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College of Education and Human Development - George Mason University

When Amazon came looking, public schools delivered for Northern Virginia

By now, it's no secret that Amazon selected Northern Virginia for its new headquarters in large part because of the region's commitment to outstanding P-12 public schools and comprehensive higher education institutions.

Amazon had its pick from just about every major urban center in the United States. And while leaders from these cities spent months trying to persuade the tech giant with an assortment of incentive packages, Virginia stood out for a decision it made many years ago. Virginia had made a commitment to its public schools – from P-12 to our network of top-tier universities – and Amazon saw value in that commitment and its associated investment.

There has been plenty of debate in our country about the need to improve the quality and capacity of public P-12 education, and trust me, I have heard every criticism and every argument. But as the dean of a college that prepares roughly a third of the teachers in Northern Virginia, I know that the quality and capacity of our region's public schools make a difference. If you want the best workforce, communities must be committed to and invest in their schools.

Public schools are today's municipal magnets. They attract the talent required for economic development and success. And, they are the "pull" that keeps highly skilled workers and organizational leaders as residents of their community.

All parents seek the best environment for the development of their children. And every family also seeks to find the very best "learning environment" so that their sons and daughters will receive the very best possible education. The quality of P-12 public schools is a primary factor in every family's decision to move to a community, and remain there. Certainly, this has been our experience in the National Capital Region, and Northern Virginia specifically, where our schools have been a "magnet" leading talent to our region.

With school systems considered among the finest and most highly respected P-12 public schools in our nation, it is not accidental that our region also boasts America's most highly educated and diverse workforce. Education is a "difference maker." As Horace Mann, a noted 19th century scholar had remarked, "education is the great equalizer." Great schools afford opportunities that promote equity, especially when they are excellent places for learning. Our region is among the most diverse in our nation, while also being among the most talented in terms of the skills that drive the economy of the 21st century. These are assets that are enviable.

Our community is committed to excellent public schools and values well-trained, highly skilled and accomplished teachers and school leaders, the keys to school quality and student success. George Mason University and our College of Education and Human Development are proud that Mason's graduates teach in virtually every public school in our region, and at least half of our schools are led by graduates of our college and university. It also is not accidental that the largest comprehensive public research university in Virginia has been so influential in promoting public school quality. We are a community-engaged university with a commitment to educator preparation, and P-12 school success that is in our "institutional DNA."

Education is a noble profession. It requires knowledge and skill as well as talent, patience and resilience. It also deserves our respect and support. The next time you find yourself questioning the value of public schools, ask yourself this question: would I have wanted to have Amazon choose my city for its expansion? If the answer is yes, understand what Amazon saw: high quality P-12 public schools powering the "magnetic force" that attracts and retains the talent necessary for corporate success.