J. Michael Sharman   J. Michael Sharman     
In the past 25 years spending per pupil has more than doubled (106% increase).  We have 1.6% less students. We have 50% more teachers and 90% more non-classroom staff.
Did more money buy better education?
Did bigger schools make for better learning experience?
Did smaller class sizes increase students' test scores?
The surprising answer to each of these pop quiz questions is "NO" and that that means to improve our children's education. We have to look beyond the failed responses of spend more, hire more and build bigger.
In the past 25 years Virginia had the largest drop in the Nation on reading proficiency tests. We have terribly low Standards of Learning (SOL) passing scores, for example few area students were able to pass the Algebra II SOL: Culpeper had on 17% pass, Madison was at a lowly 14%, and in Orange only a paltry 6% of the students could pass the Algebra II SOL.
Those poor scores might explain why 30% of high school graduates from the 30th District who attend college need remedial classes.
Professional educators and parents often have different views on what is needed in public education. A study shows the wide differences: Only 34% of educators say more emphasis on basics is needed while 60% of the general public say they want basics taught more.
Judging by our high school graduation rates, the general public seems to be right. Madison County did great with a 96.96% high school graduation which is the second highest in the State, but the other three counties are lagging way behind: Greene, 77%; Orange, 68.5%; and Culpeper, 60.1%.
No one is suggesting school funding should be decreased, but we should be asking how school funding can be made to be more effective. If private schools are able to teach children on an average $3,100 tuition, we should be able to teach children for the $6,500 average which public schools cost.
It is not more money that we need, it is more effective use of the money.
There are some basic building blocks for a sound educational system which we can put into place which will increase literacy at funding levels equal to or lower than what is currently in place.
Smaller schools are important but surprisingly, smaller class size is not. Literally hundreds of studies on class size and school size have shown that the bigger the school, the worse it is on the children, but that smaller classes have no measurable difference except in Kindergarten.
A simple return to phonics based curriculum can greatly increase our children's ability to read. Schools that use phonics rather than the "whole language" approach to reading have had great success in having every child a reader by the end of the 1st grade, and reducing the numbers of children in developmental and special education classes which are expensive to the system and often hurtful to the child's self-esteem.
We need to recognize that children learn differently and school systems have different needs. A one-size-fits-all approach won't work. Think of it like snow days, some people live on unplowed remote areas, some live on plowed, dry and perfectly safe roads, but all of them miss school on a snow day. We need to have more choice in education -- particularly a choice for skilled technical education -- so that the local community and the parents can make the decision that are right for their children.
What's the formula for educational success?
More involvement by the community and parents.
Smaller schools.
More phonics.
More choice in education and less of a one-size-fits-all approach.

That formula will help up put integrity back into the system by remembering that our focus should be on educating the public -- having an education system which allow teachers to teach and produces children who have learned to read, write, do math and work with computers in order to compete in our global marketplace.

J. Michael Sharman

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