Success in the City
A once troubled urban school system is lauded for blazing a new path to academic progress
Some critics charge that Norfolk's intense focus on high-stakes testing is coming at the expense of a broader education, while others contend that the district's achievements simply can't be repeated in larger and poorer inner cities. But defenders counter that much can be learned from the school system's example. "There's no magic here," says Andrew Rotherham, codirector of Education Sector, a new Washington, D.C.-based think tank and a member of the Virginia State Board of Education. "Norfolk simply put in place the right ingredients--they used state standards and assessments to inform instruction, have strong leadership across the board and had a coherent plan.... Other districts can do that, too."
Back in Norfolk, there is excitement over winning the Broad Prize, but the focus quickly shifts back to the remaining challenges at hand, from Ocean View's current obsession with improving fifth-grade science scores and Northside's focus on eradicating double negatives for good to Lake Taylor's concern about boosting the graduation rates of African-American males. "We can't declare victory yet," says new Superintendent Stephen Jones, who cites larger goals such as closing the achievement gap entirely--and in the right way--by 2010. "Everybody expects minority kids to be on par with their majority counterparts, but that's the floor for us," he explains. "We don't believe in closing gaps by lowering the ceiling; we believe everything should move at the same time." He pauses for a moment and murmurs, "Yes, there's still plenty to do."
A DIVERSE DISTRICT
Norfolk is a predominantly minority urban district where 58 percent of students receive subsidized school lunches.
White 26 pct.
Black 69 pct.
Hispanic 3 pct.
Asian 2 pct.
MAKING THE GRADE
Third graders have made steady progress overall and have narrowed the black-white gap on state math tests
Percent passing: White, District average, Black
[chart labels] 0, 20, 40, 60, 80, 90 pct.; 1998, '99, 2000, '01, '02, '03, '04, '05
Source: National Center for Educational Accountability; USN&WR