Garcia is the first Latina to lead the NEA, the nation's largest professional education employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States. Garcia is one of the country’s most influential Hispanic educators.
She is a vocal critic of the standardized testing movement and has raised alarms on the outsized role that testing is playing in public education. Garcia said there are problems with standardized testing that cause schools like Hall with a large international population to not do well. Garcia points to requiring ESL (English as second language) students to take tests in English even if they have only learned the language for one year.
In her visit to Hall High School, she asked students to voice what they think can be done to improve their education and school. Many of the students Garcia spoke to in Spanish because they are ESL students.
“They said, I'd like art classes. I love singing.’ And these are kids who are struggling to learn the language. They want something that they can feel, you know. I'm really smart and talented, is there some way you can help me, while I'm doing what I need to do to study. I want to show you that I'm more than my test score, and they are,” Garcia said.
The Hall High School Principal, Larry Schleicher, agrees that holding schools to only test scores could be hurting them, especially for international students.
“It takes more than a year to get those students up to the par that other students have had 12 and 13 years to do,” Schleicher said. He said even though Hall is labeled a "distressed" school, they are trying hard to overcome it.
The Arkansas Department of Education deemed six schools in the Little Rock district in academic distress and took control of the district last week. Garcia said they have researched other instances of state take-overs and it has not gone well in other states. "When you come in with the answers and silver bullet and magic wand and say 'just do this', it never works,” she said.
Garcia said it would be better if the school community, those that know the district best, came up with a plan to improve their facilities.
In the evening she gave a speech, “The Civil Rights of the Whole Child for a Whole Education", at the Clinton School of Public Service. The address began with a standing ovation and capacity crowd for Lily Garcia.
"A great teacher opens a child's mind to infinite possibilities," Garcia said to the audience. “Our kids do not need another test. They need the right to a great public school. Every blessed child has the civil right to a whole education!” For additional information regarding the National Education Association, visit: www.NEA.org