Virginia education secretary reveals plan for public education
The plan includes benchmarks, core beliefs, and non-negotiables.
On April 12, Virginia Education Secretary Aimee Guidera spoke at a virtual event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) where she discussed the Commonwealth’s plan for public education.
Guidera was introduced by AEI President Robert Doar, who noted that she oversees all pre-K through post-secondary public education in the state. He added that she “believes in giving parents options and choices, and she understands the important and vital role that parents play in providing a good education for their children.” He also called Governor Glenn Youngkin an individual “elected on a platform of Virginia school reform.”
Guidera also praised AEI, a right-wing public policy think tank covering government, politics, economics and social welfare. She said she appreciated the knowledge, analysis and insights of the group, and that they helped shape her way of thinking. She further noted that Youngkin likes AEI as well.
“The AEI plays such an important role as a beacon for anchoring and for providing guidance in a country, which seems increasingly adrift and perhaps even headed for the rocks, and for the rocks these days,” Guidera said.
Moving on to the education sector, which she called “extremely liberal,” she told a brief history of her office, located in the old Library of Virginia building. Of all the quotes found in space, her favorite comes from Thomas Jefferson, who she says is the foundation of Youngkin’s education program: “Free inquiry and reason are the natural enemies of error. “
The Secretary established three benchmarks for education in Virginia:
- Graduates of Virginia educational institutions will be employed in paid family jobs and actively and productively participate in civic life
- Businesses will be attracted, stay and grow in the Commonwealth because of the quality of the talent pool
- Virginia’s economy will grow
She also expressed that the Commonwealth is not yet where she would like it to be.
“Our educational associations and institutions and the media want to continue to install Virginia as ‘the best,'” she said, “And yet the data does not back it up – to rest on our laurels and be diluted by averages that mask the stark disparities in the quality of education and in the outcomes we achieve across the Commonwealth.
Fight against the trends
Guidera noted that looking at Virginia’s trend lines and disaggregated data, not all students were served. Some of the trends she found were in learning loss and the need for learning recovery, as well as the number of unfilled high-paying jobs in the Commonwealth that required certain skills.
She presented a plan to combat these problems.
“We will place an unwavering focus on creating a ‘best in class’ education system, from early learning to post-secondary education, and we will ensure that every learner is prepared for jobs in the world. knowledge economy,” she said. “Our work will be focused on delivering measurable results, meeting each student where they are, and prioritizing those we know are furthest behind. We will leverage evidence and leverage emerging best practices to accelerate progress and stay on track.
She then outlined her strategy by referring to four core beliefs:
- Every student deserves to be held to high expectations
- Resources and attention will be prioritized for students and communities that are further behind
- The people closest to students, parents and teachers matter
- [The Youngkin administration] ensure that students, parents and teachers count
With these points in mind, Guidera noted that math and history were two critical subjects in the queue for its seven-year exam process. She said the areas will undergo a rigorous review process that includes better opportunities for input from stakeholders and experts, as well as benchmarking against leading states and national and international efforts. While in the past reviewers have been teachers, the panel that Guidera envisions including national content experts, Commonwealth professors, directors of education at cultural historic sites who have subject matter expertise and representatives from the military, higher education and the employment sector to ensure alignment with Entry requirements.
“Shouldn’t we want the directors of education at Gunston Hall to help shape the way we teach the Bill of Rights? Or the warden of Fort Monroe, where the first Africans set foot in America as slaves, to help shape our historical standards? Of course I do,” Guidera said.
She also expressed hope that the Virginia Literacy Act, a bipartisan law Governor Youngkin signed into law, would help change the trajectory of students’ lives by ensuring they could read in third grade.
On the third and fourth fundamentals, Guidera announced that a new resource center is in the works where teachers can access materials and training focused on working in partnership with parents.
“It will focus on everything from making the parent-teacher conference a conversation about improvement and the concrete steps parents and teachers can take with students to make data more understandable and actionable so everyone focuses on, ‘How can we improve student achievement?’” she said.
In an effort to attract more people to the teaching field, his team is currently looking at certification and licensing processes that would make it easier for content experts to switch careers and join the teaching profession. She also hoped to expand the offering to people who wanted to transition from the military or other fields into teaching.
“As we pursue these goals, we will define quality and quality teachers primarily as having a measurable impact on student learning,” Guidera said. “Let me repeat it. We will define quality teachers by the impact they have in the classroom on their students’ learning. It shouldn’t be revolutionary, but it is.
She also spoke of a quality assessment system, in which a working group would ensure the commitment provided to competence and growth, a pending analysis of existing assessment data and an upcoming annual report on progress made.
“We don’t tell the truth about where our students are, and that’s going to stop. We’ll make sure everyone knows where we’re having trouble [and] what the issues are so that we can also take action to change those issues. We cannot afford to lose another generation,” Guidera said. “The keystone of a standards-based education system is strong accountability. We cannot allow students to be condemned to this, to stay in a school that fails them. We will work with the state board and legislature to ensure that families are no longer forced to stay in an unaccredited school that does not deliver measured results in student learning. It is unacceptable and it is simply a waste of money, time and above all lives to keep students in schools that do not prepare them for life.
She also expressed a push towards innovation and a priority to expose students to the workplace and careers through internships, apprenticeships and course offerings.
“The status quo isn’t working for a growing number of our learners,” Guidera said. “We will create a culture of innovation that breaks the one size fits all in education.”
The Education Secretary noted that there were some non-negotiables in her approach to education, including:
- Schools and campuses must be conducive to learning
- School buildings must be safe
- Schools need to be updated and prepared to impart knowledge in a 21st century way
- Schools should promote physical and mental well-being
- Schools will not tolerate any form of discrimination
“That should be our common goal: to maintain high standards, to reinforce the message to our young people that hard work and results matter in life, and that we should do everything possible to ensure that as many of our children as possible are eligible on merit,” Guidera said.