Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Delay Delayed

This session’s consideration of the A-F School Grading Bills (Del. Landes’ HB1229 and Sen. Miller’s SB 324) goes on yet another day, as the Miller bill went by for the day in the House.  The Landes bill will delay the issuance of the first school grades until October 1, 2015, while the Miller bill delays the issuance of grades until October 1, 2017.  VEA’s position is that the delay should be until the second coming, but we supported both bills in their chambers of origin.
Two factors seem to shape the debate.  First, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright has asserted that it will take three years to gather the necessary data to use in calculating the growth indicators which, in part, determine the grade.  Second, there is a significant amount of “buyer’s remorse” in the General Assembly.  Many who supported school grading are realizing that the grades may have unanticipated consequences such as a negative influence on faculty recruitment, school zone housing values, and economic development in high poverty areas where schools will tend to get low grades.

The Senate unified behind the three year delay, with a bipartisan 23-17 vote, and they added significantly to the basis of the grades by adding the following factors:  student growth indicators; student mobility; the experience and qualifications of staff; total cost and funding per pupil; remediation programs offered; extracurricular activities offered and the number of participants in such activities; parental engagement and satisfaction levels; any external awards or recognitions; and school safety.”    The Senate language also includes requiring a  format which allows for a comparison of similarly situated schools in terms of percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, percentage of English language learners, local funding beyond what is required by the composite index, student mobility, and any other category the Board deems appropriate; (iii) provide an opportunity for public comment on both the system and the grades ….”
The House appears divided, with Delegate Jackson Miller leading the charge to extend the delay to three years, and Delegates Landes and Greason in support of a one year delay.  Greason was the sponsor of the A-F School Grading legislation in the last session.  Greason carried the bill last year for Governor McDonnell, who also championed the state take-over of underperforming schools.  These two bills appear to have originated with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Opponents of the school grading system, such as Diane Ravitch, contend that, “It was never about improving but about labeling so that there would always be a fresh crop set up for closure and privatization.”
Tomorrow may tell whether the delay to Virginia’s A-F school grading will be delayed one or two years.