Category Archives: Education (K-12)

Cruz, “Liberty” and Teletubbies

AP CRUZ A USA VA By Peter Galuszka

Where’s the “Liberty” in Liberty University?

The Christian school founded by the controversial televangelist Jerry Falwell required students under threat of a $10 “fine” and other punishments to attend a “convocation” Monday where hard-right U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for president.

Thus, Liberty produced a throng of people, some 10,000 strong, to cheer on Cruz who wants to throttle Obamacare, gay marriage, abolish the Internal Revenue Service and blunt immigration reform.

Some students stood up to the school for forcing them to become political props. Some wore T-Shirts proclaiming their support of libertarian Rand Paul while others protested the university’s coercion. “I just think it’s unfair. I wouldn’t say it’s dishonest, but it’s approaching dishonesty,” Titus Folks, a Liberty student, told reporters.

University officials, including Jerry Falwell, the son of the late founder, claim they have the right as a private institution to require students to attend “convocations” when they say so. But it doesn’t give them the power to take away the political rights of individual students not to be human displays  in a big and perhaps false show.

There’s another odd issue here. While Liberty obviously supports hard right Tea Party types, the traditional Republican Party in the state is struggling financially.

Russ Moulton, a GOP activist who helped Dave Brat unseat House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary last summer, has emailed party members begging them to come up with $30,000 to help the cash-strapped state party.

GOP party officials downplay the money problem, but it is abundantly clear that the struggles among Virginia Republicans are as stressed out as ever. Brat won in part because he cast himself as a Tea Party favorite painting Cantor as toady for big money interests. The upset drew national attention.

Liberty University has grown from a collection of mobile homes to a successful school, but it always has had the deal with the shadow of its founder. The Rev. Falwell gained notoriety over the years for putting segregationists on his television show and opposing gay rights, going so far as to claim that “Teletubbies,” a cartoon production for young children, covertly backed homosexual role models.

Years ago, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published a story showing that the Rev. Falwell took liberties in promoting the school he founded in 1971. Brochures touting the school pictured a downtown Lynchburg bank building with the bank’s logo airbrushed off. This gave the impression that Liberty was thriving with stately miniature skyscrapers for its campus.

Some observers have noted that Liberty might be an appropriate place for the outspoken Cruz to launch his campaign. The setting tends to blunt the fact that he’s the product of an Ivy League education – something that might not go down too well with Tea Party types – and that he was actually born in Canada, although there is no question about his U.S. citizenship and eligibility to run for question.

Hard-line conservatives have questioned the eligibility of Barack Obama to run for U.S. president although he is likewise qualified.

With Cruz in the ring and Liberty cheering him, it will make for an interesting campaign.

What the SGP Scores Reveal… and Don’t

by James A. Bacon

John Butcher, writing on Cranky’s Blog, has been on a tear recently as he’s plowed through the reams of “Student Growth Percentile” (SGP) data that the Virginia Department of Education has released recently under the prodding of the federal government.

The problems with using raw Standards of Learning (SOL) data to rate teachers, principals, schools and school divisions are well known. Roughly 60% of the variability in SOL scores between schools reflects the socio-economic status of the student body. It is patently unreasonable to compare the educational efficacy of a school teaching poor, inner-city kids with a school teaching affluent suburbanites on SOL scores alone. But the SGP gets around that problem by calculating the improvement in scores over time. Improvement is correlated with the quality of teaching and administration, not socioeconomic status.

In one recent post, Cranky… er, I mean John… demonstrated that there is almost no correlation between SGP and the divisional expenditure of money. The correlation coefficient between divisional expenditure per student and average SGP is less than 1% — meaning that less than 1% of the variability between school divisions can be explained by how much money they spend.

Graph credit: Cranky's Blog

Graph credit: Cranky’s Blog

For details, read the full post here.

