by James A. Bacon
Virginia’s public school officials rely upon a wide array of metrics to determine if schools are doing a good job of educating their students. Trusting in the integrity of the statistics, our political leaders use them to guide education policy and decision-making — as recently highlighted by the data-heavy critique of Virginia’s schools published by the Youngkin administration last week.
I have written about Fletcher Norwood (not his real name), a high school teacher at a high-poverty school in Virginia, and his travails in teaching kids who are unmotivated, ill disciplined and addicted to cellphones. The system he describes is like that of Chinese provincial functionaries concocting economic-performance numbers to make themselves look good, passing them up the line, and leaving higher-ups with a distorted view of reality. Malpractice at Norwood’s school is particularly evident in the handing out of grades and the measurement of student “growth.”
Consider, for example, enrollment in the two “honors” classes that Norwood teaches. Collegevine says that most schools give honors classes an additional 0.5 grade kicker on a 1.0 to 4.0 scale in acknowledgment of the more demanding curricula. Some schools are motivated to place kids in honors classes because the weight-boosted average makes the school look better. But at his school, Norwood says, there is no discernible logic for admitting students to the honors classes he teaches.
“When I first started with honors classes, I asked [students], what’s the difference between a regular class and an honors class? At least a quarter of them would say, ‘I don’t know why I’m honors, I got a D last year,” Norwood says. Continue reading
by Steve Haner
Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s administration has filed a letter with the State Corporation Commission asking the regulators to approve the Dominion Energy Virginia application to build a 176-turbine Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project.
The letter was on Department of Energy letterhead and signed by that agency’s director John Warren, a holdover from the Democratic Ralph Northam administration.
During and after the 2021 campaign, Youngkin was critical of the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) that mandated SCC approval of the project, slated to cost just under $10 billion. He expressed a desire to protect consumers from rising energy costs. But he and his staff took no role in the 2022 legislative efforts to repeal VCEA or restore more SCC authority over costs, bills which passed in the House of Delegates but failed in a Senate committee stacked with Democrats.
He is now off the sidelines. Youngkin’s support for the project assumes it can become an economic boon to the state. His department director wrote: Continue reading
by Dick Hall-Sizemore
In addition to conventional budget requests, the Youngkin administration is likely to receive requests from agencies in the fall budget development exercise for additional funding to enable them to cover additional costs resulting from higher inflation. (Yes, I realize that the 2022-2024 biennial budget has not even been agreed upon yet, but, once one round is out of the way, budget folks are always getting ready for the next round.)
With some exceptions, inflation is not normally built into budget bills. Budget development for a biennial budget starts with a base budget, which is the appropriation for the second year of the most recent biennium. Adjustments are made to the base, but rarely are those adjustments for inflation. As for the mid-biennium budget, agencies normally are not provided additional appropriations to cover inflationary costs. Continue reading
by Jim McCarthy
Who is the “who” doing the replacing? Who is the “us” to be replaced? There is no discernable record that indigenous Americans asked themselves this question. In the early 1600s, the Powhattan people of Virginia observed as the English immigrants built a fort and spread their settlement across formerly Powhattan hunting grounds. In 1622, the natives attacked as a measure, according to some historians, to teach the English a lesson.
From the circumstances, indigenous peoples were clear that the newcomers were not of their tribe nor sharing of their sensibilities; they were others with pale skins determined to clear and dominate forested lands for agriculture unburdened by who went before them. The existential evidence was reasonably graphic to conclude that the Powhattan were being replaced, their properties being converted without concern for their interests.
Although the later governing document authored by the immigrant colonialists appeared to accord native Americans the high diplomatic privilege of reserving to the Congress explicit authority to regulate commerce and negotiate treaties with them, the document also excluded untaxed natives from the census. That Constitution ironically contained a provision limiting the taking of property without due process or just compensation. In 1800, Congress adopted an act for the preservation of peace with the natives limiting First Amendment speech and press freedoms as a means to proscribe criticism of national policies and discourage foreign nations from stirring them to protest. Continue reading
by Steve Haner
Fourteen nights in a hospital, especially if you are fully awake and observant, is very instructive. Here are some things I want to share:
The hospitals are understaffed and otherwise under major stress, to the point that patient standards of care have changed. As nice and diligent as everyone is, nurses or technicians can be with only one patient at a time, and the charting they must do is extensive.
