The plan includes benchmarks, foundational beliefs, and nonnegotiable items.
On April 12, Virginia’s Secretary of Education 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’s President Robert Doar, who noted that she oversees all pre-K to postsecondary public education in the state. He added that she is a “believer in providing parents options and choice, and she understands the important, vital role that parents play in providing a good education for their children.” He also referred to Gov. Glenn Youngkin as an individual “elected on a platform of reforming Virginia schools.”
Guidera also complimented AEI, a right-leaning public policy think tank covering government, politics, economics, and social welfare. She said that she valued the group’s knowledge, analysis, and insights, and that they helped shape her way of thinking. She further noted that Youngkin also values AEI.
“AEI serves such an important role as a beacon for grounding and for providing guidance in a country, which seems increasingly adrift and perhaps even headed to the rocks, and for the rocks these days,” Guidera said.
Moving on to the education sector, which she called “overwhelmingly liberal,” she told a brief story about her office, located in the old Library of Virginia building. Out of all the quotes found in the space, her favorite comes from Thomas Jefferson, who she said is the foundation for Youngkin’s education agenda: “Free inquiry and reason are the natural enemies of error.”
The secretary laid out three benchmarks for education in Virginia:
- Graduates of Virginia education institutions will be hired into family wage-supporting jobs, and will be actively and productively engaged in civic life
- Companies will be attracted to, remain in, and grow in the commonwealth due to the quality of the talent pool
- The Virginia economy will grow
She also expressed that the commonwealth is not where she would like to see it be yet.
“Our education associations and institutions and the media want to continue to install Virginia as ‘the best,’” she said, “And yet the data doesn’t back this up — for resting on our laurels and being diluted by averages that mask the stark disparities in the quality of education and in the results that we’re getting across the commonwealth.”
Combatting Concerning Trends
Guidera noted that looking at Virginia’s trend lines and disaggregated data, not all students were being served. Some of the trends she found concerning were learning loss and the need for learning recovery, as well as the number of unfilled high wage jobs across the commonwealth that required certain skills.
She presented a plan to combat those issues.
“We will have an unwavering focus on creating a ‘best in class’ education system from early learning through postsecondary education, and that we will ensure every learner is prepared for jobs in the knowledge economy,” she said. “Our work will be focused on achieving measurable results, meeting every student where she is, and prioritizing those that we know are furthest behind. We will leverage evidence and we will leverage emerging best practices so we can expedite progress and keep on track.”
She then laid out her strategy referencing four foundational beliefs:
- Every student deserves to be held to high expectations
- Resources and attention will be prioritized for students and communities who are further behind
- Those closest to students, parents, and teachers matter
- [The Youngkin administration] will make sure that students, parents, and teachers matter
With those points in mind, Guidera noted that math and history were two critical subjects in the queue of her seven-year review process. She said the areas would undergo a robust review process including enhanced opportunities for input from stakeholders and experts, as well as benchmarking against leading states and national and international efforts. While in the past reviewers were teachers, the panel Guidera envisioned would host national content experts, commonwealth professors, directors of education at cultural historical sites who possess subject matter expertise, and representatives from the military, higher education, and employment sector to ensure alignment with entrance requirements.
“Shouldn’t we want the education directors at Gunston Hall helping us shape how we teach about the Bill of Rights? Or the director at Fort Monroe, where the first Africans set foot in America as enslaved people, to help shape our history standards? I sure do,” Guidera said.
She also expressed hope that the Virginia Literacy Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that Gov. Youngkin signed into law, would help change the trajectory of students’ lives by ensuring they could read by third grade.
On the third and fourth foundational points, Guidera announced a new resource center is in the works where teachers would be able to access materials and trainings geared toward working in partnership with parents.
“This will focus on everything from making the parent-teacher conference a conversation focused on improvement and actionable steps that parents and teachers can take together with students to making data more understandable and actionable so that everyone is focused on, ‘How do we improve student achievement?’” she said.
In an effort to bring more people into the teaching field, her team is currently reviewing certification and licensure processes that would allow content experts to switch careers more easily and join the teaching profession. She also hoped to extend the offering to people who wanted to transition from the military or other fields to go 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 say that again. We will define quality teachers as defined by the impact they have in the classroom on their students’ learning. That shouldn’t be revolutionary, and yet it is.”
She also spoke about a quality assessment system, in which a work group would ensure provided commitment to proficiency and growth, a pending analysis of existing assessment data, and an upcoming annual report on progress made.
“We’re not telling the truth about where our students are, and that’s going to stop. We are going to make sure everyone knows where we have problems [and] what the issues are so that we can also take actions to change those issues. We cannot afford to lose another generation,” Guidera said. “The linchpin to a standards-based education system is strong accountability. We cannot allow students to be condemned in it, to stay in a school that is failing them. We will work with the state board and the legislature to ensure that families will no longer be required to stay in an unaccredited school that is not producing results as measured by student learning. It is unconscionable and it is just plain wasteful of dollars, of time, and most importantly of lives to keep students in schools that are not preparing them for life.”
She also expressed a push toward innovation and a prioritization to expose students to the workplace and careers through internships, apprenticeships, and class offerings.
“The status quo is not working for a growing number of our learners,” Guidera said. “We will create a culture of innovation that breaks the one size fits all education.”
The education secretary noted that there were some nonnegotiable items in her approach to education, that include:
- Schools and campuses must be conducive to learning
- School buildings must be safe
- Schools must be updated and prepared to deliver knowledge in a 21st century manner
- Schools must support physical and mental wellness
- Schools will not tolerate discrimination of any form
“This should be our shared goal: to maintain high standards, to reinforce the message to our youth that hard work and results matter in life, and that we should do everything possible to have as many of our children as possible be eligible by merit,” Guidera said.