John then took VDOE to task for suppressing the identity of individual teachers. The data anonymizes the data, identifying teachers only by a five-digit number. Delving into the City of Richmond data, John shows the wide variability in the ability of teachers to teach.

teacher_variability

The chart above shows a representative sampling of teacher SGPs. John homes in on Teacher 74415, seen in the purple line above:

The principal who allowed 25 kids (we have SGPs for 24 of the 25) to be subjected to this educational malpractice in 2014 should have been fired.  Yet VDOE deliberately makes it impossible for Richmond’s parents to know whether this situation has been corrected or whether, as is almost certain, another batch of kids is being similarly afflicted with this awful teacher.

Read the full post here.

Lastly, John makes an intriguing suggestion — using the SGP data to rate the quality of teachers from Virginia’s schools of education.

Just think, VDOE now can measure how well each college’s graduates perform as fledgling teachers and how quickly they improve (or not) in the job. In this time of increasing college costs, those data would be important for anyone considering a career in education. And the data should help our school divisions make hiring decisions.

In addition, VDOE could assess the effectiveness of the teacher training at VCU, which is spending $90,000 a year of your and my tax money to hire Richmond’s failed Superintendent as an Associate Professor in “Educational Leadership.” Wouldn’t it be interesting to see whether that kind of “leadership” can produce capable teachers (albeit it produced an educational disaster in Richmond).

Go, Cranky, go!

The Southern Migration of Educated Workers

educated_workersby James A. Bacon

In a knowledge economy, the educational level of the workforce is a key driver of metropolitan prosperity. Higher education levels, especially in the fields of business, science and the arts, are associated with greater innovation, entrepreneurial activity and wealth creation. A half century ago, the distribution of brain power in the United States was highly lopsided, favoring the West Coast and Northeast. But, as Joel Kotkin points out in a column today in New Geography, the geography of workforce education has shifted.

States that were the most educated in 1970 still rank among the brainiest states today. But the education gap has narrowed as a steady migration of educated workers to the Sun Belt has lifted the education levels of Southern states in particular. States like New York and Massachusetts have not lifted their averages nearly as rapidly as many other states.

“There’s a movement of educated people — critical to many industries — to formerly backwater states,” writes Kotkin. “Over time jobs, too, are following this path. In the years ahead we can expect these trends to continue or even accelerate.”

Virginia stands in an interesting position nationally. It is one of the few states that ranked among the best educated 50 years ago and has also has been one of the bigger brain gainers.

Virginia ranked 13th in the country for growth in the education level of its population, according to Kotkin.

  • Increase in population of college grads: 517%
  • Percentage of population with college degree (1970): 12.3%
  • Percentage of population with college degree (2013): 36.1%

I would love to drill deeper on this data but lack the means to do so, at present. Conceptually, we need to be looking at two distinct phenomena: (1) the state’s ability to educate its children and young people, in effect, to grow our own educated workforce; and (2) the ability of metropolitan regions to recruit and retain educated workers, which entails an entirely different set of issues.

States such as New York and Massachusetts churn out a lot of workers with college degrees but, for whatever reason, are unable to employ them all. Many emigrate in search of better job opportunities and/or higher standards of living.

With a few exceptions, I don’t see many people in Virginia doing much more than mouthing platitudes — spend more money to educate more young people, regardless of the supply and demand for different types of degrees. We need to move the discussion to a higher level. More on that in the next blog post.

In memory of Isabelle Seftas

Isabel SeftasRemember the Tigers.  I graduated from Groveton High School in Fairfax County in 1977.  Through all of those years there are a few memories that stayed with me.   One memory was of a teacher I had for both Biology and AP Biology – Mrs. Isabelle Seftas.  Sadly, Mrs Seftas passed “ad astra” just a few weeks ago at the age of 87.  Happily, she led a long life and significantly impacted thousands of Virginians throughout her decades of teaching.  As we write on this blog of presidents, governors and their ilk I think it is appropriate to occasionally think of those “ordinary” Virginians who have had an extra-ordinary impact on the lives of many residents of the Old Dominion.  Mrs. Isabelle Seftas was one of those people.

