Christine Campbell: Reclaiming the promise of public education

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Regardless of economic, social, or cultural background, public education is the means by which all West Virginia children can achieve their dreams. High-quality public education is a moral imperative, a fundamental civil right, and an economic necessity for the future of West Virginia.It's time for parents, educators, and community members to come together and reclaim the promise of public education. It is our collective responsibility to give each child in West Virginia an opportunity to succeed. To fulfill this responsibility, we need a system of great neighborhood schools where educators have the resources to meet the needs of all our children.However, economic and social factors put pressure on our children, making it difficult for them to achieve success within the classroom. Consider the following facts:• Nearly half of our children in public schools live in poverty.• Children living in poverty come to school with one-fourth the vocabulary of children from wealthier families.• Three out of every five teachers report they have children who regularly come to school hungry.• Nationally, there are more homeless families than any time since the Great Depression.
Ignoring these facts, many education "experts" fixate on standardized testing with penalties instead of providing support for students, families and educators. This approach has clearly not improved public education.We are at a crucial moment when we must reclaim the promise of public education by fighting for neighborhood schools that are safe and welcoming places for teaching and learning. AFT-WV members recently identified school safety as a major concern. Class-size, behavior and special needs all have a direct impact on the safety of our children and educators. Public schools should be a safe-haven for all who enter.We must ensure teachers are highly qualified, prepared, supported and given collaboration time in order to meet the individual needs of every child. Having well-prepared educators requires adequate compensation for all school employees. I often hear arguments against raising salaries such as, "If they don't like it, let them move to those states with higher salaries." I shudder to think of the consequences for West Virginia's children if educators follow this advice. If we want to attract and retain highly qualified educators, we must improve salaries for all school employees.Our children deserve an engaging curriculum that includes art, music and vocational opportunities. Research shows these subjects increase development of attention skills and strategies that applies to all content areas. We cannot deny our children the opportunity to expand these skills through the arts and vocational experiences.Access to wraparound services is a necessity in meeting the social, emotional and health needs of our children and their families. We can no longer ignore the pressures children come to school with every day. Our Reconnecting McDowell initiative is addressing the need for these vital services by helping create and support community schools.This vision may look different in each community, but it has common benefits. Reclaiming the promise will bring back the joy of teaching and learning. It's an opportunity for our public schools to be the center of the community; a place where parents want to send their children, where kids want to learn and where teachers want to teach.This is the core and the focus of our work going forward at AFT-WV, but it takes everyone; educators, parents, students, civic leaders and community members. None of us can be bystanders. Together we must invest our time, energy, and resources by reclaiming the promise of public education for the future of West Virginia; our children.Campbell is president of the American Federation of Teachers in West Virginia.
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