Three education proposals by Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, currently being considered by the General Assembly, represent important opportunities to advance public elementary and secondary education in the Commonwealth.
Each plan would offer educational opportunities open for all children to take advantage. But they are designed so children who currently have the fewest options, those presently attending schools at the lowest end of Virginia’s learning and achievement scale, would stand to gain the most.
Around the nation, it is such children who generally gain the largest educational benefits from attending high-quality charter schools. In Washington, DC, for instance, economically-disadvantaged middle and high school charter school students are 70 percent more likely to be proficient in reading and math than children at traditional public schools. In New York City, charter school students, who are 26 percent more likely to be eligible for federal free and reduced lunch programs than traditional public school students, close achievement gaps much faster, and are substantially more likely to graduate with a Regents diploma, according to a 2009 study by Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby for the federal Institute for Education Sciences.
Among the reforms that would be established by the three Virginia plans:
• Implementing a new process for the reconsideration of charter school applications that are denied or revoked by local school boards, to be conducted by a review panel appointed by the state Board of Education. Charter applicants or local school boards considering applications could also seek technical assistance from the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, a welcome development that can be expected to boost the quality of charter applications being considered statewide. Observers note that while charter applications have been improving generally, certain areas requiring particular expertise can hold back otherwise promising proposals.
• Accredited higher education institutions that operate teacher education programs could launch “College Partnership Laboratory Schools,” a new category of charter school which would be approved and supervised by the state Board of Education. This proposal was originally introduced by Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones when he served as chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus.
• Approval of a new option for virtual and online schooling offered by state-approved providers, that could offer full educational programs or allow local school districts to offer online courses jointly with other districts. Recent advances in education technology allowing student responses to pinpoint instruction to the skills and achievement level needed, accompanied by significant investments in curriculum and in accomplished educators to serve as online instructors, have helped to make virtual education an increasingly valuable learning option.
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