5 School Questions For Virginia

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is hosting an education summit today in Richmond.  At one level it’s a good idea – the Commonwealth, once a leader on school improvement, now is lagging behind other states on a host of dimensions. But on another it’s a little awkward because many of the invitees – Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt, and former NYC schools chancellor and current ed tech exec Joel Klein –  inadvertently show what the leading edge looks like and the gap between what states that are trying to transform education are doing and the – frankly – sleepy debate in Virginia.

If Virginia and its Governor want to change this, here are some questions that someone ought to ask – and start thinking about robust answers to:

1) Under Virginia’s school accountability system 96 percent of the state’s schools are considered “fully accredited” yet only 16 percent of black 8th-graders and 15 percent of low-income 8th graders are proficient in reading on the National Assessment of Education Progress (and only 18 percent of both groups in math).  That’s quite a gap.  Why?  What should be done to address it?

2) Virginia’s waiver for a No Child Left Behind was initially denied by the Obama Administration because it was too weak.  But the revised waiver – that was subsequently approved by the Department of Education – establishes different performance targets for different socioeconomic groups of students.  For instance, here are the math targets (the reading targets are TBD until after this year’s test administration) for the percent of students that must pass Virginia’s test under the new performance rules.

Mathematics Annual Measurable Objectives*

Accountability Year 201X


’13-’14 ’14-’15 ’15-’16 ’16-’17 ’17-’18
Assessment Year ’11-’12 ’12-’13 ’13-’14 ’14-’15 ’15-’16 ’16-’17
All Students







Proficiency Gap Group 1







Proficiency Gap Group 2 (Black Students)







Proficiency Gap Group 3 (Hispanic Students)







Students with Disabilities







ELL students







Economically Disadvantaged Students







Asian Students







White Students







What message does such differentiation by social economic status send to parents and students?  And shouldn’t the Commonwealth aim higher for its most vulnerable students? 57 percent proficiency for black students, 59 for low-income students, really? 54 percent or ELL students? 49 percent for students with special needs? And these aren’t even targets for this year, those are numbers being aimed for five years from now…

3) Virginia’s charter school law gets poor marks from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and is widely regarded as one of the nation’s weakest.  Local and state officials bend over backwards to thwart efforts to give parents more choice and despite a lot of talk about choice the McDonnell Administration has thus far only made modest policy changes.  Why the hostility to giving parents more options – especially given the low-expectations now embodied in the No Child waiver?

4) To its credit Virginia is one of just several states to include graduation rates in its accreditation system for high schools.  But experts say the current policy over-weights credentials like the GED while under-weighting actual high school completion.  America’s Promise – the Colin Powell led group – said Virginia was among states making “little or no progress” in improving high school graduation rates in its 2012 report on the issue.   Only 65 percent of black students and 70 percent of Hispanic students graduate high school in Virginia and the overall rate is only 77 percent.   Meanwhile, according to Achieve 24 percent of Virginia students arrive at college needing remediation.  Only 46 percent of Virginia high school graduates (those getting an advanced diploma have 3 years of college prep math and four of English).  21 states require this for all students now.  When is the Commonwealth going to get serious about making high school graduation meaningful and achievable for more students?

5) Virginia continues to tolerate enormous gaps in spending between its most affluent counties and its poorest. For example, Giles County in Southwest Virginia spends about $9000 (and is not the lowest spender) while Arlington County in Northern Virginia spends $18,000. How money is spent matters as much as the amount spent, still these are staggering gaps especially when students are then expected to compete for a limited number of spots at the Commonwealth’s public colleges and universities.  What should be done to level the playing field?

*Source, Virginia DOE release, July 24, 2012.

23 Replies to “5 School Questions For Virginia”

  1. From the newspaper link, “”Politics is hardball on steroids, but you have to work together,” said Bosher, who was also school superintendent in Chesterfield and Henrico counties. “If you’re going to succeed, you have to have people coming together. You may have the power to get something passed but not necessarily the power to get something implemented.” Indeed.

    Hardball. Steroids. Power.

    You’ll have to forgive the Gov for being a bit remiss, controlling the reproductive rights of the wimmin-folk takes a lot of time what with them being so uppity about their privates and all.

