Ralph Northam's plan for

Early childhood and K-12 education

As governor, Ralph Northam will:

Champion strong teachers and leaders

  • Teachers are the most important factor in a child’s educational experience, and Virginia’s talented teachers are a key reason that Virginia’s public education system is so well-respected nationwide. However, compensation for Virginia’s teachers is quickly falling far behind other states and the national average leaving hundreds of unfilled teaching positions across Virginia as a result. As governor, Northam will prioritize state investments in increased teacher pay, and policies that attract the best and brightest educators and support their professional growth and ability to focus on what they do best—teach.
  • Too many students are faced with learning environments that do not fit their needs. As governor, Northam will work with the General Assembly to ensure students receive the individualized instruction and support they need.
  • As governor, Northam would be committed to fully funding the standards of quality, ensuring that the state upholds its commitment to a high-quality education for all Virginia students.
  • A Northam administration will also support teacher and principal leadership development, and ongoing professional development and peer networks, aligned with cutting edge research and practice, effective classroom instruction, and the changing needs of Virginia’s student population.
  • Recognizing the importance of practitioner input on policy development and implementation, Governor Northam will create a governor’s K-12 education policy advisory committee comprised of practicing educators and public school administrators.
  • Northam will also seek opportunities to streamline pathways into the profession and support divisions in their effort to retain high quality teachers, particularly those in communities most challenged by poverty.
  • At the same time, it is critical to ensure that teachers are able to demonstrate content knowledge and teaching skills that will shape students for a 21st century workforce. A Northam administration will work with teacher education programs, local school divisions, and Virginia’s Community colleges to recruit, train and support the retention of professional educators.

Modernize SOL (Standards of Learning) testing

  • Great progress has been made in recent years to reform SOL testing by reducing the number of mandated standardized SOL tests students take and providing opportunities for expedited retakes. However, SOL tests are simply not able to measure the progress a student makes over the course of a year or more, and are constrained to fixed answers rather than inspiring creative or critical problem solving.
  • A Northam administration will work to modernize the SOL tests to ensure that while we maintain accountability for student outcomes, we do so with smarter and more effective measures that define the growth and wider variety of students’ skills and abilities. This is a critical part of ensuring that all our students have the dynamic skills they need to succeed in higher education and the workplace.

Focus on equity and opportunity for all

  • In Virginia, as across the nation, a number of stubborn academic achievement gaps persist for students of color, students in poverty, and students with disabilities. Equity in educational opportunity is at the heart of the American dream, and is core to our values. As governor, Northam will fight to ensure all children, regardless of zip code, have strong public schools in their communities that provide high-quality education programs for all. Northam will also explore innovative methods to use data analytics and predictive modeling to identify and help at risk students succeed.
  • A disproportionate number of students of color and students with disabilities are excluded from our schools due to long term suspensions and expulsions. A Northam administration will work with local divisions and the General Assembly to ensure school discipline policies are equitable and alternatives are readily accessible. Northam supports limiting long term suspensions and expulsions with minor exceptions for extreme circumstances.

Build streamlined pathways into the workforce

  • Lt. Governor Northam has been a strong supporter of the recent state effort to change high school graduation requirements so that students are building skills better aligned to the needs of Virginia’s employers. This change will relieve the standardized testing burden on high school students, create flexibility and opportunity for internships and on the job experience in high school, build in greater career exposure and exploration, and emphasize competencies the business community has clearly stated a need for: communication skills, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and citizenship.
  • A Northam administration will work to ensure that public schools and divisions have the flexibility and support they need to create and implement innovative models, such as magnet schools and specialty schools like CodeRVA, that equip students with the high-demand skills they need to succeed in Virginia’s economy.
  • It will also streamline pathways into the workforce by expanding access to dual enrollment programs, especially in career and technical education (CTE) around the state. With limited resources as well as challenges in hiring CTE teachers in high paying fields, K-12 and the community colleges will partner the junior and senior year to share world class faculty, collaborative spaces and 21st century equipment. New dual enrollment pathways will align with regional employer demands and be the first tier to Northam’s Get Skilled, Get a Job and Give Back (G3) initiative.
  • Finally, a Northam administration will grow virtual learning opportunities for all students by leveraging public and private online coursework and requiring all divisions to provide expanded offerings to meet the unique needs of their students and local economies. Expanding these opportunities will work in tandem with the Northam administration’s efforts to bring broadband to rural communities that currently struggle with the economic disadvantages of not having this access.

