Being 'the Best' Leaves Lots of Room for Improvement

By Jay Mathews
Thursday, December 8, 2005

Dear Extra Credit:

Am I confused?

In a recent column ["Two Studies, One on Fairfax, Explore Why Districts Succeed," Dec. 1], you state your opinion that the Fairfax County public schools are "the best school system in America." And yet in an earlier column you bravely cited data showing that:

Black students in wealthy Fairfax scored lower than black students in high-poverty Richmond and Norfolk on every Virginia SOL test given in the elementary grades. Fairfax County schools have more than 18,000 black students.

For all students, not just minority students, wealthy Fairfax's scores on the Algebra II SOL ranked 57th out of 130 Virginia districts. On the chemistry SOL, Fairfax students averaged in the bottom 40 percent of the state.

I know that both minority achievement and math and science education are important to you. I personally believe that your work in publicizing the achievements of Jaime Escalante did more to convince America that our schools could do better, especially for minority students, than all of the major "reform reports" combined (and they were excellent work).

So please tell me: What issues are more important in our schools than closing the minority achievement gap and preparing our children for an increasingly competitive world economy?

SAT scores? Fairfax County's own data show that a majority of its black and Hispanic enrollment does not take the SAT test.

AP and IB enrollment? In Fairfax, these programs have resegregated our schools by race and income. For our children, in our high school academic classrooms, we again have two school systems, separate and unequal, 140 years after Gettysburg.

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