    That the lives of children are held hostage to an insane political process in this country is an unconscionable travesty of human dignity.

  2. I give full credit to VA for it’s charter school laws. Having more charter schools takes money away from current public schools.

  3. While I strongly agree with some of the points above (especially the fact that the AMOs for minorities are far too low), there has been some tremendous growth and improvement in Virginia – especially in relation helping to the lowest-performing schools improve.

    Nevertheless, those at the state level run up against the same entrenched practices and issues that so many other states also deal with (i.e. quality of local school boards, quality of teachers graduating from local universities, racial politics in hiring/placement decisions of district and school administrators, the dance of the lemons between districts, inefficiencies of so many tiny districts, anti-charter school attitudes, and a lack of recognition that racial disparities are extreme).

    These attitudes and practices combine to create a very strong anti-reform front and make it challenging to make any real, needed, or lasting changes. Virginia is not alone on many of these issues, but there’s so much potential for more drastic improvement – and there are some really good people in VA doing this work at the school, district and state levels. There just aren’t enough of those great people, nor do they have enough power to make the needed changes.

  4. This is a good list. Regarding Charters, we frequently ignore the question about how will the state fund them. A number of the charters recently approved by the Board of Education still face substantial funding issues. Local districts, especially in more affluent areas, provide the bulk of school funding. The state can’t force local communities to spend their tax revenues on charter’s if they don’t want to. So how will the state provide the funding for charters? We also have to answer the question of when are charter’s the appropriate tool vrs. Governor Schools, virtual schools, or something else. Your larger question about school funding equity gets to some of this point. You can’t have a rationale conversation about Charter’s in VA without talking about school funding. And when talking about choice and innovation, we have to include Governor’s schools. There has been a rapid increase in Gov schools in the last year, mostly focused on STEM. They are doing some innovative work with business-community partnerships and they provide students with new choices. Unfortunately, funding was not really discussed at the Governor’s conference.

    The State needs a new accountability system for school districts. I’d like to see an ABCDF grading scale for schools that takes into consideration growth, sub-group performance, etc. We need something parents can understand and we have to face the fact that not every accredited school is achieving as it should. This approach also makes it easier to account for growth over time as part of an evaluation. A school not hitting the marks, but that is showing meaningful progress could be a C or B school, for example. Still passing, but not achieving at the level we expect. The Board of Ed is talking about these things right now. It is a good time for folks to share their views.

    I’d add another question to the list: what will the state do to intervene when local schools fail to reach achievement expectations for kids of any background? It is fine to be frustrated that schools are being asked to raise student achievement in sub groups incrementally over time rather than just creating one target that cannot be met in one year. But the larger question is what will the state do if those schools are not able to raise achievement? How will it step in? Who will fund the interventions? While VA’s standards are the same for all kids regardless of background, low performing schools are being asked to grow into higher standards over time rather than meet them all at once. And while the benchmarks are frustratingly low, the truth is they reflect how far back we still are with student achievement in a number of student groups in a number of schools. The bigger question, in my view, is what comes next? The need for a stronger intervention model is critical to closing these persistent gaps. When a school consistently fails, how will the state respond? We have to have a better answer to that question than what we are doing today.

  5. Mr. Krupicka,

    I think you live in Alexandria, so hopefully you are looking into the considerable drop in math scores across the district. As a parent, I would like to understand better what happened. I realize that scores drop when standards go up, but Alexandria appears to have fared worse than other NOVA school systems.

  6. VA put in place a much harder set of math standards this year. Alexandria’s scores fell as did those throughout the state. I am investigating the actions the schools are taking to respond. It will take a few years for schools and teachers to adjust to the higher expectations. I want to make sure the City is doing all it can to get that done quickly. I am still reviewing Alexandria’s overall scores. I think there are a lot of places we should be asking questions about what we are doing.

  7. Rob, You said you want this: “The State needs a new accountability system for school districts. I’d like to see an ABCDF grading scale for schools that takes into consideration growth, sub-group performance, etc. We need something parents can understand and we have to face the fact that not every accredited school is achieving as it should.”


    Now exactly how do you think that’s going to help anyone? Think it through, Rob. So parents are informed they are sending their kid to an F school. What the hell are they supposed to do about that if they have little money or political power, huh?

