Virginia’s Worst Public Schools and Districts for Black Children

by James C. Sherlock

I have competed a study of Virginia’s worst-performing schools in the education of black children.  The results presented in this essay represent a scandal of the first order and demand explanations, both from the school boards and the Virginia Department of Education.

In my next post I will review two books by prominent black academics with polar opposite views on what to do about it. But this is about the abject failure of many of Virginia’s schools to educate black students.


Bear with me while I explain how I arrived at my conclusions.

  1. I used the testing statistics provided by the Virginia Department of Education for the 2018-2019 school year. I started by downloading the testing statistics for every school in every district in the state.  I then selected the subset Black students.
  2. I then reduced the types of tests down to English Reading (elementary), English Writing (middle and high schools) and mathematics. That choice was not because the other subjects tested, history and social studies in one case and science in the other, are not important, but to reduce the size of the sample to be assessed and because of the absolutely fundamental nature of English and math.
  3. I then further culled the list by eliminating all results in which Black students had at least a 34% pass rate on the selected subjects. I eliminated all of the special schools for adults or otherwise special student populations. That left me with a depressingly long list of sixty five schools more than 2/3 of whose black students had failed either math or English or both. I will name many of the schools below. The rest can be found here — Black english and math less than one third pass.
  4. With that list, I sorted by school division and with the worst division, Richmond, added the data for how many black students were tested in each school. I multiplied that by the failure rate in each subject to determine the number of black children in those specific Richmond schools who demonstrably had been denied an education.

Districts and schools with more that 2/3 of black students tested as failing in English, math or both

The list below contains school systems and their schools with either more than one school among the sixty-five worst for educating black students in either English or math; or a single school whose black students failed both English and math. In all cases failure rates exceed 2/3 of black students.

  • Albemarle County – Scottsville Elementary (reading) and Red Hill Elementary (math)
  • Arlington County – Barrett Elementary (reading and math)
  • Charlottesville City – Buford Middle (writing) and Greenbriar Elementary (math)
  • Danville City – O. Trent Bonner (writing and math),  Woodrow Wilson Intermediate (Grades 4 and 5) (writing and Math) and Westwood Middle (math)
  • Franklin County – Snow Creek elementary (reading and math)
  • Montgomery County – Gilbert Linkous Elementary and Prices Fork elementary (both math)
  • Newport News City – Newsome Park Elementary (reading) and Mary Passage Middle (writing) 
  • Norfolk City – Jacox Elementary (reading) and Lake Taylar Middle, Southside STEM Academy at Campostella and William H. Ruffner Middle
  • Richmond City – Armstrong High (writing); Elkhart Thompson Middle (writing);  Fairfield Court Elementary and George W. Carver Elementary (reading and math);  Martin Luther King Jr. Middle (reading, writing and math);  Thomas Boushall Middle (writing and math); Henderson Middle (writing)
  • Rockingham County – J. Frank Hillyard Middle (reading) and River Bend Elementary (reading)
  • Shenandoah County – Stonewall Jackson High (reading and writing)
  • Waynesboro City – Wenonah Elementary and Westwood Hills Elementary (reading)

The cities and counties with one school in which more than 2/3 of black students failed one of the tests include: Allegheny County, Bedford County, Botetourt County, Bristol, Covington, Fairfax County, Fauquier County, Greenville County, Harrisonburg, Lexington, Lynchburg, Madison County, Northampton County, Nottoway County, Page County, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Powatan County, Pulaski County, Rappahanock County, Roanoke County, Smyth County, Staunton City, Washington County and Williamsburg-James City County.

Richmond City Schools

The Richmond City School District is a failed enterprise and has been for a long time. 

Breaking the percentages down to actual numbers of black students failing tests in just the Richmond schools with over 2/3 black failure rates — the worst Richmond schools — the data show:

  • Black students failing English reading in just three Richmond schools: 702
  • Black students failing English writing in just five schools: 1,559
  • Failing math in just four schools: 958

It is highly unlikely statistically that these children will ever have a real chance in life.

I will develop the total number of black students failing tests in Richmond at some point. It will be much higher than the totals above, but this makes the point.  

I have no idea why some organization has not sued the Richmond Public Schools in federal court under the civil rights laws requesting a federal judge oversee the improvement of those schools.

The State Board of Education, Secretary of Education Atif Qarni  and State Superintendent of Public Instruction James F. Lane owe Virginians an explanation of what they have done to fix (or exacerbate) the broken education of black children. 

They must answer one question to start the discussion: Why does the City of Richmond still have control of its schools?   

Charter Schools in Virginia

The eight public charter schools in Virginia include:

  • Two in Albemarle County 
  • Two in Loudoun County 
  • Two in Richmond: Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts, Established 2010-2011, Grades K-5 (black student pass rates reading 58% and math 65%); and Richmond Career Education Employment Academy, Established 2013-2014, Grades 8-12 (school for children with disabilities – no statewide standardized test results 2017-18 or 2018-19)
  • One in Virginia Beach
  • One in York County

Virginia has set up rules that a charter application, if from any source other than the local school board, must be approved by the Virginia Board of Education (VBOE). 

It is fair to say that, under Governors McAuliffe and Northam, VBOE is not amused by the concept of charter schools. Because the teachers unions hate them.

Of the six charter schools applying for approval by the state and local school boards since 2010, only one, Green Run Collegiate in Virginia Beach, has been approved. 

What to do?

There are two schools of thought in what to do to fix this.

One side yells “kill the umpire.” Eliminate standardized tests. Don’t try to teach black children proper English.Two plus two equals four is a white construct.

The school “abolitionist teaching network” movement is led by Professor Bettina L. Love of the University of Georgia Ed school. In 2016, Dr. Love was named the Nasir Jones Hiphop Fellow at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. She was the keynote speaker at an online seminar for K-12 teachers recently sponsored by the University of Virginia ex-Curry School of Education.

I will review Dr. Love’s book, We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom in a later post alongside Charter Schools and their Enemies, the latest book by Professor Thomas Sowell of George Mason University.

Dr. Sowell represents the other side in this debate. In his book he not only utterly rejects Ms. Love’s policy recommendations but also with exhaustive data attempts to prove their fallacies, concentrating on the astonishing academic results of charter schools in New York City and elsewhere with very high enrollments of poor minority students.  

I recommend readers wait to read what each side as represented by the books of these two prominent black professors offers before deciding what to support.  

The Virginia Department of Education and ex-Curry School of Education (ex-Curry has a longer and more pretentious title. I have blocked it out of my mind.) have already picked a side — Ms. Love’s.