Author Archives: James A. Bacon

Who Speaks for the Victims of the “Victims”?

disciplineby James A. Bacon

Cosmological theorists posit the existence of an infinitude of alternate universes. In one of those universes, perhaps there is one with a Henrico County School System that collects data showing that African-American students are more likely to suffer from violence and disrupted classes in school rather than data showing that African-American students are more likely to be suspended from school.

Unfortunately, in our universe, an array of political forces focuses public sympathy upon the kids who disrupt the learning environment rather than those whose learning is disrupted. The trouble makers are classified as victims. The victims of the victims are ignored.

As a result, readers of the Times-Dispatch are treated to yet another front-page hand-wringer about the disproportionate suspension of African-American students in Henrico schools. Over five years, it appears, Henrico has succeeded in reducing the number of suspensions from almost 10,200 in the school year ending in 2010 to 6,500 in the school year ending in 2014. Alas, in so doing, the percentage of African-Americans among all suspended students has increased from 74.6% to 77.7% over the same period. Reporter Ted Strong quotes the usual suspects on how the disparate results might reflect discrimination against African-Americans and gives a megaphone to School Board member Lamont Bagby, who wants more resources for more intensive therapeutic services for the kids creating the trouble.

This entire controversy is built upon the statistical disparity in suspensions between African-Americans and students of other racial/ethnic classifications. African-Americans account for 36.8% of the students in the school system but 77.7% of the suspensions. That disparity by itself is deemed evidence of discrimination as opposed to, say, evidence of lower incomes, rate of single-mother households or other sociological features of the African-American population. The Times-Dispatch has systematically mined the “discrimination” angle but given virtually no attention whatsoever to the socio-economic characteristics of the students being disciplined.

The Times-Dispatch skips over the fact that most suspensions take place in overwhelmingly black-majority schools where teachers and administrators are themselves disproportionately black. It apparently has never occurred to the Times-Dispatch to ask if African-American teachers and administrators are prone to discriminating against students of their own race or if they are simply responding to incidents on a case-by-cash basis, in which a disproportionate number of troubled, disruptive kids are black.

Perhaps worse, the Times-Dispatch has shown no concern whatsoever for the victims of the so-called victims. What are the standards and procedures for suspending a student? How much disruptive behavior are students permitted before they are suspended? The T-D does not tell us. Has the T-D interviewed teachers and principals to ask if they are frustrated by the limited means at their disposal to discipline misbehaving students? Are teachers frustrated by the disruption to their classes? Do teachers feel that the learning experience of other students is diminished by the disruption? No, of course not. Those questions never occur to the T-D.

How many hours of classroom time — in effect, stolen from students who want to learn — does a student have to disrupt before getting suspended? How many hours of classroom time in total have been lost due to misbehaving students? No one measures those numbers and the T-D does not think to ask.

What has been the impact of the Henrico public school policy aimed at reducing the number of suspensions? Has the number of disruptive incidents declined as well, or are school administrators simply tolerating more ill discipline in order to reduce the number of suspensions ? What has been the impact on academic achievement of Henrico school kids — in particular, what has been the impact on schools where the most incidents and suspensions occur? Is it possible that the crackdown on suspensions has led to an increase in the level of disruptive behavior that has had a deleterious impact on learning? And, if such a perverse consequence has arisen from the policy, to what extent have African-American students been the victims of it?

Henrico public schools do not measure the data needed to answer such questions, or, if they do, the T-D does not think to ask for it. Therefore, readers are left with the impression that the Henrico County Public Schools are likely discriminating against African-American students. Perhaps they are. But the case is far from proven. For all we know, the failure to discipline disruptive kids is discriminating against African-American students. Maybe in an alternate universe, an alternate Times-Dispatch is telling that story.

The Airport that Rent Seeking Built


Passengers at Washington Dulles International. Photo credit: Washington Post.

by James A. Bacon

The Washington Post has taken notice of the fact that Washington Dulles International Airport, widely regarded as an economic engine of Northern Virginia, is in trouble. Sometime next year, notes Lori Aratani, more passengers will be traveling through Reagan National Airport in Arlington, than through Dulles, an airport with fourteen times the land mass.

