Virginia Beach Schools Ignore One of Nation’s Best Records in Equity to Force Through New “Educational Equity Policy”

by James C. Sherlock

You know how people sometimes fail to tell the truth when the truth matters, but you don’t know whether they are lying by omission or are simply ignorant? This is one of those times.

In this case, the Superintendent of Virginia Beach Schools will need to provide the answer.  

This summer he presented to the School Board a new “Educational Equity Policy,” which it approved in September. The policy decries the inequitable achievement outcomes for races in Virginia Beach schools and appoints a Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (of course) to correct them. Fair enough if true, but it is not.

The superintendent failed to mention, and eight of eleven members of the school board failed to notice, that, according to state records, Black and Hispanic students in Virginia Beach Schools tested proficient in some of the five subjects tested statewide as often and in some cases more often than white students in Virginia Beach in both 2017-2018 and 2018 – 2019 school years.

Not only that, but all three racial categories of Virginia Beach students showed remarkable progress in subject matter proficiency across the board between 2017-18 and 2018-19.  See Pass-Proficient-Rates-Virginia-Beach-Schools-2017-18 and 18-2019.

Finally, Virginia Beach students — white, black and Hispanic — easily and in some cases massively surpassed the proficiency demonstrated in standardized tests in five subjects by their peers in Richmond and Fairfax County.

So why did Virginia Beach pass a shiny new Educational Equity policy that trashes current teachers and demands their re-training? 

The school board, including the eight of eleven members who voted for it, will have to ask the superintendent. And issue a public apology to its teachers. And disband the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee that brought the policy forward. 

I was pointed to these results by a remarkable study called “The Secret Shame — How America’s Most Progressive Cities Betray their Commitment to Educational Opportunity for All” — published in January of this year by Brightbeam.  I confirmed the accuracy of that reports’ figures for Virginia Beach Schools on the state Department of Education website.

From the introduction:

Students in America’s most progressive cities face greater racial inequity in achievement and graduation rates than students living in the nation’s most conservative cities. 

Progressive Cities Have Larger Achievement Gaps Than Conservative Cities 

We selected the 12 most conservative cities and the 12 least conservative cities from (prior research) to establish the conservative and progressive cities that make up the base of this report. 

• Progressive cities, on average, have achievement gaps in math and reading that are 15 and 13 percentage points higher than in conservative cities, respectively. 

• In San Francisco, for example, 70% of white students are proficient in math, compared to only 12% of black students reaching proficiency — a 58-point gap. 

• In Washington, D.C., 83% of white students scored proficient in reading compared to 23 percent of black students — a 60-point gap. 

• In contrast, three of the 12 most conservative cities — Virginia Beach, Anaheim and Fort Worth — have effectively closed or even erased the gap in at least one of the academic categories we examined.

Specific comments in the report about Virginia Beach’s outstanding results (2017-18 results were used for this study):

“Virginia Beach, Virginia, has the lowest achievement gaps among the 12 most conservative cities. The black-white gap in math proficiency is only 3 percentage points and the gap in reading proficiency is a miniscule 1 percentage point. The Latino-white proficiency rate gaps in Virginia Beach actually favor Latino students by 2 percentage points in both math and reading. “ (Pg. 19)

“Virginia Beach, which stands out for its admirably low achievement gaps, graduates high school students at the highest rate in the study, at 93%, but with a black-white gap of 5 percentage points and a Latino-white gap of 2 points. “ (Pg. 20)

“Arguably, Virginia Beach is an outlier case among conservative districts in more ways than its admirably low racial education gaps. Military families compose a substantial part of the population of this port city. With many white, black and Latino children hailing from a shared background of having military parents, it could be that Virginia Beach is better situated to eliminate achievement and graduation rate gaps by race than other conservative cities. Excluding the outlier of Virginia Beach from the set of the 12 most conservative cities, the average black-white proficiency rate gap in math for the remaining 11 conservative districts is 28 percentage points, with a reading gap of 29 percentage points and a graduation rate gap of 4 percentage points. The comparable average Latino-white gaps for conservative cities, excluding Virginia Beach, are 21 percentage points in math, 24 points in reading, and 5 points in high school graduation.” (Pg. 22)

To show that 2017-18 was not a one-year outlier, I downloaded the results for 2018-19 (see link above). They are even better.  

Not only did all Virginia Beach students make statistically significant improvements in tested proficiency from the previous year, but Hispanic students outperformed white students in English:Reading, English:Writing and Mathematics.  

Black students made an astounding 13-point leap in mathematics proficiency in that one year. The Black-White gap in 2018-19 was only significant (7 points) in science. That is in contrast to gaps of 60% and higher in some cities.

One last spreadsheet: The on-time graduation rates for 2018 and 2019 for Virginia Beach, Fairfax County and Richmond City. 2018 and 2019 4-Year Graduation Rates Virginia Beach, Fairfax and Richmond City

So, the new policy

“Requires mandatory training for all School Board Members and staff regarding: implicit bias and how it produces inequitable practices and outcomes”

That should take no time at all.  

The apology to Virginia Beach’s teachers needs to take longer – I suggest the School District take out a full page ad in the Virginian Pilot.