And the best biology teacher was …  Ms Seftas was born in 1927 and studied at Spotsylvania High School, Mary Washington College and the University of Virginia.  A Virginian to the core Ms Seftas would start her career as a dietitian and move on to be a biology teacher par excellence.  During her tenure as a biology teacher at Groveton High School Ms. Seftas would lecture with the “fill in the blank” method of teaching.   “ATP is created in the cell by ….”. If she was looking your way you’d better say, “the mitochondria”. It’s been 38 years but I still get very confident when I see “Biology” on the top of a column of Jeopardy! questions (well, answers technically).  She was a dynamo and pretty much every student who she taught remembers not only her teaching technique but the material she taught as well.  Her passing brought forth an outpouring of both grief and fond memories from students; many of whom had not seen her in decades.  She made that much of an impression.

Teenage wasteland.  Ms. Seftas was about 4′ 11″ tall.  At least that’s how it seemed at the time.  However, she cast a moral and intellectual shadow more like that of Shaquille O’Neal.  On one memorable day I was playing a typically stupid game with one of my friends who sat across the table from me in biology class.  He’d put his hand in the gap between his table and mine and I’d try to slam the tables together trapping his hand.  He’d do the same and he’d try to crush my hand.  Pretty bright, eh?  As the biology lecture progressed we lost track of the game.  Unfortunately, I absent minded-ly let my hand slip between the tables and wham!  He got me.  I jumped up and went to hit him.  He jumped up and was ready to throw down.  He was the starting tackle on the football team, I was the starting guard.  Ms. Seftas took one look at this and said, “You two clowns sit down.”  That was that.  I would have fought the tackle and he would have fought me but neither of us would confront Mrs Seftas.

The old, gold Dominion.  Mrs. Seftas loved Virginia and Virginia sports, especially basketball. Even the most ardent jocks and sports addicts among us knew to shut up and listen when Mrs. Seftas started talking sports before class began. It was a sight I’ll never forget – a group of hulking 17 and 18 year old high school athletes standing around a very small woman and listening in stone silence as she ticked off the best college basketball players in the country at any moment in time.  Nobody ever argued with her opinions on sports.

Biology in heaven.  I was very sad to hear of Mrs. Seftas’ passing. She made an indelible impression on me during my time at Groveton High School. However, one thing is for sure – the residents of heaven are about to learn a whole lot about the Krebs Cycle and about the history of the turn around jumper.

 – Donald J. Rippert

Using Big Data to Bolster Student Performance

Principal Tina McCay with students at Goochland Elementary.

Principal Tina McCay with students at Goochland Elementary.

At the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, 4th grade teachers at Goochland Elementary School were setting academic goals for their students, with an eye to their performance in the Standards of Learning (SOL) exams. With support from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and an innovative data system implemented in Goochland, the school had been provided historical data and predictive analysis of their new students’ standing. Teachers were alarmed to find that nine students were on a predicted trajectory to fail their reading SOLs.

In a 4th-grade class of 55 children, failure by nine students constituted an unacceptably high percentage.  “We refused to accept the outcome as inevitable,” said Principal Tina McCay. “The data gave us a peek into one possible future, but it also gave our team time to develop a strategy to reverse the trend and set our students on a solid path to achievement and success.”

Teachers decided that the targeted students would benefit most by the participation in small instructional groups. “As a result of the small groups, students who previously were crying from frustration suddenly became engaged and confident,” said teacher Krystle Demas. “It was exciting to witness. Just to see that spark in their eyes and a return of the excitement and passion for learning was so rewarding!”

The result: All nine students passed the SOL at the end of the school year. Said McCay, “This extraordinary success might never have happened without real time access to data at each step of the process.”

Over the past decade, the education data industry has churned out new tools for schools and teachers to analyze data and see trends that would have been overlooked in the past.  “Data can be used to help educators tailor curricula, identify at-risk students, customize classroom learning and improve their students’ college readiness,” said Bethann Canada, director of the Office of Educational Information Management at VDOE.

Building on Goochland’s success, VDOE is partnering with the state’s Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) with the goal of transforming itself from a static, one-way collector of data into a provider of support and service for data-driven decision making across the state.

In an elaborate consultation process, the data implementation team engaged more than 400 individuals across Virginia in focus group activities. Ninety-seven percent of Virginia’s school divisions took part. The end product was a strategy with two components: (1) Technology and Integration and (2) Professional Development and Division Support. Providing the data would not be enough. Educators needed to know what to do with it.

