Eastwooding in Virginia
It wasn’t Dirty Harry telling those questionable jokes at the GOP convention last week. It was disgruntled Walt Kowalski from Gran Torino looking like a stand-up wannabe who still orders kids to get off his lawn. All in all, a cringe-worthy talk-to-the-chair moment.
Internet jokesters responded with images of lots of different folks (and animals) talking to various empty chairs. Even Jenna Wolfe on Saturday’s Today show joked about the empty chair next to her, and Stephen Colbert introduced an empty chair as a guest.
Imaginary conversations with other people aren’t unusual, although most people converse silently in their heads without pretending the person is sitting next to them. Sometimes it’s about things you wish you would have said to someone; sometimes it’s practice for a conversation you know you’re about to have. Sometimes it’s a conversation you know you’ll never have, but wish you could. We’ve probably all done that.
In that last category I would put my own imaginary conversation with Patricia Wright, Superintendent of Public Instruction for Virginia. Let’s pretend she’s sitting in a chair next to me in my office:
Me: As a former school superintendent in another state, I understand that the NCLB goal of having 100% of public school students proficient in English and math by 2014 – in just two years – is unrealistic. So it makes sense to extend the time frame. But help me understand why it’s acceptable to you and the state school board to set different achievement goals based on race or economic status for Virginia’s public school students.
Me: I understand that Virginia has agreed to revise its new goals for student achievement under the NCLB waiver, making the timetable more aggressive. But you’re sticking with the lower goals for Hispanic and black students, claiming that those goals are more realistic. What message do you think that sends to Hispanic and black school children?
Me: Did you consider setting the same goals for all groups and intensifying and diversifying instruction for underachievers?
Me: I know that Virginia isn’t the only state that is setting goals based on race and economic level. In fact, 27 of 33 states receiving waivers have done the same. That doesn’t make it right, of course. How do you respond to black leaders who object to the low expectations for children of color?
Me: Would you be willing to talk to an integrated group of Virginia students and explain to them why you expect less from some and more from others?
And there you have it, folks. Virginia has agreed to set new, more aggressive goals to shorten the education gap in six years. Six years. Not, mind you, to close the gap between minorities, but to halve it. In the meantime, the push for charters and vouchers continues. If lowering academic expectations based on ethnicity is part of Virginia’s public school ethos, poor and minority children may be better off in other settings.