Virginia, a General Assembly committee on school violence was told yesterday, is a national leader in school safety but it still could do more to prevent violence, bullying and harassment. Among the options explored were hiring more counselors and providing more training. Judging by the reporting of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, much of the discussion focused on how to prevent or respond to school shootings.
As best I recollect, no Virginia K-12 school has experienced a Columbine-scale mass shooting. Yet the threat of rare but spasmodic violence dominated the session. Remarkably, the matter of routine violence in schools didn’t animate any discussion — even though, according to state statistics, Virginia schools reported 2,897 assaults against students (no weapons), 48 assaults with firearms or other weapons, and 34 sexual batteries in the 2015-16 school year.
If I were a social justice warrior, I might criticize the contrasting attitudes — high anxiety about the remote threat of violence in the kind of affluent, white-dominated schools where mass shootings typically take place and indifference toward routine violence at predominantly black schools — as a classic example of institutional racism. I must confess to being mystified by the silence. One might be tempted to conclude — unfairly, I’m sure — that SJWs living in affluent, white-dominated school districts place greater importance on the safety of their own children.
We do know that SJWs are extremely concerned about the injustices — arrests, suspensions, other punishments — perpetrated upon school students committing the violent offenses, mainly on the grounds that the offenders are disproportionately African-American. I have blogged in the past that the victims of violent and disorderly behavior, also disproportionately African-American, don’t warrant much sympathy presumably because they don’t advance the Narrative of Institutional Oppression.
In perusing Virginia’s school safety data, I came across a remarkable finding that no one is touting. If we believe the official statistics, Virginia schools are much, much safer today than they were a decade ago. Physical and verbal intimidation is down 24% for students, 40% for teachers. Bullying is down almost 80%. Assaults on students are down 56% for students and 30% for teachers. Those are astonishing numbers. Surely this is one of the great public policy victories of our time. Surely this is cause for widespread celebration!
Or perhaps the numbers are worthless — another case of truth being sacrificed on the altar of political correctness and bureaucratic butt-covering.
What has changed in the past 10 years? The most obvious difference between now and then has been the crusade initiated by the American Civil Liberties Union and the U.S. Department of Justice against school disciplinary policies that disproportionately impacted minority and disabled students. DOJ has compelled numerous Virginia school districts to revamp their disciplinary procedures with the explicit goal of reducing the racial disparity in punishments. Those school districts have adopted a less punitive, more therapeutic approach to dealing with student misbehavior.
Here’s the critical question: What is driving the decline in reported school infractions and violence: new-and-improved disciplinary policies that are changing student behavior for the better… or teachers and administrators giving the DOJ and ACLU the numbers they want to see?
I suspect the latter. Anecdotal information I hear about a school in eastern Henrico County suggests to me that teachers and administrators are losing control of the school. Teacher burn-out is ferocious, and more than the usual number of teachers submitted resignations this year.
How might we get a better handle on the facts on the ground? We could survey teachers and ask them if they believe discipline has improved or worsened. Absent such a survey, we could measure teacher turnover. Teacher churn is an objective measure, the number is readily compiled and not easily gamed.
Meanwhile, in la-la land — er, I mean the General Assembly — people are talking about better training for crisis response, better coordination with emergency responders, increased mental health services, and more “social-emotional learning,” whatever that is. Virginia is well prepared to deal with crises that may never happen. How well is the Commonwealth doing in dealing with routine anarchy? We won’t know unless we gather the data to find out — but it doesn’t appear that anyone is interested in finding out.There are currently no comments highlighted.