“It’s more than just having access to the data that’s important, it’s knowing what to do with it,” said Paul McGowan, vice president of consulting services at CIT. “Or, as some focus group participants explained, “Even if we’re able to run reports, a lot of teachers say, ‘now what?’ Many of us don’t know what to do with the data once we have it.”

Following up on the successful first phase of the project, the project team expects to roll out a similar capability statewide in the next year. Phase II is focusing on implementing the technology and integration solution and building a new Education Data Professional Development Center.

“We hope to attract, persuade and retain support for data use and to persuade all K-12 stakeholders to include data as an integral component of their work and educational plans and intervention strategies,” said Canada. “Generating a viable solution will take time and hard work, but will bring numerous dividends in the form of customized learning, stronger curricula, identifying and aiding at-risk students, and much more.”

(This is a condensed version of an article released by the Goochland Public Schools, Virginia Department of Education and the Center for Innovative Technology.)

Testing Educational Technology in Real-World Settings

Bavaro Hall, Curry School of Education

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia’s Jefferson Education Accelerator will contribute to the creation of educational technologies and solutions by helping entrepreneurs test their ideas in the classroom, the Curry School of Education Foundation announced yesterday.

When word of the accelerator program first leaked out last year, the Curry School left its value proposition vague. The idea, as then described, was to create an accelerator/incubator to foster the start-up of enterprises that use technology to improve educational access and outcomes. The Curry School had given rise already to several entrepreneurial spin-offs such as PALS, CaseNex and Teachstone, and the thinking was that an accelerator could support even more.

In formally launching the accelerator yesterday, the Curry School of Education Foundation said it would provide more than office space and venture funding. Said Curry School Dean Robert Pianta, who will chair the Accelerator board:

Increasingly, schools of education have a responsibility to ensure that classrooms and campuses are equipped with tools that carry strong evidence of their effectiveness.

The Jefferson Education Accelerator is building a nationwide network of K-12 schools, colleges and universities that have demonstrated both an interest and capacity, to test promising products and services.

“Successful education technologies must be informed by the insights of teachers, administrators, and real-world implementation data,” said Accelerator CEO Bart Epstein. “The number one criterion for investing in education has to be efficacy. We want to bring transparency to the process of evaluating solutions—to help both educators and investors make better informed decisions and make an impact.”

Bacon’s bottom line: The project sounds  well conceived. Raising capital and finding affordable space is the easy part of launching a new educational enterprise. The U.S. educational system is ponderous and bureaucratic. It resists innovation and change. Decision-making is diffuse. Failure is punished and success is little rewarded. Anyone seeking to introduce new technologies or services to schools would be well-served by testing innovations in real-world environments and providing social scientific support of efficacy. The Curry School’s accelerator addresses those challenges head-on.

There may be hope for American education yet.

Has Economic Reality Hit Education?

Last week several interesting articles about education appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the New York Times.  Locally, Henrico County might hire more teachers in response to complaints over large class sizes.  The NYT reported a significant decline in the number of recent graduates applying to the Teach for America program.  This program places recent graduates in inner-city schools.  Reflecting an improving economy, Teach for America has advised some school districts that its applications are down about 10%.  Additionally, the NYT‘s article indicated participation in undergraduate education programs is down about 13%.  For some districts, Teach for America supplies as much as 20% of teaching staff.

Salaries in education have been nominally stagnant for many years.  Since I retired at the end of the 2008-09 year,  my former colleagues at the Governor School have experienced only one increase of 2% which is in-line with the general trend of teacher salaries.  Utilizing the Bureau of Labor’s inflation calculator, an individual making US$40,000 in 2008 would need a nominal salary of US$43,981 to maintain the same level of purchasing power. At what point will politicians and educrats understand that promising employees a diminishing standard of living is not a business model that assures success?

-- Les Schreiber

Takeaways From Bob McDonnell’s Sentencing

Mcd sentencedBy Peter Galuszka

The outpouring of support for convicted former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell was overwhelming at his sentencing hearing yesterday at which he was told that he will serve two years in a federal penitentiary.

