Questions Abound About School Plan
Local Educators Say McDonnell’s Proposals Still Lacking In Detail
Posted: January 4, 2013
HARRISONBURG — On the surface, plans unveiled by Gov. Bob McDonnell Thursday to grade schools on a letter scale and make staffing standards more flexible seem harmless, according to one local educator.
But the devil may be in the details of the K-12 legislative initiatives, Harrisonburg City Schools Superintendent Scott Kizner fears. And right now, the details are scarce.
“It’s hard to make clear comments on the initiatives, except there are a lot of remaining questions,” Kizner said.
Thursday’s announcement is the second made by McDonnell in less than a month about K-12 education changes for 2013-14.
The latest announcement includes planned changes to report cards given to schools by the Virginia Department of Education, legislation aimed at reducing red tape and a proposal to bring the Teach for America program to the state’s public schools.
McDonnell also announced $2.8 million in funding for reading specialists and kindergarten readiness and discipline programs — a relatively small amount to spread among the state’s 133 school divisions, Kizner noted.
Some initiatives announced Thursday may not affect local schools, and the details about others that could, such as revising the report cards, are unclear, educators said.
“I don’t see so much detail,” Fenn said. “I’m a little concerned about the A through F assignment of grades to schools. It’s not clear: Are we grading only student performance? … We’re better served with a description, a narrative or suggestions for improvement versus a rating or a grade.”
Like children across the commonwealth, schools would be rated on performance with an “easy to understand” A through F grading system under McDonnell’s proposal.
Public schools already have a report card updated each year through the state Department of Education website. The report card shows how students performed on Standards of Learning tests, as well as whether the schools are accredited by the state and if they met federal achievement benchmarks.
How the proposed letter grades would be calculated is unclear, as is whether schools would still receive rankings annually about accreditation and federal accountability.
“I do wonder if [McDonnell] thinks embarrassing schools is the way to make improvement,” Kizner said. “It’s just another confusing way for the community to [interpret] the challenges that their school faces.”
A McDonnell proposal to allow school divisions to receive waivers from certain Virginia Board of Education requirements is encouraging but vague, Kizner said.
The board dictates such requirements as what time of year students should be tested, staffing and program requirements, and how to maintain student records.
“I hope what will be fleshed out in the next few days are what standards are they actually speaking about,” he said.
Proposals that likely won’t affect city or county schools include one to loosen requirements for the number of librarians, counselors and clerical staff schools employ and the start of the Teach for America program in Virginia.
Kizner and Fenn said local staffing will not change with any revisions at the state level and the city and county divisions do not have problems staffing schools.
Through Teach for America, recent college graduates teach for two years in struggling school systems. Bringing the program to Virginia’s public schools would place teachers in hard-to-staff schools, McDonnell said.
Local schools are ahead of the curve on other initiatives, too, such as improving reading proficiency and using a program called Effective Schoolwide Discipline, which reinforces positive behavior.
Some Harrisonburg schools are part of that program, as are all 23 of Rockingham County’s.
“Our Rockingham leaders were a lot [of the people] who were conducting trainings across the state,” Fenn said. “We’re proud of that accomplishment.”
Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or firstname.lastname@example.org