The Virginia Constitution’s Broken Promise of a Quality Education

by James C. Sherlock

Lots of people think the schools their kids and grandkids attend are above average — the logical extension of the Lake Wobegon effect. In Virginia, they had better hope they are right. The average Virginia public school is not providing a decent education to major portions of its student body.

The Virginia Constitution makes the establishment and continual maintenance of a quality education the responsibility of the General Assembly.

It has demonstrably failed in that duty.

SOL results. A student must get a raw score of 400 or higher on their SOL(s) in order to pass the test. Except lower in math as you will see below. A perfect score is 600. So, let’s look at statewide SOL pass rates.

I offer below a chart of Virginia public school Spring 2019 SOL pass rates (all schools all grades) for different subgroups of students.  The 2018-2019 school year was the last before COVID, i.e. the last “no excuses” year.

The statewide student populations of those subgroups in 2018-19 were:

  • White: 624,738. Projecting results to all grades, 106,000 were not writing at grade level.
  • Asian: 92,122.
  • Black: 286,032. More than 100,000 of these kids could not read at grade level.
  • Hispanic: 208,739. More than 54,000 could perform math at grade level.
  • Economically Disadvantaged: 520,827. More than  180,000 were not reading at grade level.
  • Not Economically Disadvantaged: 769,940. Nearly 108,000 could not perform math at grade level.
  • Students with Disabilities: 170,750. More than 90,000 failed to read at grade level

After the SOL passing scores had been lowered dramatically in math for 2019.

Those are pass rates, not higher levels of achievement.

Also, remember that half of the schools in Virginia were worse than average.

NAEP results. For those that think this is just an SOL issue, we will take a look at Virginia’s 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results for NAEP basic proficiency.

Virginia in 2019 tied with Oklahoma and Rhode Island at a 71% pass rate for at least basic level reading proficiency. Virginia’s score for grade 8 reading dropped 6 points in two years, among the three worst declines in the nation.

Constitutional guarantee of high quality schools. Does anyone think that the average Virginia public school met the state Constitutional guarantee that “Public schools of high quality to be maintained”?

So, what to do? First, stop fooling ourselves.

Let’s admit that we need to overhaul the design and administration of our schools and provide learning climates, curricula and pedagogy that achieve far better results.

I have looked in vain for any signal that the General Assembly, Board of Education (BOE) and Superintendent of Public Instruction are leading an effort to fix the fundamental issues.

We know what works for poor and minority children, children with learning disabilities and English learners. The best Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) work.  But the General Assembly and VDOE leadership will not acknowledge this fact because of politics.

They take their cues from the teachers unions and the University of Virginia School of Education. Neither will brook any mention of charter schools, much less as role models for Virginia public schools.

I have shown the following chart several times.

I have searched in vain on the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development (speaking of vain) for any sign that these results have caused that institution to review the Success Academy methodology that achieved them.

Success Academy is by far the best of breed of the CMOs in the education of poor minority children, but not the only one that far outperforms regular public schools. I provided a breakout of the very specific practices that are key to the vast outperformance of Success Academy in an earlier post.

But let’s go to an official federal Department of Education (DOE) source.

The National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC) is funded by DOE  If UVA or VDOE was interested, and they are not, NCSRC searched all of the peer reviewed studies and published for DOE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT IN CHARTER SCHOOLS – What the Research Shows.  

Section 4, Charter School Practices describes the common characteristics of high performing charter schools.

“Among these, two practices were found by at least three studies each to affect student achievement positively: increased instructional time and a school-wide behavior system.”

“More instructional time in itself may not be sufficient unless the time is devoted to core subjects.”

“Dobbie et al. found that school culture and expectations, which it defines as “a relentless
focus on academic goals and having students meet them… very high expectations for student behavior and discipline…and adherence to a ‘No Excuses’ philosophy” are positively correlated with student achievement.”

Thus, the characteristics that have worked to increase student learning are common sense, traditional approaches. It does not take an ed-school degree to understand why they work.

The fact that these are traditional approaches is clearly the objection of the progressive Left.

That is why the General Assembly, UVA, and the current Board of Education (BOE) have not recommended increased instructional time focused on core subjects and high expectations for student behavior and discipline. In fact, they have gone in the opposite direction in both instances.

The curriculum changes wrought by the BOE in response to changes in Virginia law in recent years have favored progressive social goals over core learning outcomes. The pre-2018 regulations for student behavior and discipline have been watered down beyond recognition.

The Constitutional requirement for a quality education is the responsibility of the General Assembly.

Article VIII. Education Section 1. Public schools of high quality to be maintained.

“The General Assembly shall provide for a system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children of school age throughout the Commonwealth, and shall seek to ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained.”

Black voters are the most important and loyal component of the Virginia Democratic base. Yet the Democrats in the General Assembly have ignored their Constitutional responsibilities towards education in general and improving the learning of Black children in particular.

Perhaps they can explain it to themselves, but I would like to hear them explain it to parents.

Parents should consider protesting at the state Capitol when the General Assembly returns in January.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


One response to “The Virginia Constitution’s Broken Promise of a Quality Education”

  1. Get woke, go broke…
    Or indoctrinate and learn only hate
    Not just K-12. State U’s are doing the same thing…
    UVA’s 2030 Great and Good plan…all about “inclusive excellence” (meaning, wink, wink, quotas, but we know we can’t say that!) and making good citizens of the world…
    They are all miles from teaching how, not what, to think…

Leave a Reply