Education in Virginia

Education in Virginia addresses the needs of students from pre-kindergarten through adult education. Virginia's educational system consistently ranks in the top ten states on the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress, with Virginia students outperforming the average in almost all subject areas and grade levels tested.[1] The 2010 Quality Counts report ranked Virginia's K–12 education fourth best in the country.[2] All school divisions must adhere to educational standards set forth by the Virginia Department of Education, which maintains an assessment and accreditation regime known as the Standards of Learning to ensure accountability.[3] In 2008, 21% of high school students graduated on-time after four years.[4] The 1984 Virginia Assembly stated that, "Education is the cornerstone upon which Virginia's future rests."[5]


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The Syms School was founded in 1635, as the first free school in the Americas, but this was not the first attempt at establishing an education system. The first attempt was a move in 1619-1620 by the London Company to begin a school to educate Indian children in Christianity. The second attempt, known as the "East India School", was meant to educate white children in the colony of Virginia.[6] Virginia was a frontrunner in education during the colonial period, by continuing to establish schools and colleges, such as The College of William and Mary in 1693.

Thomas Jefferson wanted a "Bill for More General Diffusion of Knowledge" to create a universal public education, but some of the planters at the time did not want tax money to go to educating poor children. The first free public school systems were established around 1851, and Thomas Jefferson started the first public university, The University of Virginia, in 1819.[7]

In addition to the free schools, there was also a system of "pay schools." These were mostly funded by parents of a community, and they also had control over the school as a community. These became known as field schools, because they were often built in a field by the community. The teachers were also selected by the community, and were typically clergy in the church or community. These schools were also not run in the winter months. Privately funded education also included private tutors or boarding schools abroad for the richest of the families.[8] Now, Virginia has 134 school divisions that are governed by local school boards. Within these divisions, there are around 1,900 schools that provide an education for over one million students.[9]


Governor Tim Kaine launched an initiative for state-funding of pre-kindergarten education. These programs are focused on children with "at risk" demographics to assist them in performing well at the K-12 levels. During the 2008 General Assembly session, Governor Kaine backed $22 million expansion to increase the accessibility of Pre-K education for at-risk four-year-olds.[10]


I.C. Norcom High School, a public high school located in Portsmouth, Virginia

Public K–12 schools in Virginia are generally operated by the counties and cities, and not by the state. As of April 2010, a total of 1,259,623 students were enrolled in 1,881 local and regional schools in the Commonwealth, including three charter schools, and an additional 109 alternative and special education centers across 132 school divisions.[11][12] Between 2000 and 2008, school enrollment increased 5%, the number of teachers 21%.[13]

Besides the general public schools in Virginia, there are Governor's Schools and selective magnet schools. The Governor's Schools are a collection of more than 40 regional high schools and summer programs intended for gifted students.[14] The Virginia Council for Private Education oversees the regulation of 294 state accredited and 141 non-accredited private schools.[15] An additional 23,290 students receive homeschooling.[16]

Nine high schools in the Northern Virginia region are ranked in the top 100 nationwide by Newsweek magazine.[17] In addition, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, which requires an application, is listed as the best public high school in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report.[18] All Northern Virginia schools pay the test fees for students to take Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams, and Alexandria and Arlington lead the nation in college course tests.[19]

Online Education

Virtual Virginia (VVa) is the Department of Education's system for providing online courses to students. These classes are mostly Advanced Placement classes for students who are home schooled or go to a public high school (some courses are offered to middle school students) where the course is not taught. These courses are offered free of charge to students enrolled through a high school, but not to those in private or home schooling, or those who are out of state.[20] This program got its start in the 1980s, when AP courses were offered through satellite schools to students in Virginia, mostly to those in rural areas without many other education options. The program became known as the Virginia Satellite Education Network (VSEN). That program got combined with Virtual Virginia Advanced Placement School to become what it is today.

VVa currently offers a total of 54 classes; 23 of them are AP and 21 are for foreign languages.[21] These classes are mostly one or two semester courses, with a select few being offered during the summer. The school is run through Desire2Learn, a web-based course management system which presents the lesson material through an internet browser. This allows courses to be taken on virtually any computer, since there is no additional software requirement.[22]