Dulles suffers from the perception that it is a hassle to use. Indeed it is, compared to National, which is located in the metropolitan core. But, then, Dulles, located on the metropolitan fringe, has always been a hassle to use. When growing up in Washington, D.C., in the 1960s, I once went on a joy ride (no alcoholic beverages consumed) to Dulles and I remember driving through miles and miles of empty countryside. Since then, the dairy farms along the Dulles Access Road have been transformed into one of the nation’s leading technology corridors. The center of gravity of development in Northern Virginia has migrated steadily closer to Dulles over the years, so it’s hard to imagine that getting to Dulles is more of a hassle today than it always has been.

No, something else is responsible for Dulles’ woes. Officials with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which runs both Dulles and National airports, blame Congress for tinkering with the decades-old rule that limit the number of takeoffs and landings at National. Restrictions at National effectively capped passenger traffic there, pushing traffic out to Dulles. Since 2000, Congress has weakened those restrictions. Between 2011 and 2013, Dulles lost nearly 200,000 seats to National. Sequestration also has clobbered the Washington economy, especially among government contractors along the Dulles Corridor who are most likely to choose to fly out of Dulles. United Airlines, which accounts for about 65% of the flights at Dulles, says it lost 10% of its traffic due to sequestration.

MWAA’s response, according to Aratani’s story, has been to staunch the flow of passengers to National. A new agreement with airlines would require airlines to compensate MWAA, she writes, if Congress opens the door to more long-distance flights out of National. In other words, MWAA’s strategy for Dulles is to restrict National’s competitive advantage in the marketplace and restrict the choices of Washington-area travelers.

Aratani neglects to mention the recent Bloomberg survey indicating that Dulles scores third highest among all major U.S. and Canadian airports for traveler frustration on metrics that include security, restrooms and shopping. Apparently, MWAA has acted on the latter concern by adding high-end shopping and dining options, including Montblanc and the District Chophouse, but there is no indication in Aratani’s story that the board even acknowledges the other problems.

Also, MWAA been a major driver behind the building of the Silver Line extension from Washington’s Metro system. The second phase , expected to be completed in 2018, will include an airport station. MWAA will pay for only a tiny sliver of the capital construction costs of the multibillion-dollar project, the financing of which represents a massive wealth transfer from commuters on the Dulles Toll Road and general taxpayers to the riders of the rail line. Rail passengers to Dulles will pay a fraction of the fare to travel the same distance as the toll road commuters who are actually paying for the rail.

MWAA and its allies in the air cargo business also have lobbied for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of road and highway improvements, including, most notoriously, the controversial Bi-County Parkway designed to facilitate air cargo traffic.

It strikes me that MWAA has focused its attention overwhelmingly on building Dulles through rent seeking — restricting flights from National, building the Rail-to-Dulles project at others’ expense, and dunning Virginia taxpayers to subsidize a highly speculative air cargo boom — rather than tending to the nuts and bolts of creating an airport that passengers want to use. Maybe the board needs to spend more time thinking about enhancing the visitor experience through such mundane things as tighter security, cleaner bathrooms and more dining options.

Update: I am reminded by Reed Fawell’s comment on this post of the catastrophic over-expansion of Dulles in the 2000s, leaving the airport saddled with enormous debt and high costs. In that high-stakes gamble, Dulles built “perhaps the world’s largest useless vestibule” as well as “a ridiculously expensive underground transport system,” both of which were compounded “by a long history of duplicate work, horrendous  cost overruns, and throttling of customer demand.” Reed has documented some of these disastrous decisions on this blog, but the full story has never been written.

A question that Ms. Aratami — or others — might ask is how those high embedded costs are reflected in ticket charges to passengers and terminal charges to airlines.

Clueless in C-ville

Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at UVa.

Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at UVa.

by James A. Bacon

I feel so much safer  now! Well, I would if I were a 20-year-old female student at the University of Virginia. Acting under a national media spotlight in wake of allegations of gang rape at a university fraternity, the University of Virginia Board of Trustees unanimously passed a resolution yesterday declaring itself to be unalterably opposed to rape. More specifically, the board approved “a zero-tolerance stance on sexual assault,” according to media reports.

Wow, what a profile in courage!

The details of the zero-tolerance stance have yet to be worked out, however. And that is the problem. The devil is in the details. The question that I did not see anyone address in the media accounts I read (Daily Progress, Times-Dispatch) is fundamental: In the alcohol-fueled hook-up culture of the contemporary American campus, what constitutes rape? Of course it’s rape when a first-year woman is lured into an upstairs fraternity-house bedroom and is sexually assaulted by seven men. Any imbecile can see that. Of course it’s rape when a young man slips a woman a date-rape drug and proceeds to have sex with her while she’s senseless. It takes no depth of moral conviction to denounce such an act.

