Its education system is consistently ranked in the U.S. Department of Education’s Evaluation of Progress in Education among the top ten states, with its students exceeding the average in all specialties and educational levels evaluated by the educational administration. Education Week’s 2008 Quality Counts report ranked Virginia’s K-12 education as the fifth best in the country. All school divisions must adhere to educational standards set by the Virginia Department of Education, which maintains an assessment and accreditation regime known as Standards of Learning to ensure accountability. In 2004, Virginia had an average higher education graduation rate of 79.3%, which is the 19th highest in the nation.
During the course 2007 / 2008 there were a total of 1,863 local and regional schools in the commonwealth, including three “schools charter” (independent state schools, that are not administered by the government, but depend on public budgets), and 104 centers additional alternative and special education, focusing on 134 school divisions. In addition to the general public schools in Virginia, there are the Governor’s Schools and selective magnet schools (literally “magnetic schools,” they are specialty, curriculum, and graduate schools). Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a public but selective admission school, is ranked the best public high school in the United States.
The Governor’s Schools is a series of more than 40 regional magnet high schools for selective admission and summer programs for gifted students. The Virginia Council for Private Education oversees the regulation of private schools. See topschoolsintheusa for high school codes in Virginia.
Virginia’s public high schools are often highly rated, with Langley High School ranked the thirty-sixth best public high school in the nation by the prestigious US News & World Report magazine, with Clarke County High School (Berryville) in position forty-eight. Northern Virginia schools also pay students testing fees to access the “Advanced Placement” and “International Baccalaureate” programs, and the City of Alexandria and Arlington County lead the nation in exams for these two programs.
Two of the top ten American public universities are located in Virginia, according to the annual report for the Academic Ranking of Universities by the US News and World Report. The University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson, is ranked second and The College of William and Mary, the second oldest university in the United States, is ranked sixth. James Madison University has been the number one public university at master’s level in the South since 1993. Virginia is also home to the Virginia Military Institute, the oldest state military academy in the United States and ranked first in the country as a public liberal arts college. Virginia Commonwealth University with more than 30,000 students is the largest university in the state, closely followed by George Mason University. The Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, better known as “Virginia Tech” and Virginia State University are the universities selected by the state to receive grants from the so-called Morrill Laws of 1862 and 1890. The state also administers twenty-three colleges on forty campuses that serve more than 240,000 students.
During the culmination of the Jim Crow era, lawmakers rewrote the Virginia Constitution to include a poll tax and other voter registration measures that effectively deprived African Americans of civil rights, underfunding segregated schools and services., in addition to the lack of representation. Despite it all, African Americans still created energetic communities and thrived, with the first black students attending the University of Virginia School of Law in 1950, and Virginia Tech in 1953. Farmville protests started by the rights activist Barbara Rose Johns civilians led to Davis’ lawsuit against Prince Edward County School Board, which was won by Richmond natives Spottswood Robinson and Oliver Hill. This case was later named as the famous Brown v. Board of Education case. Virginia however stated in 1958 that desegregated schools would not receive state funding, under the so-called “mass resistance” policy spearheaded by powerful segregationist Senator Harry F. Byrd. In 1959 Prince Edward County decided to close its schools, rather than integrate them.
Virginia is predominantly Protestant; the Baptists are the largest group with thirty percent of the population. The denominational groups of Baptists include the General Baptist Association of Virginia, with approximately 1,400 member churches, which supports both the Southern Baptist Convention and the moderate Baptist Cooperative Community; and the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia with more than 500 affiliated churches, which supports the Southern Baptist Convention. Catholics are the second largest group, and with the greatest increase between 1990 and 2000.
The Catholic Diocese of Arlington includes most of the Catholic Churches of Northern Virginia, while the Diocese of Richmond covers the rest. The Virginia synod is responsible for the congregations of the Lutheran Church. The Episcopal Dioceses of Virginia, Southern Virginia, and Southwest Virginia support several Episcopal churches. In November 2006, fifteen conservative Episcopal churches voted to secede from the diocese and the main church of the Anglican Communion because of the question of sexuality and the ordination of openly gay clergy and bishops. State law allows parishioners to determine their affiliation with a Church. The outcome of the legal ownership case is a test for Episcopal churches nationwide, as the diocese claims church property from those congregations that want to separate.
- Christianity: 76%
- Baptism: 30%
- Protestantism: 49%
- Methodism: 7%
- Catholicism: 14%
- Lutheranism: 2%
- Other Christians: 13%
- Presbyterianism: 3%
- Judaism: 1%
- Episcopalianism: 3%
- Islam: 1%
- Pentecostalism: 2%
- Other religions: 4%
- Congregationalism: 1%
- Non-religious: 12%
- Other / general: 2%
Among followers of “other religions” the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints constitutes 0.75% of the population, while Buddhism and Hinduism share one percent each. Although they are a small part of the population in terms of the state total, Jews have been around since 1791. Muslims are a rapidly growing religious group, although they have experienced some prejudice. Nondenominational megachurches in the state include McLean Bible Church and Immanuel Bible Church.