HJR 170: Commission on Access and Diversity in Higher Education

July 19, 2002
September 23, 2002
November 14, 2002

The commission held its first meeting of the interim to continue its work concerning closing the academic achievement gap between African-American and other race students, the supply and demand of classroom teachers, the diversity of faculty and staff at public colleges and universities, the admission, persistence, and retention rates of minority students, No Child Left Behind, P.L. 107-110, and the Accord Between the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights and the Commonwealth.

Legislative History

The U. S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Fordice, 112 S.Ct. 2727 (1992) required the dismantling of vestiges of the dual system of public higher education in the nation. As a result of this decision, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights was directed to review all of the Adams states for compliance with the Court's ruling in Fordice. Upon the recommendation of the Joint Subcommittee Studying the Status of and Need for Academic Preparation, Financial Assistance, and Incentive Programs to Encourage Minorities to Pursue Postsecondary Education and Training (HJR 638, 1993), the Commission on Access and Diversity in Higher Education, formerly referred to as the Commission on the Impact of Certain Federal Court Decisions on the Common-wealth's Institutions of Higher Education (Fordice), was established in 1996, pursuant to HJR 184. The commission was directed, among other things, to: study issues pertaining to the access and affordability of higher education for minority students; examine the continuum of education in Virginia relative to the under-representation of African- American students in higher education; evaluate college recruitment and admission criteria, retention rates, and factors affecting minority student persistence; review the legal obligations upon the Commonwealth imposed by federal and state court decisions on the desegregation of public colleges and universities; and recommend appropriate strategies to ensure compliance with applicable federal and state court decisions, laws, and policies.

Continued in 1998 as the Commission on Access and Diversity in Higher Education during the federal civil rights review of the Commonwealth, the commission was directed to include in its deliberations consideration of ways to address the supply and demand for classroom teachers, particularly the recruitment and retention of minority teachers, and to act as liaison between the General Assembly and the U.S. Office for Civil Rights.

Since 1998, the commission has concentrated on addressing the factors associated with the under-representation of minority students in higher education, the continuum of public education, K-20, the academic preparation of minority students, establishing a blueprint for closing the academic achievement gap, the supply and demand of classroom teachers, ways to promote faculty diversity, reviewing the experience of other states in these areas, and identifying successful strategies to address these problems. Monitoring the federal civil rights review by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights also claimed a considerable amount of the commission's attention.

The Accord

On November 7, 2001, the Governor, Virginia Secretary of Education, and the Office of the Attorney General, on behalf of the Commonwealth, and the United States Secretary of Education and other federal officials entered into an accord to conclude the five-year federal civil rights compliance review precipitated by the Fordice decision. The agreement reached between the state and federal governments requires substantial funding, beginning in the 2002–2004 biennium, to provide parity between Norfolk State University and Virginia State University and the other senior state-supported four-year institutions, and to comply in good faith with other points of agreement. With the signing of the agreement, the Commonwealth entered a five-year monitoring and reporting phase required by the U.S. Department of Education to ensure continuous progress towards the goals enumerated in the agreement, whereby failure of the Commonwealth to adhere to the terms of the agreement may result in the loss of federal funds and costly litigation brought by the U.S. Department of Justice.

July 19, 2002

The Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, the Secretary of Education, and the Deputy Solicitor of the Attorney General's Office briefed the commission concerning the status of the accord. It was noted that a five-year monitoring and reporting phase has begun in which Virginia would have to submit regular reports to the federal government detailing how the terms of the accord for which it is responsible are being accomplished. Of particular interest to the commission was information pertaining to budget reductions made by the 2002 General Assembly and Virginia's ability to comply with the accord. In addition, the deputy solicitor apprised the commission of guidance provided to public institutions of higher education relative to the use of racial preferences, the provisions of the accord, and the Center for Equality's Report, Racial Discrimination Found at Virginia Law Schools.

The Secretary of Education reviewed the funding provided in the 2002–2004 biennium budget to support the accord and announced the inauguration of the Governor's Partnership for Achieving Successful Schools (PASS), noting that it will assist Virginia in raising the academic achievement of students in low-performing schools, a requirement of No Child Left Behind, the new federal school reform law. A presentation was given by the staff of the Department of Education relating to the academic achievement of minority students in Virginia and the status of the implementation of the requirement to provide information on the achievements and contributions of racial, ethnic, and disabled populations in the Standards of Learning for social studies.

