Virginia’s Broken Education System

Two pieces of interest today on the topic of education.

First piece: The Education Trust, a Washington-based nonprofit group focused on school reform, has questioned the rigor of Virginia’s Standards of Quality exams, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

Among eighth-graders who took the state Standards of Learning math test in 2005, 81 percent were either “proficient” or “advanced.” By comparison, 33 percent of Virginia eighth-graders who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress that year scored “proficient” or “advanced.”

Similar findings applied to fifth graders. Bottom line, we think our schools are doing an adequate job — but maybe they’re not.

Second piece: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg published a column (subscribers only) in the Wall Street Journal comparing America’s education system to the automobile industry of the 1970s: “stuck in a flabby, inefficient, outdated production model driven by the needs of employees rather than consumers.”

The problem, he says, is not that America doesn’t spend enough money. “We spend enormous amounts, far more than any other nation. But we’re not getting a sufficient return on our investment.”

Bloomberg blames bureacracies that lack clear lines of accountability, tolerating mediocrity and failure and failing to reward excellence. He blames lifetime tenure for school teachers, rewarding them for longevity, not performance. He blames the failure to help struggling students in early years, when costs are lower, and then paying for ineffective remediation programs in later years, when costs are higher. He blames funding inequalities between school districts that short-change minorities.

What schools need, Bloomberg says, is “a top-to-bottom rethinking…. one that insists on a perfomance-based culture of accountability that is oriented around children, not bureaucracies.” He calls for higher teacher salaries to attract the best and brightest, upholding high standards and ending social promotion, and investing in early childhood development.

Bloomberg’s emphasis on early childhood education is reminiscent of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s proposal to push universal pre-K in Virginia. While I question the benefits of such a plan, I remain open to persuasion and, indeed, hope to address the Kaine administration’s arguments for universal pre-K in some depth in the not-too-distant future. But I am unalterably opposed to blindly dumping mo’ money into a system that is already awash in funds and exacting no institutional change whatsoever. Virginia has many dedicated teachers and administrators but the system is highly bureaucratic and inefficient.

Any injection of more money into the system must be accompanied by greater accountability and institutional reform. Otherwise, we’re squandering billions of dollars. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure that out.


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2 responses to “Virginia’s Broken Education System”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The good news about No Child Left Behind is that it instituted a Nationwide uniform level of accountability metrics despite widespread outcries from the Educational bureaucracies that each State, each School District, indeed each School was “so different” than trying to institute standards was a heretical threat to creativeness and flexibility.

    The bad news is that each state was allowed to determine how best to test and measure and some states have set their achievement thresholds very low although ironically Virginia is thought to be among the better in the Nation.

    So, it’s pretty awful.. when Virginia is shown to be not so hot in overall achievement.

    The National Assessment of Educational Progress results shows clearly a substantial difference between it and Virginia’s SOLs – which already are being targeted by the education community as “unfair” and “wrong”.

    By the way, the Standard and Poors schoolmatters.org website confirms and verifies the NAEP results.

    I compare the Education Community to VDOT in terms of how, despite being recipients of huge amounts of taxpayer dollars refuse to willingly agree to accountability measures.

    Instead, in both cases, the bureaucracies are so throughly entrenched that only externally-imposed sanctions have had any impact.

    Otherwise, both organizations statewide and local… tend to be insular and openly resentful of questions about cost effectiveness and budget priorities.

    We spend more per student than any other industrialized nation and we score almost at the bottom of comparative testing and yet our educational establishment continues to respond with “more money, more money”.

    The response of the education community to date has often been:

    1. – Deny the results and/or claim that apples and oranges are being compared (no matter WHAT is compared)
    and keep this in mind – at any time THEY could counter propose something but refuse to do so

    2. – Threaten cut-backs if they are forced to measure because doing so will cost “more” money. i.e. over and over we hear that NCLB is an “unfunded mandate”. Keeping data and records.. which they should have been doing all along but chose not to and chose not to ask for funds to do…so

    3. – Demagogue to parents that there are efforts to not fully fund education….by those opposed to education which includes those that want accountability.

    In other words, if one advocates accountability then they are opposed to education – very similiar to the road argument.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    This subject has been an ulser brewing for quite sometime. We moved from one city to another and I chose to move my children into private school in this city(coming from public) both schools(lower and middle) are losing their accredidation in VA due to low SOL scores over the last 2 or 3 years. Both have adapted very well to the change, however a MONUMENTAL difference in curriculum, both are struggling in Math and language. Having several conversations with teachers and administrators, children are not being taught basic Math or Language in public schools due to SOLS, so when parents want better for their children, the children play catch-up for at least a year. I will continue to pay for a better education for my children and my tax dollars will still support the terribly broken VA educational system. My two cents for what it’s worth.

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