Teacher on Cuccinelli Education Plan: “This is no time for VA to...

Teacher on Cuccinelli Education Plan: “This is no time for VA to jump on a failing bandwagon”

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The following guest post is from Kip Malinosky, a social studies teacher of 9 years in the Fairfax County public school system and someone who's highly knowledgeable about education policy.  Here, he responds to Ken Cuccinelli's horrendous education plan (see graphic to the far right – appropriately enough – for the craziest part of that plan, basically undoing separation of church and state while defunding public education in Virginia).  Also see Del. Rob Krupicka's demolition of the Cuccinelli plan (he gives it an overall grade of "D").  In sum, this plan is about as extreme and destructive as you'd expect from someone like Ken Cuccinelli….

Ken Cuccinelli's education plan deserves an "A" for the effort of putting together so many failed ideas in one place. Now his plan isn't all bad, it looks like he copied some good ideas from Terry McAuliffe's education plan, namely the commission to study reforming Virginia's Standards of Learning tests (the SOLs). Cuccinelli's proposals are based all around the concepts of competition and choice in and between schools. One of the champions of this educational philosophy, Diane Ravitch, did an abrupt U-turn on these ideas, when she saw them implemented with Bush's No Child Left Behind law. This is no time for Virginia to jump on a failing bandwagon. Let's get to a few of Cuccincelli's specific ideas

Online Schools: Arizona has marched ahead of Virginia with offering online classes and entire schools. The results have not been pretty. A key quote, "Turnover of students is high, which indicates many students have failed to get traction in mastering their courses or maintaining their motivation." And the woes don't stop there, rigor in the online classes and standardized test scores have slipped. While Arizona leads the nation in online public schools it's educational achievement is below average.

Next we turn to the alchemy of charters schools, which of course Cuccinelli is proposing to increase. First there are some terrific charters schools out there, but in the aggregate their record barely rises to parity with public schools and this is certainly not a silver bullet solution. Michigan has numerous charters schools that are expanding, despite performing worse than the public schools. In Indiana, a public official lobbied to have his charter school's grade of "C" changed to an "A" to burnish his case for charters schools. This story shows the problem of perverse incentives posed both by charter schools and giving grades to a whole schools (another proposal by Cuccinelli). In New York City, charter schools showed essentially the same scores as public schools.

Parochial/Private Schools: Repealing the Blaine Amendment, to allow public funding of religious schools, takes up more text than any other of Cuccinelli's education proposals. It's a terrible idea. First, Virginia has some ugly history with the wide expansion of private schools known as "massive resistance" to Brown v Board of Education. Second, private schools almost always have students from wealthier backgrounds who will not need as much assistance from the state, especially because once the demographics are accounted for public schools perform better. Third the number of Virginia students in private schools has been declining. Finally repealing the Blaine amendment would not only be a violation of the spirit of the first amendment, but also Thomas Jefferson's Statute for Religious Freedom, in which he states, "no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever." 

The good news is that Terry McAuliffe is very strong on education. His plan calls for truly reforming the SOLs, measuring student progress rather than only a single score at the end of the year and focusing much more on writing. McAuliffe wants to attract the best teachers by raising teacher pay and by letting teachers have the space to teach rather simply prepare for the next test. McAuliffe's focus on the individual student, creativity with writing, and greater autonomy for teachers bear a striking resemblance to Finland's amazing education system, which is consistently rated among the best in the world
Rather than send Virginia's schools toward a vision, which even Jefferson would have found backward, let's move our schools forward into the 21st century building on the best ideas the world has to offer.