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Monday, 30 October 2017 20:17

Report: Virginia's high-poverty schools don't have same opportunities for students Featured

Written by Justin Maddingly | The Richmond Times Dispatch

There are “striking deficiencies” in educational opportunities for students in high-poverty Virginia schools, a new report has found.

Students in high-poverty schools, or schools where at least 75 percent receive free and reduced-price lunch, have less access to core subjects like math and science, lower levels of state and local funding for instructors, who are less experienced in these schools, according to a report from The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a research organization based in Richmond that focuses on economics and policy.

“All students are not being given the same opportunities to pursue their dreams upon graduation,” said Chris Duncombe, a senior policy analyst at The Commonwealth Institute and author of the report, which was released late last week.

The report shows that in schools where at least 3 in 4 students receive free and reduced-price lunch, less than 50 percent offer a physics course, just over half offer calculus and teachers are twice as likely to be new teachers compared with low-poverty schools. It also reveals that less than 75 percent of the high-poverty schools offer an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate class.

These high-poverty schools are strongly tied to race.

More than 4 in 5 students in high-poverty schools are students of color, according to the report, and about 22 percent of all black students attend a high-poverty school, compared with 3 percent of white students.

“The students are the ones who feel the impact of these disparities,” Duncombe said in a prepared statement accompanying the release of the report. “And it’s largely Virginia’s Black and Latino students who are being deprived of the opportunity to pursue their goals and career ambitions.”

Richmond Public Schools, a division with a population of students that’s about 85 percent black and Latino, has the most high-poverty schools (29) in the state, according to the report. Other cities have a high concentration of high-poverty schools, but the issue extends across the state.

“This is not just a problem in Virginia’s large cities,” Duncombe said. “This is a statewide problem of high-poverty schools that needs everyone’s attention.”

The report includes data from the Virginia Department of Education for the 2013-14 school year.

About 1 in 3 — 69 out of 204 — high-poverty schools are fully accredited by the state education department, compared with all but three of the 413 low-poverty schools being fully accredited.

The report includes three proposed solutions to the problem, including funding, local enrollment policies and private school options.

Duncombe highlighted a state-funding program called the At-Risk Add-On, which targets divisions based on students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. The report calls on a boost in support for the program while also recommending a broad examination of school funding.

When it comes to private school options, officials “should be skeptical of solutions that seek to redirect funds for public education to private schools through private school vouchers or educational savings accounts,” the report says.

Instead, school leaders should promote more controlled choice enrollment with free transportation, among other recommendations.

“If we really want to be giving students diverse opportunities, we should be supporting diverse schools,” Duncombe said.

Link to original article from The Richmond Times Dispatch

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