There was more than a week delay in announcing Virginia student test scores this year. Last week we learned why. Despite the Governor’s unrelenting criticism in his campaign for governor and in his time in office about school test scores, he has not been able to improve the very scores for which he has been so critical in the past. He certainly made a big splash in his pursuit in his effort to improve our schools: He replaced most members of the State Board of Education with his own conservative members, took on a new Secretary of Education, fired two Superintendents of Instruction, and introduced gimmicks like laboratory schools (i.e. charter schools). No amount of spin was able to cover up the fact that his own test score results showed “significant and persistent learning loss in reading and math for Virginia students in grades 3-8. More than half of 3rd-8th graders either failed or are at risk of failing their reading SOL exam and nearly two-thirds of 3rd-8th graders either failed or are at risk of failing their math SOL exam.”
In his typical campaign style of dealing with issues, the Governor announced an “ALL IN VA” plan to deal with the educational challenges that continue despite his two years of rhetoric. Central to the new plan is increased tutoring. He pleaded with retirees and others who have the time to help struggling students in schools. He never mentioned that thanks to the General Assembly there are more resource teachers budgeted for the schools for next year rather than a billion-dollar tax break to the wealthiest Virginians and corporations that he was supporting.
The administration needs to acknowledge that the General Assembly’s watch dog, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) on which I serve, documented earlier this year the gross underfunding of schools in Virginia by any comparison you make. In a report to be released in the near future, JLARC staff found that having enough high-quality teachers is among the most important factors for a quality education system. Yet, in Virginia the number of fully licensed teachers and the proportion of them who are fully licensed continues to decline.
The current vacancy rate for teachers statewide is 4.7 percent compared to 3.9 percent last year and less than one percent prior to the pandemic. The percent of teachers who are not fully licensed or not teaching in their field is 16 percent which a decade ago was six percent.
Most distressing are the results of a survey of more than 500 teachers who left the profession of teaching with nearly half indicating they were unhappy being a teacher. The reasons for their unhappiness were inadequate support (75%), workload too high (70%), school leadership ineffective (64%) and inadequate salary (55%). There is no miracle to be found to improve student test scores. Certainly the political finger pointing does not help nor do inflated promises. What are needed are dedication and commitment, adequate funding, and support of the teaching staff. These could produce a miracle!