Work the Real Problem: Declining School Achievement

Mike Ginsberg | Fairfax County Times

In Apollo 13, after the explosion that crippled the mission’s Command Module, flight director Gene Kranz famously tells a panicked mission control, “Let’s work the problem, people.”

Fairfax County Public Schools desperately needs a Gene Kranz.

It seems not a day goes by without additional evidence of the decline of Virginia’s and Fairfax’s public education system.

The National Center for Education Statistics regularly releases its congressionally mandated National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), popularly known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” to provide the public with a metric for assessing the efficacy of the nation’s schools.  It provides a standard measurement of student achievement across the United States in math, reading, science, and other topics.

If Virginia’s education standards aligned with the NAEP’s, 60-70 percent of Virginia schools would be found “not proficient.”

In response, last week, Virginia Board of Education member Anne Holton, wife of U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), suggested that the Board take “other things” into consideration to “moderate the demoralizing effect” of non-proficient Virginia schools.  She did not suggest the obvious solution of making schools more proficient.  Instead, she proposed Virginia manipulate the standards to deceive parents and students.

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, for so long the #1 high school in the country according to U.S. News and World Report, has fallen to #5 in U.S. News’s rankings.

SAT scores in Fairfax County Public Schools have fallen by an average of 27 points since 2018.  Some of FCPS’s top schools, such as Langley, McLean, Oakton, and Woodson, have dramatically dropped.  Test scores at schools with large minority populations, such as Mount Vernon, have plunged.

The county still needs a comprehensive plan to help students recover from the learning loss caused by pandemic school closures with enhanced in-person teaching and more intense curricula.  (Online tutoring options do not count; online school was the problem.)

You might think this litany of decline would set off five-alarm fire bells in the halls of the Fairfax County School Board. 

You might think that the absolute top priority of those School Board members running for reelection would be recovering from pandemic learning loss and reversing Fairfax schools’ declining test scores.

You might think the Fairfax County School Board and Superintendent Michelle Reid would be telling their teams to “work the problem.”  

You would be wrong.

No, the School Board and Dr. Reid have far more important priorities, namely, opposing Governor Glenn Youngkin’s common sense school requirements regarding school systems’ approach to transgender students.  The policies are common sense to anyone not in the progressive vanguard.  They require schools to inform parents about matters regarding a child’s identity, ensuring girls’ sports remain fair and equitable by separating sports based on biological sex and providing alternative options to students whose parents opt them out of using the bathrooms and other sex-specific facilities of their biological sex.

So let’s get this straight: When public schools are declining, Virginia and Fairfax Democrats will lower standards to create the illusion of success.  But when the governor seeks to place decision-making about a child’s sexual identity with their parents, that sends the School Board and Dr. Reid to DEFCON 1.

Fairfax County schools have been dining out on a reputation for excellence they earned years ago.  But the data tell the tale: the excellence for which Fairfax schools were so famous is eroding.  

The first question every Fairfax voter should ask our School Board candidates is, “What are you going to do to reverse pandemic learning loss and declining test scores?” before deciding who they will support.  

The time for red herrings is over.  No more screaming about non-existent book bans.  (Requiring books to be age-appropriate for a school library is not a book ban and is no different from the movie rating system.)  No more excessively elevating the transgender issue, which affects a statistically extremely small percentage of the student population.  No more fumbling around with school names and making schools “green.”

It’s time for the Fairfax County School Board and FCPS administration to work on the problem of pandemic learning loss and declining test scores, especially in hardest-hit minority communities.  And it’s time for the local and state Boards to be straight with parents, not revise standards to deceive parents with an illusion of success.

Students’ learning—math, science, reading, and history—is more important than facilitating the latest progressive fad.  Fairfax voters should vote for a School Board that works the school system’s problems, not manufactures them.

Michael E. Ginsberg is the chairman of the 11th District Republican Committee of the Republican Party of Virginia. This article was first published at on September 15, 2023.

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