The problem is that a large number, if not a majority, of alleged sexual assaults occur in ambiguous circumstances in a cultural environment pervaded by alcohol, drugs and sexual promiscuity. Typically, there is no violence involved. Sometimes the rape victim doesn’t even decide she’s been raped until the day after. Usually, it’s a he-said, she-said situation in which the memories of both parties are clouded by alcohol. Sorting out guilt and innocence in those circumstances can be exceedingly difficult.

Although the board failed to grapple with any of these essential issues, trustees did boldly consent to several anti-rape measures that will have no impact whatsoever upon the problem. “Lighting will be upgraded around the campus, use of surveillance cameras will be expanded, and a new police substation will be established at the Corner, a popular gathering spot for students,” reports the Times-Dispatch.

Those measures might prevent incidents in which UVa women walking down the street are jumped by armed assailants. But the university is not experiencing that kind of rape epidemic. The number of rapes by unknown men at gunpoint is tiny. The rape epidemic is occurring in fraternity houses and college dormitories.

But never fear! President Teresa Sullivan also plans to institute “training for faculty and students to intercede when they see a problem” and to increase oversight of the fraternity system. This, too, is laughable. I feel safe in saying that (a) a negligible number of rapes occur in the presence to university faculty, and (b) when unwanted sexual intimacy occurs in the presence of students, the witnesses are likely too intoxicated or too distracted by their own sexual designs to apply the fine points of sensitivity training to friends groping one another on the sofa across the room.

As for fraternity oversight, the administration’s most notable response at this point consists of shutting down social events by all fraternities and sororities, even though only one institution was implicated in the gang rape. The received wisdom is that the culture of fraternities and sororities is part of the problem — which, in fact, it probably is. Trust me, I am no defender of fraternities. I never joined one when I attended UVa. But I have seen no evidence that all fraternities and sororities are equally debauched in their behavior. An indiscriminate shut-down of all Greek societies in the absence of evidence of wrong-doing at specific houses smacks of hysterical over-reaction that, far from gaining buy-in and cooperation from the institutions involved, will serve only to alienate them.

There was some recognition in the board meeting that binge drinking is part of the problem. “Excessive drinking is the fuel,” said L.D. Britt. “It was the fuel when I was here back in 1968, and it’s the fuel now.” Likewise, Sullivan singled out the culture of drinking. “We need to wipe out the notion that the college experience is incomplete without drinking.”

But there was nothing resembling a consensus on how to address the problem. Should the university and the City of Charlottesville crack down on student drinking, imposing a neo-prohibitionist regime? Should authorities embrace the opposite strategy of making alcohol more readily available students so they don’t have to go to fraternity parties to obtain it? No one has a clue.

One other issue I didn’t see discussed was how the university responds to rape allegations. One of the more horrifying charges in the Rolling Stone article that started this brouhaha was that the rape victim’s friends and the university administration swept the problem under the rug. Another fundamental question: Why wasn’t the case turned over immediately to Charlottesville police for investigation? Rolling Stone asserts that the Sexual Misconduct Board wants to provide less traumatic options for rape victims than pursuing criminal charges. Is that — should that be — the University’s decision to make? Does the Board intend ever to discuss that issue?

 In a university that expels students for violating the honor code — no lying, cheating or stealing — it is a travesty not to expel students for sexual assault. But what standard of proof of guilt — criminal, civil or some other standard — should apply? Is the university set up to administer such judicial proceedings and to handle the inevitable appeals? These questions are not easily answered — and it doesn’t appear that either the UVa administration or the Board of Trustees is even asking them. So far, I have seen little to indicate that the university is willing to tackle fundamental issues. I have a sinking feeling that none of this will end well.

Bringing Big Data to the Poverty Debate

Here is a positive development in state government that will never get the attention it deserves: The Virginia Department of Social Services is joining four other state agencies in contributing data to the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS).

VLDS is a system for accessing data maintained by the Virginia Department of Education, the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia, the Virginia Employment Commission and the community college system. The program allows researchers to gain insight into what public policy initiatives will most cost-effectively prepare Virginians for a modern, 21st-century workforce.

