- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2001

RICHMOND — Both candidates for governor of Virginia promise to make teachers' paychecks bigger and their classes smaller, but they differ on how much they would revamp the public schools' Standards of Learning.
Republican Mark L. Earley strongly supports the accountability standards, developed by the Republican administrations of George Allen and James S. Gilmore III. The SOLs need nothing more than a little tweaking, he said.
Democrat Mark R. Warner would go a little further. He said he favors academic rigor but suggests revisions are needed to give increased weight to critical-thinking skills and to make the program less punitive.
"Part of my criticism about the SOLs is, in a world that requires innovative thinking — creative thinking — the exams need to be more than just kind of rote memorization exams," Mr. Warner said in an interview with Associated Press editors and reporters.
He said he might propose adding an essay question to the multiple-choice history SOL test, which would increase the cost of grading each exam from about $1.25 to about $5. Kirk T. Schroder, president of the Virginia Board of Education, asked an advisory committee that initially rejected an essay component to reconsider.
Mr. Warner said the state also needs to spend more to help schools struggling to meet the tougher standards and keep their accreditation. However, he was not specific on how much money would be needed or where he would find it.
Mr. Earley said he does not believe the SOLs stress too much memorization. He said "there are going to be tweaks to the SOLs to make sure they are working properly," but no major changes are necessary.
"I think it's very important that we have no retreat from high academic standards," Mr. Earley told the AP panel.
Mr. Earley said he was speaking not only as a candidate, but also from the perspective of a father with five children in public schools. His sixth child is not old enough for school.
Mr. Warner's three daughters attend private school.
The Virginia Education Association endorsed Mr. Warner in part because of the candidates' differences on the SOLs, VEA President Jean Bankos said.
"Mark Earley says everything is OK in the standards and accountability movement, and we disagree with that," she said.
Mr. Schroder said that while Mr. Earley has firmly backed the SOLs, Mr. Warner has sent mixed messages by saying he supports strong standards while also airing a TV ad promising to "reform the SOL tests."
"Mark Warner has told me personally that he doesn't want to take the teeth out of the SOL program, and I take him at his word on that. But I see his commercials and wonder what he means by reform," Mr. Schroder said.
The candidates also disagree on private-school tuition tax credits. Mr. Earley said he favors tax credits for individual or corporate donations to nonprofit organizations established to award private-school scholarships to low-income children.
"It simply empowers people who are poor to be able to make good educational choices and to have a greater variety of educational choices in meeting the needs of their kids," Mr. Earley said.
Mr. Warner said he opposes the concept because "I don't think we ought to be taking public monies and putting them into private schools."
The multimillionaire telecommunications executive defended his decision to send his own children to private school. "Lisa and I made a decision that we thought was appropriate for our kids," said Mr. Warner, who added that the decision had no bearing on his commitment to public education.
Both candidates have pledged to reduce class sizes and raise teacher salaries to the national average. Virginia teachers in 1999-2000 earned an average of $38,690 a year, which was $3,117 below the national average, according to the National Education Association.
On this issue, Mr. Earley is distancing himself from Mr. Gilmore, who has not included teacher raises in his proposed state budgets. Teachers did not receive raises from the state this year because of the General Assembly's budget impasse.
Low pay is one of the reasons Virginia is losing teachers to neighboring states another problem the candidates say they will tackle.
Mr. Warner wants corporations to offer stock to teachers who agree to work in schools that desperately need them. Mr. Earley favors performance-based cash bonuses to retain the best teachers.


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