A discussion ensued regarding the State Council of Higher Education's executive director's presentation pertaining to efforts underway in higher education to ensure college access and affordability. These efforts include the development of a statewide strategic and coordinated plan to promote academic preparation of students, early information to students and their parents regarding Virginia's higher education system, admissions requirements, financial aid opportunities and programs to target first-generation and at-risk students, a web-based student advising system, and supportive public policies.

The commission was invited to send representatives to the bi-annual Education Retreat hosted by the House Committee on Education and the Senate Committee on Education and Health on September 10-12, 2002, at Westmoreland State Park. The education retreat will focus on briefing legislative members concerning the new federal ESEA, No Child Left Behind. Following this discussion, the staff presented the status report and study plan for the 2002 interim. The commission also agreed to participate in the American Council on Education's Women of Color Conference to be held later during the year.

September 23, 2002

The thematic foci of the meeting included a report on the education retreat, closing the academic achievement gap K-12, the Governor's Partnership for Achieving Successful Schools (PASS), efforts of institutions of higher education to close the academic achievement gap, and the admission and retention rates of minority students at state colleges and universities.


In response to the need to raise academic achievement, Virginia led the nation in school reform initiatives, adopting in 1995 Standards of Learning in English, mathematics, science, and history and social science. Assessment results for these standards in 1998 indicated that only 39 schools (2 percent of 134 school divisions) were fully accredited. However, by 2001, Standards of Learning assessments showed that 731 schools or 40 percent were fully accredited, 558 (30 percent) met the state's progress benchmarks, and 117 schools (7 percent) remained in the lowest category, Accredited with Warning. Of this number, 34 schools are Title I (high-poverty) schools with warnings in English and/or mathematics for the second consecutive year.

The Department of Education's director of the Office of School Improvement explained that PASS, a partnership between schools, parents, businesses, and the community, was initiated to give special attention and assistance to at-risk schools. The following principles constitute the foundation of PASS:

  • Engage businesses, community groups and individual citizens as partners.
  • Improve reading and mathematics achievement in schools currently accredited with warning.
  • Build the capacity of schools to maintain high student achievement.
  • Encourage parents to provide essential support in the home.

This program has targeted more than 100 schools with an academic warning. It was noted that in 90 percent of the schools accredited with warning, the curriculum often is not fully aligned with the Standards of Learning, data on student achievement are not used in making instructional decisions, and 34 Title I (high-poverty) schools are already subject to school improvement sanctions under the new federal law, No Child Left Behind. These schools are eligible to receive enhanced services from visiting academic review teams. Thirty-four of these schools have been designated as PASS Priority Schools, indicating that they will receive additional intervention and follow-up to track the progress made by students, teachers, and administrators.

Schools accredited with warning have been categorized according to their needs under four models of intervention (see box).

Model I Intervention

  • Enhanced academic review provides staff development programs designed to address the schools' areas of academic weakness.
  • Academic review team leaders maintain relationships with principals of reviewed schools to assist in the implementation of school improvement plans.

Model II Intervention

  • PASS instructional assistance teams target 26 of the 34 PASS priority schools to achieve immediate increases in student achievement in reading and mathematics.
  • Teams are led by a principal from a cooperating school division with a record of raising the academic achievement of at-risk students. Other team members include teachers with expertise in reading and mathematics.
  • The coordinating team conducts intensive summer teacher institutes followed by 12 days of technical assistance during the school year.
  • The coordinating team ensures that curriculum is aligned with the Standards of Learning and that assessment data is analyzed to improve instruction.
  • Regular testing (every 9 weeks) is conducted to assess progress.

Model III Intervention

  • Full-time support teams are assigned to two PASS priority schools in both Richmond and Portsmouth.
  • Faculty receives professional-development services tailored to each school's instructional needs.
  • Students receive tutoring in reading and mathematics, and are paired with mentors for support and encouragement.
  • Families are offered adult literacy services.
  • Regular testing (every 9 weeks) is conducted to assess progress.
  • Selected schools in both Portsmouth and Richmond are targeted for Model III Intervention.

Model IV Intervention

  • Division-wide intervention is provided to all Petersburg public schools through an intervention and assistance plan developed by the Appalachian Educational Laboratory and the Virginia Department of Education.
  • A division-level intervention coordinator is designated to provide assistance to the central office and school-level coordinators for each school.
  • Includes 10 schools accredited with warning including four PASS priority schools.