When the order for a vital test is placed at 11 a.m. and it finally happens at 2 a.m. the next morning, with two lonely techs running the CT machine through the dead of night, that’s about staffing. A 3 a.m. room visitor coming to conduct an ultrasound at bedside is a sign that team is also shorthanded.
A slow response on a call button is about staffing, not inattention at the desk. The days when the staff makes sure every patient gets at least cleaned up with wipes and gets clean sheets and a new gown daily are gone. It happens if you ask and happens quicker if a family member can help you. Continue reading
by Andrew Rotherham
Two days ago, Governor Glenn Youngkin released the analysis of achievement and accountability in Virginia that was part of his executive order package when he took office. It was an open secret this was coming – it was right there in the EO – yet there is still some surprise. Here’s the RTD.
The surprise is likely because it’s pretty comprehensive. It’s reflexively getting framed as Youngkin versus Ralph Northam – the previous governor – but the problems the report outlines are more longstanding.
And they are real. If you live in the commonwealth you should read it because it’s an important and relatively unsparing look at achievement gaps that are too rarely discussed in Virginia, and some of the gamesmanship employed to sweep them under the rug. It also has information about overall achievement that is sobering. There is a lot of work to do to create a genuinely inclusive school system in Virginia…
First, the report is a good look at the tension between looking good and doing well or as we sometimes call it around here, achievement realists versus public relationists. Every state should think about an analysis like this that gets beneath the puffery and reflexive tendency to focus on silver linings disproportionately to clouds. Continue reading
by Lindsey Zea
For election accountability purposes, chain of custody for ballots should be observable and publicly verifiable. So, why are two of the largest counties in Virginia, as well as other localities, planning to expand the chain of custody to include a third-party absentee-ballot processing company from Washington state that was caught red-handed ignoring the security measures built into the law?
Before 2021, absentee ballots were mailed from local registrars’ offices and processed and supervised by the registrar’s staff. In 2021, a bill (SB 1239) was passed that permits localities to hire a third-party company to print, assemble, and mail absentee ballots. Once hired, this vendor receives the name, address, precinct, district and voter ID information for individual voters. In Loudoun County, for example, the list of permanent absentee ballots that would be handed over to the private vendor would number around 15,000.
Last year, Fairfax County, the most populous county in Virginia, outsourced the printing and mailing of absentee ballots to a company called K&H located in Washington state. K&H failed to follow Virginia law. The company did not sign a legally required oath before beginning work. A public information request found that the vendor failed to comply with Virginia law and did not sign the oaths until months after the election was over. Continue reading
by Chris Braunlich
“… score standards were adopted that made it easier for students to pass; and changes in accreditation regulations let schools off the hook for their failures.”
The words of Governor Glenn Youngkin at Thursday’s unveiling of a new report analyzing the decline of Virginia’s public education?
Nope. They came from The Washington Post, in a February 8, 2020 editorial titled “Virginia made a mistake by easing its academic standards.”
Three years earlier, The Post presciently predicted the standards decline after interviewing the future governor: “Mr. Northam claimed to believe in accountability, but was utterly unable to explain what he means by the word,” as Northam suggested different standards for different students.
An editorial titled, “Virginia’s retreat from academic rigor,” noted: “Creating different expectations for children does them no favors; it just allows adults to escape responsibility…. The emphasis appears to be not on actually improving schools but rather on approving how they appear….”
This was precisely the result of the last eight years. And it is precisely what the Virginia Department of Education report has exposed. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
That didn’t take long. Yesterday the Youngkin administration issued its report detailing the perilous condition of Virginia’s public schools. Today the
progressive educational establishment struck back, thoroughly rejecting the administration’s claims that educational performance is heading in the wrong direction.
The most forceful denunciations are found in The Washington Post, which not only quoted numerous critics of the report, but joined in the fray with its own “analysis” suggesting that Team Youngkin’s “use of data is misleading.”
According to the Post (quoting verbatim):
Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said in a statement: “To accuse Virginia’s education system of failure is an outright lie, supported by cherry-picked data and warped perspective.”
