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Virginia was on the cutting edge of education reform when it rolled out state standards in math, English and other subjects in 1995.
These days, the mantle of reform resides elsewhere, along with federal money that helps pay for it.
"When people talk about leading states, they don't talk about Virginia any more," said Andy Rotherham, a former state Board of Education member who co-founded nonprofit Bellwether Education.
"We're resting on accomplishments instead of looking forward as we should," he said.
Want proof? Follow the money, says Rotherham.
Virginia came in 31st out of 41 applicants in the first round of a $4 billion competition to fuel innovative educational programs. Delaware and Tennessee won. Virginia didn't apply for the second round of the competition, called Race to the Top.
Four of the biggest educational reforms gaining steam nationally, largely because of the new funds, are common standards and assessments, charter schools, teacher accountability and improving low-performing schools.
Virginia ranks low in each of those areas.
For years, Virginia was a model for other states in the area of common standards and assessments. It was among the first in the nation to aggressively implement statewide standards and tests to measure academic progress.
But every state has now developed accountability programs to meet national mandates. Some are more rigorous than Virginia's, and the state has been criticized for leaving students unprepared for college and work.
The trend is toward a set of national standards and tests that are the same in every state.
Virginia educators were among leaders from 48 states who developed a set of English and math standards, called the Common Core. But when it came time to commit to using them, Virginia refused, saying the state's own Standards of Learning are superior.
"We do have an established record that is a decade old," state Board of Education President Eleanor Saslaw said at a news conference in May. "We do not feel comfortable changing this program."
Common standards take the best ideas from the states and don't lower expectations, said former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, now president of the Alliance for Excellent Education.
"Given that six to eight states have essentially already adopted, and 20 will be considering before September, there is widespread recognition that these goals are being met," he said.
By resting on its laurels, Virginia risks falling behind other states that continue to evolve educational practices, experts say.
Money is flowing to states willing to adopt new standards and take a chance on innovative learning programs.
Last week, three groups representing 46 states applied for $350 million in federal grants to develop tests to match the common standards. The tests would go beyond the multiple-choice format Virginia's tests use, including performance tasks and online exams that change based on student responses.
Virginia did not participate.
Virginia has been slow to welcome charter schools, public schools run by outside groups. The schools use freedom from regulations to try alternative approaches to learning.
Virginia, which will have four charters this fall compared with hundreds in some states, is far more hostile to the schools than most places. Charter schools still must be approved by local boards of education, which often are opposed to sharing funds with start-ups.
The Center for Education Reform, which supports charters, gave the state's charter law an F in January and ranked it second-worst in the country.
Gov. Bob McDonnell pushed legislators to improve the law, and he considers charter schools one of his top educational priorities. What passed the General Assembly was a minor change that funnels all charter school applications through the state Board of Education.
A panel of experts told a state charter school committee last week that successful charters need flexibility to budget, hire and fire, and schedule school days as they see fit, conditions that don't exist in Virginia. The state Board of Education in January plans to adopt guidelines for charter school applications, and may also waive some rules.
"This is a step in the right direction," said Steve Mancini, public affairs director for KIPP, the Knowledge is Power Program that runs a well-regarded network of charter schools in 19 states.
But, he said Virginia is still not an attractive state for charters. "You'll need to see freedom opening up for school leaders, and choice among sponsors."
A large body of research indicates that teacher effectiveness drives student achievement. In Virginia, student test scores aren't linked back to teachers, who have to be evaluated once every three years.
Patricia Wright, the state superintendent of public instruction, said she supports stronger evaluations. In May, the state won $17.5 million in federal funds to improve its data system so that students can be tracked from pre-K to jobs and teachers can be matched to students.
Other states have made progress faster. The National Council on Teacher Quality in 2009 gave Virginia a D+ ranking on teacher quality and accountability. Florida ranked highest with a C.
The study criticized Virginia for making tenure virtually automatic, failing to make student performance a key part of teacher evaluation, lacking consequences for poor evaluations and having no simple way to terminate ineffective teachers.
Florida, by contrast, measures student performance in evaluations, puts teachers with poor reviews on an improvement plan and makes them eligible for dismissal if they don't improve.
When the federal government asked Virginia to name its worst schools, the state selected 65 out of about 1,860.
The worst 22, including two in Norfolk, had reading and math performance in the bottom 5 percent and had not shown significant improvement over the past two years.
Other states are improving their schools faster. "Over time, we'll pay a price for inattention to these issues," said Rotherham, the former state board member.
According to a report issued June 30 by the Southern Regional Education Board, 56 percent of black fourth-graders in Virginia scored at or above the "basic" level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2009, a test known as the Nation's Report Card.
While that's a slight improvement over previous years and above the national average, 82 percent of white students reached the "basic" level or better last year. The results are similar in math.
"School improvement is not a quick fix," said Virginia McLaughlin, a state Board of Education member and dean of the William and Mary School of Education. "I think we're on a course that's very solid."