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By Vinson Xavier Palathingal
The achievement gap among Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) children of different ethnic groups is as wide as it has ever been. The failure to bridge this divide, even after decades of efforts, is really embarrassing to the school board. Before expecting equity in outcome, it is imperative for the school board to do a root cause analysis and see whether equity in opportunity exists for FCPS children. Ensuring such equity in opportunity for each FCPS child is the school board’s job. Distributing children at various achievement levels across the county by busing them around in an effort to fake improvement statistics is deceptive and immoral. I will offer a new direction of thought — a direction that I believe has the potential to effectively address this issue.
Fairfax County has a significant percentage of recent immigrants and FCPS is full of their children. These are people who came with limited English proficiency and no perceived “privilege” of any sort. They are from all over the world — China, Korea, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Bangladesh, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Argentina among others. Asian Americans alone being over 20% in the county, I would think that all these immigrant groups combined constitute about 25 to 30% of the county population. Children from these immigrant communities are doing really well in their achievement statistics.
The most obvious reasons for their success are high expectations from families and very hard work. But there is one additional thing that is very common to these high achieving immigrant groups. Even when they are not rich, they send their children to supplemental private education in addition to FCPS, by spending thousands of dollars every year. Such supplemental education centers such Kumon, Mathnasium, C2 Education as well as numerous weekend schools organized by various ethnic groups contribute heavily to their apparent success. These centers use direct instruction methods at the elementary level, in contrast to the inquiry-based learning FCPS currently uses. Such methods for teaching arithmetic and phonics-based reading instructions with adequate drilling will benefit ALL students. This seems to be working very well for immigrants — so why not incorporate some of the same techniques and methods into FCPS, so ALL of our children can benefit?
It is time to think outside the box. First, make educational opportunities the same for all students. Then we will begin seeing “equity” in results.
In this context, I urge the school board to cancel the proposal to engage a consulting company for facilitating the school boundary change discussion. Instead, the board should reinstate the Chief Academic Officer position it eliminated, and entrust that office to initiate an incentivized online survey on the FCPS website on students’ supplemental education statistics. The results from this study will tell us what adjustments in FCPS methods and curricula are required to usher in real “equity” instead of just deceptive rhetoric.
The school board’s renewed focus on boundary changes and school redistricting based on a phony and utopian idea named “One Fairfax” will not fix the minority achievement gap. It is going to lead to more chaos, confusion and eventually a failed public school system in Fairfax County. We can do better — if we work together, setting aside politics and ignoring special interests.
I am running as an at-large candidate for school board. If elected, my first priority will be to undertake this study to establish the role played by supplemental education in the results of high-achieving students. I believe that incorporating these methods into the FCPS curriculum is the way to go, if we are to bridge our county’s current educational divides.
Vinson Xavier Palathingal is a candidate for one of three at-large seats on the Fairfax County Board of Education. To learn more, or to get involved, visit VinsonForSchoolBoard.com.