The State Board of Education recently released its 2016 Annual Report on the Condition and Needs of Public Schools in Virginia. I think it is the most hopeful report on public education that I have seen in my tenure in office.
The report is honest and forthright as to the condition of public schools in the state and totally realistic as to the needs of public schools if they are to be improved. My highest compliments to Dr. Billy Cannaday, President, and members of the Board for their work.
During the last ten years, school enrollment in Virginia increased just over five percent for a total enrollment in 2016 of 1,286,711. During that same time period, economically disadvantaged students increased 39 percent, English language learners increased by 78 percent, students identified with autism increased by 222 percent, and the number of students in health impairment disability categories increased by 26 percent.
At the same time, Virginia students outperform their peers nationwide on the ACT by 15 or more points. The on-time graduation rate grew to 91.3 percent with more than half the students graduating with the most rigorous diploma. The Report recognizes that with the progress that has been made there continues to be a lot of work to do.
What stands out to me are the priorities that the Board has identified “to ensure that all children in the Commonwealth, regardless of their circumstances, have access to a quality education that prepares them for a successful, healthy and fulfilling life.”
The priorities are:
- The public school experience must be redesigned to better prepare students for life after high school by ensuring that all students, during their K-12 experience, achieve and apply appropriate academic knowledge, demonstrate productive workplace skills, exhibit responsible and responsive citizenship, and align knowledge, skills, and interests with career opportunities.
- Teachers and school leaders must be better supported to effectively deliver and serve all Virginia K-12 students.
- Virginia’s accountability system must provide tiered interventions aligned to need, encourage continuous improvement for all schools, and measure and report multiple indicators of school quality.
- Greater attention and support must be provided to school communities with high poverty where achievement and opportunity gaps persist.
Public education is a shared responsibility between state and local governments as defined in the State Constitution. The responsibility for running the public schools is at the state level by the State Board of Education and at the local level by county and city school boards. None of the boards at the state or local levels have taxing authority.
The State Board is dependent on the General Assembly and the governor; local school boards depend on boards of supervisors and city councils. Needed revisions to the state Standards of Quality will require additional investments that are required for future success.
It is essential that all elected officials review the State Board’s report, embrace its findings, and provide the revenue to ensure the success of our public schools.