Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Hidden in Plain Sight

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Hidden in Plain Sight

A suite of charts (notwithstanding what the caption calls "red" and "yellow", which surely looked red and yellow on your computer screen but turned out darker and lighter versions of the same shade of orange in print) illustrates how "Testing Shows Persistent Student Achievement Gaps" is, indeed, a knotty problem, but this investigative article, as sumptuous as a grand opera's scenery, tells a story of a perennial phenomenon without scratching beneath the surface enough to notice what is hidden in plain sight.

ACPS' test scores lag year-after-year, even as testing methodology changes. School officials and elected leaders recycle the same trite excuses, but no one has lately been voted out of office over the schools' obscene cost for such mediocre results compared to statewide and to our neighboring suburbs, except a small backlash when Jefferson-Houston lost its accreditation. The real story is why the public, which is spending $7,000 per student more than the statewide average, is so insouciant about ACPS' mediocrity.

The answer lies in Alexandria's basic character: A decade ago, when Alexandria's city hall decided to welcome those lacking legal presence which Prince William County was making feel unwelcome, it invited many of the challenges now it faces with some of the highest "free and reduced lunch" and "English language learner" populations around. Alexandria is a high per-capita income city, as former Superintendent Berg notes. So long as ACPS is providing for the children of those high-income households, e.g., "outstanding programs in music, art, and drama," city hall hardly cares about the many for whom it is providing so little.

Polite liberal remonstrances to the contrary notwithstanding, city hall tacitly understands that they are here primarily to provide the cheap construction, daycare, restaurant, etc. workers higher income folks rely upon for more affordable high-end services. Although the exceptional case where those workers' children do well academically is celebrated, most high-income Alexandrians couldn't care less whether or not those workers' children perform at grade level because the jobs for which high-income folks need such workers do not require much educational attainment.

It is, instead, the struggling middle-class, forced to pay the high taxes to sustain the $7,000 above statewide per student average cost for ACPS' mediocre achievement, this "knotty problem" most troubles. While city hall answers more to the high-income folks who can afford the taxes and benefit from the cheap construction, daycare, restaurant, etc. workers whose children attend ACPS, the struggling middle-class, whom the tax-burden prices out, finds its voice is diminished.

Dino Drudi