With the release of the state-level 4th and 8th grade reading and math NAEP results today, it’s clear Virginia’s long-standing underfunding of our highest need schools continues to take a toll on our students. Continued lack of sufficient state resources has particularly impacted students facing the highest barriers, including Black, Hispanic/Latine, economically disadvantaged, and English Learner (EL) students. The NAEP is just one of many measures we use to assess student learning, and the results confirm what educators have been sounding the alarm about for years: the challenges posed by this pandemic have only worsened the existing gaps in opportunity between students.
The state’s failure to pay competitive wages and take other steps to stem our current staffing shortage, implement the minimum funding recommendations by the Virginia Board of Education, and fully lift the support cap that limits state funding for essential school support positions all have substantial negative impacts on students that face the most barriers to learning. We know these results are not a function of lack of effort by educators, who have been putting in more hours than ever over the past few years and are burning out at record rates, but more so a product of failing to provide the resources needed to help all students succeed. Small scale grants, asking educators to try harder, calling for volunteers, and watering-down teacher licensure standards don’t come close to addressing the scope of our challenge. We need our leaders to commit to closing opportunity gaps and invest in what research tells us works – and yes, this will take additional resources.
According to the most recent Census data, Virginia continues to be a top ten state for median household income, and a bottom 10 state for state P-12 per student spending – we hover between the much lower resource states of Mississippi and Louisiana. Virginia has the capacity to provide adequate resources for our students, but certain politicians have been choosing not to.
Heading into the new year, state lawmakers and the governor will have a choice of how they will respond to the alarming results we saw today. This is not the time for partisan politics, giveaways to the wealthy and powerful corporations, or education reform efforts with no solid evidence of improving student outcomes. Instead, it’s time to come together, and make the comprehensive investments that research tells us will have the greatest impact on improving student achievement and helping students who face the most barriers to education.
The Youngkin administration will show us if they are serious about addressing our NAEP achievement disparities in their December state budget if they prioritize using our revenue surplus to invest in competitive pay to stem our staffing shortages, fully funding the research-based Standards of Quality (SOQs), lifting the support cap so all students receive the in-school services they need, providing meaningful support to English Learner students, and avoiding gimmick reforms with no track records of success.