ICYMI: Virginia schools should look southward

Norfolk Schools appleMy latest op-ed, title above, appeared in The Virginian-Pilot last Thursday.  The earlier article to which I refer is here.  That the Virginia SOLs are just now starting to include critical thinking in the curriculum is simply mind-boggling. Not that I haven’t witnessed a lack of those skills, because I have. This obsession with memorization/regurgitation is getting in the way of students actually learning.

As I mention in the article (if you don’t have access to PilotOnline, you can read it here), a university system may have helped prevent this. North Carolina’s system, one of the oldest in the country, works with the public school system to impose standards that have its students ready for college. Every time the Board of Governors of the UNC system change the minimum entrance requirements, the public school curriculum is updated. And critical thinking is part of the basis of the public school system.

Schools across Virginia did poorly on the latest round of SOLs, but Norfolk’s schools fared the worst. The General Assembly, in its infinite wisdom, has set in motion a plan to take over failing schools. The Opportunity Educational Institute was put in place – and just look at who is on the board. The board will meet for the first time tomorrow. No one seems to know exactly what this board is going to do or how it will function but hey, it has an executive director earning $125,000 a year! Nevermind that it is likely unconstitutional – how much are we paying the attorney to defend it, since the AG refused? – or that a majority of its board have no experience in education. Gotta love this, from one of the governor’s appointees to the OEI board:

[John] Nunnery [executive director of the Center for Educational Partnerships at Old Dominion University] said similar efforts have been attempted in other states. “Overall it’s a mixed bag in terms of what’s out there with the research,” he said. “There are a lot of high-profile failures, but there’s also some evidence to suggest that it can work.”

Would OEI help Norfolk Public Schools? “That’s difficult to predict,” he said.

The GA needs to go back to the drawing board on this.

On another note, I found this article about AccessUVa interesting. The money quote:

In North Carolina, Chapel Hill’s Carolina Covenant program, like U.Va’s, has promised that students at 200 percent of the federal poverty level or below won’t need loans. And, like U.Va., it applies the same admission standards to those students.

Chapel Hill also includes out-of-state students. The program costs far less than AccessUVa because Chapel Hill enrolls far fewer out-of-state students – they make up about 18 percent of the student body – and tuition is significantly lower.

North Carolina is kicking our butts, folks. Virginia needs a university system.

My column appears in The Virginian-Pilot every week, usually on Thursdays. You can see the columns as they are published here, or navigate to them from the PilotOnline.com homepage by clicking on Opinion and then choosing my name at the bottom of the dropdown list. You can also see the columns by liking my Facebook page. Although my column appears weekly, I am not and have never been an employee of The Virginian-Pilot.

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