Civil War history

In October 2010, the vetting process used to approve history text books came into question over a fourth grade book entitled Our Virginia: Our Past and Present by Joy Masoff. Masoff is not a trained historian, but had previously published Oh Yikes! History's Grossest Moments. Her text, which had been approved by the State Department of Education, claims that thousands of slaves fought for the South during the Civil War. Most historians disagree with that view.[23] Although Virginia is one of 20 states that have a state-level process for approving text books, the book had been reviewed by a committee that did not include any trained historians.[24] Virginia's curriculum requires that the African-Americans' role in the Civil War be covered, including their work on plantations and on the sidelines of battles. So Masoff conducted internet research on the topic and found three references derived from the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who believe that slavery was not the main cause of the American Civil War. The Department of Education has said it will contact school divisions and advise against teaching the passage.[23] On October 21, the publisher of Our Virginia: Our Past and Present, which Masoff owns,[25] announced that it will distribute sticker labels that can be used to cover the disputed paragraph.[24]

Standards of Learning

Virginia has a statewide system of support and accountability for its public schools.[26] These standards hold the state accountable for rigorous academic standards, called the Standards of Learning (SOL). Success is measured through annual SOL testing and also through alternative testing.[26] The standards test students in English, math, science, and social studies.[27] Tests are conducted at the end of 3rd, 5th, 8th grade, and at the end of some high school courses in all subjects, but English and math are tested in grades 3-8, and also at the end of some high school courses.[27] Testing depends on the curriculum, and can occur at any grade level according to what the curriculum says.[27] In 2001, there was parental resistance to the Standards of Learning, or SOLs, saying they were unrealistic goals. By 2004, students were required to take a series of 11 exams that were all based on the SOLs. By 2007, in order for a school to keep its accreditation, they must have a 70% pass rate of the SOLs among their students. They also argued that the tests did not accurately match what was in the curriculum.[28] As stated by the Standards of Learning Objectives, "The Standards of Learning Program Establishes a framework for general education in the public schools in Virginia. It includes objectives to help students acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes believed necessary for further education and employment." [29] When the standards were first implemented, some veteran teachers saw them as a loss, while some inexperienced teachers viewed them as a gain to the educational system. Losses might include things like a sense of a loss of power, and gains might be seen as things like a great opportunity for collaboration between teachers.[30] The major goal of having standards for curriculum is to create quality American schools. Diane Ravitch is one of the predominant people to help write the standards, and she says that "standards give clear expectations for students, teachers, parents, colleges, and employers that will result in improved student achievement".[31]

No Child Left Behind

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was actually signed into law on January 8, 2002 by President George W. Bush. It is commonly abbreviated as NCLB. It was a re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and some say that it was one of the most significant pieces of legislation to affect education in the last 30 years.[32] No Child Left Behind was designed to hold schools accountable for students' proficiency, as determined by testing procedures. NCLB states that the 4 major goals are "stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents, and an emphasis on teaching options that have been proven to work.".[33] The goal of NCLB was to have all students testing at proficient levels by the 2012-2013 school year.[34] It also says that 95% of all eligible students must be taking the SOL tests.[34] "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP), which is meeting the target proficiency ratings, must be met by the schools annually.[34] If two consecutive years pass where a school does not meet AYP, then they get labeled as "needing improvement", and supplemental services may be offered.[34] No Child Left Behind also regulates employment of teachers, by requiring that all teachers are "highly qualified".[34] Although the overall goal of No Child Left Behind is full of good intentions, it does not meet all students' needs, for example, high-achieving, "gifted" students. NCLB also has implications for teachers, by putting a lot of pressure on the educators in the public school system to get the required proficiency results.[35] Some have also argued that NCLB legislation prevents the teaching of civics, because the curriculum is so focused on other content areas. This could be detrimental, because the foundation of the public education system was to help students develop into productive citizens.[36]

Higher education

As of 2010, there are 167 colleges and universities in Virginia.[38] In the U.S. News and World Report ranking of public colleges, the University of Virginia is second and The College of William & Mary is sixth.[39][40] James Madison University has been recognized as the number one regional public master's university in The South since 1993.[41] Virginia Commonwealth University is ranked the number one public university in Fine Arts in the United States according to U.S. News and World Report.[42] The Virginia Military Institute is the oldest state military college and a top ranked public liberal arts college.[43][44] Liberty University is also the largest university in Virginia with over 92,000 students, followed closely by Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University.[45] Virginia Tech and Virginia State University are the state's land-grant universities. Virginia also operates 23 community colleges on 40 campuses serving over 288,000 students.[46] There are 120 private institutions, including Washington and Lee University, Emory & Henry College, Hampden–Sydney College, Roanoke College, and the University of Richmond.[38]

