Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Virginia's Candidates for Governor on Education

If you’re unfamiliar with the 2013 race for Virginia Governor, this statement from Larry Sabato sums up why this election is so peculiar:

“These two are running against the only people they could beat”

No doubt, we’ve got two terrible choices. All politics aside, we’ve decided to look at both candidates' education platform. I could never endorse either of these two as a candidate, but there are significant differences in their plans for education.

Ken Cuccinelli

Cuccinelli’s plan begins by pointing out the obvious. Despite a history of success in Virginia schools, our biggest problem lies in racial, economic, and geographic disparities in student outcomes. His plan is based on four principles described below.

1) Empowerment
In order to ensure all of our students have the best possible education, we must empower
parents with the option to determine the best academic setting for their child’s education.

One could argue we already do this. Parents can discern from many rankings (including the states A-F rating) what schools are good. Once they’ve done so, they simply move into that district. Yes, that is ludicrous, but only in its extreme from the idea that parents can simply choose a good school. Factors of economics and parent involvement will still keep disadvantaged kids, well, disadvantaged. What about the goal of providing every parent’s child with the best academic setting?

2) Excellence
We need to always remember that teachers are the backbone of our education system. Study after study proves there is no more important variable in terms of determining a student’s long-term success and financial security than teachers.

Anyone propagating this falsehood has zero credibility. It is a statement meant to promote an agenda and a disservice rather than a complement to good teachers. Some studies show that teachers are the most important IN SCHOOL VARIABLE determining student success. This lets policy makers off the hook in addressing the most important variables that happen out of school. It also provides an easy target when reforms don’t work.

3) Opportunity
All children, regardless of who they are or where they live, deserve the opportunity to attend a quality school and learn from motivated teachers.

The obvious fix, provide support and resources to make every school a quality school. The reform fix, punish bad schools and reward the good. Create more disparity and place the outcome for children in the hands of whether or not their parents make the right choices.

4) Accountability
If we care about our students’ progress, we must implement real and verifiable measures
that allow our education system to replicate success and remedy failure.

Several decades of “accountability” haven’t moved us very far. Instead of starting over to find something that works, we keep tinkering with the tests. The best question to ask is “to whom are teachers accountable.” In today’s testing climate we are accountable to “big government” to borrow a phrase. Our students and their parents should be the ones to whom we’re accountable. A real education platform would figure out how to make that happen.

Terry McAuliffe

Like Cuccinelli’s plan, McAuliffe's plan uses numbers. That makes it easy on us. Here’s what he says about plans for education.

1) Reforming the SOL tests.
We must have a strong system of student achievement and teacher evaluation.

How about scrap and start over? I do like his ideas about what needs to change, but I don’t trust his plans to change them. The plan seems to place much faith in the validity of “growth measures” and still focuses on the purpose of SOLs being teacher evaluation rather than student learning. He also calls for a “Blue Ribbon Panel” to reassess content. How about we just release some of the content and let parents, teachers, and students judge for themselves whether the tests are fair?

2) Innovation in Education.
Quality educational systems need to think more creatively. Partnerships with businesses and community colleges, emphasis on STEM and Computer Science, and increased flexibility for our school districts will all help bring our schools into the 21st century.

Public/Private Partnerships and an emphasis on STEM are good, but if we’re not careful, we sacrifice other areas of equal importance. Education should not be solely driven by economic incentive. As a teacher, my job is not to prepare students to earn as much money as they can when they grow up. Let’s not sacrifice the arts and humanities for the sake of preparing students for a global economy. And, the quest for private/public partnerships should not overshadow the fact that education is a public trust and the public has a responsibility to support it, fully. The addition of private partnership should enrich, not support. (On a side note: Quality political systems need to think more creatively. Can’t we do better than just using words like Innovation, STEM, and 21st century and really focus on what we’re doing now in the present)

3) Supporting our Schools
Over time, the Commonwealth has reduced state investment in our schools, reducing the resources of our schools and shifting the burden to local school districts.

I agree. But the biggest obstacle to spending money on education is accountability. I think the public wants to know what they’re getting for their investment and the lack of transparency in educational spending creates a public sentiment of distrust. I don’t think the public wants test scores, I think they want to know how their money is being used. We don’t do a good enough job of letting them know.

4) Let Teachers Teach
Our teachers need to be relieved of the growing amount of paperwork and administrative tasks so they can focus on the job they signed up for: educating our kids.

Let’s focus here. Paperwork and administrative tasks are a nuisance, and when I’m overworked, they become the proverbial “straw that breaks the back.” I did sign up to “educate kids” but I’m educating about 35-50 more of them a year than I did in the late 1990’s when I started. Before worrying about the administrative burden, we need to understand the “job that we signed up for.” It takes much energy, effort, and time to “educate our kids.” Many teachers today are not doing their best, they’re doing the best they can.

1 comment:

  1. While Cuccinelli won't defend McDonnell's takeover plan, Bobby announced he plans to fight it all the was though stating "under his watch he will not allows kids attend school which continue to fail them." That last part says it all. Sad none of the 3 get it and just default to the failing schools reform rhetoric. I guess because it is popular= more votes.