McDonnell leads education summit in Fairfax

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) met with state education leaders on Monday in Fairfax for a summit on public schools, discussing student loan debt, teacher compensation and low-performing schools.

“Regardless of your Zip code,” McDonnell told attendees, “You ought to be guaranteed a world-class teacher and a world-class education. If you aren’t getting that in every part of the state, then we are failing.”

The governor’s second annual conference on education included panel discussions on charter schools, higher education and student assessments.

Virginia Board of Education Chairman David Foster took part in a discussion on chronically underperforming schools. D.C. Public Charter School Board Executive Director Scott Pearson talked about Virginia laws that kept charter schools from opening in the state.

McDonnell addressed the summit at the end of the day and talked about keeping Virginia public education competitive. “We’re not just competing against Maryland, North Carolina and Tennessee,” he said. “It’s Finland, Japan and China.”

In Finland they “pay (teachers) like doctors and lawyers and treat them that way,” McDonnell said. In America, “teachers are underappreciated.”

The governor also said that university presidents have noted that for many freshmen, the first year of college is spent on remedial instruction.

“That’s a waste of time and effort,” McDonnell said. “We need to ensure that students are college or career ready. There is no other option.”

McDonnell said that many students are caught in low-performing schools. Rather than continue with the status quo, McDonnell suggested that local school districts could make way for a charter school to replace it.

Compared to its neighbors, the commonwealth has not been historically welcome to charter schools. In Maryland, there are 48 charter schools and more than 100 in the District, according to the Center for Education Reform. Before McDonnell became governor there were three charter schools; a fourth opened since he took office in 2010.

“The problem with expanding the Virginia charter school market is its culture of complacency,” Kara Kerwin of the Center for Education Reform told summit attendees. “No one wants to come to a state that’s a hostile environment.”

Pearson said that in 1996 there were no public school students in charter schools. Today, about half of D.C. students are enrolled in charter programs such as KIPP and DC Prep. Pearson said that in 1966 the District had about 140,000 public school students. By 2005, the enrollment had dropped to 75,000. The quality of charter schools, Pearson said, has drawn many families back to the public education system as enrollment in the District grows.

Schools such as KIPP, Pearson said, “choose to open in Washington, D.C., as opposed to Virginia because we have the laws and the political environments to do it.”

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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