Admissions and Retention Rates

The director of Institutional Research and Technology Services and the senior associate for academic affairs of the State Council on Higher Education addressed the commission concerning the current data, data trends, and factors that impact college admissions and retention rates for minority students at Virginia institutions of higher education. It is projected that in the next 10 years, Virginia's population will grow by eight percent (548,000). Between 2001 and 2010, the number of public high school graduates is expected to increase by 10 percent (6,500), and minority students will comprise 37 percent of these graduates by 2007. However, data concerning high school graduation and college participation rates by race and ethnicity reveal disparity between the races. This disparity is attributed, in part, to family income, poor academic achievement, admission policies, family stability and level of education, economic deprivation, campus climate, and the lack of mentoring, financial aid, family and community support systems. Whereas no one factor dooms an individual to failure, the effects of multiple negative indicators exact a toll that is not easily overcome. Attainment of a college education has added significance in the 21st century. Optimal social and economic benefits accrue to individuals and society when minorities are academically prepared for life's pursuits.

No Child Left Behind

On January 8, 2002, President Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). No Child Left Behind is considered historic legislation because it requires the most sweeping changes in public education since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was enacted in 1965, and it garnered unprecedented bipartisan support. This new law builds upon educational reforms instituted following the release of the report, A Nation At Risk, and provides a plan for comprehensive education reform for grades K-12 in the public schools throughout the nation. This new law rests upon four reform principles: accountability, flexibility, research-based reforms, and parental options.

Virginia has met the requirement to develop state standards through the Standards of Learning (SOLs), which included standards for reading, mathematics, and science. Standards for student achievement have also been aligned with the content standards. However, Virginia must develop or adopt tests for grades 4, 6, and 7 in mathematics, reading or language arts. Tests for science must be implemented by the 2007–2008 school year for a one-time administration in grades 3 through 5, 6 through 9, and 10 through 12. Science tests for grades 3, 5, and 8 and high school are already in place.

Other requirements of all states include: (i) participation in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP); (ii) annual school and school division report cards by 2002–2003, and later, a state report card due to Virginia's receipt of Title I funds; (iii) school support and recognition systems; and (iv) qualified teachers. With the school improvement plans and the Governor's PASS program, a part of the school support and recognition systems is in place. Teacher quality is recognized as essential to student achievement. By the 2002–2003 school year, (i) any new teacher hired with Title I funds must meet the new "highly qualified" teacher requirements, (ii) new paraprofessionals hired with Title I funds must meet new standards of quality—at least an associate degree, and (iii) states and school districts must report their progress toward ensuring that all teachers are highly qualified. By the 2005–2006 school year, all teachers must be "highly qualified" in the subjects they teach, and all paraprofessionals working in programs supported by Title I funds must meet the requirements of "highly qualified." No Child Left Behind ties "highly qualified" to full licensure by the state, bachelor's degree, passage of a state-required examination to demonstrate subject knowledge and teaching skills, and professional development. Given the shortage of teachers, particularly in the critical teaching shortage disciplines and in certain geographic areas, meeting this requirement may pose a significant challenge for many states, including Virginia.

November 14, 2002

The third meeting of the interim was devoted to an in-depth analysis of the causes of and solutions to the academic achievement gap, national trends in faculty diversity, factors that contribute to the low representation of minorities among faculty and in administrative positions at public colleges and universities, the accord and the impact of budget reductions, progress in test scores among minority students in grades K-12, articulation programs between two-year and four-year public institutions of higher education, the Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership, the nexus between preschool education and academic achievement, provisions of No Child Left Behind related to the commission's work, implementation of No Child Left Behind in Virginia, and appointment of a citizens advisory task force to assist the commission in its work.

Improving Schools for African-American Students

The director of the U.S. Department of Education's Mid-Atlantic Equity Center, first citing ways in which state legislatures can improve the education of African-American students, discussed four major causes of the academic achievement gap between African-American and other race students. She noted that

one of the still prevalent underlying erroneous and harmful beliefs among teachers and students is that African-American children come to school with cultural deficits, which gets translated into assumptions about the cognitive abilities of such children and education practices such as tracking and assigning these children to special education classes at disproportionately higher levels than their peers in other ethnic and cultural groups. The school's negative perception of the cognitive abilities of African-American children creates a climate of low expectations and low performance. For too many black students school is simply the place where, more concertedly, persistently, and authoritatively than anywhere else in society, they learn how little valued they are.