The Department of Social Services brings new data to the mix and allows researchers to ask new questions, such as:

  • How does participation in public assistance programs (e.g. child care, WIC, Head Start, SNAP, TANF, Medicaid) in Virginia impact school readiness, school achievement, health, family cohesion, future employment and wages?
  • What is the return on investment from public assistance programs in Virginia? Are there patterns that suggest different program delivery models that may yield greater effectiveness or cost savings?
  • What are the most critical health, safety and community factors that contribute to children’s school readiness and school achievement?
  • How does investment in early childhood health and education impact future need for and cost of public assistance?
  • Are participants in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) work skills training programs employed and earning a living wage one or two years after completing the program? Which work skills programs have the greatest success rates?

These are all excellent questions! I am heartened to know that people in Virginia state government are asking them.

So many debates about public policy issues occur in a data-free vacuum. People advance arguments based upon preconceptions and ideology. VLDS holds out the promise of allowing us to reach conclusions based on hard data. This is one wonk who looks forward to the research coming from this initiative — even if the conclusions contradict some of my own pet theories.


Dulles Gets High Scores in at Least One Metric — Frustration

Washington Dulles International -- the wow factor ends with the architecture

Washington Dulles International — the wow factor ends with the architecture

by James A. Bacon

Washington Dulles International Airport is the Brazil of U.S. airports — it’s the airport of the future… and always will be. Unfortunately, that future is looking further and further off as both passenger and freight traffic decline precipitously. Peaking at 27 million in 2005, the number of passengers declined to 22 million last year. Peaking at 767 million pounds in 2007, air freight dove to 524 million in 2013, according to airport statistics.

It is dogma in Virginia’s political class that Dulles, along with the ports of Virginia in Hampton Roads, is one of the economic development “crown jewels” of the Old Dominion, and that whatever is good for Dulles is good for Virginia. Hence, proposals are working their way through the state’s transportation funding system to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in highway projects to make Dulles freight cargo more economically competitive — and that’s on top of more than $7 billion to extend the Washington Metro system to Tysons, Reston and Dulles.

Now comes the Airport Frustration Index published by Bloomberg, which ranks Dulles as the third most frustrating of 36 major North America airports, trailing only LaGuardia and Newark.  What are the factors that go into compiling the frustration index?

One is the length of the commute to get to the airport. The rush hour drive time, at 67 minutes, is the seventh worst in the country.

Another factor is the passenger experience at the terminal. Based on survey scores, Dulles scored 5.6 on a one-to-ten scale for security, the worst of any airport but Miami. Its restrooms, with a 6.3 score, ranked seventh worst. Shopping, at 5.1, also ranked seventh worst. Interestingly, competing Ronald Reagan Washington National and Baltimore Washington Thurgood Marshall outscored Dulles in all of these passenger-amenity ratings by wide margins.

Finally, Dulles scored 9th worst in on-time flights (tied with three other airports); only 75% of its flights took off on time.

Bacon’s bottom line: When the Silver Line service opens at Dulles in several years, its airport commute time may improve. (For $7 billion, it had darn better improve!) But the Bloomberg survey suggests that there are some fundamental management issues at work here. What excuse is there for poor security or dirty bathrooms? What excuse is there for a second-rate shopping experience?

Dulles is a tremendous economic development asset for Virginia, at least potentially. But if the Dulles airport lobby wants to soak Virginia taxpayers for hundreds of millions of transportation dollars in subsidies to make its air cargo business more competitive, I’d have a lot more confidence that the money would be invested effectively if I saw evidence that the airport was being run really well. But if airport management can’t keep the restrooms clean, how can it be trusted to build a world-class air freight business?

A “Campus Culture of Rape” or a “Culture of Drunken, Hook-up Sex”?

Watch it, buddy, make sure you read the University of Virginia's "Definitions of Prohibited Contact" before you touch that woman!

Watch it, buddy, make sure you read the University of Virginia’s “Definitions of Prohibited Contact” before you touch that woman!

by James A. Bacon

In the wake of gang rape allegations aired last week by Rolling Stone magazine, University of Virginia officials declare themselves to be angered by the incident and determined to prevent anything like it from happening again. “I write you in great sorrow, great rage, but most importantly, with great determination,” wrote President Kathleen Sullivan in a letter to the University of Virginia community. “Meaningful change is necessary. … This will require institutional change, cultural change, and legislative change, and it will not be easy. We are making those changes.”

If past is any precedent, we can look forward to a more verbose Student Sexual Misconduct Policy replete with legalese of the sort one might read in an Apple App user agreement, the hiring of more administrators to enforce the policy, the occasional drumming out of sexual offenders and… virtually no change to the “culture of rape” that led to the gang rape in the first place.

