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Posted at 05:29 PM ET, 12/14/2011

Fairfax’s ‘priority schools initiative’ provokes debate, shows mixed results

Fairfax schools officials last week offered a first look at how 30 struggling schools have fared under a new program called the “priority schools initiative.”

Bottom line: results are mixed.

State math test scores rose at many of the schools last spring. But in reading, most saw schools no gains — and Hispanic students’ scores actually fell at a majority of schools.

Fairfax officials cautioned that it’s still too early to judge the success of the program, which emphasizes leadership training for principals of schools with poor test scores or large achievement gaps.

It costs $4.3 million a year and is slated to run for three years. And it’s been controversial from the start.

Priority schools was launched in 2010, the same year Fairfax County — citing budget pressures -- eliminated additional class time at 23 schools with a historically high proportion of poor and minority children.

Most of the needy schools that lost extra learning time were not included in the new initiative. And since the change, many have seen achievement slip.

Advocates for poor and minority children argued that Fairfax had essentially siphoned millions of dollars from high-poverty schools to boost performance elsewhere.

Arthur Lopez, chair-in-waiting of the board’s Minority Student Achievement Oversight Committee, called the change a string of cuts to programs for at-risk kids. In May 2010, he voiced his frustration in a letter to then-School Board Chairwoman Kathy Smith.

“Your continued concentration on behalf of those with wealth rather than for those economically disadvantaged, Hispanic, and Black families who cannot speak for themselves, is disappointing,” Lopez wrote.

“Simply advancing new plans or untested pedagogy as an answer to years of continued intentional disparity is no answer.”

Lopez later resigned his post.

Fairfax officials have argued that schools with high numbers of poor children and English-language learners aren’t getting shortchanged. Under the county’s staffing formula, those schools get more of the most valuable academic commodity: teachers.

“You get additional staffing based on the needs of your building,” Superintendent Jack D. Dale said recently. “After that, you’re expected to perform.”

More about schools:

The case for less time: Fairfax officials use school’s success to support return to shorter hours

By  |  05:29 PM ET, 12/14/2011

Tags:  fairfax county public schools, priority schools, minority student achievement

 
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