It’s pretty hard to find anyone rushing to defend Virginia’s new education performance goals. Whatever you think of No Child Left Behind, school performance targets that are both low and racially/ethnically differentiated are a stark wake-up call. Amanda Ripley speculated that it’s the school accountability version of jumping the shark (and she is a disaster expert!). But here are three more questions I’d like to hear debated:
1) The embarrassing lack of urgency and inattention about the achievement gap and low-expectations for special needs students are rightly grabbing attention here. But overall the standards are not that ambitious. The target for white students is only 78 percent passing and the overall pass rate goal only 73 percent – and that’s five years from now. Virginia is not raising the floor but it’s also not helping kids stretch toward the ceiling either.* Why not? It’s not just minority, poor, or parents of students with special needs who should be concerned about the expectations these new standards highlight.
2) Virginia has lousy policies on school choice. There are fewer than a handful of charter schools in the Commonwealth and Virgina’s charter school law consistently is ranked among the nation’s worst by policy organizations, public school choice is vociferously resisted, and county borders are treated like international lines when it comes to almost any hint of letting students cross them for better schooling options. I’m not a big supporter of private school choice but if the best Virginia can do is say to citizens and parents that its public schools will have 59 percent of poor students and 57 percent of black students passing state tests five years from now then what exactly is the argument for not allowing their parents to seek out better options?
3) The No Child Left Behind waiver issue is complicated. The law is overdue for revisions, Congress can’t act, something had to happen. But what Virginia is doing takes federal policy back to a pre-Clinton 1994 footing by undoing an almost two-decade federal priority on holding all students to the same standards regardless of race/income/ethnicity. The Obama Administration signed off on the waiver plan that put this in motion, are they OK with this? With other states doing it?
*Except maybe for Asian students, the target for them is 89 percent in 2017. New Virginia motto: Virginia is for Asians!