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C H A P T E R 3 ————— Growing Bigger and More Diverse The forces that have shaped and continue to influence public education in Fairfax County are no different than those that have affected most suburban school systems across the United States. The opening chapters focused on the pivotal roles of court decisions , demographics, and economics in the three decades following the Brown decision. From the mid-’80s through the first years of the new millennium, these factors continued to present major challenges for Fairfax educators. So, too, did the rise of partisan politics and the ever-expanding role of federal and state government in local education. The present chapter reviews changes in school enrollment in Fairfax County, especially the resumption of population growth and the increasing diversity of the student body, and the impact of these changes on school system programs and policies . Chapter 4 then examines the growing politicization of education in Fairfax, especially concerning school finances. From 1985 until 2004, Fairfax County, along with the rest of the United States, experienced two major periods of economic growth and two periods of sustained economic decline. How the school system responded to these shifts reveals a great deal about the changing politics of suburban education. Chapter 5 focuses on the impact of the accountability movement on Fairfax County Public Schools. First the state of Virginia and then the federal government launched initiatives designed to raise academic standards and promote educational accountability. In responding to these initiatives, Fairfax County educators demonstrated how an excellent school system can get even better. While demographic changes, economic ups and downs, local politics , and government initiatives will be addressed somewhat independently , anyone familiar with public education realizes that these forces are highly interactive. When the number of students from poor families rises, for example, the demand for costly educational 67 programs often increases without a commensurate expansion of the tax base. Complex decisions must be made about how to allocate limited educational resources. Politics comes into play, as special interest groups defend their pet programs against possible budget cuts. State and federal government may be called on to intervene when the interests of particular groups of students are considered to be at risk of inadequate funding and attention. Only by considering how these various forces have impacted Fairfax County Public Schools can we gain an understanding of the evolution of a suburban education empire. Enrollment Growth, the Sequel After a decade of declining school enrollments, Fairfax County’s school-age population began to rise again in the fall of 1984, and it had not abated by 2004. The story of renewed growth, however, is not to be told in numbers alone, for many of the new students represented “nontraditional” groups. Addressing the varied educational needs of these newcomers has posed a number of challenges for Fairfax educators. When Fairfax schools opened for the fall semester of 1987, they welcomed 3,000 new students, bringing total enrollment to nearly 131,000 students (Cohn, September 3, 1987). Fairfax had risen by this point to the rank of 10th largest school system in the United States. Having anticipated much of the surge, FCPS prepared to open six new schools—five elementary schools and one high school—the following year in the rapidly growing southern and western sectors of the county. It is worth noting that the new elementary schools were roughly twice the size of the previous generation of elementary schools. Over a million square feet of new school space—a record at the time—awaited Fairfax students in 1988. As the finishing touches were put on the six new schools, Superintendent Spillane readied a proposal to build five additional schools (Cohn, December 15, 1987). The kind of growth experienced by Fairfax County, of course, cannot always be predicted with complete accuracy. Many students and parents suffered through overcrowding and anxieties concerning school boundary shifts, as they waited for new schools to be completed. By the fall of 1990 the steady increase in schoolage population resulted in boundary-change proposals affecting 50 68 Education Empire of Fairfax’s 156 schools, primarily in the northern and eastern sectors of the county, where growth had slowed or ceased altogether (Redding, November 15, 1990). While the primary goal of these proposals was stated, at least publicly, to be the relief of overcrowding , district officials acknowledged that a secondary aim was to distribute minority students more evenly among Fairfax schools. The importance of this aim was not universally acknowledged , however...


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