RD163 - Operations and Performance of the Virginia Department of Education – October 5, 2020
WHAT WE FOUND
School divisions generally view VDOE positively and note recent improvements
School divisions and education stakeholder groups generally praised VDOE staff. Nearly all school divisions view VDOE staff as professional and report they are satisfied with their division’s relationship with VDOE, according to a survey of school divisions. Most divisions also agreed that VDOE staff provide them accurate information and do so in a timely manner. Moreover, two-thirds of school division staff indicated their division’s relationship with VDOE somewhat or substantially improved over the past three years.
VDOE could do more to effectively supervise local divisions VDOE is fully meeting some, but not all, criteria for effective supervision of local school divisions (table). VDOE efficiently collects and reports compliance information and data from school divisions for 41 federal and state requirements. School divisions also rate VDOE’s guidance and assistance for reporting compliance with state standards highly.
However, the longstanding approach VDOE uses to supervise school divisions has limitations. VDOE primarily supervises divisions by asking them to self-certify whether they are complying with state standards. The agency independently verifies compliance for some, but not all, standards and monitors implementation of corrective actions for federal standards but does not always do so for state standards. In addition, information collected from school divisions is not always adequate to determine compliance.
Given the substantial amount of funding the state provides to the public education system, the extensive standards schools must comply with, and the importance of providing a quality education to each child, consideration should be given to strengthening VDOE’s supervision of school divisions. More comprehensive and effective state supervision for a subset of key standards could help to ensure that all school divisions meet their educational responsibilities.
VDOE generally provides adequate support and assistance
The vast majority of school divisions are satisfied with the overall support and technical assistance provided by VDOE, according to the survey of division staff. Almost every division responding to the survey agreed that VDOE provides support that aligns with their instructional and non-instructional needs. Divisions also generally agreed that VDOE provided effective technical assistance and support in several key instructional and school operational areas.
School division staff indicated VDOE’s support of virtual learning and instructional technology was less effective, but VDOE has substantially increased resources to support virtual instruction. This summer, in response to increased demand for virtual learning resources during the COVID-19 pandemic, VDOE added substantial new content to Virtual Virginia (the state’s online learning management system) and expanded course offerings from mostly high school to also include middle and elementary school courses.
School improvement program needs to be strengthened to better support low-performing schools and divisions
Only half of school divisions that had worked with VDOE’s Office of School Quality (OSQ) indicated that the office had effectively helped them improve their performance through the school improvement program. Both OSQ staff and participating school division staff cited frustrations with the program that was described as largely a compliance exercise. OSQ is in the process of developing and implementing a new model using customized mentoring and coaching for school leadership that it hopes will improve the assistance provided to low-performing schools.
Along with a new approach, additional resources are needed to effectively implement the program. Virginia currently devotes comparatively few staff (12) to the state’s school improvement function. Last year, OSQ worked with more than 260 schools resulting in a ratio of 22 schools per one OSQ staff. At current staffing levels, each staff member has about two weeks per year to work with each school needing improvement. Virginia devotes substantially fewer state staff to school improvement than several neighboring states. Virginia’s school-to-staff ratio is much higher than the ratios in North Carolina and Kentucky (see figure displayed on page iii of the report).
Given the critical importance of the state’s work to help improve low-performing schools and the lack of priority given to it in the past, the Code of Virginia should be amended to direct the state to administer an effective school improvement program. Providing explicit direction in the Code of Virginia would help ensure a sustained, long-term focus on improving low-performing schools that endures leadership changes at VDOE.
Office of Teacher Education should be strengthened to better support school divisions
No single entity in Virginia is responsible for ensuring the state has enough fully licensed teachers, but VDOE plays a role through its Department of Teacher Education and Licensure. However, only half of school divisions reported that VDOE’s support in recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers was effective. The Office of Teacher Education needs to strengthen its support of local school divisions through more useful data collection and analysis to identify teacher shortages, target allocation of funds, and evaluate teacher mentorship programs. The office could also be given an expanded role helping divisions—especially those with staffing challenges—better recruit and retain teachers.
WHAT WE RECOMMEND
• Direct the creation of a pilot program to more comprehensively supervise school division compliance with a subset of key state standards.
• Amend the Code of Virginia to require the development, implementation, and evaluation of effective state school improvement services.
• Provide additional funds for more staffing to provide school improvement services in the Office of School Quality.
• Develop and implement a plan to effectively transition to the new school improvement model.
• More effectively implement existing responsibilities related to teacher recruitment and retention.
POLICY OPTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION
• Provide additional funds for new staff to design and implement a pilot program to more comprehensively supervise school division compliance with a subset of key state standards.
• Provide additional funds for more staffing in the Office of Teacher Education.
• Expand the support the Office of Teacher Education provides to divisions experiencing challenges recruiting and retaining teachers.
The complete list of recommendations and policy options for consideration is available on page vii.
JLARC staff typically make recommendations to address findings during reviews. Staff also sometimes propose policy options rather than recommendations. The three most common reasons staff propose policy options rather than recommendations are: (1) the action proposed is a policy judgment best made by the General Assembly or other elected officials, (2) the evidence indicates that addressing a report finding is not necessarily required, but doing so could be beneficial, or (3) there are multiple ways in which a report finding could be addressed, and there is insufficient evidence of a single best way to address the finding.
