Fordham’s Report Card on Virginia Education

The politically incorrect Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has issued its 2006 analysis of how well the 50 states are educating their neediest children. Disdaining the emphasis on self-esteem and feel-good multiculturalism, Fordham argues that schools should teach children the skills they need to excel in the world. Accordingly, Fordham looks favorably upon the setting of high standards, expanding parental choice in where they send their children to schools, and subordinating the institutional interests of the educational bureaucy to the interests of the children.

So, how does Virginia rate? High grades for curricular content, middling/low grades for standards-based reform and abysmal grades for school choice. (View the Virginia analysis.)


The state’s standards of learning are among the best in the nation, earning a grade of B+ from Fordham Foundation reviewers. Moreover, for requiring that students pass high-stakes exams in five subjects based on those standards in order to graduate high school, Virginia earned an A. The Commonwealth’s commitment to a broad liberal arts education for all — a rarity nationally — appears to be getting results. …

The bad news is that the state’s minority students are still achieving at low levels and have made almost no gains over the past decade on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), except for African-American eighth-graders in math. Poor students’ scores are up in math and science but they’re hardly eye popping. When upwards of 80 to 90 percent of African-American and Hispanic students are failing to read and do math proficiently, standing pat is not enough.

Money is not the problem in Old Dominion; accountability is. … Lil Tuttle, education director at the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute … notes that “between 1995 [the onset of current standards reforms] and 2008, state education funding will rise from $2.5 billion to $6 billion [a 137 percent increase],” with little to show for it.

Part of the problem is the lack of rigor in the state’s tests (their defined level of proficiency in reading and math is among the lowest in the land). This is particularly disheartening because the state’s curriculum standards are so good-the state ranks fifth in the nation for quality. But the poor tests undermine this accomplishment, essentially letting children, and schools, off the hook when they do not hit the high marks set by the curriculum standards.

Charter schools are not pushing the traditional system to do better, mainly because there are just five charters in the entire state. The state’s charter bill is among the weakest in the nation. “The original charter bill was written specifically to make sure there were no charters,” says John Taylor, president of the Virginia Institute for Public Policy; and there seems to be little prospect for improvement.

The biggest challenge facing the state, however, may well be its minority graduation rate. At least, better graduation data appear to be forthcoming (though better data have not helped education reform previously). Charles Pyle, director of communications for Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction, says the state has already committed itself to a new education information management system that will allow it to “calculate graduation rates for every school and school division based on longitudinal, student-level data using a formula recommended by the National Governors Association.” Armed with this information, Virginia hopes to better target its efforts and track improvements.

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2 responses to “Fordham’s Report Card on Virginia Education”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Interesting information. The assessment of Tennessee’s schools (my home state) is a depressing D-. But you get what you pay for.

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “But you get what you pay for.”

    I know you didn’t intend it this way but what I heard was…

    “if you want the minorities and “have nots” to have the same passing percentages as the whites.. then pay more money”…

    If the situation was that only 70% of BOTH races was passing.. then the “more money” might be justified but when 90%+ of the whites are passing and 60% or less of the blacks.. this indicates something more than money in my view – something we should not be particularily proud of.

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