To the Editor:
Congratulations to the returning and newly elected members of the Alexandria City Public School Board. Winning a local election takes a lot of time, effort, and money — yours as well as your supporters’ — and marshalling all those resources towards positive effect is hard work.
That work pales, however, compared to the effort needed to achieve the purpose you have signed onto: “Every Student Succeeds” — the stated mission of ACPS’s 2020 Strategic Plan.
Realizing that mission will depend on the clarity of your collective resolve. You will need to understand what success requires; by extension, it will be critical to recognize what it does not. Contrary to much of the debate during the election and discussions at the first meeting of the newly constituted City Council, students will not succeed because of:
More money. ACPS already commands the lion’s share of the city’s budget (>40 percent) and is in the upper reaches of per-pupil expenditure (>$17,000) in the state and country. Money is no guarantee of success. Despite the heavy investment in Alexandria’s schools, system-wide pass rates on Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests, albeit trending up, still hover around the 70th percentile. The issue is not how much money the school system receives, but how that money is spent. Which brings us to …
Bigger and better infrastructure and associated references to “capacity,” “capital improvement,” and the “optimal learning environment” (the last-mentioned invariably emphasizing buildings rather than brains). Council and School Board members have described these issues as “the school system’s highest priority.” What validates that claim? Since the primary function of schools is to educate, has ACPS assessed existing space for optimal educational use? Zero evidence proves that new and modernized schools, additional and upgraded gymnasiums and sports stadiums, state-of-the-art food courts, ecologically correct roof-top gardens, and the like translate into students’ academic success. If the concern is overcrowding, why not repurpose some of those extracurricular-use and superfluous administrative spaces into classrooms? Which brings us to …
Redistricting. Redrawing school boundaries to “equitably” distribute the school population and subgroups of high- and low-performing students — groupings seemingly linked to ethnicity, race, and income — smacks of social engineering at best and social bias at worst. Leave students in their neighborhoods and make sure that every school prioritizes, and effects, every child’s advancement.
So what does success entail? Superintendent Alvin Crawley’s focus on academic rigor and better teaching is spot on, especially after years of mortonshermanesque sociobabble. Success results from setting the highest expectations for all students and giving them educators committed to excellence. It is about students’ acquiring content and being able to think critically and creatively. Success optimizes their readiness for college and careers, enabling them to learn what they need to know to participate in society’s work and partake of its fruits. Towards that end, ACPS should stop investing taxpayers’ funds in buildings, architects, and school-redistricting consultants. Instead, the system should recruit and retain only the very best principals and teachers in the marketplace; remunerate and reward them accordingly; and then empower them to do their jobs.
The success of the School Board is vital to our children’s. It goes without saying, we wish its members all the best.