The reason that change will not occur is that the University of Virginia, like colleges and universities across the country, are caught between conflicting moral imperatives which Baby Boomer administrators are incapable of reconciling. On the one hand, Boomer administrators are appalled by sexual violence against women, which appears to have reached unprecedented proportions on their watch. On the other hand, they are unwilling to do anything to curb the licentiousness and promiscuity of the drunken hook-up culture that pervades the student culture and creates an ethical gray area regarding what constitutes a woman’s “consent” to sexual activity.

The only way that university bureaucrats know how to deal with this inherent conflict is to put into place stricter rules and procedures that students will ignore, just as they’ve ignored all the past rules and procedures. Even if the new regime of campus justice does succeed in bring more sexual transgressions into the maw of administrative review, students may well respond in unexpected ways. Already, male students are using videotapes to successfully refute charges of rape, according to the Women for Men blog. The net effect could well be to spur young more students to surreptitiously videotape themselves and their paramours in the act.

The problem is human nature. Young men and women, who are at the peak of their sex drive during their campus years, are obsessed with sex. This obsession is hard-wired into the species. Different civilizations and cultures over the eons have devised various mechanisms to channel and control the sex drive. In the United States the prudish “Victorian morality” prevailed for many years. That system stressed premarital abstinence and the strict policing of college campuses to limit the opportunities of couples to engage in sex. The system of Victorian morality was far from perfect, even on its own terms — it was, after all, fighting against human nature. Some women did get pregnant. Rapes did occur. As correspondent Gerald Cooper reminds me, in the so-called “Lawn Scandal,” three young men from prominent Virginia families were implicated in the gang bang of a young woman in a room on the Lawn around 1954. But there was no “campus culture of rape” in which 20% of all women were raped during their four years in college.

Victorian values were swamped by the sexual revolution and the rise of feminism. Few people who grew up in the 1960s or later regret the overthrow of the ancien regime. Most people, even many cultural conservatives, accept the proposition that single people should be free to express their sexuality. (Victorian morality still prevails when it comes to respecting the vows of matrimony; not everyone lives up to the moral norm but almost everyone accepts it.) On college campuses, the floodgates opened. When colleges ceased policing students’ sexual activities, students were free to pursue their primal instincts. Residential colleges like UVa threw together thousands of young people at the peak of sexual desire and looked the other way as a new culture arose that mixed heavy drinking with sexual license.

The Baby Boomers who dominate the ranks of college administrations today shocked their parents with their cavalier attitude toward sex before marriage. A few Boomers engaged in “swinging,” or the swapping of sexual partners, but that behavior was relegated to the fringe. The prevailing ethos among Boomers, even among singles, was to restrict sex to monogamous relationships. Boomers had more sexual partners than their parents did, but their morality still frowned on sexual promiscuity.

Now it is the Baby Boomers’ turn to be shocked by their children. Prevailing feminist theory on college campuses, reinforced by pop culture figures like Madonna, deemed it chic for women to be as sexually “empowered” as men, in effect to have sex with whomever they wanted whenever they wanted. For many men, this development was a dream come true — women offered sex without the encumbrances of emotional commitment. Whereas Boomer women bartered sexual access for emotional commitment, many  (not all, of course) Millennial women demanded nothing in return. Young people in college today live in a state of moral anarchy, some retaining vestiges of traditional morality, while others abide by no discernible sexual morality of any kind. The only recognized standard is the admonition that women must “consent” to sex.

The great question is how to interpret consent. The overwhelming majority of “rapes” on college campuses occur in a party context in which men and women alike are intoxicated. Sometimes the lines are clear. When a man plies a woman with a date rape drug and has sex with her, everyone would agree that that’s a case of rape, even if there was no violence involved. Everyone would agree that the gang rape at the University of Virginia, if it occurred as described, was horrific. No one sympathizes with the rapists in either case.

But the lines become blurred in an instance, say, in which a women gets drunk, starts making out with a guy, who also happens to be drunk, has sex with him and at some point along the line changes her mind. Is that “rape?” If so, do we place that in the same category of moral and criminal culpability as a case in which, say, a man stalks a woman and rapes her at gunpoint? Feminists might argue that in an oppressive, patriarchal society such a distinction is meaningless. Most people see a big difference.

