McDonnell’s Campaign Against Public Schools

By Peter Galuszka

As much as I hold James A. Bacon Jr., my esteemed fellow blogger, in the deepest of respect, whenever he says that he regards a package of legislation as the best, it’s time to start to switch on the Google.

In this case, Jim is patting Gov. Robert F. McDonnell on the back for such things as tightening the screws on public teacher evaluations and moving ahead with “virtual” teaching methods (that’s like, sooo Digital Dominion).

Nevertheless, here’s a counterpoint from Elaine in Roanoke who writes for the Democratic blog “Blue Virginia.” Elaine takes McDonnell apart for beating up on teachers under the guise of holding them to high standards while he simultaneously has been draining public education budgets for three years to boost highway spending and make himself look like he has a balanced budget and thus improve his chances for a vice presidential candidate slot with Mitt Romney or other Republican.

As Elaine notes, McDonnell is really proposing doing away with teacher tenure that is designed to protect professional educators from interference from zealots who worry that the teacher isn’t presenting the right dogma or from the rampant office politics that eduction is famous for.

Like many conservatives, McDonnell and Bacon are pushing an agenda that has yet to be proven. They go from the standpoint that our education system is in crisis and the cause is bad teachers and unions that protect some of them. True, the U.S. system could be improved, but where is the overwhelming evidence that teachers, in particular, are one special class of public service professionals who are somehow incredibly incompetent? Why do teachers need to defend their jobs every year? Why not doctors, lawyers, accountants, whatever? Could it be that many teachers are middle-class women and that somehow makes them suspect?

A second part of McDonnell’s education offensive that Jim Bacon finds so wonderful has to do with contracting teaching to “virtual” outside, for-profit companies. As part of this, teachers and programs would be cut and privatized.

And where, exactly, did this gem of an idea come from. Jim won’t tell you, but Elaine will. It’s a cut and paste job from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing outfit that draws up omnibus legislation with their conservative twist and peddles them to sympathizers in state legislatures and lobbying groups. This is exactly where the virtual idea is from, writes Elaine.

So, McDonnell’s campaign against public schools continues, with his sycophants cheering him on.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


16 responses to “McDonnell’s Campaign Against Public Schools”

  1. teachers are not the problem…never were. When you look across Va at all the school systems the problems are strikingly the same regardless of school or many other variables.

    the basic problem is that school systems trying to keep the most vocal of parents satisfied … hold on to your hat here… put the veteran teachers on the best performing kids … and assign brand new teachers to the kids who don’t have vocal parents and who are often at risk.. behind…

    You’d think the opposite should be the standard. That the most experience, more capable teachers would be assigned to deal with the kids who are not advanced but it perversely works the other way because many teachers who have many years in want to be “rewarded” and not assigned classes with challenging problems.

    Teachers are human and this is human nature but it works the same way across Va…because school systems and principles are under pressure for the parents who do want the best for their kids – and they get the best.

    I can’t blame the teachers who after years of teaching want perks of seniority but the school systems and principals are doing to disservice by catering to them.

    We have to teach the harder-to-teach kids. It’s a duty and it’s required for the economic health of the state and for succeeding generations of Virginians who will have to compete for 21st century jobs ..or… receive entitlements from Virginians who did receive a quality education.f

    The 600lb gorilla in the closet that no one wants to talk about much less deal with are the kids who do not have well-educated parents that are capable of pushing their kids … we’re dealing with ..for want of a better word, an underclass that used to depend on relatively unskilled blue-collar jobs to earn a living. Those jobs are increasingly less plentiful and the ones that are available do not pay as well as they used to.

    More and more kids are graduating ( that’s a questionable concept these days) with an education that allows them to flip burgers or pizzas and not much more. They become the fodder of the service economy and exceptionally vulnerable during economic recessions… where businesses cut to the bone and retain only the most valuable employees and shed folks they used to keep on … even though they were marginal.

    If McDonnell is serious about his education reforms – he will realize that teacher tenure is not the problem.

    the pedal is going to hit the metal when the criteria for teacher evaluations is that a kid must advance one grade level under their teacher and what we’re going to find out pretty quick is that newbie teachers right out of college are not equipped to teach the harder-to-teach kids and the result is going to be a lot of last-in, first-out teachers while the at risk kids fall to even worse circumstances.

    you need highly qualified teachers for the hard-to-teach kids.. there is no way around this issue…. and right now our system .. works the opposite way.

  2. DJRippert Avatar


    You have lost your way on this one.

    The question of funding vs. educational achievement should be viewed both quantitatively and over the mid to long term. Has the amount of money spent (per pupil) in America gone up or down (in real terms) over the last 30 years?

