looking for teachers and continuing not being able to find teachers to fill these spots that are being created by retirement," Miley said.