Further blurring the lines is the rise of the exhibitionist “sexting” culture. Baby Boomers find themselves prudishly aghast as they hear of Millennials emailing photos of their their genitals to love interests. Do the kids have no sense of privacy at all? Then there is the phenomenon of “revenge porn.” Men create videotapes of themselves having sex with girlfriends and then post the videos online to get back at them for some perceived offense. Those trends have made it into the news, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. Google “college sex party” and browse the results. You will find dozens, if not hundreds, of videos posted of college kids stripping, walking around nude, engaging in oral sex and copulating without embarrassment in front of their peers. This kind of behavior may be extreme and unrepresentative of the general student population but its very existence is indicative of how thoroughly the old sexual norms have been obliterated.

I offer as a hypothesis the proposition that the college rape epidemic is deeply rooted in the drunken hook-up culture of the Millennial generation. Liberal Boomer college administrators, who make a fetish of being non-judgmental, have allowed this culture to arise without contesting it. The consequence is that as a matter of routine every Friday and Saturday night, young men and women are thrown into situations where the lines between consensual and non-consensual sex are blurred beyond recognition. It should come as no surprise that the victims of sexual transgressions and their friends are so often morally ambivalent about whether to report incidents or not.

Given the tenor of what takes place in college frat houses, dormitories or the bushes behind the Rotunda, how likely is it that the University of Virginia’s “Definitions of Prohibited Conduct” will have any effect upon students’ behavior?

The party desiring to initiate sexual activity is responsible for obtaining Effective Consent. In order to obtain Effective Consent, permission must be given prior to or contemporaneously with the sexual activity in question. Effective Consent should never be assumed. Lack of protest or resistance does not constitute Effective Consent. “No” means no, but nothing (silence, passivity, inertia) also means no. A verbal “No,” even if it sounds indecisive or insincere, should always be treated as a denial of Effective Consent. If there is confusion as to whether Effective Consent is present (e.g., words, gestures or other indications of hesitation or reluctance), the parties should stop the sexual activity immediately.

Surely they jest.  As reasonable as all of this may sound to a 55-year-old university administrator, it’s not likely to have much impact on 20-year-olds in the throes of passion. President Sullivan asserts that the University is working on making the institutional, cultural and legislative changes needed to end the college rape epidemic. I’d laugh if it weren’t so tragic. The only way to change the culture of drunken hook-up sex is to impose a regime so stifling and oppressive that the college students would rise in revolt. It will not happen.

Virginia Metro Brain Gain


Joel Kotkin and Mark Schill at the New Geography blog have devised a different way of looking at which metro regions are winning and which ones are falling behind in the competition to build an educated workforce. By this set of metrics, most Virginia regions score in the top 50% of the nation’s 380 metropolitan regions, but none are standouts. Overall, our regions are doing OK, better than average, but no one is setting the world on fire.

What does this chart, extracted from ranking of all 380 regions, measure? I’ll let Kotkin and Schill explain:

To determine the metro areas that are gaining brainpower in the 21stCentury, we scored the nation’s 380 metropolitan statistical areas based on three criteria. We started with the growth rate in the number of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree from 2000 through 2013 (25% weighting in final score). But since the places that post the highest growth rates tend to be those starting with low levels of educational attainment, we gave greater weight to the percentage point increase in the share of the population that is college-educated over that span (50%), and we factored in the share of educated people in the population in 2013 (25%). We also separated out results for the 51 MSAs with over a million residents.

Not surprisingly, metro regions with a large college/university presence tended to do better over the 13-year period studied, but industry mix played an important role as well. Government and high-tech industries attracted educated workers. The Washington metro has the best educated population in the country.

After following the debate for more than a decade now, I have to say, it’s still not clear to me what, if anything, metro regions can do to recruit and retain educated workers. Employers are the driving force — they are the ones who recruit employees to a region. Regions with industries that are profitable, growing and pay well enjoy a big advantage over regions dominated by shrinking, low-paying industries. But there’s more to the story than that. Regions also have to hold on to their employees. If costs are too high, if life is boring, if the community isn’t welcoming to outsiders, talented young people will leave.

There are no quick fixes here. It can take literally generations of effort to build an employment base of dynamic employers with the clout to recruit talented workers and to create the kinds of amenities that keep those talented workers in town. Regions that view the challenge clearly and sustain their efforts over the years will prevail over those that don’t.


Who Will Inform the Electorate? What Would T.J. Say?