And this very support stands in marked contrast to McDonnell’s performance on the witness stand during his marathon trial last summer. There he alternated between saying that he “holds himself accountable” and then blaming his aides, vitamin salesman Jonnie R. Williams and, of course, his estranged wife Maureen who was set up to take the fall.

So which Bob is really Bob?

In U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer’s courtroom, the hours’ long reading of letters of support and 11 witness testimonials from the stand became tedious and repetitive. Bob kneels down to comfort a sick woman. Bob helps out Katrina hurricane victims on his week-long vacation, builds a basketball court and breaks his jaw. Bob restores voting rights to 8,128 convicted felons who had served their time. Bob’s only flaws are his gullibility and naïvite. Bob writes thank you notes.

The most impressive supporter by far was L. Douglas Wilder, the former Richmond mayor who became the first-ever African-American governor. Always unpredictable, the Democratic politician came down hard on Bob’s side, saying he’s known him for years and found him to “to be of his word.” Wilder touched off applause in the courtroom he blamed Williams as “the man who started this bribe” as “the one who got away clean.”

All of these people were trying to convince Judge Spencer that Bob should not get jail time but 6,000 hours of community service. One option would be to stick him in a service coordination job on the island nation of Haiti. The job normally would pay $100,000 including benefits but Bob wouldn’t get the money and would work and have to sleep in a hot and buggy room. Other possibilities including holding an unpaid $60,000 job coordinating a food bank in southwest Virginia.

To his credit, Judge Spencer didn’t bite. Prosecutor Michael Dry said that McDonnell is free to do all the community service he wants after he serves his time behind bars. McDonnell could have gotten more than 12 years in prison. Spencer gave him two.

The sentence is on the light side but is probably fair. McDonnell has been tremendously humiliated. He completely dishonored his public trust and will go down in history as the Virginia governor who was corrupt. At least he is getting some jail time.

And he might win on appeal. It’s not a slam dunk but there is respected legal opinion out there that “honest services fraud” can be viewed in a tight or loose focus. Spencer chose a tight focus but we will have to see if the appeal McDonnell has filed gets to the U.S. Fourth Circuit and then Supreme Court.

Next up is wife Maureen, who is a tragic figure and also was convicted of corruption. Her own daughters characterized her as a sick woman who badly needs help. Some columnists have pumped her up, saying she’s the unsung heroine stuck raising the kids while the ambitious politician is selfishly away building his career.

Something about that argument doesn’t ring true to me. Maureen McDonnell may well have despised the time Bob spent away from her but she also was right beside him, pushing her own agenda such as selling nutraceuticals and backing pet programs such as marketing Virginia wines and helped injured military veterans. As First Lady, she was no shrinking violet when it came to letting her wishes known to state employees.

She comes up for sentencing Feb. 20 and now that her husband’s fate is known, it seems likely she won’t get any jail time. If so, maybe she can get the help she seems to badly need and the McDonnell family can start to heal their terrible wounds.

One of the character witnesses Tuesday was William Howell, the Republican Speaker of the House of Delegates who provided the enormously valuable insight that “people would describe Bob as a Boy Scout.” Not only is Howell’s remark insipid, it hides how much he’s responsible for maintaining the total mess that policing ethics among Virginia public officials has become.

No matter how many Wednesday morning Bible studies Howell says he attended with McDonnell, he still did nothing to improve regulation of political donations and gifts. If anything, he’s the problem not the solution since he minimizes every decent initiative to rationalize Virginia’s loosey-goosey system. If there were clear rules, McDonnell may never have gotten caught in his quagmire. He might have known when to avoid crossing the line.

Howell told the court that the General Assembly is busy setting its house right and that McDonnell’s predicament “Most certainly . . . has had a deterrent effect.” That was likely the most ridiculous statement during the five hours of court testimony on a horrid sentencing day.

Virginia’s Top Stories in 2014

mcd convictedBy Peter Galuszka

The Year 2014 was quite eventful if unsettling. It represented some major turning points for the Old Dominion.

