The Honesty Gap

In Virginia today Governor Glenn Youngkin released the analysis of achievement and accountability in Virginia that was part of his executive order package when he took office. It was an open secret this was coming – it was right there in the EO – yet there is still some surprise. Here’s the RTD.

The surprise is because it’s pretty comprehensive. It’s reflexively getting framed as Youngkin versus Northam – the previous governor – but the problems the report outlines are more longstanding.

If you live in the commonwealth you should read it because it’s an important and relatively unsparing look at achievement gaps that are too rarely discussed in Virginia. And it has information about overall achievement that is sobering as well. There is a lot of work to do to crate a genuinely inclusive school system.

If you are not fortunate enough to be a Virginian, there is still something here for you.

First, the report is a good look at the tension between looking good and doing well or as we sometimes call it around here, achievement realists versus public relationists. Every state should think about an analysis like this that gets beneath the puffery and reflexive tendency to focus on silver linings disproportionately to clouds.

Second, it’s a good test of where we are politically in education. Is there a bipartisan center to set aside various disagreements and political issues and work on this particular issue? I don’t know the answer to that but I hope so.

Third, if you like to argue about NAEP you will have fun with this report. But focusing on various point estimates misses the forest for the trees. The gaps in this report are substantial and run in one direction. We have to do better. In particular, the #s for 8th-graders, when the paths that will be open to students really come into focus, should shock. About one in five Black students proficient and less than one in five low-income students.

That means getting serious on accountability, doing more to support teachers, more choices for families and a more equitable finance system. It’s a tall order and one with something for everyone to oppose. That’s the challenge, and the opportunity.

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