TJby Gerald L. Cooper

It’s sad to see The Virginian-Pilot go slowly down, like the first ironclads Monitor and Merrimack, in this sea-bound community. The old gal’s final voyage has probably begun — at least the vessel that “serve(d) the public with such skill and character … and … exercise(d) First Amendment freedoms with vigor and responsibility,” as the late publisher, Frank Batten (died at 82 in 2009), is still quoted on the masthead of the opinion pages of the shriveling newspaper.

It was distressing to learn last week that readers would lose the words and insights of Bob Molinaro and Bill Sizemore, both mainstays at The Pilot. The newspaper won’t be the same without Bill’s high-level of investigative reporting and Bob’s column of down to earth sports comments — often questioning the commercial excesses of big-money athletics. Others are  rumored to be leaving, too, but we readers with long-term loyalties are being fed the departure facts piece-meal, like barnyard hens. So we peck through the grain as it’s scattered in front of us, hoping our favorites will survive another cut.

Even the most faithful University of Virginia alumni in Tidewater might wonder if Batten should have withheld the $100 million he gave to UVa in 2007, instead endowing The Virginian-Pilot. Wisely invested that  $100 million could yield $8 million annually at 8% and pay a good hunk of operating costs — at either the university or the newspaper.

In Charlottesville, the University got the $100 million and created the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy — “the largest single gift in the history of the University,” said a news release. It quoted Batten, “Talented public leaders are needed from a range of professional backgrounds. It is critical to get younger people excited about the responsibilities and opportunities of public service in all its manifestations.” Thus emerged a mission statement for a School of Leadership and Public Policy.

One may wonder which would do more to keep Virginia’s citizens informed and its public servants honest — a vigilant, independent newspaper or a highly selective college of public policy. To confuse the choice, we read how Thomas Jefferson, writing to his friend, Col. Edward Carrington in 1787, cited his preference for newspapers as a means to keep well-informed “the opinion of people.” At that time a state-supported university was but a gleam in his 44-year-old eye.  Fast-forward to 1810 – 1819: When Jefferson labored to create the University of Virginia, he searched for funds to build its grounds and compensate its faculty.

There is evidence to suggest that the Founder might have, in his typically enigmatic manner, urged a donor such as Frank Batten to endow a respected Virginian-Pilot newspaper instead of sending a small fortune to central Virginia to establish a new department in the government-supported prototype of the elite eastern universities. This same founder of the University of Virginia had written in 1787, “I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter” — newspapers — as the best vehicle by which to keep the people of the new democracy well informed.

Will newspapers continue to have major influence in the cause of nurturing and defending democracy in the United States, or is the influence of print journalism in irreversible decline? What would best insure that our government “of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” as we face 21st century challenges? Would a time-tested, independent newspaper, dedicated “to serve the public  with skill and character” be most useful to democracy, or would a college curriculum designed “to get younger people excited about the responsibilities and opportunities of public service” reap greater benefits for the public good?

Jefferson, the explorer of dichotomies, might have believed that our 21st century democracy, still searching for balance and integrity in governance, needs both public universities and independent newspapers. And he might still “not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Gerald L. Cooper (BA, MEd, UVa) spent his 43-year career in education as an administrator, counselor and teacher. His final assignment in 1994-2000 was as executive director of the college access program, founded by Frank Batten and Josh Darden, that served ten public high schools in Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Virginia Beach.

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Daughters Grow up To Be Co-Eds

Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at UVa.

Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at UVa.

When I visited Virginia Tech a few weeks ago, the lead story in the campus newspaper was a take-out on the supposed “campus rape culture.” The number is widely touted that 20% of women are the victims of sexual assault while at campus. My instinct is to dismiss that figure as a figment of the feminist fringe, in which transgressions of any kind, from unwanted touching to real rape, are conflated as “sexual violence.” Many incidents are fueled by the combustible combination of rampant drunkenness and the casual sex of the hook-up culture, in which all normal standards of behavior are obliterated.

That said, rape that everyone recognizes as rape does occur. One such incident, which allegedly occurred at the University of Virginia, is profiled in Rolling Stone. The story of a first year student gang raped in the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house, if accurate, is absolutely horrifying. What allegedly followed (or didn’t follow) is a travesty. Writes author Sabrina Rubin Erdely:

At UVA, rapes are kept quiet, both by students – who brush off sexual assaults as regrettable but inevitable casualties of their cherished party culture – and by an administration that critics say is less concerned with protecting students than it is with protecting its own reputation from scandal. Some UVA women, so sickened by the university’s culture of hidden sexual violence, have taken to calling it “UVrApe.”