Here are my picks for the top stories:

  • Robert F. McDonnell becomes the highest-ranking former or serving state official to be convicted of corruption. The six-week-long trial from July to September of the Republican former governor and his wife, Maureen, was international news. In terms of trash, it offered everything – greed, tackiness, a dysfunctional marriage, a relationship “triangle,” and an inner glimpse of how things work at the state capital.  More importantly, it ends forever the conceit that there is a “Virginia Way” in which politicians are gentlemen above reproach, the status quo prevails and ordinary voters should be kept as far away from the political process as possible. It also shows the unfinished job of reforming ethics. The hidden heroes are honest state bureaucrats who resisted top-down pushes to vet dubious vitamin pills plus the State Police who did their investigative duty.
  • Eric Cantor loses. Cantor, another Republican, had been riding high as the 7th District Congressman and House Majority Leader. A wunderkind of the Richmond business elite, Cantor was positioned to be House Speaker and was considered invulnerable, at least until David Brat, an unknown college economics professor and populist libertarian, exploited fractures in the state GOP to win a stunning primary upset. Cantor immediately landed in a high-paying lobbying job for a financial house.
  • Terry McAuliffe takes over. The Democrat Washington insider and Clinton crony beat hard-right fanatic Kenneth Cuccinelli in a tight 2013 race. He bet almost everything on getting the GOP-run General Assembly to expand Medicaid benefits to 400,000 low income Virginians. He lost and will try again. He’s done a pretty good job at snaring new business, notably the $2 billion Shandong-Tralin paper mill from China for Chesterfield County. It will employ 2,000.
  • Roads projects blow up. Leftover highway messes such as the bypass of U.S. 29 in Charlottesville finally got spiked for now. Big questions remain about what happened to the $400 million or so that the McDonnell Administration spent on the unwanted U.S. 460 road to nowhere in southeastern Virginia.
  • Gay marriage becomes legal. A U.S. District Judge in Norfolk found Virginia’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional and the U.S. Supreme Court pushed opening gay marriage farther. The rulings helped turn the page on the state’s prejudicial past, such as the ban on interracial marriage that lasted until the late 1960s.
  • Fracking changes state energy picture. A flood of natural gas from West Virginia and Pennsylvania has utilities like Dominion Resources pushing gas projects. It’s been nixing coal plants and delaying new nukes and renewables. Dominion is also shaking things up by pitching a $5 billion, 550-mile-long pipeline through some of the state’s most picturesque areas – just one of several pipelines being pitched. The EPA has stirred things up with complex new rules in cutting carbon emissions and the state’s business community and their buddies at the State Corporation Commission have organized a massive opposition campaign. McAuliffe, meanwhile, has issued his “everything” energy plan that looks remarkably like former governor McDonnell’s.
  • State struggles with budget gaps. Sequestration of federal spending and defense cuts have sent officials scrambling to plug a $2.4 billion gap in the biennial budget. It is back to the same old smoke and mirrors to raise taxes while not seeming to. Obvious solutions – such as raising taxes on gasoline and tobacco – remain off limits.
  • College rape became a hot issue after Rolling Stone printed a flawed story about an alleged gang rape of a female student at the prestigious University of Virginia in 2012. Progressives pushed for raising awareness while conservatives took full advantage of the reporter’s reporting gaps to pretend that sex abuse is not really an issue.
  • Poverty is on the radar screen, especially in Richmond which has poverty rate of 27 percent (70 percent in some neighborhoods) and other spots such as Newport News. Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones got a lot of national press attention for his campaign to eradicate poverty but it is really hard to understand what he’s actually doing or whether it is successful. The real attention in Richmond is on such essentials as replacing the Diamond baseball stadium, justifying a training camp for the Washington Redskins and giving big subsidies for a rich San Diego brewer of craft beer.
  • Day care regulation. Virginia has a horrible reputation for allowing small, home day care centers to operate without regulation. Dozens have children have died over the past few years at them. This year there were deaths at centers in Midlothian and Lynchburg.
  • The continued madness of the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission. This out-of-control slush fund in the tobacco belt continued its waywardness by talking with Democratic State Sen. Phil Pucket about a six-figure job just as Puckett was to resign and deny a swing vote in the senate in favor of expanding Medicaid. The commission also drew attention for inside plays by the politically powerful Kilgore family and giving $30 million in an unsolicited grant to utility Dominion.