    I’d have to look up the numbers but my recollection is that the real per pupil spending has gone up.

    Now, has the educational achievement in America gone up or down over the last 30 years?

    Once again, I recollect many studies claiming that it has gone down.

    Assuming that both of my recollections are correct, it would seem that more spending does not necessarily increase economic achievement.

    As for tenure, it is an absurd concept. Why should anybody in any profession be able to earn the right to never be fired? Should doctors in hospitals be accorded the right of tenure after some period of time? Should CEOs of companies be kept on the payroll indefinitely if they survive for, say, 10 years? Should professional athletes be immune from losing their starting position of they have played long enough? Should Eric Cantor be declared “Congressman for life” if he wins one more election?

    Soldiers don’t get tenure. Nurses don’t get tenure. Why should teachers get tenure?

    You make more sense when you talk about rating teacher performance. It would seem to me that one would first have to consider the entire educational team before accountability can be ascertained. This would include teachers, principals, assistant principals, administrators, school board members and probably more. Then, some type of “like-for-like” grouping would be required. As a businessman, I can move from one market to another if I don’t like the prospects in my current market. Educators don’t have that flexibility. Therefore, relative performance will only make sense when compared against other, similar schools. Of course, performance over time is another matter altogether. Absent major demographic changes in a school’s student population it is quite reasonable to hold the educational team at the school accountable for improvement over time.

    The thing that worries me the most is the almost allergic reaction of the education community to any form of measurement of results. I would expect high performers in any endeavor to want to be measured. Yet there seems to be no measurement plan that is ever good enough for the education community.

    Your biggest miss is on the question of technology in education. One fo my sons attends a school where one of his teachers works on an “upside down” classroom approach. The lessons are videotaped and the students are expected to watch them (while taking notes) after school. Classroom time is spent working through problems with the teacher providing the right answers after the kids try to solve the problems themselves.

    Guess what? It’s pretty damn effective.

  3. re: ” educational team ” … In K-6 – the kids are instructed by a variety of teachers. They have a “home room” that handles material that is common to all the kids but then kids that are at risk as well as exceptional kids are sent out to specialists to deal with specific deficits or specific talents.

    So,for instance, a child who has deficits in reading and math.. could conceivably be taught by 3 or more teachers….

    When a child is assessed for whether or not he/she is on grade level – it’s not one score. It’s separate scores for reading, writing and math. So a child could conceivably gain 1.5 grade levels in reading and .8 grade level in math.

    on top of this a teacher typically receives 20 kids – each one with his/her own circumstance and it’s possible for a teacher to get a class with kids behind and kids ahead while another teacher might get a more homogeneous class … depending on the characteristics of that particular grade level.

    In short, it’s not a straight-forward simple process and while I don’t disagree with Ripper about tenure in general, I think it’s going to be pretty difficult to come up with a fair and transparent criteria that protects the teacher from unfair treatment at the hands of administrators.

    However, we have to do it if we are going to make progress on our academic rigor which is inferior in comparison to the countries we are competing against.

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    G. Groovey,
    You are extending into new areas and some are valid. My point is to attack this idea that somehow teachers are a wayward lot that need extra scrutiny. Looking at statistical performance standards (and their decline as you say) isn’t a problem that can be laid at the feet of teachers. This country has been through some major demographic shifts over the years, funding has shifted, skill sets expand and contract with technology and culture — whatever. I never said that school teachers need the same kind of “tenure” that college professors had and should be above any performance appraisal at all. Quite the contrary. What peeves me is this idea of McDonnell’s and other conservatives that teachers as a group deserve being beaten up. I think this comes from their unhappiness with the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers which are some of the stronger interest groups/unions left that are clearly not in the sphere of the big corporate interest this guys love so much. I’m married to a teacher and have seen how hard she works far and beyond the actual school hours and despite summers off (when she spends a lot of time at workshops). Do the math and see what she really gets paid per hour and then ask me why I disdain the idea that she somehow needs special scrutiny from the likes of the McDonnells.

  5. I have similar concerns to Peter on this. There need to be changes. There is no question that from an institution perspective that we are not succeeding like other countries but to focus this on teachers alone is just plain idiotic and if it’s part of an ideological blame game from Conservatives then I cannot print my thoughts here.

  6. re: per pupil funding…

    be advised that the INCREASE in per pupil funding in Va is stoked on the local jurisdictions to pay for things that are not required by the state for academic rigor.

    that money goes for all manner of things that are not connected to basic education or even minimum education for at-risk kids. The bulk of funding for at-risk kids comes from the Feds..not the localities. The state helps out but most localities that add local funding point it to amenity courses and curricula.

