Tom Perriello | Fifth District Report
Recently, a group of more than a dozen superintendents and school officials from around the Fifth District had the opportunity to sit down with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to talk about the challenges and opportunities in our education system. I convened this roundtable to give school districts the opportunity to communicate directly with the Secretary about what’s working and what’s not in Virginia schools.
The superintendent in Greene County praised the education funding in the stimulus, saying that it had allowed their school district to make its largest ever purchase in new education technology, like “smartboards” (electronic whiteboards that interact with computer software). However, he said the challenge was training their teachers in how to effectively implement the technology in the classrooms. Cutting-edge technology in our schools is critical to make our children competitive in a global economy, but only if it can be properly used and implemented.
Another issue that was raised by the Fluvanna County superintendent was that small school districts are not able to compete for certain grants from the Department of Education because of their size. He suggested that rural and small school districts could partner with neighboring entities to apply for grants together, maximizing the grant opportunity and the effect of the grant in the community. Secretary Duncan thought this was an idea that made sense and seemed willing to explore it.
One of the areas the American education system is lagging behind nationally is in math and the sciences. These are critical fields for us to regain as we compete with countries like India and China who are outpacing us in math and science education. To help remedy that situation, some school districts here in Virginia are offering incentive programs for teachers in these subject areas. The concept of “pay for performance” rewards teachers who demonstrate positive results with their classrooms in math and science. These programs have proven fruitful so far and could be a model for school districts nationwide.
Perhaps the most impressive presentation came from the school district of Martinsville City, which despite having the highest rate of unemployment in the Commonwealth has shown remarkable progress in closing the achievement gap for its students. Their core philosophy is to raise the bar and the standard of education, and this theory has paid off. Their schools have the highest high school graduation requirements in the state; students not only need to complete the basic requirements, but they must take two years of a foreign language, extra math and science, and complete 40 hours of service learning in the community. They also offer more advanced courses and open those classes to any student willing to put in the effort. Additionally, they offer a program by which students can earn an associate’s degree while still in high school. Martinsville City schools have closed 25-40 point achievement gaps on standard-of-learning tests in less than five years.
The Secretary seemed impressed with the innovative and effective work taking place in our Virginia schools. Martinsville’s story demonstrates that no matter the economic climate, there is no reason why we can’t and shouldn’t demand the best education for our children. I am proud of all of our Virginia educators and grateful they had a chance to showcase to the Secretary all of the strides we are making in education.
Please feel free to contact me to share your concerns and ideas. You may call 888.4.TOM4US (888.486.6487); write to 1520 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515; or visit www.perriello.house.gov to sign up for my weekly e-newsletter.
Tom Perriello represents the Fifth District in the United States House of Representatives.