By Arthur Purves
Next school year, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) wants to increase spending by $117 million and hire more staff to teach 1000 fewer students. To provide excellence and equity is the justification for the increases.
Are Fairfax County Public Schools excellent? Its 213-page FY2020 Proposed Budget devotes less than one page to student achievement. There it states that the FCPS 2018 average SAT score of 1212 is higher than the average scores for neighboring school districts — Arlington County (1191), Loudoun County (1184), and Montgomery County (1167). However, only 60% of FCPS seniors took the SAT. Arlington, Loudoun, and Montgomery tested 68%, 76%, and 66% of seniors. When both the average score and the percent tested are considered, Loudoun is first.
FCPS also claims excellence because its average SAT score is higher than the national average of 1068 and the Virginia average of 1117. (See table.) However, is above average also excellent, especially when the maximum score is 1600?
The average SAT score for the freshman classes at Virginia’s four top colleges are 1420 for Washington and Lee and the University of Virginia, 1400 for William and Mary, and 1380 for the University of Richmond. Only one Fairfax County public high school, Thomas Jefferson, has a higher average SAT score (1516). Only three high schools, Thomas Jefferson, Langley, and McLean have higher average SAT scores than the average score of the freshman class at the fifth-place school, Virginia Tech (1290).
There are many colleges with freshman class averages below 1212, but the percent of freshmen who graduate from those schools in four years is only 45%, on average, while at the top four an average of 87% of freshmen graduate in four years. Virginia Tech’s four-year graduation rate is 63%.
SAT percentiles, which FCPS does not publish, are another gauge of excellence. On a scale of 0 to 100, typically 90 or above is excellent. By that standard, FCPS has only one excellent high school, Thomas Jefferson, whose average SAT score of 1516 is at the 99th percentile. (99th percentile means that 99% of the students who took the SAT nationwide got a score lower than 1516.)
FCPS has a Chief Equity Officer but not much equity. The average SAT score of the 25 FCPS high schools varies from the 99th percentile to the 47th percentile. The county’s “One Fairfax Policy,” adopted in 2017, is an admission that the equity programs of the last half-century have failed.
Money is not the answer. Since FY2000, FCPS spending has increased five times faster than enrollment. Inflation-adjusted spending increased more than twice as fast as enrollment. If money were the answer, FCPS would have achieved excellence and equity.
More staff is not the answer. In 1975, FCPS had almost 12 students per staff member; today it has only about 8 students per staff member. If FCPS today had 12 students per staff member, the system would have 7,000 fewer employees. Seven thousand additional employees did not achieve excellence and equity.
The isolated excellence, pervasive inequity, excessive staff, and high cost of FCPS ($3 billion annually) are the product of a school board that needs to be replaced because it gives token attention to academics while focusing on globalism. This is evident in the board’s Portrait of a Graduate, which specifies that graduates will have “…the attributes of Communicator, Collaborator, Ethical and Global Citizen, Creative and Critical Thinker, and Goal-Directed and Resilient Individual.” Academic achievement is missing.
Arthur Purves is president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance (FCTA). To learn more, visit FCTA.org.