Eye on Virginia: The difference a governor can make


By Amanda Litvinov

Public education advocates know what a crucial role a governor can play in promoting good policies that support education–and stopping those that would do damage to public schools. But it bears repeating in 2014 in particular, a year in which 36 governors (and thousands of state legislators) will be elected in November.

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Just look at how the conversation about public education has changed in Virginia, where newly elected Gov. Terry McAuliffe is looking to undo damaging legislation that his predecessor, Bob McDonnell, pushed for. Virginia and New Jersey elected new governors in 2013.

In his first weeks in office, McAuliffe spoke out against the deeply flawed A-F grading system for schools that is set to take effect in the 2014-15 school year. Research has debunked the letter grade assessment schemes, which have been plagued with problems in states that have adopted them.

The A-F grading system is just one of an array of unproven, so-called reforms promoted by ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) that were foisted on Virginians during McDonnell’s time.

Educators and parents were among those who helped elect McAuliffe, along with public-education friendly candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general.

“Instead of governing with gimmicks, Terry McAuliffe is committed to developing real solutions to the problems facing public schools and those who work in them,” said Meg Gruber, a high school science teacher and president of the Virginia Education Association. “It shows what’s possible when our members commit to the hard work of making sure the leaders we elect are going to make public education a top priority.”

New governors in Virginia don’t get to propose a two-year budget until the second year of their tenure, but in the meantime McAuliffe has proposed amendments to the current budget that would increase higher education spending by $30 million, increase the state’s contribution to educator pensions and put $15 million toward school building renovation and new construction.

Improving school funding was a big part of McAuliffe’s campaign platform, and education advocates in the state intend to hold him to it. During the McDonnell years, state funding per pupil dropped 20 percent, dropping the state’s ranking to 38th.

McAuliffe has also pledged to revamp the state’s Standards of Learning to include multi-dimensional assessments that hold schools accountable while providing a much richer picture of student progress.

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Reader Comments

  1. First problem with your statement is that there is significantly decreased funding in public schools, and a huge chunk of that funding does not even go toward the actual education of our children, but rather toward the testing of them. In fact, in my state, funding isn’t even at the level it was 15 years ago…not even accounting for inflation. Money has a lot to do with education. Additional teachers to reduce class size is proven to improve academic achievement in at-risk populations, as long as they are quality teachers. Counselors and meal programs cost money, too, as well as nurses, campus security, buildings and repair (ever try to learn with water dripping on your desk?),librarians, and music, art, and PE specialists.

    Secondly, some populations of students need less funding because they are already set to learn by the culture of the community in which they live. Other populations, especially in low SES areas (not the top 5% that you are used to) need a lot more support than others. The A-F system punishes educators who choose to work with those families. In many states, funding is cut if a D or F is given to a school, making it all the harder to succeed. Good teachers who can compete are more likely to take the jobs where they don’t have to worry about job security and funding cuts, so many times the schools that need the strongest teachers and the most funding are sold out by the grading system.

    Now, since you are questioning where the author learned that the grading system does not work, I would like to ask you where you learned that students who did not attend preschool catch up by 4th grade. That is not my experience, and I have never read anything about such a study in any reputable source. In fact, I have read mostly the opposite. Especially if at-risk populations are studied.

    Finally, the idea that we focus only on making the students feel good about themselves is silly. I hear that one as an unsubstantiated talking point all the time. I’m not going to stand in front of a class and insult my students, but I am going to encourage progress, even if it doesn’t meet the standard for the grade level.

    1. Joan let me start by answering your question. I was talking about the National Headstart Impact studies. Which I was wrong they report third grade vice fourth grade.
      Now I was talking about A-F from the students standpoint not for the grade of the school itself. Maybe after reading the article I took the article wrong in thinking student grades vice a grade system for the school itself.
      Either way my statements still stand about kids and their feelings. I am not saying don’t congratulate them when they are successful and do a good job but let’s be real. They need understand failure and how to be competitive and how to overcome failure.

  2. The article is too opinionated. I would like to know what proves A-F doesn’t work. As someone who works with groups of different age groups all the time and from all over the US, I would say the opposite. I would say since school systems went away from A-F and started focusing on the child’s feeling vice their education (everybody is a winner, give them unsat: U vs. Failure: F) that people graduating do not know basic concepts and are not prepared for a competitive job market. Think about many students graduate not knowing simple math and need a cash register to tell them the correct change because they can’t do it in there head. Today’s youth can figure out why they get fired or reprimanded when they mess up in the work place (I believe this is the problem with everyone is a winner mentality in schools). I have worked with every generation of young adults from all over the US for the last 16 years and the young adults I work with are supposed to be in the top 5% of the nation. So I really don’t get how the A-F does not work. I would really like to see an article that states facts or documents sources. The only stat in this article is the amount spent on education. Then I have to ask is money the only thing that has to do with education? In the last 20 years we have increased funding to education and what has the results been? Statistically most kids that don’t go to preschool catch up to the kids that did by 4th grade. So what is the point of preschool? My point with that is that spending more money on something doesn’t always net the return of investment. So shouldn’t we look at more than just dollar amounts?

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