A Missed Opportunity to Highlight Disparities and Effective Solutions
On May 19th, 2022, the Virginia Department of Education released a 34-page report on academic achievement in Virginia’s public schools at the request of Governor Youngkin. The Governor presented the report in a press conference, where he announced that Virginia’s students are falling behind the rest of the nation in academic achievement.
We have been working as a coalition to make sure that every student in every public school in Virginia has access to an excellent education, and, in particular, have worked to improve educational opportunities for students in low-income communities and communities of color. Unfortunately, there are many issues with the administration’s report and the recommendations it includes. The data analysis it uses to create panic about academic achievement is incredibly misleading; in actuality, Virginia’s students remain some of the most academically successful in the nation, as explained in this analysis provided by the Washington Post. The proposed solutions’ focus on increasing accountability for schools rather than increasing investment. This proposal flies in the face of mountains of evidence which show that funding is the key to improving outcomes. Focusing on accountability is more than just a poor policy solution- it also insultingly implies that the incredible challenges we have been facing in our schools should be blamed on apathetic and/or incompetent educators who choose not to hold students to high standards. This analysis doesn’t resonate with the lived experiences of Virginian parents, students, and teachers who have all been striving to hold their heads above water over the course of the last year. We are not struggling because of laziness or lowered expectations; we are struggling due to decades of underinvestment in our schools, compounded by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If we want to close achievement gaps, help schools recover, and drive students to even higher academic success, then the research is very clear: the answer is better funding. Although the current budget includes increased investment in education, a critical look at these investments shows that they fall far short of what is needed. This document provides a thorough, evidence-based roadmap of where and how money could be spent to address the challenges our schools are facing.
Discrediting public schools through the use of faulty data is unfortunately not uncommon- it’s a go-to strategy for those who seek to privatize schools. Given that Governor Youngkin and many members of the General Assembly have voiced enthusiasm for privatization policies in the past, we are concerned that this report is a first step towards that goal.
Our coalition takes a strong stance against privatization based on evidence and principle, but also because of our legal obligation: The Virginia Constitution clearly states that we must provide a free and high-quality public education for all school-age children in the Commonwealth of Virginia. We agree with the report that this moment calls for accountability- but it isn’t our students and teachers who need to be held accountable. Our political leaders must fulfill their constitutional obligation to Virginia’s children by fully funding our public school system. We hope to work closely with the Youngkin administration in the future to identify and implement the steps necessary to finally make this a reality.