    Hi honey, how did school go today?
    Mom, why are you sending me to an F school? Is that what I am?
    Sorry dear, it’s more complicated than that.
    You’re always saying that, you don’t care about me!

    Think about it, Rob. Is this what you really want? It’s a very punitive and stigmatizing thing to do to give a simple letter grade to a very complex process and set of issues. As a Democrat, you should know better.

  8. Mr. Krupicka- thanks for responding so quickly! Take a look at 8th grade math at GW MS. Something is not right.

  9. Jeffrey,

    If not letter grades, suggest something else. My point is that we have to clearly show that there are real differences in school performance. Right now, we say that 96% of VA schools are meeting accreditation standards with little discussion of the differences (and there are many) between the performance of those schools. Parents have a right to understand how their schools compare to other schools. And they also have a right to know if their school is doing as well for their children as other schools in the state would. We still have too many groups of kids that are not performing as well as they should, and our current system of accreditation does not emphasize that point as well as it should. I agree that school systems are complex. And those complexities need to be accounted for in any accreditation system, but we also have to make sure we don’t make the systems so hard to understand that parents are not part of the solution. There will never be a perfect approach. But we have to be more transparent and clear about how schools stack up so parents can know. Making sure every child has a right to a high quality education is a moral, economic and equity issue. Making it easier for Parents to understand what is going on is a part of making sure we are doing right by kids. And then we have to make sure the state provides the resources and supports to help schools and students achieve. Personally, I think Democrats have an obligation to speak very loudly about the need for all kids to have access to a quality education. We shouldn’t allow anybody to hide the fact that we are not there yet.

  10. Yes of course parents have a right to know. There are already state-sponsored tests, ACT, SAT, AP, and the list goes on. Giving grades is not being transparent, it’s being simplistic. Imagine the parents who think the school is an A but it turns out badly for them. Will they really understand why? Do YOU understand what it’s like to teach?

    This nation has gotten along pretty well without the draconian accountability systems being proposed now. Personally, I think Democrats have been hoodwinked by their conservative counterparts into believing the hype about how badly our schools are doing.

    It’s nice you responded but you never really addressed my essential question: what do you hope parents will know and do armed with your grades? You are creating more problems with putting data out there than there are now. How will parents of poverty and powerlessness deal with the grades?

    Colorado has a reasonably good state-sponsored website parents can use call SchoolView: http://www.schoolview.org/

    Meanwhile, here’s what you do. You campaign like hell for more funding for teacher training, real professional development, school building repairs, a laptop or iPad for EVERY kid and most of all, fight like a Democrat for civil rights, health care for all, ECE for all, and jobs. Talk to real teachers once in awhile. And read Ravitch’s expose of how the country has been fooled into thinking the schools need reformation by privatization, high-stakes testing, and nanny-statism. The story begins in 1983, with the Reagan Administration and a certain conference…

  11. “Meanwhile, here’s what you do. You campaign like hell for more funding for teacher training, real professional development, school building repairs, a laptop or iPad for EVERY kid and most of all, fight like a Democrat for civil rights, health care for all, ECE for all, and jobs.”

    Sounds a lot like the war on poverty. The reason DFER and groups like that exist today and you’ve seen such a huge shift of the Dems to embrace accountability is because this approach failed. The Mo Money approach has not worked. Head Start had null effects on achievement outcomes. Maine gave every kid a laptop. All these efforts have amounted to zilch in outcomes. 1/2 African American males fail to obtain a high school diploma. You can’t offer the same solutions we’ve been doing (inputs) since the 1960s and expect different results. Accountability means holding the PUBLIC system of schooling (that system that takes OUR money) accountable for outputs. It’s about damn time!

  12. No, you’re wrong. The war did work and ECE is a proven success. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1589660 No one thing alone will work, like computers–it has to be a total work, including poverty. It’s not accountability or the lack of it that got us to where we are now. We suffer most from a crisis of perception and political gamesmanship. Tell you what, tell the poor to do without food stamps, medicaid, and medicare for seniors not to mention a score of inner-city programs and housing initiatives. Above all, the war brought public attention to a dreadful and still awful part of American life.