The Virginia Education Association, a teachers union, called the report “biased” and designed to “get the public to want school choice measures like vouchers.” The association shared a video of [Secretary of Education Aimee] Guidera speaking at an April panel hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, in which she promised to publish data on students’ poor academic performance to “hopefully … have those conversations about expanding choices outside the public system.” Continue reading
by James C. Sherlock
I submit for your review two articles about the report of the Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction, “Our Commitment to Virginians”.
The first is by Sarah Rankin of the Associated Press.
The other is by Hannah Natanson of The Washington Post.
Both review the same report. Both are presented as news not opinion.
That report promises broad attempts to improve the education of all Virginia public school children. I suggest that is what we employ a Superintendent of Public Instruction to do.
Read both stories and the report in question. Make the effort a Rorschach test.
What do you see?
Governor Glenn Younkin speeds during a news conference announced his latest education report.
by James A. Bacon
Educational outcomes in Virginia have been trending negative since 2017, says a report issued by the Youngkin administration today, “Our Commitment to Virginians: High Expectations and Excellence for All Students.”
So… how does Team Youngkin plan to get things moving in the right direction?
Broadly speaking, the answer is to raise expectations and raise standards.
In the Youngkin administration narrative, a succession of Republican and Democrat governors built one of the best public education systems in the country by setting ambitious goals and holding schools accountable. Beginning around 2017 concerns over racial disparities in academic performance prompted policies that, though well meaning, had the effect of watering down standards and hiding failure. Youngkin is determined to restore the commitment to excellence.
“The future prosperity of our Commonwealth depends on how well we prepare our students,” the Governor said in a prepared statement today. “Working alongside parents, teachers, and policymakers, we will restore excellence in education and ensure that all students have access to quality education opportunities that prepare them for success in our workplaces, our communities, and our democracy.” Continue reading
Reese Jackson, CEO, Chesapeake Regional Medical Center
Is the Virginia Antitrust Act now in play?
by James C. Sherlock
There is good news this morning for those of us hoping for more competition to regional healthcare monopolies in Virginia.
The Virginia Supreme Court (the Court) overturned the decision of the State Health Commissioner to deny the application of the Chesapeake Regional Medical Center (CRMC) to create an open heart surgical service.
Sentara Health, unsurprisingly, objected to the application and was a party to the case before the Court. It also had been a party to the hearing by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) COPN (Certificate of Public Need) adjudication officer. That official then made a recommendation against CRMC that the health commissioner accepted. The court found his decision to be fatally flawed.
The Court remanded the original decision to the new health commissioner for re-consideration. In doing so, it overturned decisions by the Chesapeake Circuit Court (made by a visiting Norfolk judge who failed to disclose a conflict of interest) and by the appeals court that upheld that original decision.
The court found that the health commissioner made an error of law and that the courts erred in both:
- deferring to the heath commissioner for interpretation of his agency’s own regulations without rigorous review of those regulations by the courts; and
- applying the harmless error doctrine to that error of law.
by James A. Bacon
Virginia’s public schools, once among the best in the nation, are slipping badly. Some of the learning loss can be attributed to school closings driven by the COVID-19 epidemic, but the slide began several years before, when education leaders began lowering standards. And despite a relentless focus on “equity,” the racial achievement gap is getting worse.
So concludes a report issued this morning, “Our Commitment to Virginians: High Expectations and Excellence for All Students,” prepared by Jillian Balow, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The bulk of the report is devoted to documenting the seldom-acknowledged reality that educational outcomes in Virginia are deteriorating. “We need a clear understanding of where we are right now,” said Education Secretary Aimee Guidera in a press briefing before the official release. The report, she said, presents “a sobering picture.”
Bacon’s Rebellion will present the data behind that conclusion in this post, and then describe how the Youngkin administration intends to address the challenge in a follow-up post.
Central to the report is a concept called “the honesty gap,” a metric popularized by a nonprofit organization, Achieve Inc., to express the gulf between state and federal measures of student proficiency in math and English. According to Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) tests, 75% of the state’s 4th graders are proficient in reading. But according to the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) — the “gold standard” in educational testing — only 38% are proficient, a gap of 37%. The discrepancy is even wider for Blacks and Hispanics: 45%. Continue reading