Equipping students with high-tech skills

  • To prepare students for high tech and rapidly changing economy, Virginia must remain a national leader in the development and delivery of robust computer science education easily accessible by all students in the commonwealth. This will include supporting teachers in the implementation of new computer science standards across all grades.
  • This will also require the development, piloting, and refinement of interdisciplinary general math and science courses, and specific course offerings for high school students, like in cybersecurity.
  • But Virginia needs to do more than just embed these skills in existing curriculum standards and offer new courses, it needs to bring them to scale statewide and actively recruit and support students in taking them. By the time a student graduates from high school, they should have a basic comprehension of computer science just like we expect on core subjects like math and science.

Create a state education foundation

  • Governor Northam will create a Virginia public education foundation to receive and leverage public and private investments to support schools in high poverty communities in need of additional student supports; as well as provide flexible funds to schools and divisions needing resources to design and implement innovative programs and practices.
  • A well-managed foundation with strong accountability mechanisms could seek outside grants, and in turn provide flexible funding to strengthen Virginia’s public schools in new and innovative ways.

Maximize investments in early childhood education

  • As a pediatric neurologist, Dr. Northam is intimately familiar with the brain science supporting high quality early childhood education and the long term impacts it can have on a child, particularly one who was at risk of falling behind her peers in the first few years of elementary school.
  • As a state senator and lt. governor, Northam championed policies supporting health and educational opportunities for young children, such as increased investments in evidence based home visiting programs and expanded access to and enhanced quality of public preschool programs. As governor, protecting these investments will be a top priority because of the high return on investment those dollars yield for the commonwealth.
  • Public-private partnerships in the early childhood field are emerging around the state in order to leverage the unique strengths of different organizations to provide high quality preschool programs. A Northam administration will support scaling these models as a key mechanism for ensuring more of Virginia’s most vulnerable young students have access to high quality educational opportunities before kindergarten.
  • In recognition of the unique skills and competencies teachers of young children need to achieve successful outcomes, a Northam administration will work to make career pathways into the early childhood profession more cost efficient, accessible statewide, and aligned with evidence based practices.

Leverage state resources to support the whole child

  • The success of our students requires more than just providing high quality classroom instruction. Parents, community nonprofits, health care providers, and other partners help ensure students are physically and mentally healthy with the developmental foundations to thrive in the classroom. A variety of additional community supports, like stable housing, subsidies for after school programs, and workforce supports for parents helps ensure that children come to school ready to learn.  As governor, Northam will take a holistic approach to education policy, particularly in communities most challenged by poverty.
  • Northam will support schools and divisions seeking to create school based health care centers, which leverage partnerships between schools and health care organizations to help kids stay healthy so that they are able to succeed in the classroom.
  • A Northam administration will ensure there are governing structures in place, such as the Children’s Cabinet, to support meaningful collaboration at the secretariat and state agency levels to better align programs and services for children, particularly in high-poverty communities. As a member of Governor McAuliffe’s Children’s Cabinet, Lt. Governor Northam has worked firsthand in this structure to  maximize state resources and help to ensure better outcomes for children and families.

Support rigorous state accountability

  • Northam supports the reforms recently proposed by the Virginia Board of Education to change the way public schools are accredited by the state. Rather than relying solely on standardized test scores, schools should be held accountable for multiple measures of student learning.
  • Most importantly, Northam supports an accreditation system in which schools are held accountable in a way that rewards for student growth with the resources they need to continue success, and not simply a punitive system that only accounts for reaching benchmarks.
  • Transparency and accountability are the first step to school improvement. By improving our systems to identify where schools need help and provide targeted assistance, Governor Northam will provide the essential supports to turnaround low-performing schools and keep them on a path of success.

As lieutenant governor and state senator, Ralph Northam has a long and accomplished track record fighting for public education in Virginia:

Northam fought for public education.

As lt. governor, Northam took tie-breaking votes protecting Virginia’s public education from being raided with unconstitutional private school vouchers.

Northam fought for local school boards.

As lt. governor, Northam took tie-breaking votes to keep decisions about public charter schools in the hands of local school boards, in alignment with the Virginia Constitution.

Northam championed early childhood investments and policy improvements.

As Chair of the Commonwealth Council on Childhood Success, Lt. Governor Northam helped secure increased state investments in home visiting programs for vulnerable families and children and increased per pupil funding for the Virginia Preschool Initiative, the state’s public preschool program for at-risk students.

Northam fought for teachers.

As a state senator, Northam introduced legislation to find a dedicated revenue stream for paying Virginia’s educators and to raise teacher salaries.

Download the plan here.

Read more: I’m a proud product of Virginia public schools — and I’ll fight for them as governor

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