By Cheryl Buford
Did you read the latest? Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Superintendent Scott Brabrand served on a statewide taskforce that waived school district accreditation for the 2021-2022 school year! Let that sink in. As the largest school district in the Commonwealth of Virginia, I can only imagine the outside influence FCPS brought to bear on this decision.
Why is this significant? As the Virginia Department of Education’s (DOE) website describes, the Standards of Accreditation regulations “establish the state accountability system for the Commonwealth’s public schools and set the requirements students must meet to earn a high school diploma.” DOE acknowledges that accreditation is a means of inspiring public confidence and assuring that other institutions of learning (i.e. colleges and universities) recognize Virginia public schools’ diplomas.
So, this decision means FCPS will not be evaluated on any performance measures for two years! Without data, we can’t meaningfully pinpoint what’s working well and what needs improvement. That will leave us with selected anecdotes, conveying whatever story FCPS wants to tell us.
On a personal level, what if FCPS’ lack of accreditation jeopardizes your son’s or daughter’s college admission or scholarship? Or possibly his/her ability to enlist in the military? Over time, what if FCPS’ lack of tangible results leads businesses to relocate or for those who stay to have trouble recruiting top talent? What if it also precipitates a sharp decline in real estate values?
Tell me again why we’re paying exorbitant local taxes – over 50% of which goes to fund our public schools. Schools that won’t be accredited for the next two years!
Over the last several months, we have gotten used to being kicked in the gut by FCPS’ failures with distance learning. Failures so profound FCPS has had the dubious distinction of gaining national attention. Unfortunately, this pattern is not new.
Many people, especially the 75% of Fairfax County residents who don’t have students in the schools, may not be aware of pre-pandemic issues related to academic achievement. Three schools were not fully accredited, instead they were “accredited with conditions.” Three additional high schools had dropout rates hovering between 13-15%. Only their performance the previous year, meeting other benchmarks, spared them a similar fate.
Many people, especially the 75% of Fairfax County residents who don’t have students in FCPS, may not be aware that pre-pandemic, too many graduates were unprepared for the challenges of college or further vocational training? Tragically, 50% of the FCPS graduates who attend Northern Virginia Community College have had to take remedial English. That’s what a $3 billion annual budget buys us?
This situation is unacceptable! Is it too much to ask that our schools prioritize academics?
Cheryl Buford is a former U.S. Department of Education associate director for program analysis and evaluation. In 2019, she was a candidate for the Fairfax County Board of Education.