    Things stopped getting better when Reagan took office including the trumped-up 1983 A Nation at Risk Report on education. Jeebus, how soon people forget…or just don’t know or understand. That poverty is still with us only means we didn’t follow-though not because it was too hard but because Americans are too selfish and the GOP was too successful in planting the meme that the war was a failure, so now we have trust business but 2008 showed us how well that turned out. DFER and their supporters are either too young to understand or too tired of fighting the rich and powerful.

  13. Why not grade on a ABCDF scale?
    Except, grade each economic and racial group.
    For example, school 1 may do a wonderful job with its middle class white children, but terrible with upper class black children. By Florida’s methods of grading the school, school 1 would get a C. Middle class white parents may balk at a C for the school, but then be assuaged when they see that child like theirs do fabulous.
    School 2 is rated A, but closer examination shows the two special education children did poorly, scoring basic. The parents of children with special needs may be fooled by the A and think that school 2 is the one for their kids.

  14. Here are the results for 2010-2011 Grade 5 Mathematics at Mount Vernon Elementary School in Alexandria Virginia:

    Race Number Passing Total Test Takers Percent
    White 19 19 100
    Black 10 14 71
    Hispanic 24 38 63


  15. “My point is that we have to clearly show that there are real differences in school performance.”

    No, we really don’t. It’s not the schools that are performing differently, but the students. The best that any school has done is marginally reduce the gap between races and, to some extent, SES groups–and even that has only been managed in elementary school.

    Holding the schools responsible for their kids underlying abilities may feel righteous, but it’s a waste of time and money.

  16. RIGHT NOW, how is all of this helping a student learn math and physics.

    Let’s be very clear.

    The entire edu-debate is all about edu-reform, self serving, blow hard, gray haired, OLD, ADULTS, to feel like they are DOING SOMETHING from the keyboards in their own house.

    We need HANDS ON mathematicians and scientists in classrooms. We do not need Michelle Rhee and the rest of the legion of keyboard pounders.

    We do not need consultants. We need boat drivers, we need hull technicians, we need sonar technicians, we need nuclear propulsion assistants (Navy talk).

    We need a radical change in who does what in this country. We have too many experts in policy and too few hands on doer’s.

    We must change the balance or we will lose the bubble.

  17. My reform measures:

    1. Get rid of the FDOE.
    2. Get rid of electives.
    3. Muscle up in math and science.
    4. Contract all all elective programs to temp employees.
    5. Use for profit schools as continuation high schools where the free market can work its magic on this nation’s most at risk students.
    6. Hold all charters and privates and TFA fully accountable month by month for their performance.
    7. Change union contracts, but provide teachers the due process rights of airline pilots.

    Simple solutions that will save taxpayers billions.

  18. gray haired, OLD, ADULTS,
    Well, I can say one good word about Andy and that is he isn’t old or gray haired.

  19. I just saw Cal’s post above and strongly agree with it: “It’s not the schools that are performing differently, but the students.” Well put, Cal. I think that he makes a very good point: That we keep talking about the “schools” — as if the schools exist independent of their student bodies. But they don’t.

    Politicians shouldn’t try to hold schools responsible for the characteristics of their students. It’s a losing enterprise, and will only drive more people away from teaching and from sending their kids to public schools — or maybe that’s the reformers’ end goal?

  20. The charter school advantage:
    Dismissal or Expulsion?

    The decision in Scott B. allows charter schools to unilaterally dismiss a student from their school with very little protection against unfair removals. The court held that the due process hearing protections of the California Education Code do not apply to charter schools because Scott was dismissed rather than expelled. The court reasoned that an expulsion results in a delay in the Student’s legitimate interest in an education in that the student cannot re-enroll in a school district for the period of expulsion, and, when he does re-enroll, the student must notify the school of the expulsion thereby negatively impacting the student’s reputation. But a dismissal of a student from a charter school, according to the court, does not raise such concerns to the same degree reasoning that after being dismissed, the student is free to enroll in the local public school. Unlike public schools, the Court observed, a charter school is a school of choice.

    – See more at: http://www.bonniezyates.com/blogs/articles/court-rules-charter-schools-can-dismiss-student-without-due/#sthash.CYqhMEIQ.dpuf

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