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Similar gubernatorial platforms on education

In a gubernatorial race that has centered on gifts from political supporters, FBI investigations, extremism and social issues, it’s odd there hasn’t been more talk about education. In Fairfax County, where SOL test scores and Advanced Placement courses are always hot topics, education is a subject that will determine how more than a few ballots are cast.

A review of the education plans of both Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli actually show agreement on a number of issues.

Certainly not out of line with public perception, both candidates’ plans call for a massive reformation of the Standards of Learning tests administered to students. The tests have long been a source of consternation with both parents and teachers, each criticizing the tendency to teach to the test rather than encouraging a deeper understanding of the subject material.

Both candidates have called for a commission or panel to review the current testing system and both have focused their efforts on encouraging future testing to include cognitive-based or short-answer testing.

Testing in general will never go away. Every public school is supported by public funding and therefore has to demonstrate that the children in their care are receiving at least a baseline education. Even so, it will be interesting to see how either McAuliffe or Cuccinelli will approach the results of these “blue ribbon committees,” particularly if the response requires additional funding from an already strained budget.

Likewise, both candidates seem to have attached themselves to the current popular push: STEM — science, techonology, engineering and math. Both call for the instruction to begin as early as possible. While Cuccinelli gets slightly more specific, calling for more occupational credits and career technical education sequences, McAuliffe takes a more overarching approach, suggesting increased partnerships with local businesses and colleges.

There is one notable difference in the plans. Throughout the Cuccinelli education plan, there are constant references to parent empowerment or choice in education. In case the code is lost to anyone, the plan goes so far as voicing support for Sen. Mark Obenshain’s 2013 constitutional amendment that would allow the state board of education the authority to establish charter schools.

While McAuliffe’s plan does not oppose school choice, it certainly isn’t a primary tenet of the plan.

The split shouldn’t be unexpected. School choice has long been part of the GOP platform and the inability for charter schools to take off in the commonwealth has been a frustration for them. The question remains as to how well charter schools would operate in Virginia and how it would impact traditional public schools. There are those who worry that it would divert investment from struggling school systems or encourage stronger students to vacate — further reducing the school’s on-paper performance.

Simply speaking, charter schools should be investigated so we can see how they would fit into the Virginia school system. However, keep in mind that while school choice is an admirable goal, there is a good chance that it could result in a higher cost for parents and taxpayers.

The difference in approach between Cuccinelli and McAuliffe is similarly mirrored in their mention of preschool education. Cuccinelli calls for tax credits for low income families to attend parent selected preschools with McAuliffe focusing more on public pre-K and early childhood education through partnerships with local businesses and colleges.

The Cuccinelli and McAuliffe education plans share a large number of similarities with an extra idea on one side (Cuccinelli would like to see expanded digital learning) or the other (McAuliffe wants to see an emphasis on writing both in general and on the SOLs).

It does lead to a question. If two candidates with such radically different ideas on the purpose and approach to government have such similar policy ideas on education, then why haven’t these ideas been implemented already? Perhaps it’s because both plans contain a number of good ideas, but lack depth on how those plans will be implemented or paid for.