To the editor:
Courtesy of the Tenants and Workers United website, I read with interest the full text of the memo of understanding between Alexandria City Public Schools and TWU (Minority Activists, School Leaders Ink Pact for Progress, September 24, 2009). As a long-time Alexandria resident, I wonder about the legal standing of and historical precedent for such an agreement between our public school system and a minority activist group, and I more generally wonder about the rather fuzzy premise, terms and conditions of this agreement.
I find the language of the agreement to be perplexingly vague. Presumably, Latino achievement gaps, as the document puts it, are the point of the agreement. The agreement states rather broadly that Latino students are capable of achieving higher achievement, but specific problem areas are neither identified nor detailed. The agreement also mentions the welfare of other students of color, without identifying them.
Questioning the agreements lack of clarity is hardly splitting hairs, it seems to me, since students of color make up about three-quarters of Alexandria schools, as I understand it. So, I find the language of this agreement to be woefully ill-defined, and its legal and practical standing as some manner of action plan for our city to be unclear.
I certainly believe that racial bias should not be tolerated anywhere in American society, and I surely support efforts to promote cross-cultural understanding in our public schools. But I am skeptical of the documents implication that color and culture are critical factors in addressing poor student performance.
Still, it was encouraging that the agreement wisely calls for efforts to learn from the best practices of other school districts. I think that neighboring Fairfax County schools would be an obvious place to start. Fairfax is also racially diverse, with white students making up just less than half the public school population. Yet, this diversity doesnt seem to be a drag on overall student performance. Fairfax County often is cited as having perhaps the highest public school graduation rate in the nation, with a score of 91 percent last year. Our schools reached only 76.4 percent. On the cover of the current Washingtonian Magazine is a story about Fairfaxs Thomas Jefferson High, which widely has been labeled Americas Best High School. The school, located in Annandale and a stones throw from our city limits, is called a success factory by the magazine.
Obviously, we have much in common with Fairfax, and we share similar demographics, socio-economic factors, and so forth. While learning from best practices of other schools was given only a cursory mention in this so-called memo of understanding, perhaps this approach should be given closer scrutiny by Alexandria citizens and its school officials alike.
Daryl M. Plunk