Roanoke (VA) Times
Does your child attend a school that instills a lifelong love and respect for knowledge and learning, an appreciation for the importance of hard work and self-reliance for success, and the discovery of individual strengths to invent, design or apply? A school that enables students to be competitive at an international level with their top-performing peers in countries like Finland, Korea or China?
While Virginia has some public schools like this, we don’t have nearly enough. When it comes to promoting educational innovation, Virginia still has a long way to go. Welcoming a variety of school options, like high-quality charter schools, can go a long way toward meeting this challenge.
For families relying on the quality of Virginia’s education standards, there is room for concern as the quality and rigor the commonwealth was once known for is slipping.
The National Center for Educational Statistics, part of the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, published a report that shows the rigor of the Virginia Standards of Learning is below average when comparing state test results against the National Assessment of Educational Progress, informally known as the Nation’s Report Card.
Specifically, a “proficient” score on the SOLs translates to a score of “basic” on the NAEP. So, while you can feel positive about your child’s proficient SOL scores, those nagging doubts about your child’s readiness for college are justified. A student who scores basic on NAEP is not on track for college, whereas a student who scores proficient or higher on the NAEP (not the SOLs) is considered college-ready.
And on the NAEP, only 2 out of 5 Virginia students scored proficient on 4th-grade reading and math. Even more distressingly, only 1 out of 3 Virginia students scored proficient on 8th-grade reading and math on the NAEP, which means college-readiness is declining the longer students are in school.
Digging deeper, over the last four years, the NAEP scores of Virginia students have flatlined or declined, especially in middle school. In math, the percent of Virginia eighth-graders scoring proficient dipped from 40 percent to 38 percent from 2011 to 2013 and remained at the same in 2015. For reading, eighth-graders have been stagnant, with the percent proficient flat since 2011, and with only 3 percent scoring “advanced.”
Now is the time for Virginia to reclaim its front-runner status as the nation’s pre-eminent educational system for every student.
How can Virginia do this? By supporting a constitutional amendment allowing the commonwealth’s board of education to directly authorize charter schools, thus opening the possibility of new, high-quality schools to be created in localities across the state.
Currently that power resides exclusively with division boards of education, which has severely limited the opportunity for innovative school operators like KIPP, Carpe Diem, National Heritage Academies, Uncommon Schools or BASIS to provide their proven-successful models to Virginia students and families.
Charter schools like these have much to offer Virginia’s suburban communities. For example, one nationally successful charter school network, National Heritage Academies, has a focused college-ready approach that enables teachers to concentrate on learning strategies for individual students, providing appropriate levels of challenge. They also support parents’ efforts to teach character at home by reinforcing and modeling universal human virtues, such as compassion, respect and integrity.
Other innovative charter school models range from those that embrace personalized and blended learning; to those that employ project-based learning; to those that emphasize science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM; and add the arts for STEAM); to those that are experiential/expeditionary. In each case, the teachers employing these innovative models would be certified like traditional public school teachers.
Charter schools are more than an urban phenomenon. Suburban (and rural) students also need different kinds of educational options.
Supporters of educational excellence for every student through educational options need to look past old labels to embrace new opportunities for Virginia education. Can we afford not to?
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