Too many African-American students lack exposure to a rigorous academic curriculum. Frequently, minority students are tracked into low-ability groups with the least qualified teachers and misidentified for special education classes. Setting measurable achievement goals driven by data that is related to increased academic achievement and closing existing academic gaps should be a priority. Often, teachers lack experiences with diversity outside of the classroom and their knowledge about the culture of other racial and ethnic people is limited. Teachers emerging from teacher education programs are more likely to have been trained by white middle-class professors or by older faculty who have less experience in teaching children from diverse cultures. Consequently, these teachers enter urban, racially, ethnically, economically, and linguistically mixed classrooms ill-prepared to teach a diverse group of students. Commenting further, she noted that the unequal distribution of resources perpetuates the academic achievement gap. School systems serving poor and disadvantaged students require more resources due to the severity of the problems that must be addressed.

The following suggestions were offered as ways in which state legislatures can improve the education of African-American students and thereby close the academic achievement gap.

  • End the practice of (i) out-of- field teaching, (ii) the unequal distribution of resources, and (iii) assigning the most inexperienced and least qualified teachers to schools with the most disadvantaged students.
  • Eliminate tracking.
  • Require (i) an academically rigorous curriculum for African-American students, (ii) beginning teachers to have mentors and reduced teaching loads, and (iii) teachers to have field teaching experience with students from diverse cultures.

Faculty Diversity

Data from the American Council on Education indicate that although considerable work remains to improve the representation of racial and ethnic minorities in higher education, student bodies at colleges and universities are now more diverse than ever before. By 2015, 80 percent of the anticipated 2.6 million new college students will be from under-represented racial groups. Nationwide, the number of undergraduate minority students enrolled in colleges and universities will increase from 29.4 percent to 37.2 percent. While institutions have made efforts to diversify their campuses, racial and ethnic minorities remain under-represented among the faculty. Faculty are not evenly distributed across institutional type, disciplines, or academic ranks. African-Americans are concentrated in lower faculty ranks; Hispanics are largely employed at two-year institutions; and Asian-Americans comprise only 0.9 percent of the CEO positions at colleges and universities. The primary obstacle to achieving faculty diversity is the academy's history of exclusion and racism. In addition, myths and stereotypes about the recruitment of faculty of color help to maintain the status quo. A diverse faculty offers certain academic, civic, and economic benefits. Instruction by a diverse faculty can strengthen scholarship and expose students and colleagues to other perspectives and experiences. Institutions that offer diverse interactions and exchange inside and outside the classroom better prepare their students for the marketplace of ideas, and provide them the competitive skills needed for success in the global community.

The role of state policy-makers in promoting faculty diversity includes (i) strong, visible support, (ii) a comprehensive examination of the recruitment and retention practices of faculty of color at public institutions of higher education, (iii) encouraging institutions to assess their campus climate, hiring practices and protocols, and tenure and promotion protocols, and (iv) continued support of the Southern Regional Education Board's Doctoral Scholars Program.

Representatives of the State Council of Higher Education and the Virginia Community College System presented Virginia-specific information concerning faculty diversity, enrollment and retention rates of minority students at community colleges, the preparation of paraprofessionals as required by No Child Left Behind, and articulation programs between two-year and four-year institutions. Regarding faculty diversity, it was noted that diversity plays a role in increasing cognitive learning, complex thinking, and personal development, more effective mentoring of minority students, and the increase in an institution's ability to attract minority students into doctoral programs. Minority faculty are more likely to be untenured and be paid at lower average salaries than their white counterparts. The stereotypes of the caliber of minority scholarship negatively impact faculty promotion opportunities. Further, doctoral programs are not producing sufficient numbers of African-American scholars to replace retiring faculty of color.

The Virginia Community College System has experienced over 200 percent growth since 1988, and since 1969, minority student enrollments have increased from 1 in 10 in the early 1970s to 1 in 3 students currently. Retention has improved for all students, and blacks have shown improvement across all retention measures, although their percentage is below that of other minority groups. Graduation rates have decreased for all students since 1989; however, recent data show that the decline has begun to reverse for most minorities and black students. A smaller percentage of minorities transfer to four-year colleges and universities. Only 1 in 5 black students who persist and study for at least one semester transfer to four-year institutions. Since 1997, remedial students have increased more than 25 percent. In fall 2001, 42 percent of remedial students were minorities, whereas 18 percent of community college students were enrolled in remedial courses. The Virginia Community College System is implementing an articulation program for teacher education with certain four-year institutions. It is envisioned that this program will be the conduit for training paraprofessionals for the classroom and students who would be prepared to transfer to a teacher education program at a four-year institution.

