Home 2019 Elections Audio: Gov. Northam’s Secretary of Education, Atif Qarni, Rips Youngkin Education Report...

Audio: Gov. Northam’s Secretary of Education, Atif Qarni, Rips Youngkin Education Report as “Weird,” “Unethical,” “Political Stunt” Using “Cherry-Picked,” “Manufactured” Data

Qarni: Youngkin "want[s] to segregate schools; privatization generally leads to segregation...this administration...needs to be stopped"


See below for audio and highlights from an interview I did a little while ago with former Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni on the Youngkin administration’s new education report, which Virginia Senate Democrats ripped as a “joke,” “dog-whistle talking points”; “outright lie, supported by cherry-picked data and warped perspective” and “show[ing] once again that Governor Youngkin wants to take us back to the days of Jim Crow.” According to former Secretary Qarni:

  • “I think it’s just a political stunt to disparage inaccurately the past two administrations and their work and create this facade that somehow Virginia education has been destroyed under the last two Democratic administrations.
  • Qarni agrees with the VA Senate Democrats’ statement that this report is an “outright lie, supported by cherry-picked data and warped perspective.
  • The Youngkin administration people “clearly don’t know what they’re doing with education at least, but what should be talked about is are we taking a whole-government approach to improve the quality [of education]...I don’t think they have a deep understanding how each individual is part of multiple systems and we have to take a whole-government and a whole-child approach…they don’t talk about education in that way. This is a very narrow lane, hyper-focused on assessments, but even within that they’ve just cherry-picked data and made some broad generalizations. So it’s just a little bizarre report and bizarre way of looking at things. It’s just not a good model to really thoroughly understand what we need to do with education.”
  • “Yes, I would argue that…overall, the quality of education in Virginia improved [in the Northam administration] and I can point to a variety of studies…a variety of rankings…”
  • “They talk about three…data points, which again are…cherry picked and completely manufactured in a way to make some really grossly inappropriate generalizations.”
  • Regarding declines in student performance during the COVID pandemic and school shutdowns: “It’s not a Virginia-specific issue, it’s a global issue.”
  • Regarding the Youngkin administration report claiming that “Virginia now has the lowest proficiency standards in reading and mathematics in the nation, resulting in the wide ‘honesty gaps’ between the performance of students on state Standards of Learning tests and performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), ” Qarni said he doesn’t buy that at all, that it’s “completely false.” Qarni added that “Virginia has some of the most rigorous standards of learning, including in reading and mathematics.” He added that it’s “not accurate” that Virginia during the Northam administration watered down any standards. 
  • “What they’ve done with this report, that is kind of like a weird report, it’s not even…ethical…it’s all over the place…nothing was watered down…Actually, the Virginia model…standards of accreditation we implemented is considered one of the best ones across the country.”
  • Why are we only focusing on the years the Democrats were [in charge]? Let’s take the last 30 years and see what really happened…AP participation over the years has increased…but that’s a small set of the student body we’re talking about…a small data set…We’re one of the best states for college and career readiness and AP participation; that hasn’t changed, they’re not using the right data.”
  • “This is unethical, misreporting of information by the superintendent and…the governor. Can we be honest on exactly what happened…It’s just really bizarre and irresponsible to cherry pick data and misconstrue it…What they should be looking is…how are doing about school discipline…budgets…are we looking at the Standards of Quality…there was no mention of that in this report…what do staffing ratios look like for school counselors…”
  • What would Qarni grade the Youngkin administration for its first five months in office when it comes to education? Qarni: “Is there anything below a zero? Because they’re definitely having a negative impact and they’re taking Virginia backwards completelyI don’t think they can even keep up with our kindergartners…I’m not saying their intelligence is low…I think this is intentional, I think this is a political stunt…they want to disparage Democrats…If you want to have an honest conversation, let’s look at the data the last 30-40 years…the lack of investments that were made for 26 years when Republicans were in charge of the General Assembly.”
  • They don’t know what they’re doing…Youngkin has not surrounded himself with smart people who actually know what to really do with education and take a whole-government, holistic approach to improving the quality of education, they haven’t done it. Unfortunately, one of the best models that existed…in the Northam administration, which is recognized across the country, and they’re doing the complete opposite.”
  • “They want to segregate schools; privatization generally leads to segregation. So yes, they want to basically…our schools are already segregated and we tried to…tackle that, modern-day school segregation, as best as possible during the Northam administration. But yes, they want to do that. And I think the next thing they will do is they will start going after higher education as well….they’re coming after them next.”
  • “So this administration needs to be kept in check, it needs to be stopped. And Democrats, if you’re reading this, you all need to get energized and come out and vote in the upcoming elections, because that’s best way to put an end to this nonsense.”

  • Former Secretary Qarni on Youngkin’s role model, FL Gov. Ron DeSantis: “If you look at [Florida’s] colleges and universities, look at their K-12 system, in many many rankings they are considered one of the worst states for education…So that’s the thing, if people look at migration patterns, people move to Florida for I guess the weather and so forth, but you look at migration patterns and study them for education, they are losing a lot of school-age families…They have one of the worst education systems in the country…that’s the thing…If that’s where they’re headed under leadership like DeSantis…You know, if you really want to talk about data and metrics, I mean CNBC named Virginia the best place to do business three years running in the Northam administration and the best category was education. So what about those facts? So…if we’re winning and if we’re doing well, it’s just insanity to completely change the game plan and go in an opposite direction. And I feel that the way the Youngkin administration is heading, is that if they are successful in their bad agenda, it’s going to hurt education…it’s going to hurt Virginia significantly.”

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