This year’s second annual Education Summit recapped many of the reforms in public education that Gov. Bob McDonnell initiated through his term.
Chief among them were three pieces of legislation, one of which created of the Opportunities Education Institute (OEI) that allows a state board to assume responsibility for managing a failing school.
Another legislative initiative created a system for grading the performance of individual public schools on an A-through-F scale. A third bill that passed the General Assembly required more rigorous procedures for evaluating the performance of teachers and principals.
The Summit was held in Fairfax on Aug. 5, and attracted education leaders from across the state. While the Summit touted many of the governor’s initiatives, it also focused on ways in which Virginia’s public education system must improve if it is to compete not only with other states, but other nations. One of the presentations noted how only 7 percent of public school students in the United States are involved in advanced Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs. This figure compares with nations like Taiwan, Korea and Japan where, respectively, 49 percent, 47 percent, and 27 percent of students are involved in advanced STEM programs. In Russia, 14 percent of students are involved in advanced STEM programs.
Two other areas of particular concern addressed during the summit were Virginia’s comparatively low rate of teacher pay, and the sluggish rate at which Virginia is establishing charter schools.
The establishment of more charter schools was touted as one major, but under-used tool in Virginia’s “education arsenal” for improving the overall quality of public schools.
However, to date only four charter schools have been established in Virginia. This small number was compared with 48 in Maryland, and over 100 charter schools in the District of Columbia.
Teachers’ low pay, according to Ariel Rozman of the New Teacher Project, is one of the chief reasons why more and more qualified, experienced teachers are leaving the classroom. One of the chief obstacles to higher pay – as explained by House Majority Leader (and retired school teacher) Kirk Cox – is always a “finite amount of money.”