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?

About Joanne


  1. As mom to SN child, I think that getting even half of the SN kids to grade-level proficiency is a rather ambitious goal. Looking at where my autistic child is now compared to her chronological peers, I think it would be unfair to penalize her teachers if they are not able to get her caught up by 3rd grade. They are doing an admirable job helping her make progress, but she started out SO far behind that who knows when (or even if) she’ll be able to meet the “proficient” standard for her chronological age. The fair thing to do is to track her progress along her own developmental timeline. “Leave no child behind” is a nice sentiment but an unrealistic one.

  2. Charles R. Williams says:

    Maybe they need to distinguish between the octoroons and the quadroons.

  3. I’m sure Oliver L. Brown, the “Brown” in Brown v. Board of Education, would appreciate the irony of the situation.

  4. Initially, I had a “WTF?!” reaction regarding the segregation of test goals…but the more I think of it it seems reasonable, if not the wisest course, assuming the plotted goals represent a steady improvement over the present. If certain subgroups have dismal passing rates, it is ridiculous to expect significantly greater increases in passing rates than other higher-achieving subgroups.

    • Moreover, Rotherman falls prey to the all-too-common tendency to believe that major systemic changes will produce instantaneous results with his comment about the 2017 goals, a whole 4-5 years away. Education is a 12 year vertical process-to see the true results of any policy change more than 5 years is needed. States and schools are just getting the handle on NCLB and now we are faced with Common Core.

    • And of course if they’re destined to fail, as indicated by the color of their skin, then it would be foolish to spend the same amount of money on them as on kids who are destined to succeed, right?

      Where *is* the ACLU?

      • One, nothing was said about money. I’ve effectively specialized in Alt Ed and Spec Ed science over the past years, and from the multiple schools I’ve seen, it takes a heck of a lot more money to get a 5% increase in performance in lower performing groups than in higher performing groups. So even though the absolute targets for black and Latinos lag behind whites and Asians, more effort and money will need to go toward the lower performing groups.

        Moreover, when there is such a performance discrepancy between subgroups, one cannot reasonably expect them to hit the same absolute target in a short period of time…unless the lower subgroup is expected to perform superhumanly or the higher subgroup is given a target lower than they currently reach. Its not racism but logic.