Monitoring the Accord

The first and second reports on the status of the Common-wealth's implementation of the accord signed in November 2001 were submitted to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights on January 31, 2002, and on July 31, 2002, respectively, by the Office of the Attorney General. The deputy solicitor, commenting on the reports, indicated the Commonwealth's commitment to accomplishing substantial program and facility enhancements at Virginia State University and Norfolk State University. Governor Gilmore's proposed budget included $21.8 million in new money for the institutions, and a Higher Education Bond Initiative for the 21st Century to provide funding for the capital improvement projects at the schools. However, the fiscal crisis gripping the Commonwealth has required across-the-board budget cuts for all state agencies. Institutions of higher education were given permission to raise tuition to offset the resulting lost revenue. Although these reductions were limited at Norfolk State University and Virginia State University, there is concern that further reductions in state funding to these institutions may jeopardize the Com-monwealth's ability to maintain good faith compliance with the accord.

Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership, Mary Baldwin College

Students from the Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership at Mary Baldwin College, accompanied by the Institute's director and the associate vice-president for college relations, spoke to the commission regarding their experiences at the school. The Institute is a holistic leadership program designed for women and is the only all-female Corps of Cadets in the world. Students develop a broad range of leadership styles to prepare them for success in all arenas. The curriculum is demanding and cadets may choose to commission in the U.S. Armed Forces. The corps provides significant opportunities for women of color, who constitute 36 percent of the Institute's students.

Student Progress on SOLs

The Board of Education president presented recent data on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) and the Standards of Learning (SOL) assessments which indicate improvement in the academic achievement of African-American students. Noteworthy were gains in test scores for minority students on the SOL assessments for third and fifth grade reading, fifth grade writing and math, and fourth and eighth grade math on NAEP. Minority students in Virginia had the highest gain in the nation in fourth grade math and had the third highest gains in eighth grade math.

Teacher Quality, Supply and Demand

The quality of teaching in the classroom is the single most important school factor in improving student achievement, according to the report of the Board of Education and the State Council of Higher Education's Committee to Enhance the K-12 Teaching Profession in Virginia. No Child Left Behind requires all public schools in the nation to place "highly qualified" teachers in the classroom. However, the associate superintendent for teacher education and licensure indicated in his presentation that given the expected decline in the supply of classroom teachers in the Commonwealth between 2000 and 2015, meeting the new federal requirement is a challenge. In 2001, school divisions reported 4,136 vacancies and teachers instructing outside their area of endorsement, nearly triple the number in 1999. The average teacher salary in Virginia ranked third among the 16 member Southern Regional Education Board states in the 1989-1990 school year. In the 2001-2002 school year, 79 percent of Virginia's school divisions had salaries below $35,000 for teachers with 10 years of experience. Nationally, teachers who enter the profession without preparation leave at rates of nearly 60 percent within the first two years of teaching and produce lower student achievement while they are teachers. Almost 39 percent of teachers nationally leave the profession within five years, and teacher attrition is acute in high poverty urban and rural school systems. Strategies to ensure competent, qualified teachers in every classroom include the development of a comprehensive database to support Virginia's commitment to teacher quality, the expansion of efforts to attract and retain competent, caring, and qualified teachers, providing high-quality teacher education programs for every teacher candidate, and designing methods to evaluate the effectiveness of teacher quality initiatives.

Nexus Between Preschool Education and Academic Achievement

Research indicates a correlation between quality preschool education programs and academic achievement. A quality preschool education program consists of a developmentally appropriate curriculum, a positive learning environment, qualified staff, early intervention, and parent involvement. Richmond public schools' coordinator for Head Start Programs briefed the commission on the benefits of a quality preschool education programs and the link to good academic performance. Studies show that former preschool children demonstrate good academic progress in the first four years of public school in reading and math skills. By the end of the second and third grade, these students perform essentially at the national average. Children who have had the advantage of a quality preschool education program continue to advance to levels at and slightly above the national average in second and third grades. These children also show positive social and behavioral adjustment and with good health care, 77 percent of them are rated as having excellent or very good health, which limits chronic conditions and health problems that can impede learning. Quality preschool education programs have a positive effect on the families of children that they serve. Many families experience a decreased need for public assistance, become more self-sufficient, improve their living conditions, and actively participate in school life with their children.

The meeting was concluded with the presentation of staff reports concerning other legislative studies and No Child Left Behind that were requested by the commission. The commission held its last meeting of the interim on December 10, 2002.


The Hon. Beverly J. Sherwood
The Hon. Frederick M. Quayle

For information, contact:

Brenda H. Edwards
Division of Legislative Services


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