While Virginia shouldn’t manage education like a business, it’s certainly worth imparting that principle to the commonwealth’s public schools. That’s the best way to ensure the needs of a diverse and dynamic student population are being met in the most effective way possible.
Virginia has been far too reliant on a one-size-fits-all philosophy when it comes to education. But a cookie-cutter approach to high school instruction cannot effectively emphasize the skills valued by employers, the technological know-how and problem-solving abilities that empower graduates to compete in a global economy. Or the simple quest for the foundational knowledge and skills that help create good citizens.
State Sen. John Miller, a Newport News Democrat who died last week, understood that.
He knew that change was needed and devoted a great deal of his time and energy in the legislature trying to chart a better path for public education. In recent years, he was instrumental in reducing the number of Standards of Learning tests required of Virginia students and this year won support for expanding recess time and physical education opportunities.
His sudden death last Monday at age 68 robbed the commonwealth of an education champion, but not before Miller led the passage of SB366, legislation with the potential to radically change how high schools operate in Virginia.
The law is grounded in numerous studies conducted in recent years, each examining how to make high school more effective at imbuing students with the skills they need to prosper after graduation. In particular, it draws from the recommendations made in 2015 by the Standards of Learning Innovation Committee operating under the state secretary of education.
That group suggested the development of a “Profile of a Virginia Graduate,” a guiding philosophy of what knowledge a high school diploma should signify. From that basis, officials can define graduation requirements and academic programming.
The legislation recognizes that different students have different goals. While some seek a diploma as part of a journey toward a degree from a four-year university, others will enter the workforce, join the military or seek vocational certification at a community college.
SB366 calls for the establishment of different tracks, each leading to a different end and tailoring curricula to meet them. It seeks to break down the tried and true approach to make Virginia public schools more flexible and accommodating, and therefore more relevant for today’s students.
Interestingly, the bill would split the high school experience into two two-year periods, the first focused on basic skills every child needs and the second putting students on a career or education path that best suits their aspirations.
Prior to his death last week, Miller called the law a “game changer,” and it’s easy to see why. The old, established approach to a high school education is set to be dramatically overhauled as a result of his measure, replaced with something both more individualistic and innovative.
Virginia public schools, on the whole, aren’t failing kids. But they need to adapt to better serve students and provide them with the type of educational experience that bolsters their prospects for success in a competitive world. That, in turn, will serve students, businesses and the commonwealth’s economy.
The State Board of Education will spend the next two years putting this legislation into action, and it is a shame that Miller will not see this process play out. Virginia residents owe him a debt of gratitude for this work, and his commitment to the commonwealth’s children.