In the wake of the state’s reporting Standards of Learning scores, highlighting Richmond City’s poor results, some have suggested that Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli’s plan for k-12 education deserves a look. As someone who spent nearly two decades in “Eduland”, I examined his plan and have a few comments.
Ken’s plans to establish a committee to examine SOL tests and make them more reflective of skills needed to prepare students for work or university is pretty standard stuff. What did catch my eye was his plan to engage parents beyond the report card system of every month or every quarter. Hey, Ken, it already exists. Many systems, including the Governor’s School, have an online system that allows parents to check every grade be it a test, homework, or class participation.
Cuccinelli seeks to broaden the exposure to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. This is fine. the question left unanswered is how is this to be implemented? In my experience, for those not in the Science or Math fields of instruction, there is virtually zero support to incorporate STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and there is almost no funding to include STEM in all curricula. In my fields of economics and government, the connections are there, but it would take a total re-working of each and every course to integrate technology. A former colleague and I did develop a program that included economics, politics, and environmental science. It was only taught twice, as the school could not afford two teachers in one class
In the area of teacher training, Ken wants to create a K-12 Engineering endorsement for high school teachers. The state currently endorses math and each of the physical sciences. These are the basis of engineering. What is to be gained by an additional endorsement? If the current A.G. truly wants to attract more scientists and engineers to the teaching profession , he would have to establish a pay mechanism that differentiated between disciplines.
The Republican nominee wants each student to “demonstrate a proficiency at the middle and high school level in a second language of their choice.” To understand foreign cultures, language is important but so is history and art. As a student in Holland, I quickly learned that virtually all of the Dutch were multi-lingual. As a small country dependent on international commerce, this is part of their culture. Training begins as soon as they enter primary school. The cost to implement this system and find the appropriate staff would be monumental. By the way, is there any demand for instructions for the OS7 operating system in Latin?
One of the most controversial parts of the nominee’s plan involve choosing a new school by the parents of children in a school currently under-performing. While no one wants children to be stuck in a bad environment, Ken obviously did not consider the immense implications of this plan. In Henrico, there is virtually a bifurcated system with the western section doing very well and the east falling behind. In Ken’s plan, all of the students at Varina or Highland Springs, would be welcomed at D.S. Freeman and J.R. Tucker. Along the same line, would students in Richmond City be able to attend a better-performing suburban school by crossing district barriers? Cuccinelli says you can move!
The Republican nominee is so interested in education that he wants to amend the Virginia Constitution to save it. He and his A.G. nominee, Mark Obernshein want an amendment to the state to establish a charter school, i.e. a publicly funded private school, in a district that doesn’t want one. In other words the state overrides a publicly elected school board and forces it to financially support an institution that it doesn’t want. An interesting proposal from a pol who hates intrusive government.
Ken’s most controversial proposal is public funding for religious schools. He takes a tortured route to justify this obvious abridgement of the First Amendment. He states that is righting a bigoted wrong.
In 1875, President U.S. Grant gave a speech in favor of “good, common education.” In response, the then-speaker of the House, and future G.O.P Presidential nominee, James Blaine, proposed a constitutional amendment to outlaw federal funding of religious schools. Although it failed at the federal level, it was incorporated into the Constitutions of over 30 states. Unfortunately, some of its most vocal supporters were the anti-Catholic bigots of the later part of the 19th century who feared America’s immigrants.
To support the first Amendment and the anti-establishment clause, as Ken suggests, is not a demonstration of anti-Catholic basis. A government that is neutral in funding, but strong in support of all religious practice is fundamental to the strength of the American political system., He should realize that the financial support of religion has a corrosive effect on stability.
– D. Leslie Schreiber