What can Virginia legislators do? Use VLDS.

Let’s look at the top of the government food chain in Virginia.

The governor holds the keys to the kingdom, figuratively speaking. As the head honcho over Virginia’s government body, Bob McDonnell is the force that can and should lead an effort to improve education in Virginia. As a steward, McDonnell should stress this to members of Virginia’s General Assembly. As a political figure, it’s just the right thing to do.

Low and behold! Bob McDonnell recently launched an initiative in early January called ALL STUDENTS which aims to educate all K-12 students in Virginia with a high-quality education regardless of zip code. It’s a shame this premise isn’t a baseline already, but I digress.

McDonnell is asking for policy ideas to improve and better equip Virginia’s K-12 education system. As a Virginia resident, the idea of being able to post ideas and the governor reading them is so idealistic and democratic. But, I am also a skeptic. It would be even better if the governor’s office had a public tracking system for the submissions. The ultimate gesture would be to let the public vote on the suggestions. Or, maybe I am too idealistic about how government should really work?

To prevent my suggestions from being lost in online submission oblivion (or from an assistant throwing them out before they reach McDonnell’s desk), here is how Virginia legislators can make a difference in our state’s education system:

1. Support the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS). It launches this summer.

2. Create a task force to visit under-performing schools in the Commonwealth and identify why they are not up to par. Make sure the task force is diverse. Yes, you can fill an EEO quota here.

3. Compare the under-performing schools to the top performing schools.

4. Cross-check the findings to information in VLDS. This is a hunch, but I bet certain zip codes in the state have a lot to do with an abundance or lack of resources.

5. Close the gaps.

6. Publish the information for Virginians to read. Make sure it is in plain, everyday, Joe Schmoe language.

7. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

The video below is about ALL STUDENTS. While it is a nice package and talks about how much reform is needed, it doesn’t really highlight any solutions. I guess that’s where Virginians come in. I hope the governor’s office updates this video before 2013 ends to showcase what he and his regime plan on doing about education in Virginia. 

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The Future of Parenting and Education — Look at the Data

Photo credit: Gigaom.com

I stumbled across a Denver Post article about getting parents involved in schools and it appealed to me as a parent of a rising kindergartner. Admittedly, I didn’t pay close attention to the condition of schools until I enrolled my child at a private school in 2012. Yes, my husband and I would rather pay for our daughter’s education than to subject her to the poor state of the public schools in our area. Sure, we could’ve searched high and low for a school suitable enough to compliment the lessons we’re teaching her at home and then go through the financial effort to move close to these schools; but, why must we uproot the life we’ve established so far when the quality of schools in the U.S. should be top-notch anyway?

Last year, Education Week published an annual U.S. educational report card called Quality Counts 2011 and our schools ranked as average – with a grade of C – and a majority of the states received a D or less. Surprisingly Virginia, where I live, received a B-, but that still doesn’t discount the fact that schools in my neighborhood look like they were built using leftover supplies from the newer school facilities built in the city possibly over the last forty years. If the outside is crumbling, I could only imagine what the inside looks like.

If you are a parent, or if you plan on having children, you soon will have more to rely on than just the physical makeup of schools and report cards published by private institutions to judge whether or not a school you have in mind is the right place for your precious gems to spend their weekdays. According to the Denver Post article, a new tool to measure the quality of parent-school relationships is starting to make its way into several school districts. The purpose is to measure family and community engagement and to collect data that can determine what parents think about their school’s effectiveness.

Think about it, you probably trust word of mouth recommendations more than anything. How convenient would it be to see how schools fare based on what other parents in your area are saying about them? You could attempt to interview every parent where you live, but who realistically has time for that?

Launching soon is the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS), one of the few data systems in the nation that tracks and connects education demographics from grades K-12 and in-state colleges to the workforce in Virginia. Imagine reading a report that can show the probability of your child landing that coveted engineering or medical job (or whatever coveted job you dream of for your child). Wouldn’t you read it?

Workforce Developement

Growing up, I wanted to be an artist, teacher, and singer all before I even knew what education and life experiences would change my mind and determine which career path that I would ultimately choose for my future.

Take a look below at U.S. President Barack Obama on his 2011 American Jobs Act Tour in Emporia, VA as he spoke on the importance of education as it pertains to workforce development.  Throughout his speech, he spoke words such as “hard work is valued and responsibility is rewarded,” saying that as Americans, “we’ve got to step up on education and we must invest on basic science, as well as focus on putting people back to work.”

Well, the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS) is trying to do just that! Workforce Development Programs have become a much desired and needed resource for those who are unsure of their talents, unable to receive the proper education and/or training, etc. What if VLDS could help to aid these programs and perhaps even decrease the need for them in regards to future generations?

Over the past couple of years, I have seen workforce development in central Virginia make much progress in helping residents of the city.  Richmond residents have been given the opportunity to team up with The Richmond Workforce Pipeline Department of Economic and Community Development to participate in a job preparation program to discuss possible training and employment opportunities.

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Photo Credit: Briana Williams

I was able to personally attend a meeting in which Laurie Brooks, Workforce Development Coordinator, and Jamison Manion, Workforce Development Administrator, gave a complete overview and discussion of how the program was designed to help residents find out where they are, where they are trying to go and help them to get there in the workforce.

Various jobs provided in the program are in areas such as construction, healthcare, food services, customer service, and even starting their own businesses.  The meeting not only served as a way for new resident to begin the program, but also as a way for residents who already were involved to follow-up on their progress and find even more opportunities.

The program strategically works with each individual, discussing the times they can work, whether or not they are limited in transportation, need childcare, have legal barriers, etc. Despite situations that arise, representatives find opportunities the residents are interested in and find employers who are able to help.

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Photo Credit: Briana Williams

With residents facing such a tough economy, it was explained that the program could not guarantee a job, but would work diligently with each of them to get an interview.

“It’s kind of like a boxer.  We train you to get into the ring and then you are by yourself.  If you get knocked down, we help you get back up and get you ready for the next time,” said Manion.

Just imagine what database system such as the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS) provides, can do for the younger generation right now.  Just as President Obama stated in the video, “we must invest in basic science,” which includes this very important research initiative.  Although numerous workforce development programs are currently helping to place people into training opportunities and jobs, this database can only help to make the programs more successful in the future. Do you think that is could serve beneficial in helping to place these people in the correct fields and/or help to guide them in some way or another?  I certainly do. –BLW