The Virginia Department of Education should collect data on the total hours worked by salaried employees and use that data to assess and monitor staff workload. (Chapter 2)
The Virginia Department of Education’s Office of Human Capital should develop a plan to establish a more racially diverse applicant pool, including qualified minority candidates who are employees of the department, for future openings of senior leadership positions. (Chapter 2)
The General Assembly may wish to consider including language in the Appropriation Act directing the Virginia Department of Education to implement a pilot program to more comprehensively supervise school division compliance with a subset of key standards by requiring (i) the submission of more comprehensive compliance information, (ii) selective independent verification of compliance, (iii) monitoring of corrective action implementation, and (iv) analysis of compliance trends and issues. The department should conduct the pilot program during the 2021–2022 school year and submit a report on the results to the Board of Education and House Education and Appropriations committees and Senate Education and Health and Finance and Appropriations committees by November 30, 2022. (Chapter 3)
The Virginia Department of Education should periodically review its website to ensure the content is current, relevant, accessible, and intuitively organized. (Chapter 3)
The Virginia Department of Education should compile and provide school divisions with a list of support resources and relevant staff contacts and maintain a calendar of professional development opportunities and webinars. (Chapter 3)
The Virginia Department of Education should identify any information it collects from school divisions that other divisions may find useful, and that is not already shared, and make that information available to all divisions. (Chapter 3)
The Virginia Department of Education should take steps to prioritize, synthesize, and organize the informational resources it emails to schools and divisions. (Chapter 3)
The Virginia Department of Education should develop and implement a plan to guide its transition to a new school improvement model and estimate the additional staffing required to effectively implement the new model. The plan should be presented to the Board of Education and transmitted to the House Education and Appropriations committees and Senate Education and Health and Finance and Appropriations committees, no later than June 30, 2021. (Chapter 4)
The General Assembly may wish to consider appropriating additional funding for new staff positions in the Virginia Department of Education’s Office of School Quality to strengthen its work with school divisions in the school improvement program. (Chapter 4)
The General Assembly may wish to consider amending § 22.1-23 of the Code of Virginia to direct the superintendent of public instruction to (i) develop and implement an effective school improvement program, (ii) identify measures to evaluate the effectiveness of the services the Office of School Quality provides to school divisions, (iii) evaluate and make changes as needed to ensure effectiveness, and (iv) annually report to the Board of Education. (Chapter 4)
The Board of Education should direct school divisions to annually report the number of filled teaching positions, by endorsement area and subject area when possible. (Chapter 4)
The Virginia Department of Education should calculate teacher vacancy rates by division, region, and endorsement area, and make these vacancy rates publicly available on its website. (Chapter 4)
The Virginia Department of Education should develop and implement a methodology to allocate teacher mentorship funds to school divisions with the largest teacher shortages. (Chapter 4)
The Virginia Department of Education should (i) review the evaluations of teacher mentorship programs submitted by school divisions to identify effective teacher mentorship practices and (ii) use that review and best practices on teacher mentorship to update guidance on how to implement effective teacher mentorship programs. (Chapter 4)
The General Assembly may wish to consider amending § 22.1-305.2 of the Code of Virginia to direct the Advisory Board on Teacher Education and Licensure to advise the Board of Education on policies related to helping school divisions more effectively recruit and retain licensed teachers. (Chapter 4)
The Virginia Department of Education should set specific goals for how long it will take to process each type of license application or renewal and use processing times measured by its automated licensing system to determine whether it is meeting its processing timeliness goals. (Chapter 4)
The Virginia Department of Education should determine the total number and allocation of administrative staff and licensing specialists necessary in the Office of Licensure after the process automation is fully implemented. (Chapter 4)
Policy Options to Consider
POLICY OPTION 1
The General Assembly could appropriate additional funding for up to two new staff positions to design and implement a pilot program for more comprehensive supervision of a subset of key state education standards. (Chapter 3)
POLICY OPTION 2
The Board of Education could direct the Virginia Department of Education to implement the teacher exit questionnaire statewide annually from FY21 to FY25. The new questionnaire should be designed to better inform VDOE’s understanding of teachers’ reasons for leaving the teaching profession. (Chapter 4)
POLICY OPTION 3
The Virginia Department of Education could give the Office of Teacher Education a stronger role in helping school divisions with the most substantial challenges recruiting and retaining teachers, which could include (i) conducting more useful data collection and analysis of teacher recruitment and retention challenges, (ii) more effectively administering teacher mentorship and incentive programs, and (iii) identifying and implementing strategies to encourage more individuals to enter into and remain in the teaching profession. (Chapter 4)
POLICY OPTION 4
The General Assembly could appropriate additional funding for three new staff positions in the Office of Teacher Education to strengthen its role in helping school divisions with the most substantial teacher recruitment and retention challenges. (Chapter 4)
POLICY OPTION 5
The General Assembly could amend § 22.1-9 of the Code of Virginia to require that the Board of Education include (i) one member with expertise or experience in local government leadership or policymaking, (ii) one member with expertise or experience in career and technical education, and (iii) one member with expertise or experience in early childhood education. (Chapter 5)
POLICY OPTION 6
The General Assembly could amend § 22.1-9 of the Code of Virginia to require the Board of Education to include members that represent at least five of the state’s eight superintendent regions. (Chapter 5)