Ten years of academic failure at Alexandria's Jefferson-Houston Elementary School, culminating in the embarrassing revocation of its accreditation, did not create nearly as much furor among the city's political leadership as the looming threat of a state takeover.
That's because a takeover would force the city to hand over the local tax dollars it currently spends to provide the school's 360 students with a subpar education.
It's telling that a direct hit to the municipal pocketbook would prompt more outrage than the shame of having one of just four unaccredited schools out of more than 1,800 in Virginia -- especially in a city with a median income of $83,000. Also telling is the sudden discovery of "local control" by statewide groups representing teachers, superintendents and school boards, who happily support state and federal intervention in education so long as it comes with a hefty check attached.
Despite ample time and funding to turn around this chronically underperforming school, located a block from the King Street Metro station, test scores have been getting worse instead of better. That's after officials installed a new principal, spent more than $1 million on outside consultants, imposed a longer school day and mandated extra tutoring. After all this, only 38 percent of Jefferson-Houston third-graders passed last year's Standards of Learning reading tests.
Alexandria tried to bury its academic failure beneath a $45 million renovation project. This skin-deep approach to a decadelong educational crisis is indicative of the city's ongoing denial. So was its decision to delay the turnaround process by choosing its own tutors and consultants, bypassing those that had already been preapproved by the state.
Local school boards were created by the state legislature, which has the power to intervene when they're not getting the job done. So when the General Assembly approved Gov. Bob McDonnell's proposal to create a new statewide school division with authority to take over schools that fail to meet accreditation standards for at least two consecutive years, Alexandria officials had only themselves to blame.
Modeled after Louisiana's Recovery School District, the new school division will take control of the commonwealth's chronically underperforming schools in 2014, and use the per-pupil funding ($17,618 in Alexandria in FY 2012, the second-highest in the region) to fix the problem, even if that means turning schools like Jefferson-Houston into charter schools or affiliating them with local universities.
It's been 10 years of failure at Jefferson-Houston. Enough is enough.