Atif Qarni Demonstrates Why We Badly Need a Teacher in the Virginia State Senate

Monday, April 20, 2015

The following post, by Prince William County math teacher (and U.S. Marine Corps veteran)Atif Qarni, lays out some important challenges Virginia faces when it comes to education, as well as what we need to do about it. That includes: 1) reducing overcrowded classrooms; 2) "rethink our curriculum and how we evaluate it"; 3) "put an end to our toxic testing environment"; 4) stop the "attacks on public education in favor of charter schools and school voucher programs"; and 5) "invest on the front end and support a quality education for all." I couldn't agree more with all of this, and would just add that it demonstrates why we badly need a super-smart teacher like Atif Qarni in the Virginia State Senate!During my time in the Marines, I was taught about how important it is to set high standards for yourself. We should be taking that lesson to heart when it comes to our education standards in the Commonwealth. We need some significant reforms so that we can live up to the promise teachers at my school make to our students: if you work hard enough, you can accomplish anything you want. It's time to lower classroom sizes, update our curriculum, and stop the emphasis on testing.
Our classrooms are too crowded.  It's bad for students to try and learn in classrooms of 35 and 36, which is what middle school math class sizes are in my school.  If we want kids to learn topics well and to think and solve problems for themselves, not just do well on tests, we need to give them a chance in classes that are smaller.
We also need to rethink our curriculum and how we evaluate it. Current Standards of Learning are not updated enough to test what a student should know as they move on with their education. We should be focusing heavily on increasing our students' ability to compete in a global economy. That starts with updated standards of math, science, and technology.
We need put and end to our toxic testing environment. We test our kids on these outdated standards too aggressively. This excessive testing drives our kids to physical illness on testing days. Kids face anxiety and symptoms of depression during testing season. Is this the way to show them the importance of education? Or are we instead driving them out of the classroom and away from wanting to learn. As a parent as well as a teacher, seeing the impact of these tests is heartbreaking. Some kids just don't learn the same way others do, and that's ok. Testing should not punish them for that.
Attacks on public education in favor of charter schools and school voucher programs are to blame for these problems, but it's not too late. For those that want or need it, public schools should be there to provide them a high quality education. A first class education should be the right of all, not the privilege of a select few, and that is what we face if we don't fix our system. Virginia consistently ranks well below the US average in state spending for public education, but above the US average for corrections spending. I think it's time we invest on the front end and support a quality education for all.