133 Virginia Petri Dishes for Back-to-School Policies

by James A. Bacon

Virginia’s 133 school districts are conducting what amounts to an unprecedented experiment on the efficacy of online learning in K-12 education.

Spooked by COVID-19, local school boards are stampeding toward the emergency exits — hundreds of schools will close this fall, and tens of thousands of Virginia school kids will be educated at home. Here are some headlines compiled by today’s VA News:

Petersburg schools going virtual for start of upcoming year.

Fredericksburg schools will be 100 percent virtual when classes start Aug. 17.

Virginia Beach should start school year online-only, superintendent says.

Peninsula educators’ groups are united: they want school to start virtually.

York County Schools Superintendent recommends remote learning for at least first nine weeks.

Under latest proposal, Danville Public Schools would start with nine weeks of virtual learning.

Henry County Public Schools will reopen with all virtual classes.

The close-the-schools sentiment is not universal. Other articles report contentious public sessions in Albemarle County and Waynesboro, while Accomack and Northumberland Counties are offering in-person and distance-learning options. The discussion in Roanoke and Lynchburg appears to be focusing on how the return to school can be conducted safely.

This will make for a fascinating sociological experiment.

Assuming the COVID-19 epidemic subsides by next spring, there is a good chance that schools will re-institute the Standards of Learning exams. It will be most interesting to compare the academic achievement of students in districts that required in-person attendance, those that required online learning, and those that implemented hybrid policies.

Prediction No. 1: Overall, academic achievement will decline in school districts that shift to online learning. However, the impact will not be even. Declines in pass rates will be most pronounced for economically disadvantaged and minority students.

Prediction No. 2: Some families will try it and like it. Most likely, these will be families that (a) have access to broadband, and (b) have parents at home who can enforce children’s discipline. A significant percentage of these parents will decide they like online learning so much that they’ll switch their kids to home schooling.

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23 responses to “133 Virginia Petri Dishes for Back-to-School Policies”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” However, the impact will not be even. Declines in pass rates will be most pronounced for economically disadvantaged and minority students.”

    Wait! Aren’t these the very same kids we hammer public schools for “failing” to educate and advocate voucher schools as remedy prior to the pandemic?

    So now are saying that public schools actually do have success at educating these kids?

    Why not argue for taxpayer-funded tutors for these kids unless of course they’re just really pawns in the “open up now or else” scuffle?

    With a little imagination, we could turn this whole mess into an advocacy for tutors for kids. no?

    Can we imagine those lefty liberals opposing “helping” those disadvantaged kids? And I bet more than a few teachers would love to tutor –

    Sometimes we spend so much time pushing and shoving – good ideas are like snakes biting us on our rumps.

    1. WayneS Avatar

      “So now are saying that public schools actually do have success at educating these kids?”

      Assumes [opinions] not in evidence.

      Even a poor passing rate has room for decline.


      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        so we’re advocating for what?

        Do we really care about those kids are or they just pawns in this food fight?

      2. WayneS Avatar

        I’m not advocating for anything. I was pointing out your error in logic.

        I think your arguments would be more successful if you stopped telling people what they think and then arguing against it and instead simply put forth your argument.

        PS – just because you frame so many things as “questions” does not mean you are not attempting to put words in other people’s mouths – it just means you’re being passive-aggressive about it.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          Tell you what. when you see me do it, call me on it.

  2. mfm255 Avatar

    Unfortunately, it would appear that the “stampede” has not included more creative ways of educating children and young adults. If “a significant percentage of these parents [will] decide they like online learning so much [that] they’ll switch their kids to homeschooling” becomes a true statement, then shouldn’t public schools also be redesigning educational programs to include permanent ways of doing things differently? The pandemic has created an opportunity to turn a pig’s ear into a silk purse with new ways of teaching and learning, opportunities for year-round and multi-track education, internship and apprenticeship programs, etc. Virtual learning, as well as small group teaching using qualified mentors and other professionals, could have a place in the mix as well. Now is the time to create flexible learning environments to ensure the creation of a place for all learners. If we are going to experiment, let’s experiment in a big way, not in ways that neglect certain segments of the learning process and student community to ensure “consistency” and “control” over what takes place in our public schools.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    Surely out of 133 school districts in Virginia of which a good number are rural – some will try to get back to 100% in-person for elementary.

    Can we find out who those are and detail what they are doing here?

    Also if a majority of bigger schools districts are “punting” how can we say it’s “fear porn” when it’s the parents who are mad as hornets instead of being in fear?

    1. djrippert Avatar

      I doubt it. They still have to comply with Northam’s “fist of their kind in America” COVID-19 workplace regulations.

    2. sbostian Avatar

      Lest we have too much confidence in the education crowd, consider this from CBS News: (June, 2011) (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/heres-the-nations-easiest-college-major/)

      A college degree is just about essential to make a lot of money in a career, but what if you don’t want to work all that hard to get a diploma?