Maybe that’s a fair take on what’s happening at UVa and other colleges, maybe it’s not. There are a lot of conservatives like me whom, I suspect, get turned off by the blather associating campus sexual violence with “patriarchal attitudes” and other such nonsense, as if society ever condoned rape as a “boys will be boys” thing to be swept under the rug. It was social conservatives, after all, who warned that the mixing of genders in college dormitories, the relaxation of visitation rules and the collapse of traditional moral values would lead to precisely the phenomenon we’re discussing today. Such fears were dismissed at the time, of course, as the hilariously antiquated thinking of prissy, tea-sipping old bitties.

But here we are. Feminists have discovered a “culture of rape” in what are arguably the most thoroughly enlightened and liberal institutions in the entire country, our colleges and universities. While I don’t think the Rolling Stone article has captured the entire truth of what’s happening on college campuses, I think it has captured part of the truth. And even that partial truth is ugly enough to take very seriously.

I would ask Virginia newspapers, why did Rolling Stone break this story, not you? If there is a campus rape epidemic on college campuses, are you going to continue to ignore it, highlighting only the cable news spectacles, like that of missing UVa student Hannah Graham, that are unrepresentative of the college experience? Conversely, if there’s not a campus rape epidemic, are you going to ignore that story, too? If the whole problem is wildly exaggerated — analogous, say, to the satanism scare of a couple decades ago — worried parents of college co-eds would like to know.

My suspicion is that there is a widespread problem but that it’s not as white-and-black as portrayed. College kids are… how shall I put this politely…. incredibly horny. The old social mores that held horniness in check have been obliterated. Concentrate thousands of males and females of the same age in a college campus, tear down the moral inhibitions against promiscuous sexuality, and dissolve inhibitions and judgment in a haze of alcohol, and you’re going to have a lot of sexual encounters, some percentage of which, in retrospect, are worthy of criminal punishment and some percentage of which participants simply regret. There is a cultural problem here. It’s not one of oppressive “patriarchy.” But it’s very real.

(Hat tip: The Nutshell by Frank Muraca. Check out Frank’s newsletter — it’s a short but punchy round-up of Virginia news, well worth reading.)

Racial Disparities in SOL Pass Rates Getting Worse

Bacon’s Rebellionmath_data
More SOL data from Lynchburg numbers cruncher Jim Weigand… The chart above expresses the Standards of Learning (SOL) pass rate for blacks and Hispanics as a percentage of the pass rate for whites between 2005 and 2014. The good news is that blacks and Hispanics consistently improved their educational performance through 2010, with Hispanics passing at 90% of the rate as whites in that year.

Then something happened. Minority SOL pass rates tanked. White pass rates declined (a trend not reflected in these charts) but minority pass rates fell even steeper. What happened in that period? Weigand notes that downturn coincides with tighter standards for the math SOLs  in 2012 and for the English SOLs in 2013. The impact of more demanding math tests can be seen in this chart:



Virginia school systems have made tremendous efforts to help minority students reach educational parity with whites (and Asians, who out-perform whites). But these charts call into question the effectiveness of those efforts.

If the tests were harder, then why weren’t all groups effected equally? Why did black and Hispanic scores decline relative to white scores? One possible explanation is that minority students are enrolled disproportionately in classes that “teach to the test.” Teachers in these classes got better at instructing their students to answer the kinds of questions that appear in SOL tests. (An analogy: My son is taking an AP course that explicitly, no-bones-about-it, is geared to helping students answer the kinds of questions that appear in AP tests.) But teaching to the test has a big drawback. Make the test tougher, and it doesn’t work.

Just a theory. It doesn’t fit the data perfectly. Perhaps readers can help me refine the theory or present better ones of their own.

Update: At the suggestion of Don Rippert, Jim Wiegand portrayed the same data as the chart above in a different way. Here’s the raw data for each ethnic/racial group, not normalized to whites as above. This shows clearly that whites suffered a decline in SOL pass rates, too.


Update: These numbers may be skewed by changes in Department of Education questionnaires that allowed students to select more than one race, says Hamilton Lombard with the Tayloe Murphy Center for Public Policy. As a result, for instance, the number of students identifying only as black dropped by 20% to 30% in some divisions. “With the changes, the SOL results by race are really for different populations in 2010 and 2012,” he writes.