Presumed Guilty

UVa fraternities -- guilty until proven innocent? Photo credit: www.andrewkouri.com.

UVa fraternities — guilty until proven innocent? Photo credit: www.andrewkouri.com.

by James A. Bacon

Suspending the social activities of University of Virginia’s sororities and fraternities is a violation of student rights, said the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) earlier this week in a statement to the Washington Post. The suspension, put into place by UVa President Teresa Sullivan in response to now-discredited allegations of a gang rape at Phi Kappa Psi, is scheduled to last until January 9.

While stressing the organization’s commitment to combat sexual assault and improve campus safety for women, NPC protested the indiscriminate nature of the shut-down: “The sanctions imposed on the sorority and fraternity system, particularly at U-Va., have punished all members with no cited wrongdoing and their rights have been violated.”

Admittedly, the ban is largely symbolic. Greek-system organizations hold few social functions during exams and the Christmas holidays. But the symbolism is important. It’s a sign that the UVa administration holds sororities and fraternities collectively accountable for a presumed epidemic of sexual assault. The administration is effectively saying that the Greek system, as opposed to specific fraternities, is responsible in whole or in part for the problem.

The university’s persistence in sanctioning sororities and fraternities is all the more remarkable given the fact that the Rolling Stone gang rape story that ignited the controversy has been thoroughly discredited. While it remains possible that the young woman, “Jackie,” who told the story may have experienced some kind of traumatic event, there is almost no way at this point of knowing what happened, where it took place or who was responsible. The evidence suggests that Phi Kappa Psi, where the gang rape allegedly occurred, was not involved at all.

There is a generalized upwelling of angst and concern at UVa about unhappy sexual encounters, some of which may legitimately be called “rape” but some of which may not. Many women have told stories of being coerced into sex, usually in the context of binge drinking and hook-ups. Undoubtedly there is a very real problem that needs to be addressed — women should not be coerced into having sex under any circumstances, period, end of story — but there is much that we don’t know. We don’t know how many of these incidents occurred while both participants were drunk, and we don’t know whether consent was given or implied, and we don’t know how many episodes constitute “regret sex” — women waking up in the morning and going, ewwww, I did what? or waking up in the morning and being shabbily treated by the man she’d just slept with.

We don’t know how many of these incidents took place in fraternities, as opposed to sororities, dormitories or off-campus housing.  We don’t know how many incidents involved physical coercion by males or how many involved social coercion — women engaging in sexual activity solely to avoid ridicule by their peers. I don’t know the answers to those questions, and neither does anybody else.

But who needs facts? At UVa, anti-rape activists are imposing an ideological template that conflates every form of sexual transgression — from pinching fannies to stalking, raping and murdering someone — as “sexual assault.” We also have a prevalent mindset, that extends into the faculty and administration, that views issues through the prism of gender, race and class and is primed to blame “white male privilege” for every evil under the sun.

Perhaps an unbiased investigation will show that some UVa fraternities are dens of orgiastic depravity. Anything’s possible. Even so, we must hew to the fundamental American principle that we don’t punish the collective for the sins of an individual. Insofar as sexual assaults occur at particular fraternity houses and it can be demonstrated that the fraternities knowingly created an atmosphere of permissiveness that allowed the assaults to occur, the University is arguably within its rights to shut them down. But the idea of punishing innocent fraternities for the sins of the guilty ones is reprehensible. The idea of punishing sororities is beyond reprehensible, it’s ludicrous. Has there been a single documented incident of rape at a sorority house?

A century ago, white segregationists dealt with rape — especially if a black man allegedly raped a white woman — by stringing up a rope and hanging the guy on the spot. Who needs facts? Who needs a court of law? Thankfully, no one is being lynched in the literal sense anymore. But we still have mob rule energized by emotion and prejudice. University administrators need to to address the problem of sexual assault within their community, but it should not be part of the mob.