Monday, August 5, 2013

On Governor McDonnell's Education Reform Summit

Dear Governor McDonnell,

I got the news only a few days ago that you were holding a K-12 Education Reform Summit on Monday August 5th. I am disappointed by the "agenda" of the agenda and by the who's missing from the panels.

At the summit, are you mentioning that Virginia's public education system is ranked in the top ten? Are you discussing the fact that the teachers in our state are among the lowest paid in the country relative to our affluence? How about discussing reforms such as lowering class sizes, de-emphasizing high-stakes standardized testing and test-narrowed curricula in favor of more rich and varied curricula? What about classroom practice--is that being discussed? How about discussion of developing and retaining the great teachers we already have? What of the massive cuts to public education in this state? I don't see any of those items on the agenda. But I do see charters, privatization, disempowerment of local school boards, virtual education, and non-professional teachers--a reform agenda of ALEC's and one that most parents have said they reject.

And who is serving on the panels? 

Well, first, let me applaud you on including two Virginia Superintendents and several Virginia college presidents. Also, kudos to you for including a former Virginia public school principal and someone who is both a former teacher and current state legislator (way to kill two birds with one stone!). I'm glad that some Virginia education scholars and leaders from Virginia's Department of Education will be there, too. Hopefully, these folks can bring knowledge and expertise to the discussion.You have also included many people and private interests from out of state, like the Governor of Tennessee, several charter school advocates, representatives from for-fee organizations that place non-professional and un-credentialed people in the classroom to work as teachers and administrators, as well as some consultants from the private education industry sector. 

But you know who is not included on the panels? Most other Virginia K-12 education stakeholders. You have not included any current K-12 teachers or principals. I don't see any school counselors, school nurses, school social workers or school safety officers on the panels. There are no school board members or other local decision makers. Not one representative from a Virginia-based charter school will be there. Most glaringly, there is not one person there representing Virginia's families. Not one. There are no parents or parent representatives there, and there are no students. 

I suppose those excluded stakeholders could go on their own and watch from the audience. But most working people can't afford to drive across the state on a weekday and then pay for lodging and the Summit fee. Why is this Summit not open and free to the public? Why is it not on a weekend? Public education is for the public and paid for by the taxpayers. Where are our representatives and the representatives of our co-stakeholders at your Education Reform Summit, Mr. Governor? 

Rachel Levy
Ashland, Virgnia


  1. I'm not in your state. Is there anything I can do anyway?

  2. Follow along on twitter. Use the hastah #VAk12reform to ask questions and pushback against inaccurate claims. It's also being live-streamed:

  3. And to think that the ethically-challenged McDonnell occupies the governor's position once held by Thomas Jefferson. -- Edd Doerr (

  4. We moved to Hanover County for the "great" schools, but we were profoundly disappointed with the quality of teaching, the curriculum, the administrators, the social climate, etc. We finally pulled our kids out and started homeschooling, which solved every single problem we had. Now my kids get recess every day--even several times each day. At our elementary school, they were lucky to get ten minutes recess a couple times a week. Now my kids can eat their entire lunch--rather than being forced to throw it away because they didn't finish it fast enough. Now my kids don't have Christianity forced on them in the classroom. Now my kids don't have to "learn" the same basic skills over and over and over again even after they've mastered them. And rather than being punished when they don't understand something, they get help.

    After years of supporting public education and standing up for it, I had to admit it was a complete disaster for my family. Hanover County Public Schools turned my kids into nervous wrecks. Now that we've left HCPS, my kids are learning twice as much in half the time, and they're happier than they've ever been.

  5. @Anonymous Thanks for the comment. Interesting. We've certainly had some issues with HCPS, but not to the extent that you describe. It sounds like our experience has been much more positive than yours was. For example, our kids always had an adequate half an hour for lunch and a full thirty minutes of recess every day (although recess sometimes become indoor during SOL testing, which I am not in favor of), which I concur is not enough.

    I encourage you to contact HCPS leadership and the School Board to give your feedback.

    1. Trust me when I tell you we had multiple meetings with everyone from classroom teachers on up to county administrators. It was all a serious waste of time. And I am not alone. There are many parents, at least at our particular elementary school, who are very, very dissatisfied. I knew I was in trouble when my son's kindergarten teacher didn't know the words to "The Wheels on the Bus," when emails from the GT teacher were full of grammatical errors, and when the principal refused to discuss research on homework with me.

      Worst of all was the fact that our school was obsessed with compliance and "behavior" (despite no history of out-of-the-ordinary behavior problems in the student body) rather than education. I have stories that would curl your hair.

      If you haven't seen it, there's a great school reform blog here:

    2. Wow. That's very disappointing. I'd be really curious to hear more of your story, not because I can do much about it, mind you. How long ago was it?

      I wonder if we've met in person. Is there a way you can get me your e-mail address?

  6. Last May the governor announced he'd be assembling a "Governor's Teachers Cabinet" to work on education issues. I applied, but never heard a thing. When I Google it, I can't find any indication that the group was ever brought together. I have emailed the governor's office to find out the status, and have not received a reply. Does anyone know what happened to that initiative?

    1. Good question, Mary. I heard the same thing and praised it, but good to find out if there was any follow through.

  7. Have you heard that two years ago the Virginia state government issued an order that no grade could be lower than 50%? Even if a student just signs his name, or gets one question right out of ten, his grade is never lower than 50%. I wonder whether anything has been done about this state-ordered grade inflation. (I think it's an outrage.)


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