We’re Supposedly Serious About Schools…

This TIME article makes an important point, but it’s not really a head scratcher as to why we’re here:

The book that toggles between #1 and #2 in education administration on Amazon, “Street Data,” is more or less about how not to level with parents about achievement. And it turns up in PD all over the country.

The media is often no help. For instance, in Virginia here is Jeff Schapiro, arguably our leading and most visible political columnist, writing about student achievement and learning loss:

Holton, the daughter of a Republican governor and the wife of a Democratic governor-turned-U.S. senator, increasingly is taking the fight directly to Youngkin, challenging as specious, if not false, his claims about the supposed collapse of student math and reading scores.

OK, then, here’s Holton:

She even capitalized it to make it easy to read. And here’s federal NAEP data on the”supposed collapse:”  

Source: Virginia Board of Education documents

Virginia is the red line. Looks pretty real? There are also issues with cut scores and how schools are accredited. Here’s the bottom line:

Source: Virginia Board of Education documents

These are big problems.

This long running argument about whether the schools are “good” or not isn’t a productive one. Are Virginia’s schools good or not? Yes. Like other places, the story is variance.

And yes Virginia’s current performance measures obscure too much right now, despite these drops the state still reports to parents that things are pretty much A-OK:

Source: Virginia Board of Education documents

Look, again, this is a huge problem for Virginia kids (and elsewhere, Virginia is far from the only state dealing with learning loss). And this isn’t about Youngkin. The Washington Post editorial board has weighed in on this several times, making clear they’re not Youngkin fans, but that these data are alarming and we have to act. There is plenty of room for reasonable disagreement about the best remedies, but the data are what they are and we need to stop arguing about that and instead turn to what to do about it.

Here’s The Post on this last year:

“Virginia’s retreat from academic rigor.” That was the online headline on an editorial we wrote in 2017 decrying how officials were moving away from the high standards and accountability that long had been a tradition of public education in the commonwealth. Among the troubling moves: jettisoning of critical tests, adoption of test score standards to make it easier for students to pass and weakening of regulations for schools. Officials, alas, paid no heed to concerns about the consequences of lowering standards and expectations. Now, we get to say we told you so.

State education officials last week issued a damning report that documented a years-long trend of declining student performance and glaring racial, ethnic and income achievement gaps that have been hidden from public view. Chock-full of data, it cited significant drops in reading scores for both fourth- and eighth-grade students on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress administered in 2019, revealing the wide gaps in how students perform on state reading and math assessments compared with the grade-level benchmarks on the federal assessment. The report also noted the literary deficiencies in which 42 percent of second-graders scored below a key reading benchmark. Additionally, 45 percent of public high school seniors in 2019 — including 76 percent of Black and 54 percent of Hispanic seniors — were not college-ready in math on the SAT. Virginia has fallen from third to ninth in the nation in students earning college credit on AP exams.

Here’s 8th-grade math achievement. Those kids in the below basic range, 35% of our 8th-graders, are in huge trouble.

People argue about whether NAEP “proficient” is too high a standard, no one argues that below basic is OK. It means you are unprepared for life in this economy. 

Here’s the thing (and this isn’t just about Virginia, it’s reflected in the polarized approach to education policy in general right now). Who cares if you think Youngkin’s all options on the table energy policy isn’t the way to go, or you don’t like his efforts on youth mental health, you don’t agree on social and cultural issues, tax cuts, reproductive choice, any of it? It doesn’t even matter if you like his education policies, you somehow still think Loudoun County is cooked up, or would ever vote for him at all. People disagree, that’s fine. What we are talking about here though, insofar as schools and these data, is a generational crisis and the ante in the game is – what should we do about it right now?

Youngkin is putting forward ideas and a plan. So he has chips on the table. Yet there is little debate about that and other ideas, perhaps the kind of debate that could lead to a political grand bargain. Instead, almost three years after school closures dragged on and caused this problem people are still arguing about the underlying data – whether this is a “supposed” problem. That’s ridiculous, and a complete inversion of the Mencken idea that journalists, never mind the rest of us, should look out for those in need. History – and these kids and their families – should judge harshly for it.