Virginia Schools Hail Successes And Fund Challenges

Virginia Schools recently received national acclaim for some of its successful schools. Newsweek released its list of the top 5% of schools in the nation, and 87 Virginia Schools made the cut. Eleven Virginia Schools made the top 100, and an additional two were included in the list of the “public elites.” Those two were Maggie Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies and Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Both were included because of the higher than average SAT and ACT scores of their students.

Virginia Schools achieve these results while spending about $7,751 annually per pupil. This puts the state right in the middle for national spending. Clearly some good results are coming from some of the efforts of Virginia Schools. But there are still some big concerns and certain gaps. Like the rest of the country, Virginia Schools struggle with an achievement gap for minority students. African-American and other minority students consistently score lower as a group on standardized tests. Socioeconomic factors have proven to dramatically effect a student’s academic success.

One way that the Virginia Schools are trying to remedy this problem is through a partnership with the ECMC Foundation. In 2003 the ECMC and the Virginia Department of Education teamed up to create the Virginia ECMC Scholars Program to “increase participation in postsecondary education by economically or otherwise disadvantaged students, and to challenge these students to better prepare during the junior and senior years of high school.”

2007 will be the fifth cycle of funding and the ECMC has upped its pledge for Virginia Schools to $3 million dollars in scholarships, mentoring stipends and program funding. Participants in the programs are selected from Virginia Schools at the end of their sophomore year. What makes this scholarship program different is that educators select students they know. Anonymous strangers who base the decision on faceless essays or a qualifications list choose participants in most other scholarship programs.

ECMC and Virginia Schools select children based on future potential rather than past grades. The participants are mentored and tutored through their junior and senior years to bring out their best potential. Ten Virginia Schools were selected on basis of need, and the program is funded through 2009.

Privately funded programs like the Virginia ECMC Scholars Program are one way that Virginia Schools hope to close the achievement gap and propel the state school system forward. Virginia had its own testing system in place (Virginia Standards of Learning) prior to the 2001 No Child Left Behind Initiative. But the national mandate implemented class size and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) markers for every school in the nation. Pressure for students to meet passing marks in both Virginia Schools and across the nation has been intense. Educators and politicians continue to debate the merits and pitfalls of standardized testing as a way to raise learning standards in the nation.

Virginia Schools Hail Successes And Fund Challenges 7 of 10 on the basis of 2495 Review.