A quality education for all Virginia students
Our kids deserve to go to schools where they feel safe and get the highest quality education. We can’t allow the Trump Administration to destroy the success of Virginia’s public schools, public universities, or community college system. Ralph will fight to defend our public schools and will support classroom innovation to develop new methods of teaching our kids the skills they need for a 21st century economy.
As a member of the Children’s Cabinet, Dr. Northam and the McAuliffe administration are helping our most challenged schools combat chronic absenteeism and poor academic performance — but there’s still work to do. The commonwealth of Virginia spends, on average, $80 million per year to remediate students in kindergarten through third grade. We need to reevaluate how we test our youngest students and ensure we’re putting them on track for success at the beginning of their academic careers. A big part of addressing this issue is making sure quality pre-K is available to all young Virginians — though it also involves challenging conventional methods of student assessments and alternatives to having students repeat grades at early ages.
As Virginia implements a new accountability framework and accreditation system, Ralph will work with the Board of Education, the Department of Education, local divisions and education stakeholders to successfully implement a rigorous system that drives continuous improvement and holds schools and divisions accountable for a variety of student outcomes.
Early childhood education
Ralph is a parent, as well as a pediatrician. So he knows good childcare and early education is vital to kids’ success. Children experience their most significant brain development during their early childhood years, with the most learning potential before age five. That’s why Ralph wants to make early childhood education for every Virginia public school student his top educational priority—and he’s already started. As Chair of the Commonwealth Council on Childhood Success, he led an effort to open up and improve classrooms for up to 13,000 more kids.
Attracting, retaining, and supporting teachers
Teacher pay in Virginia is now well below the national average, and we’re losing good teachers because of it. This is contributing to inequality in our education system, as rural and less affluent school districts cannot afford to supplement state funding. Ralph will work with Democrats and Republicans alike to attack inequality in education by raising pay for teacher—a bipartisan priority in Richmond.
To have the best education system in the country, we also have to recruit and retain the best teachers. That includes regular professional development and training so they can continue to build their skills. As of October 2016, there were 800 classrooms across Virginia without a full-time teacher — this is unacceptable, and we have to do better.
Too often, Richmond is making policy decisions without teachers’ input. Through the State Board of Education and the Department of Education, a Northam administration will make sure that teachers are a valuable part of the education policy making process.
Revise standards of learning (SOLs)
Standardized testing has always played a role in our schools. However, by placing too much emphasis on them, we have done so at the expense of other measurements of success. We need to teach our children to think creatively, not teach them to take multiple choice tests. The jobs of the future require more than teaching to the test. They require an ability to analyze new problems and think of creative solutions. Our SOLs should match the new economy.
Invest in STEAM and expand computer science
Virginia is home to the technology corridor in northern Virginia, multiple NASA sites, and emerging markets such as cybersecurity and unmanned aerial systems. That means we’re in a unique position to significantly expand STEAM curriculum and the number of students taking computer science, coding, and advanced placement courses. However, minorities continue to be underrepresented in taking AP computer science. Through private sector and nonprofit partnerships and working with the General Assembly, a Northam administration will set aggressive goals for students in K-12 completing computer science courses.
Cut college costs
Too many Virginia students still can’t afford to attend our public colleges and universities. We need to ensure that any qualified Virginia student can access these institutions. Students should not have to shoulder the burden of large tuition increases, and every student should have an option to go without oppressive debt.
Expand access to apprenticeships and training
Not every Virginian wants—or needs—to attend a four year college or university, but every Virginian should have the opportunity to gain further education or training. That means encouraging participation in industry certification programs, community colleges, and apprenticeship programs, and other advanced training. Ralph is committed to working with both businesses and community colleges to ensure there is a local training option for every available job. He also believes the final two years of high school should provide apprenticeships and job training for students who do not want to attend a four year college.
Break the school-to-prison pipeline
A 2015 report shows that Virginia leads the nation in referring students to law enforcement. This disproportionately affects students of color. We must invest in more school counselors and more funding for proven and proactive intervention strategies like Positive Behavior Intervention Services (PBIS). The statistics are sobering. More African American students are expelled and suspended, and it’s hurting our communities. Ralph supports Congressman McEachin’s effort to investigate these disparities. Keeping students in school and on track to graduate is good for everyone.
Build a school-to-work pipeline
Ralph believes our education system must create a pipeline from high school to community college, higher education, or a good paying job. Not only would this encourage students to stay in school and graduate, but it would also encourage employers to locate in Virginia, a commonwealth with good schools and a skilled workforce waiting for them.
To build this pipeline, we need to completely rethink the high school experience and ensure that all students are prepared to enter the workforce with the skills they need to be successful. A Northam administration will continue to support high school redesign efforts started under Gov. McAuliffe, and coupled with programs like Dr. Northam’s proposed G3 Program (Get a Job — Get Skilled — Give Back), Virginia’s students will have the resources they need to be prepared for the jobs of the 21st century.
Jobs for veterans
In the past year, under Governor McAuliffe and Lt. Governor Northam, Virginia has doubled the number of veterans placed in jobs through the Virginia Values Veterans program. Ralph also supported legislation to establish a program to connect returning military medics to private sector healthcare jobs. Previously, these men and women would go unemployed because their medical experience was not recognized in civilian society, while employers left jobs unfilled, especially EMT positions. As an Army doctor, Ralph knows medics are highly qualified for such positions, having training and field experience with a variety of traumatic wounds. Ralph will continue to grow these programs until there is no longer any veteran joblessness in Virginia, just as veteran homelessness has been functionally eradicated.