- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2001

The candidates for governor of Virginia recently discussed their views on education. While politicians these days make no bones about education being their top priority, it's important for voters especially parents to pay close attention to the details when candidates claim they're for accountability and reform in education.
Virginia's K-12 accountability system is one of the finest in the nation. Developed and implemented during the Allen and Gilmore administrations, it's a system based on high academic standards, measuring student progress in meeting those standards and a belief that all children regardless of race ethnicity or income level, can and should meet high academic standards.
In analyzing the education platforms of the two candidates, it appears that Republican nominee Mark Earley's plan is much more focused on achievement and accountability throughout the system. Mr. Earley supports the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests without equivocation. He knows there is no point having high academic standards without a valid and reliable instrument to measure student progress in meeting those standards. He supports accountability for teachers, calling for new teachers to be evaluated twice in their first eight years to ensure the highest-caliber teaching corps in Virginia. He also supports performance-based bonuses to keep Virginia's best teachers in the classroom.
By contrast, Democratic nominee Mark Warner is vague about his commitment to maintaining the focus on achievement and accountability that has marked the state's efforts and remarkable accomplishments in recent years. In fact, besides saying he supports high academic standards, there's virtually nothing in Mr. Warner's education platform that speaks to raising student achievement, or promoting greater accountability or reform in public education. He has complained that the SOLs inhibit innovative thinking, and already has a television ad promising to "reform" the SOLs. What does that mean exactly? Would he eliminate the tests as a means of measuring student progress in meeting standards, or perhaps water them down to ensure higher pass rates? Neither is a good idea.
Mr. Warner has received the endorsement of the Virginia Education Association (VEA), a fact he proudly notes on his web site. The VEA, like its mother-ship the National Education Association (NEA), is no fan of testing. In fact, at its recent convention, the NEA dropped all pretenses and came out firmly against testing. This is an astounding position from an organization that purportedly supports a quality education for all children. How on earth are parents supposed to gauge student or school performance without meaningful testing?
The VEA, in explaining its support of Mr. Warner, says he understands that teachers shouldn't be held accountable for things they cannot control. This is a curious point of view that seems to suggest that some kids simply can't learn because of circumstance. That is clearly not the case at Ridge Elementary in Henrico, or Barcroft Elementary in Arlington or Polk Elementary in Alexandria. All three schools have high percentages of low-income and minority children, yet all three performed very well on the SOLs.
The two candidates also differ on the issue of school choice. While our organization supports all efforts to further empower parents, this is another area where Mr. Earley's platform is more reform-minded than Mr. Warner's. Despite the fact that Mr. Warner sends his own children to private school, he even opposes tax credits for contributions to organizations that provide scholarships so some low-income families can exercise the same school choice as higher-income families. Mr. Earley supports these tax credits.
We would encourage voters across Virginia to take a hard look at the education platforms of both candidates. Virginia has built a strong record in the area of improving public education, and has earned a place in the national spotlight for its efforts. It's important that the next governor continue along this proven path.

Lisa Graham Keegan is CEO of the Education Leaders Council, a non-partisan, non-profit organization of reform-minded educators.

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