We’re No. 7: Virginia fares well in list of best, worst school systems in nation

Posted: August 9, 2014

Mark Lineburg

Garthia Elena Halbert

The Winchester Star

Winchester — Virginia public schools are ranked No. 7 in the nation among 2014’s States with the Best and Worst School Systems, according to WalletHub.

Though local education leaders are not surprised, they say there are always opportunities for improvement.

“Virginia has done such a good job with a long history of outstanding schools — graduation rates, [advanced placement test] scores, any number of indicators of student achievement — is at all-time high,” said Mark Lineburg, superintendent of Winchester Public Schools.

“Virginia is recognized as having one of the best educational systems in the country,” said David Sovine, superintendent of Frederick County Public Schools.

The state ranked 20th in dropout rate; 21st in bullying incidents; 14th in math test scores; 12th in reading test scores; and 16th in student-teacher ratio.

Virginia has stringent accountability measures and has reduced testing, Sovine said.

“Really, our philosophy in Frederick County is, we look at multiple measures well beyond test scores,” Sovine said, touting a three-year high on-time graduation rate of 90 percent and a four-year high on SAT scores.

“Given the strong connection between educational attainment and income level, WalletHub compared the school systems among the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia to encourage parents to help their children realize their maximum potential,” Raz Daraban, communications manager for WalletHub, wrote in an email. “We used 12 key metrics, including dropout rates, test scores and bullying incident rates to assess the quality of education in each state.”

“Any time you talk about what makes a good school, you’re talking about who you have in the classroom because the magic happens in the classroom,” Lineburg said, giving credit to teachers.

States that beat out Virginia, in descending order from No. 1, were New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Kansas and Colorado.

The lowest-performing states, in ascending order from No. 51, are the District of Columbia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico and West Virginia.

Income levels and unemployment rates are also indicators of student performance, Lineburg noted. And these factors are out of educators’ hands.

“Any time you get into historically segregated schools, you have issues with testing,” he said. “There are 32 priority schools in the state; they’re all 80 percent free-and-reduced lunch and 80 percent Hispanic or African-American population.

“Those are issues that come with that Jim Crow segregation era. Those are some challenges that you face.”

“The reality is, even though we have tremendous successes... at our core we want to make sure our learning environment is very engaging to prepare our students to compete on a global level....While we do that well, we’re always striving to do that even better,” Sovine said.

“I don’t think testing is the answer to improving education,” Lineburg added. “I think it’s just a way of assessing what students do.”

Competitive teacher salaries, after-school programs, preschool and increasing attendance while reducing behavioral issues also helps to enhance student achievement, Lineburg said.

Sovine said Frederick County schools use partnerships in the community to address challenges students may face that keep their attention focused on things other than the classroom.

The district, for example, has a rapid response team to address the need within 24 hours.

“The premise is it’s hard for a child to be at their best as far as learning when their basic needs are not being met,” Sovine said.

— Contact Garthia Elena Halbert at  ghalbert@winchesterstar.com