Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Teaching Underground on Virginia's State of the Commonwealth

Virginia Governor, Bob McDonnell, delivered his "State of the Commonwealth Address" this evening, part of which includes highlights of his education plans for the next two year cycle.  Below are highlights from his speech with the Teaching Underground comments in italics.

States are competing against each other, and the world, for job-creating businesses.

When deciding where to move or expand, businesses look for a well-educated and well-trained workforce. We owe every student the opportunity to be career-ready or college-ready when they graduate from high school. A good education means a good job.

This is how McDonnell begins his comments on education.  It is unfortunate that economics is quickly becoming the only measure of value in American society. 

I have proposed an increase in funding for K-12 education of $438 million over this biennium to strengthen the Virginia Retirement System for teachers and school employees, increase dollars going to the classroom, hire more teachers in science, technology and math, improve financial literacy, and strengthen Virginia’s diploma requirements.

I appreciate the contribution to VRS, but it doesn't cover increases enough to keep from impacting local budgets.  I know this is an area where public employees are often compared to the private sector.  I won't complain about the benefits, but I know from friends in the private sector that I'm not getting any significant retirement benefits over them.  

I haven't seen any indication that the new budget really adds dollars directly to the classroom.

STEM is certainly important, but I think it is quite over-stated as of late.  We should stay competitive, but not so much that we sacrifice and devalue HEAR (History, English, Arts, and Recess).  O.K.- lame attempt at humor.

As for financial literacy, perhaps there should be a remedial effort aimed toward adults who make public policy considering they demonstrate such a deficiency in this area. 

We will also provide new funding for the successful Communities in Schools program, as well as funding for all 10th graders to take the PSAT, and for the start up of new health science academies.

Thank goodness we're making another standardized test possible for students.  It's about time.

However, while we will put more funding into K-12 in this budget, more funding alone does not guarantee greater results.

Of course not, we need to stick it to the bad teachers.

Over the past decade, total funding for public education increased 41 percent, while enrollment only went up 6 percent. This budget will provide new funding, but we will also seek more accountability, choice, rigor and innovation.

Is the increase any wonder?  How much more do we spend on testing, data collection, and reporting?  Federal and State mandates and partially funded programs and policies just like what you're proposing tonight have bloated local expenses.

Providing flexibility to local school divisions is important. It is time to repeal the state mandate that school divisions begin their school term after Labor Day unless they receive a waiver. Already, 77 of the 132 school divisions have these waivers, so that the exceptions have become the rule.

DoubleSpeak- If providing flexibility to local school divisions is important, then provide flexibility to local school divisions.  You meant to say 'even though our tourism industry is against it, repealing the Kings' Dominion law is a great leverage point for me to get folks on board with my less popular points like continuing contracts for teachers.'
Local communities can best balance their teaching and calendar needs with the important concerns of local tourism and business. They know their situations far better than Richmond.

And our next big initiative can be longer school years since that obstacle is out of the way.
Our teachers are well educated and motivated professionals who deserve to be treated as such.

Then do it.
Just like workers in most other jobs get reviewed every year, and are therefore able to be more accurately promoted and rewarded for their success, so too should our teachers.

When is your annual review Gov. McDonnell?  Oh, that's right, it's a four year term.

I am asking that we remove the continuing contract status from teachers and principals and provide an annual contract in its place. This will allow us to implement an improved evaluation system that really works and give principals a new tool to utilize in managing their schools. Along with the merit pay pilot program we approved last year, we will provide more incentives and accountability to attract and retain the best and brightest teachers.

Can you REALLY ignore the mountains of research that show incentives and merit pay don't improve student learning?  Data-driven, huh?  Dan Pink save us please.

We’ve got so many great teachers in Virginia, teachers like Stacy Hoeflich, a fourth grade teacher at John Adams Elementary School in Alexandria, who was recently named the National History Teacher of the Year.

