2007-01-29 Lack of transparency in student achievement

Testimony before the Fairfax County School Board Public Hearing on the FY2008 School Budget

January 29, 2007
By Arthur G. Purves
President, Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance

Chairman Storck, Dr. Dale, and members of the board:

Since 2000, real estate taxes for the typical Fairfax County homeowner increased an average of ten percent a year, from about $2400 to $4800. Seventy-five percent of these tax hikes went to Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). Inflation-adjusted school spending over that period increased by 35 percent while enrollment increased only six percent. In just two years, school spending on employee benefits is increasing by $100 million. Is it right to raise taxes on the private sector, which is losing benefits, to continue funding public-sector benefits?

Of course it would be right if educational outcomes justified it. Do they?

FCPS points to rising SAT scores. However, between 1997 and 2005, the percentage of FCPS seniors taking the SAT has decreased from 89 percent to 76 percent. FCPS is the only member of the Washington Area Boards of Education that did not report the percentage of seniors taking the SAT in 2006. There has been no progress in closing the SAT minority student achievement gap for Blacks and Hispanics. The average FCPS senior scores higher than only 65 percent of seniors taking the SATs. Is that excellent?

Apparently more seniors are taking the ACT. However, FCPS does not publish ACT results. My request to see the ACT reports for Fairfax County has not yet been answered.

Parents want their children to earn a four-year college degree. FCPS has made no effort to determine the percentage of its graduates who earn four-year degrees. Our estimate is that sixty percent of FCPS graduates earn four-year degrees, and that varies by school.

FCPS boasts that all its schools are accredited. However accreditation requires passing the state Standards of Learning (SOL) tests, which require only D-level proficiency. The high-school SOL tests may be more appropriate for middle-school students.

According to the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), about 35 percent of Virginia students achieve at or above grade level. Again, FCPS has made no effort to estimate what percentage of its students achieves at the NAEP standard. In general FCPS scores a bit better than the state. So it may be that only fifty percent of FCPS students achieve at or above grade level.

I have asked the Superintendent what percentage of Learning Disabled students is successfully remediated before 12th grade. He answered that he does not know.

I have asked what percentage of 12th graders read at the 12th-grade level. FCPS does not know. How will FCPS teach students to communicate in a second language when it does not know if they can communicate in English?

FCPS boasts of a low drop-out rate for seniors. However, FCPS does not know what percentage of students drop out between 9th and 12th grades.

Last November I asked what percentage of FCPS elementary schools is using the phonics-based Open Court reader as their primary reading text. I have received no answer from the Office of Community relations and the Superintendent states he does not know. We’re fairly certain that the answer is zero.

We appreciate the many fine, hard-working teachers who often struggle with difficult demographics, from low-income children to helicopter parents. However their work is complicated by an administration that opposes effective teaching methods such as phonics, Direct Instruction, and E. D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge sequence.

The result is that teachers are more frustrated than they need to be; achievement is lower than it needs to be; taxes are higher than they need to be; and there is less money for some of the worthy causes advocated by other speakers at this hearing.*

Thank you.

*Other speakers were advocating middle- and high-school programs for autistic children and changing the high-school bus schedule so that students would not have to catch the bus at 6 a.m.

Updated February 24, 2007

Copyright 1999-2009 The Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, Inc.
The material at this site may be reproduced in whole or in part only when the
reproduced material includes the FCTA copyright notice and the URL for this site.