Virginia law requires each public college or university to publish the amount of its fees separate from its tuition. As reported in the Washington Post, athletic fees have grown in recent years. Athletic fees typically go to a separate fund to pay for intercollegiate athletic teams. Over the past 10 years, the average athletic fee at 14 public universities has doubled from $530 to $986. All students at an institution must pay the athletic fee, whether or not they participate in sports.[47]

Virginia public university athletic fees[48]
UniversityTuition and feesAthletic fees% of total
George Mason University$8,584$4765%
Old Dominion University$7,708$1,13315%
University of Virginia$10,628$6576%
Virginia Commonwealth University$8,817$5596%
Virginia Tech$9,589$2573%
College of William and Mary$12,188$1,42212%
Christopher Newport University$9,250$1,14712%
James Madison University$7,860$1,11414%
Longwood University$9,855$2,02221%
University of Mary Washington$7,862$3504%
Norfolk State University$6,227$1,44123%
Radford University$7,694$1,07714%
Virginia Military Institute$12,328$1,36211%
Virginia State University$6,570$79112%

Federal role

Virginia's two land grant universities Virginia Tech and Virginia State University receive federal funding to perform agricultural research and to conduct cooperative extension services.

Virginia opted to not participate in No Child Left Behind federal funding. Virginia filed an application for the first round of federal Race to the Top funding, but finished 31st out of 41 states in the first round, and did not receive funds. On May 26, 2010, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell withdrew the state from the second round of Race to the Top funding. McDonnell did not believe that Virginia should apply for the second round because he erroneously believed the competition required the use of common education performance standards instead of Virginia's current standards. In fact, the use of common performance standards is not required.[49][50] Although McDonnell supported the Race to the Top program during McDonnell's campaign for governor,[51] McDonnell later went on to claim on his June 1 appearance on MS-NBC that the Race to the Top rules precluded participating states from adopting more rigorous standards in addition to whatever multi-state standards they join.[52][53] However, the "Race to the Top" regulations award the points even if states adopt standards more rigorous than the optional, common standards.[54]