  7. DJRippert Avatar

    Here’s my favorite quote from Elaine in Roanoke’s blog post at Blue Virginia:

    “As for McDonnell’s idea to take money from education and shift it to road maintenance, all I can hope for there is that Democrats will stop that stupidity in the State Senate, now that Bill Bowling has acknowledged that he cannot constitutionally vote on budgets.”.

    A 45 word sentence where our Lieutenant Governor’s name is misspelled.

    Please tell me that Elaine is not a teacher.

  8. DJRippert Avatar

    Larry contends that much of the money spent on education is wasted on frivolous things. Things like “amenity courses and curricula” raise his ire. I am interested in two things:

    1. What courses are amenity courses?
    2. Why would anybody object to money being spent on curricula? Aren’t curricula the courses and content taught at the school?

  9. not frivolous things – important things to the people who want them but they come at a cost to the 60% who do not receive enough education to be classified as “proficient” to world standards.. i.e can and will compete toe to toe with their international counterparts for knowledge-based jobs.

    if you want to know what “amenities” , compare what schools from less prosperous areas of Va simply cannot afford to offer.

    It’s the difference between offering 8 sports verses 2 or 10 foreign language levels verses two or a myriad offering of various courses that less prosperous schools simply cannot afford.

    the problem is that the richer schools pay for these things even as they don’t allocate enough money to graduate 70% of their students as “proficient” per NAEP and PISA standards – that most countries that best us do achieve – i.e. 70% of their students graduate as “proficient”.

    the fact that Ripper does not know where the shortfall comes pretty much explains why there is little advocacy for our schools to do better than they are. People simply don’t know HOW they are failing but the numbers from NCLB and NAEP don’t lie. They show that even in rich schools like Fairfax that a significant number in many elementary schools not in affluent neighborhoods with larger numbers of at risk kids do not get the more experienced teachers..they get the new teachers.. and the money for more teachers at the elementary level for at risk kids competes against things like Latin IV / Russian / tennis /swimming / etc.

    The school systems make these choices. Most people do not know it because school budgets are anything but transparent.

    The reason we know though is that the Feds require accountability for their money and the state won’t fund anything that is not basic education.

    What we refuse to deal with is the reality of what happens to kids who do not meet international standards for proficiency in a world where low-skill blue collar jobs that used to be a de-facto safety net – are going away.

    The rest of the world’s industrialized countries know this and their schools churn out 70% who meet those benchmarks. that still leaves 30% who do not.. but in our case – fully 60% do not graduate with enough education to be competitive for 21st century jobs.

    Ripper/Groveton as a business entrepreneur should know this. The field he is in is full of CEOs who decry the lack of qualified workers and end up with staff that is heavy with foreign names.

    Given this – “illiteracy” of the problem with our schools.. we know that McDonnell could not really pursue real fixes to the education system because folks like Ripper would accuse him of wasting money on things that do not matter….

  10. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Well really, G. Groovey,
    I’ve been misspelling your name for at least three years.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Yes, but I’m not the Lieutenant Governor. At least, not yet.

  11. DJRippert Avatar


    First things first … go back to wherever you attended school and demand a refund. For one thing, using capital letters at the start of sentences is not really optional. For another, my name is Rippert as is clearly visible on the comments.

    As for your chaotic commentary, I asked you what you considered frivolous. Your 11 paragraph answer seems to boil down to:

    1. Too many sports
    2. Too many foreign languages

    Let’s start with foreign languages. Assume a high school with 1,000 students. Now, assume 1/2 take a foreign language. Those 500 students are even spread across Spanish, French, Russian, Latin and Japanese. We decide to eliminate everything except Spanish. Now we have 500 students taking Spanish. I am not sure where money is saved.

    One would think that “too many sports” might make for a better argument. However, in Fairfax County, one would be mistaken. An athletic fee of $100 per student per sport (subject to a 2 sport cap) is already being charged.

    Any other good ideas Larry?

  12. Ripper is somewhat correct in his points but it’s not just foreign languages but even with foreign languages, each language offering incurs separate additional expenses ( like substitute teachers), books, classrooms, etc.

    The $100 per sport likely does not come close to the true costs because the coaches of these teams are full time paid instructors also and what they are teaching is not core academic curricula.

    But I’ll challenge you Ripper ( I’m doing this on purpose to express my opinion about Rippers new identity)… I CHALLENGE YOU to show me what percentage of local funding in Fairfax is devoted to core academics.

    there is almost no accountability as to how localities spend their local money on schools… For instance, tell me how much money is spent on instructors in Sports?