I happen to think my sister Nancy, a public school teacher in Amherst County, is a great teacher.
Your House Majority Leader, Kirk Cox, is a great teacher.

We all know strong teachers who deserve to be better recognized for the invaluable roles they play in the development and learning of our students.

Yes, and we all know racists who say "I've got lots of (fill in the group) friends."  Picking a handful of teachers to praise doesn't excuse the disrespect toward all teachers communicated by your proposal. 

We will also fund policies to ensure all young people can read proficiently by third grade, so they are ready to become lifelong learners. Social promotions are not acceptable. When we pass a student who cannot read well and is not ready for the next grade, we have failed them.

But we won't invest more in pre-school and real early intervention.  I guess they have to be officially tested before we can justify intervention.

Our public education system must also embrace multiple learning venues and opportunities.
I agree with President Obama that we need to expand charter schools in our nation. I am proposing that we make our laws stronger by requiring a portion of the state and local share of SOQ student funding to follow the child to an approved charter school, and to make it easier for new charters to be approved and acquire property.

A Republican governor evoking the name of Barak Obama-- bad education policy knows no party.  But why can't we give greater flexibility to traditional public schools and let them innovate and provide choice.  In our county, we already do this with a Math, Engineering, and Science Academy and will add a Health Sciences Academy next year.  Charters have no proven track record of out performing public schools.

We need a fair funding formula for the fast growing virtual school sector. I will propose that a portion of the state and local share of SOQ student funding should follow the student in this area as well, and that we implement new regulations for accrediting virtual schools and teachers.

i.e., reduce barriers and make it easier.  While clamping down on teacher tenure and accountability for traditional public schools, you're going to make it easier to operate virtual schools.  I bet K12 loves this.

We should also create effective choices for low-income students, so I’m asking you to provide a tax credit for companies that contribute to an educational scholarship fund to help more of our young people, and I thank Delegates Jimmie Massie and Algie Howell, and Senators Walter Stosch and Mark Obenshain for their leadership on this issue. A child’s educational opportunities should be determined by her intellect and work ethic, not by her neighborhood or zip code.

CREATE A TAX CREDIT FOR COMPANIES!!! Forget the public responsibility to provide equal opportunity regardless of economic status, let's add incentives and trust the goodwill of the private sector.

We will also propose innovations to promote greater dual enrollment in high school and community college, so motivated students can get a head start on their college educations.

The goal of all of these proposals is simple: at high school graduation, every student who receives a diploma must be college- or career-ready.

And there you have it.  At least we have a simple goal. 


  1. Educators didn't break the economic system; a deregulated Wall Street did, only to receive bailouts while teachers were asked to "share the burden" when we were never given the chance to "share the wealth." I didn't take a joy ride with America's money. I was too busy teaching kids how to think better, read better and write better.

    Indeed, if the system picks back up, few will take the time to thank the teachers. In fact, we'll be told that the successful companies could do a better job than we are doing. So, regardless of the metric, we will be the scapegoats.

    I'll go back to my classroom under the "misguided" Jeffersonian notion that public education is necessary for an educated citizenry capable of pulling off a democratic republic. And hopefully the next generation of critical thinkers will have a better perspective and we won't be stuck with the political system we currently have.

    Wow, those last two paragraphs sounded dark and caustic.

    1. Just today I had a conversation with a student. His family is from S. Korea and we've been talking about comparisons with education systems. He said almost word for word-- the problem in the US today is that we don't really try to form education policy, it's all about economics. That was so profound from an 18 year old. Maybe when we start with the goal of education rather than economy we'll create good education policy.

  2. Have they thought about all of the teacher who volunteer to work with SPED students? 2 teachers in my department consistently take on the co-taught classes in the various subjects knowing that they will have the lowest SOL scores and the most challenging students. But wait...say goodbye to any type of pay incentive and you may start to worry about your contract for the next school year (unlike your buddy down the hall who teaches AP). I am so sick and tired of this.