  1. "State Education Data Profiles". National Assessment of Educational Progress. 2005. Retrieved December 25, 2007.
  2. "Quality Counts 2010" (PDF). Education Week. January 14, 2010. Retrieved April 2, 2010.
  3. "Virginia School Report Card". Virginia Department of Education. 2007. Retrieved February 2, 2008.
  4. Glod, Maria (October 9, 2008). "81% Got Diplomas On Time This Year". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 20, 2008.
  5. Wiley, Sandra, and Marshall, Paxton. "The Virginia Assembly on Policy for Elementary and Secondary Education in Virginia: Issues For the Commonwealth. 1984.
  6. Heatwole, Cornelius. "A History of Education in Virginia". The Macmillan Company. 1916. p. 43
  7. Unger, Harlow. "Encyclopedia of American Education." Facts on File Publishing. 2007. p. 1185.
  8. Buck, J.L. "The Development of Public Schools in Virginia." 1952. p. 17.
  10. Tim Kaine Official Website (August 6, 2008). "Southside Child Development Tour". Commonwealth of Virginia. Retrieved August 6, 2008.
  11. "State Report Cards" (PDF). Virginia Department of Education. April 2, 2010. Retrieved April 6, 2010.
  12. "Virginia Public Schools - By Division". Virginia Department of Education. 2010. Retrieved April 6, 2010.
  13. Will, George F. (6 June 2010). "Column:the teacher bailout". Washington, DC: Washington Post. pp. A15.
  14. "Governor's School Program". Virginia Department of Education. 2010. Retrieved February 12, 2010.
  15. "VCPE Mission Statement". Virginia Council for Private Education. July 9, 2009. Retrieved September 11, 2009.
  16. "Home-Schooled Students and Religious Exemptions" (XLS). Virginia Department of Education. February 12, 2010. Retrieved December 10, 2009.
  17. "The Top of the Class". Newsweek. 2008. Retrieved January 13, 2009.
  18. Anderson, Nick (December 5, 2008). "Thomas Jefferson High School Named Top in Nation". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 5, 2008.
  19. Mathews, Jay (December 13, 2007). "Alexandria, Arlington Schools Lead Nation in AP, IB Testing". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 13, 2007.
  20. "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)". Virtual Virginia. VDoE. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  21. "Virtual Virginia: Course Offerings". Virtual Virginia. VDoE. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  22. "Virtual Virginia: Desire2Learn". Virtual Virginia. VDoE. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  23. 1 2 Seiff, Kevin (October 20, 2010). "In Va., an old front reemerges in battles over Civil War history". Washington Post. p. A1.
  24. 1 2 Sieff, Kevin (October 22, 2010). "No expert reviewed disputed Va. text". Washington Post. p. B1.
  25. Retrieved 2010-10-20.
  26. 1 2
  27. 1 2 3
  28. Kincheloe, Joe, and Weil, Danny. "Standards and Schooling in The United States." ABC Clio Publishing. 2001. p.713-714.
  29. Virginia Department of Education. "Standards of Learning Objectives For Virginia Public Schools." 1984. p. iii.
  30. Winkler, A (2002). "Division in the Ranks: Standardized Testing Draws Lines Between New and Veteran Teachers". Phi Delta Kappan. 84 (3): 219–225.
  31. Berube, C (2004). "Are Standards Preventing Good Teaching". Clearing House. 77 (6): 264–267. doi:10.3200/tchs.77.6.264-268.
  32. Crum, K; Hellman, G (2009). "School Board Decision Making in the Era of No Child Left Behind". Educational Planning. 18 (1): 11–25.
  34. 1 2 3 4 5
  35. Jolly, J; Makel, M (2010). "No Child Left Behind, The Inadvertent Costs for High-Achieving and Gifted Students". Childhood Education. Fall 2010: 35–40.
  36. Berman, S (2004). "NCLB Supplants Our Greatest Teaching Task Since 9/11". Education Digest. 70 (2): 8–14.
  37. "Monticello and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville". UNESCO. October 15, 2008. Retrieved October 14, 2008.
  38. 1 2 "College Navigator — Search Results". National Center for Education Statistics. United States Department of Education. 2010. Retrieved April 2, 2010.
  39. "Top Public National Universities 2009". U.S. News and World Report. 2008. Retrieved September 29, 2008.
  40. "History & Traditions". College of William and Mary. 2008. Retrieved October 22, 2008.
  41. "JMU Holds Top Public Regional Rank for 14th Year in 'U.S. News' Survey". Public Affairs. James Madison University. August 17, 2007. Retrieved April 11, 2008.
  43. Conley, Jay (August 12, 2007). "'Just like the guys': A decade of women at VMI". The Roanoke Times. Retrieved October 22, 2008.
  44. Conley, Jay (August 22, 2008). "HVMI retains U.S. News' rank as No. 3". The Roanoke Times. Retrieved September 30, 2008.
  45. "2008–2009 Fall Headcount Enrollment". State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. 2009. Retrieved September 5, 2009.
  46. "Fast Facts". Virginia’s Community Colleges. 2008. Retrieved August 3, 2009.
  47. de Vise, Daniel (October 24, 2010). "Athletic fees are a large, and sometimes hidden, cost at colleges". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-08-29.
  48. "Public university athletic fees in Maryland and Virginia". The Washington Post. October 24, 2010. Retrieved 2014-08-29.
  49. Nick Anderson and Rosalind Helderman (May 27, 2010). "Virginia Withdraws from Obama's Race to the Top". Washington Post. p. B4.
  50. "Race to the Top Program Guidance and Frequently Asked Questions" (PDF). US Department of Education. May 27, 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-11. Race to the Top does not endorse any particular consortium or set of standards. Criterion (B)(1) specifies characteristics of consortia and standards that earn States points under this criterion.
  51. Kumar, Anita (June 1, 2010). "McDonnell on MSNBC: Race to the Top too burdensome". Washington Post.
  52. Garofalo, Pat (June 1, 2010). "McDonnell Falsely Claims That Race To The Top Would Force Virginia To Lower Its Academic Standards". Retrieved 2010-06-11.
  53. "McDonnell on MSNBC: Race to the Top would bring "burdensome" federal standards". Retrieved 2010-06-11.
  54. "Overview Information: Race to the Top Fund". Federal Register. November 18, 2009. Retrieved 2010-06-11. A State may supplement the common standards with additional standards, provided that the additional standards do not exceed 15 percent of the State's total standards for that content area.

Further reading

Buck, J.L. "The Development of Public Schools in Virginia." 1952. p. 17.

Heatwole, Cornelius. "A History of Education in Virginia". The Macmillan Company. 1916. p. 43

Kincheloe, Joe, and Weil, Danny. "Standards and Schooling in The United States." ABC Clio Publishing. 2001. p. 713-714.

Unger, Harlow. "Encyclopedia of American Education." Facts on File Publishing. 2007. p. 1185.

Virginia Department of Education. "Standards of Learning Objectives For Virginia Public Schools." 1984. p. iii.

Wiley, Sandra, and Marshall, Paxton. "The Virginia Assembly on Policy for Elementary and Secondary Education in Virginia: Issues For the Commonwealth. 1984.

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