Virginia schools: ‘together and unequal’

“Together and unequal” is the new motto for Virginia schools, writes Andrew Rotherham, a former state school board member, in the Washington Post. With No Child Left Behind’s rewrite in limbo, Education Secretary Arne Duncan allowed states to set new performance targets. Virginia “took the stunning step of adopting dramatically different school performance targets based on race, ethnicity and income.”

President George W. Bush famously talked of “the soft bigotry of low expectations” in education, meaning the subtle ways educators and policymakers shortchange some students by expecting less of them.

Virginia’s new policy is anything but subtle. For example, under the new rules, schools are expected to have 78 percent of white students and 89 percent of Asian students passing Virginia’s Standards of Learning math tests but just 57 percent of black students, 65 percent of Hispanic students and 59 percent of low-income students. The goals for special-education students are even lower, at 49 percent. Worse, those targets are for 2017. The intermediate targets are even less ambitious — 36 percent for special-education students this year, for instance. Goals for reading will be set later.

Instead of setting lower targets for minority and poor students, Virginia could “provide substantially more support to these students and their schools,” writes Rotherham, a partner at the nonprofit Bellwether Education and an education columnist for Time.

The expectations aren’t high for any students (except maybe Asians), Rotherham adds on Eduwonk.

Virginia doesn’t give parents much choice if they’re not satisfied with the neighborhood school, he notes.

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?

The Obama administration signed off on Virginia NCLB waiver, Rotherham writes. Are they OK with this?

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