For all Virginians

Ralph Northam Reveals Disturbing Education Policy

Northam Supports Lowering Expectations for Underserved Children; The Washington Post Recalls The “Soft Bigotry Of Low Expectations”

 On a Tuesday afternoon press conference call, Ed Gillespie was joined by Speaker-designee Kirk Cox, Senator Mark Obenshain, Former President of the State Board of Education Chris Braunlich, education advocate Antoine Green, and teacher Jan Embree to discuss Lieutenant Governor Northam’s disturbing new education policy. In an interview with The Washington Post, Northam proposed that students from different students of different backgrounds and regions should be given different assessments, effectively supporting the lowering of expectations for underserved children.

From The Washington Post’s Sunday Editorial:

“Mr. Northam claimed to believe in accountability but was utterly unable to explain what he means by the word. The state’s Standards of Learning (SOL), which establish minimum expectations for what students should know and be able to do, aren’t working, he said, and should be tossed out. What would replace them? Astonishingly, after almost four years as lieutenant governor and a month away from the election, Mr. Northam had no answer. Particularly concerning was Mr. Northam’s view that because children are diverse, ‘coming from different backgrounds and different regions,’ he’s ‘not sure that it’s fair’ to give them all the same test; they shouldn’t be penalized, he said, for the environment they come from. The suggestion that some students should be required to pass one type of assessment, while others are given a different (presumably more rigorous) one, is disconcerting…Creating different expectations for children does them no favors; it just allows adults to escape responsibility. To borrow a phrase from the history we revisited with Mr. Northam, it is the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations.’ Once again, schools and the grown-ups who work in them will be excused and applauded as they graduate poor black students who are not prepared for work or college.” (The Washington Post, 10/14/17)

In contrast, Gillespie understands we should measure achievement and celebrate growth. Achievement – meaning pass rates – has long been a key measure of school, teacher and student performance. In recent years, experts have recognized that student growth is also important in evaluating performance. For example, Gillespie believes that if a student is able to see three years of growth in one year’s time, that school, teacher and student should be celebrated, even if they are behind a traditional achievement score. At the same time, we cannot tolerate an achievement gap that separates minority, low-income or special needs children from their peers. It should be the stated policy of the Commonwealth to recognize achievement and student growth measures, but Gillespie knows that cannot come at the expense of each child meeting their full potential.

“A child’s potential should never be limited because of their background or where they live, and the Lieutenant Governor fails to understand that,” said Ed Gillespie. “When it comes to providing better opportunities for our future generations, the proper role of government is not to guarantee equality of outcomes, but equality of opportunity. That means we have a moral duty to ensure all children have access to an excellent public school, and as governor, I will fight with every fiber of my being to do just that.”

“As a thirty-year teacher, I was very surprised — and disturbed — by the Lieutenant Governor’s comments,” said Speaker-designee Kirk Cox. “One of the worst things we can do in our education system is to tell a child they are not capable of achieving at the same level as their peers. I taught in Petersburg, Prince George, and Chesterfield, all very different school systems, and I certainly held all of my students to high standards. It’s a regrettable suggestion, and one that has no place in our conversation on education innovation.”

Former President of the State Board of Education Chris Braunlich said, “I think that Ralph Northam’s suggestion that children should pass different types of assessments based on their demographics is a low aim approach. It’s insulting and small minded, and frankly, we should all be aghast that the Lieutenant Governor would suggest labeling children in a way that reaches back to Virginia’s past.”

“For me this is a very personal issue, because I was one of those kids from the neighborhood, from the community in which I was raised in by my mom I would be considered probably one of those kids that was referenced in this article, in terms of low expectations based on my environment and based on my surroundings,” added Antoine Green. “I think we should definitely require high expectations for all our students regardless of race, regardless of their environment.”

“For me as a teacher it would be unconscionable for me to assume that some of my students don’t deserve the same opportunity for success just because of where they live or their socioeconomic status,” said Jan Embree. “In fact, some of the brightest kids that we’ve had come through our schools and our classrooms have come from some of the poorest backgrounds. I think it’s very clear that Ed Gillespie’s plan is the best. He would be the best governor for the Commonwealth. He believes in our students and our teachers and I think it’s really important that he has made clear this plan of how we are going to be successful for the teachers as well as our students.”

Senator Mark Obenshain said, “The discussion that Ralph Northam had with the editorial page of The Washington Post is simply breathtaking. For him to suggest simply repealing the Standards of Learning testing or even replacing it with different testing for different regions and different demographics is staggering. I’m not sure if it’s about making kids feel better or about making administrators in failing school divisions feel better. But what we really owe kids all over Virginia is to meet our obligation, provide them uniformly with a world class education. And we cannot continue to leave kids, particularly in minority dominated areas, behind. And we’ve got a track record of doing that and we absolutely cannot afford to continue to do that.”
In July, Gillespie released “An Excellent Education for ALL Virginians” Plan to improve the K-12 education in Virginia. His plan will strengthen Virginia’s education system, ensure that every child, in every community, has access to a high quality, safe and student-focused public education, and better align our workforce development system with the demands of the marketplace of today and the future.

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