Congratulations to newly elected and re-elected School Board members. All Alexandrians wish you success, as the collective well-being depends on the future of our youth. In that regard, lest it be forgotten, the purpose of schools is to educate (from the Latin educare, meaning to lead forward). No, our “promise to students” is not stadium lights but an education. Clearly, you have your work cut out for you.
Despite all the happy talk of the recent campaign, the latest standardized academic assessments indicate that Alexandria’s public schools continue to be among the worst-performing (albeit most expensive) in the region and the country. School apologists — perversely, those same people who purport to advocate for “communities of color” (as contrasted with, what, the colorless?) — blame the demographics. The students are poor and underprivileged, they don’t speak English at home, their parents didn’t go to college.
When, however, has that not been the case in this country? Since the mid-19th century, waves of immigrants from different cultures speaking a babel of languages have arrived on our shores, integrated, and gone on to make countless positive contributions to the commonweal. They have been our greatest asset. The agent of that success? America’s public schools, where the expectations were high, the teaching and learning rigorous, the content universal (e.g., those wonderful McGuffey Readers read at one time by every elementary school child across the country), and the primary classroom language English.
Notwithstanding this admirable national history, our city has for decades chosen a radically different path, and that choice has for decades yielded failing results. Each year Alexandria public school scores on standardized tests plumb new depths. The identity politics that inform the system discriminate students by racial groups. In effect, ACPS has reverted to segregation of its students: while “exceptional” children are protectively enrolled in “quest” and “advanced placement” classes, others —stigmatized because their mother tongue is not English — are relegated to bilingual and multicultural education programs and an “international academy” that ghettoizes immigrants away from the very peers who would facilitate their assimilation. These unproven social-engineering schemes, contrary to their lofty aims, have consistently produced a regrettable, even immoral effect … social injustice. Moreover, it is not only the racially discriminated groups that are underperforming; this year, the scores of all groups tanked.
A suggested alternate approach: simply determine what content all students need to learn, progressively over the course of their education in elementary and high schools, to succeed later in life; systematically teach that content to all students; and assure that they learn it. In effect, achieve excellence through insistent, uniformly high expectations and true integration.
Finally, given the vocal obsession with school-system “capacity” among ACPS actors — surely a prelude to another “fully fund our schools” campaign leading to even higher taxes — let us first fully audit our schools to determine their accountability and take time-proven measures to redress any and all shortcomings. Such should be the principal remit of the new School Board.