    Fairfax County Public Schools
    This School Division – Did Not Make AYP Annual Measurable Objective for Mathematics is 85
    The State – Did Not Make AYP Annual Measurable Objective for Reading/Language Arts is 86

    keep in mind also that Virginia’s benchmark for proficiency upon which the NCLB/AYP pass/fail criteria is based on is much less rigorous than NAEP/PISA proficiency standards.

    Fairfax has pretty good achievement numbers but it spends $13,210 per student or 21% higher than average in Va.

    If the rest of Va did as good as Fairfax, Va would rank near Massachusetts which has the best achievement performance in the US.

    but Va does not.

    compare to Massachusetts:

    where fully 10% more of their kids are proficient in reading, writing and math.

    If Va wants to really compete for 21st century jobs – attract 21st century companies to provide jobs in Va – we have to have a much better educated workforce. That is the ultimate economic development because 21st century companies want / need educated workforces.

  13. McDonnell apparently thinks the achievement gap in Va schools is the fault of teachers… Even Fairfax has an achievement gap. So let’s assume McDonnellis right and across Va including Fairfax we need to get rid of under-performing teachers…. what next?

    where are you going to find highly qualified teachers to replace them and in the meantime – who will teach the kids who are at-risk and do not meet minimum proficiency standards?

    the problem is much more systemic and comprehensive than ” bad teachers” but the right wing echo chamber in their zeal to kill teacher unions has a sound-bite mentality as to the real problems. It’s one thing to play the right wing blame game.. it’s quite another to actually take on the problem with a goal towards fixing it. McDonnell has apparently bought in to the idea that getting rid of bad teachers is the problem and if he is not careful, he’s going to make things much, much worse.

  14. DJRippert Avatar

    Larry and Peter:

    You guys must be reading a different press release than I am reading.

    “Establish an annual contract and evaluation process versus the current continuing contract practice for teachers and principals. It will allow for a new evaluation system to work by attracting and retaining the top-tier educators in our K-12 public schools. Seventeen other states have already made changes to their contract and tenure laws. $415,500 is included in the budget over the biennium for principal and teacher training.”.

    First, it’s teachers AND principals, not just teachers. Second, every business I know sets annual goals for its management and key employees. Even my little company does that.

    There also seems to be a grievance process that includes pretty much everybody.

    “Establish a three-step grievance process to include the employee, the principal, the superintendent, and the school board, and set aggressive timelines for the process that would significantly reduce the time required for a grievance to be concluded.”.

    As a parent and taxpayer, the shrill reaction of some in the education community to what seems like sound management practice is cause for concern. Carrying on about how McDonnell wants “to blame the teachers” doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    Have seventeen other states really implemented something like this? If so, is it working?

    If I failed to provide annual performance goals for my employees our board would have cause to fire me. If I declared certain employees exempt from being held to annual performance goals due to their tenure then our board would again have cause to fire me.

    Why are annual performance goals for teachers and principals such a shocking idea?

    And, for the record, I have nothing but the utmost respect for the Fairfax County public school teachers who taught me and my children. They were capable, concerned, intelligent, articulate and dedicated. On average, they were considerably better educators than the professors who taught me at the University of Virginia.

    I would expect any of the teachers who taught me at Groveton High School to fare quite well in any fair evaluation of their abilities.

  15. I’m not opposed to evaluation. I’m strongly in favor of it but it needs to extend to administrators also and each part of the school system needs to be held accountable and if the school system fails to meet achievement goals then changes need to be made at the top – also.

    The problem you have in the trenches is that new teachers totally depend on mentoring from the veteran teachers and if you are not careful – you are going to put everyone in their own boat – and you’re going to find that team teaching – is antithetical to personal evaluations.

    I do not see this awareness in McDonnell’s proposal and it bothers me that he apparently thinks that teachers teach alone and are solely responsible for results.

    it’s much more complex than that in most K-6 schools where a team of specialists are dealing with kids such that you may actually have 4 or 5 teachers dealing with one child. How do you rate those teachers? Do you rate them as individuals and if so how?

    Are veteran teachers going to be evaluated with respect to their mentoring or will their mentoring be ultimately used against them when the teacher they mentored gets a better evaluation because she/he is less costly to the school system in a downsizing scenario?

    you’ve got some non-trivial issues here in that teachers are not individual independent contractors right now but if that is ultimately what they become – it will not help the challenges that we have.

    In some respects, we probably need to restructure how schools operate in the classroom because what people think they do is not what they do – and I strongly suspect that includes McDonnell and his right wing advisers.

    He needs people who actually teach to be involved in these changes.

Leave a Reply