Reforming the state's education system is a top priority for Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell in the coming year. Speaking at Goochland Middle School, McDonnell outlined the second half of his ambitious "All Students" agenda, including efforts to bring Teach to America fellows into Virginia schools and a change to the state's school grading scale that will make it easier to understand.
The changes are all aimed at improving the academic outcomes for Virginia students, especially in reading and mathematics proficiency. To do this, McDonnell is also proposing changes to the school staffing standards to bring better qualified teachers to the classrooms that need them the most. As part of this effort, he called on lawmakers to allow TFA fellows – typically graduates from some of the best colleges in the country who agree to work in schools in the poorest part of the state – to begin teaching in Virginia by the beginning of next year.
He is also calling for an additional $1.4 million in funding to bring reading and mathematics specialists to schools whose students consistently underperform on standardized exams.
"We have a series of reforms starting with teacher professionalism and excellence in compensation and discipline," the governor says. "And we'll have some more ideas on choice and school accountability, and innovation in technology in the classroom."
McDonnell's education plans have already drawn support from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, especially the parts dealing with teacher recruitment.
"Virginia's economic well-being is inextricably linked to the education and skills of its workforce," said Virginia Chamber President and CEO, Barry DuVal. "An important component to having a well-trained workforce is teachers. Studies have shown that teacher quality plays a critical role in student achievement and the Governor's new strategies will help close the achievement gap that continues to exist in the Commonwealth."
These sentiments were echoed by Ned Massee – the VCC chairman – who said that better graduates are vital to ensuring the state's long-term economic health. He added that in the future, businesses are going to be looking for job candidates who are well prepared, and making sure those candidates can be found should become the primary goal of the state's education system.
To answer the call of local businesses, McDonnell will also seek nearly $1 million in funding to attract and retain qualified science, engineering, technology and mathematics instructors, especially for the state's middle and high schools. In addition, if his plans are implemented, school districts will be allowed to compete for grants from a $15 million fund as a reward for designing a compensation system that works best to reward high-performing teachers.