Providing students a high-quality education

Published 10:47 pm Friday, February 22, 2013

By Gov. Bob McDonnell

Across the country, education reform efforts are calling for bold changes that put students first in all decisions about policies and practices in classrooms, schools and school divisions. In Virginia, we are part of that effort. We are enacting, on a bipartisan basis, commonsense, results-oriented and student-focused reforms that are positive for our students, teachers and parents. We know that in order to get a 21st-century job and a good college education, students must be prepared for the rigors of postsecondary education coursework, and they must be ready to achieve the good-paying jobs of tomorrow, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math and healthcare.

Over the past few months, we have outlined our 2013 “All Students” education agenda, focused on expanding educational opportunity, ensuring excellence in the classroom and increasing innovation and accountability.


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With bipartisan support from the General Assembly, we have proposed legislation that would enhance and streamline the teacher contract and grievance process, afford local school divisions grants for strategic compensation for their teachers, and provide state assistance to our failing schools.

Additionally, our other top legislation initiatives will ensure sustainability of algebra and reading interventions and include these initiatives in the Commonwealth’s Standards of Quality, provide staffing flexibility to localities, ensure a more transparent and easy-to-understand grading system for our schools, and allow for Teach for America to partner with Virginia school divisions to bring in high-quality educators to our hardest-to-staff schools. This agenda puts students, teachers and families first.

Great teachers in great schools make great students and citizens. A great teacher makes all the difference in the life of a young person. We are working to recruit, incentivize, retain and reward excellent teachers and treat them like the professionals that they are.

This year, we introduced The Educator Fairness Act, sponsored by Delegate Dickie Bell and Sen. Tommy Norment. This legislation extends the probationary period for new teachers to between three to five years and requires a satisfactory performance rating as demonstrated through a new performance evaluation system that includes student academic progress as a significant component in performance evaluation. Finally, this legislation streamlines the often drawn-out and burdensome grievance procedure to allow for an expedited decision to inform the teacher of their employment status.

This legislation primarily focuses on putting the best possible teachers in the classroom, and giving them the support they need to be successful. Last week, this proposal passed both the House of Delegates and the Senate with strong bipartisan support.

We want to provide incentives for our very best teachers to excel in the classroom. That’s why we have proposed $15 million for school districts to reward well-performing educators by establishing the Strategic Compensation Grant Fund in legislation sponsored by House Majority Leader and retired teacher Kirk Cox.

This strategic compensation plan, based on a model developed by the Salem City school system, will be implemented through local guidelines that best fit each school division’s unique characteristics and mission. We want to reward the teachers who mentor others, work in hard-to-staff schools and subjects, and show significant academic progress with their students. This will allow for additional compensation for many of our great teachers who go above and beyond every day.

In the Commonwealth, we equip low performing schools with turnaround specialists and additional resources from the state and private sector. But, unfortunately, despite these efforts a small segment of our schools are still struggling. That’s unacceptable. Therefore, we have proposed a bold initiative to establish a statewide Opportunity Educational Institution to provide a high quality education alternative for children attending any chronically underperforming public elementary or secondary school.

The Opportunity Educational Institution will create a new statewide school division to turn around our failing schools. If a school is consistently failing, the Opportunity Educational Institution will step in to manage it. If the school has failed for three years, the institution can take it over and provide a brand new approach to a broken system.

This model is proven nationally. Louisiana and Tennessee have created Recovery and Achievement Districts, and their results are positive. Every child deserves the opportunity to attend a great school. We owe it to them, and we cannot allow a single school to fail a single child anywhere in Virginia.

Across party lines, we are coming together in Richmond to pass important reforms that will positively impact every Virginia student. In order for our students to have the skills necessary to compete in the 21st Century global economy, they need the best available teachers, and our educators must have every useful option available to help them improve student achievement, including innovative approaches.

Together, we have taken significant steps toward achieving these goals. Our All Students agenda expands educational opportunity, ensures excellence in the classroom, and increases innovation and accountability. We are instituting education policies that put students first and are basing our actions on what is needed to best prepare our students to succeed in a global economy.

This is an education agenda that is good for students, teachers and parents, and that is why it is receiving such broad bipartisan support. Together, we are improving education in the Commonwealth and ensuring a brighter future for our young people.

Bob McDonnell is the 71st Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. This column first appeared in the Roanoke Times on Feb. 18.