opinion | Glenn Youngkin’s Virginia Board of Education elections offer hope

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Education was key to Republican Glenn Youngkin’s successful campaign for Governor of Virginia and played a prominent role in his first months in office. Unfortunately, some of his moves — his first executive order banning the teaching of “inherently divisive concepts,” establishing a secret tip line for people to snitch on teachers, and his attempt to oust the Loudoun school board — seemed excesses to be the divisive ideology that drove his campaign. But his election as education secretary – an expert on using data to drive education reform – gave hope that Mr Youngkin might be more interested in improving education than just arming it. Now his first appointments in the state board of education provide further encouragement as Mr. Youngkin seeks solutions to the problems that have long plagued the education system.

A dispute with the General Assembly over the appointment of governors gave Mr Youngkin an unprecedented opportunity to appoint five members to the state’s nine-member Board of Education, which has wide-ranging powers over issues affecting public and private education in the Commonwealth. Its decisions, announced last week and subject to legislative approval, promise to bring people to the board with a variety of interesting experiences and perspectives.

Andrew Rotherham is a former education advisor to Bill Clinton and a member of the Virginia State School Board who co-founded a nonprofit research organization focused on improving learning outcomes for marginalized students. Grace Turner Creasey, an early childhood education expert, is executive director of the Virginia Council for Private Education. William D. Hansen, assistant secretary of education to former President George W. Bush, heads a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping charter public schools build and fund facilities. Alan Seibert, former Superintendent of Salem City Schools, is the Constituent Service and Government Officer for Roanoke City Public Schools. Suparna Dutta, a technology expert, is co-founder of the parent group Coalition for TJ (Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology).

The appointments, as might be expected, met with some criticism. Opponents of charter schools questioned Mr. Hansen’s appointment, and those who believe Mr. Youngkin is bent on destroying public schools pointed to Ms. Creasey’s selection. But Mr. Youngkin is right when he sets up a great training tent that welcomes new ideas. Charter schools, as their success in DC shows, can play a crucial role in education; They offer parents choice and are laboratories for innovation. Private and church schools also play a role and are affected by board decisions. Ms. Creasey was not the first private school board member, and she taught in public school systems for 10 years. That Mr. Youngkin reached out to Mr. Rotherham, a Democrat whose nationally recognized work has focused on underserved students, indicates that the governor recognizes the need to address Virginia’s glaring racial, ethnic and income disparities. We are less enthusiastic about Mrs. Dutta’s selection. As a parenting activist who has supported Mr. Youngkin throughout the campaign, she helps him fulfill his commitment to parenting engagement. But her work in the tense debate over TJ – in which she opposed the school’s necessary admissions changes – is chilling for those worried about a retreat from diversity and equity.

Education officials in Virginia released a report two months ago that documents in devastating detail a year-long trend of declining student achievement that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Obviously, the Executive Board – strengthened by its new members – has a lot of work ahead of it.

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