      Slackers wanting to earn the country’s easiest college major, should major in education.

      It’s easy to get “A’s” if you’re an education major. Maybe that’s why one out of 10 college graduates major in education.

      Research over the years has indicated that education majors, who enter college with the lowest average SAT scores, leave with the highest grades. Some of academic evidence documenting easy A’s for future teachers goes back more than 50 years!

      The latest damning report on the ease of majoring in education comes from research at the University of Missouri, my alma mater. The study, conducted by economist Cory Koedel shows that education majors receive “substantially higher” grades than students in every other department.

      CBS is hardly a right wing publication and is certainly not hostile to public education.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Yep. All I can tell you is that quite a few who think they can teach find out they can’t. The ones that remain are good.

        1. sbostian Avatar

          Love to see the data on that! Or is this just one of your unsubstantiated, sweeping assertions?

        2. LarrytheG Avatar

          I know a fair number of veteran teachers as well as some who dropped out and took other employment.

          It’s my impression based on teachers I do know…

          A fair number of newbies don’t make it according to the folks I know. For one thing, they get put in the tougher classes with kids with learning issues and it’s sink or swim time.

          But if you want a feel for it – go look at the PALS reading criteria that teachers has to use these days.


  4. James Wyatt Whitehead V Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Randolph Macon Academy in Front Royal, Virginia will resume 5 day a week in person instruction on August 18th. One of their requirements is a 7 day quarantine period prior to the return to campus. A daily temperature log must be maintained by parents to establish a baseline temperature. Final rescreen on Registration Day. Anything over a 2 degree variance will revert the student to virtual learning until cleared by a doctor. Temperature checks performed by the bus driver everyday. Boarding students have temperature checks everyday prior to reveille. Each student has to maintain 5 masks (printed up with a cool RMA logo and Yellow Jacket). 26 hand sanitizing stations in campus. Mandatory training on registration day to instill new habits of mind about hygiene and COVID. Big campus so they can spread out the students and class sizes are small to start with. Follow up training every week. It looks good to me.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      James – have they said what they do if a teacher gets the virus?

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead V Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead V

        Teacher stays home. If healthy enough, teaches class from home, kids at RMA in that class have somebody to assist the facilitation between the sick at home teacher and the kids in the class.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          are others who had contact trace/tested and isolated until test results?

    2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      Key: small class sizes and large campus.
      They are supplied with masks. When do they have to wear them? In class?
      Another key: students who habitually do not comply witth mask and other requirements can be kicked out and sent home.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead V Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead V

        Masks required indoors, outdoors, and when in contact with others. Exception is in the dorm rooms or eating/drinking. I think this is their plan.

    3. djrippert Avatar

      Flint Hill in Oakton will conduct 5 days / week in-person education for students in K-8 and alternating two day in-person per week education in high school.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        And I would expect other schools in Virginia to do this – outside of the urban areas…

        In the Fredericksburg area – it’s either hybrid or all virtue – there is not full time in-person yet.

        It looks like, at this point, a lot of the state is not going back full time.

        Is that because of teacher unions?

        Is anyone blaming Northam for this mess? Is it causing his approval rating to crater?

  5. SWVAgirl Avatar

    This past Tuesday, the Montgomery County (VA) school board held a 12-hour meeting on the reopening of schools. The county was set to reopen schools in person on a 4-day, hybrid schedule beginning Aug. 13. Comments made by a majority of board members on social media prior to Tuesday’s meeting led me to believe they would change that to a remote / virtual reopening. Instead, they pushed the starting date of school back to September 8, still saying this will be in-person instruction. It would seem the sticking point for many board members is the return of Virginia Tech and Radford University students to the area. Board members want to see what happens when the students return to the area before reopening the public schools. The regional health director, herself an MCPS parent, spoke at the marathon meeting, encouraging the original August 13, in-person start date. With as much hand-wringing as there was at this meeting, prior to, and since, I don’t have much confidence in a September 8 return to in-person instruction.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      keep us tuned in………

  6. sbostian Avatar

    Having been in the university environment for the last decade, I have been sensitized to the ethical niceties of human and animal experiments. One requirement is that an outside board with no role in the experiment (IRB) must evaluate the possible harm caused to subjects of the experiment. The investigator has to make a case that the potential harm is far outweighed by the potential benefit to the subject and/or society. In the case of human subjects, informed consent is required. At a minimum this entails a detailed, plainly worded disclosure of the risks involved. Also, human subjects have to be compensated for their participation.

    Even with nonhuman subjects there have to be safeguards to prevent “undue” cruelty to the animals. Review board approval is frequently denied because of inadequate safeguards. It is possible that experiments with lab rats as subjects provide more protection for the rats than will be the case for school children in the commonwealth and nationally. Children and their parents will certainly not be compensated for their participation in a giant “field experiment”.

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