Author Archives: James A. Bacon

The Grift Behind Grades and Growth

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 reminiscent of that of Chinese provincial functionaries concocting economic-performance numbers to make themselves look good, passing them up the line, and leaving higher-ups in Beijing with a distorted view of reality. Metrics 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

Who Will Replace Us?

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

Jeanine’s Memes

From The Bull Elephant

The Honesty Gap: Yes, Virginia, There Is a Problem

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

Virginia Absentee Ballots: Absent from the State?

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

Bacon Meme of the Week

Hat tip: John Butcher

Can Education Standards Be Brought Back?

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

The Empire Strikes Back

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

Youngkin’s Principles for Achieving Educational Excellence

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

The Hard Truth about Virginia Schools

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

Judge Finds Probable Cause Two Smutty Books Are Obscene For Minors

by Kerry Dougherty

Get ready. Any minute now, local lefties will have their hair on fire. They’ll be screaming about book banning and censorship.

They will be wrong.

Circuit Court Judge Pamela Baskerville’s finding Wednesday that there is probable cause that two books available in Virginia Beach Public Schools are “obscene for unrestricted viewing by minors” hardly amounts to book banning. It means children shouldn’t have access to the novels without parental approval.

Baskerville is a retired judge from Petersburg who was brought in to hear the case after Virginia Beach Circuit Court judges recused themselves.

The books in question, “Gender Queer, A Memoir,” by Maia Kobabe and, “A Court of Mist and Fury,” by Sarah J. Maas are sexually explicit and entirely inappropriate for young kids. Anyone who’s glanced at them can see that.

The fact that a judge agrees is a win. Continue reading

Hey, Buddy, What’s Your Friggin’ Problem?

by James A. Bacon

Based on anecdotal evidence, I have long thought that the rudest, most aggressive drivers in the United States resided in the Northeastern states. It turns out, based on insurance data, that Virginia has some of the worst drivers in the country. So much for our self-image as courteous ladies and gentlemen.

Insurify, a website that helps consumers find automobile insurance, collects a massive volume of data on driver history, including accidents and tickets. Virginians stand out in several regards. Ranked by driving offenses including failure to yield or stop, improper backing, passing where prohibited, tailgating, street racing, and hit-and-run, Virginia is the No. 1 state for drivers with a “rude” driving violation on record. The percentage of rude drivers (3.58%) is more than twice that of the national average (1.68%).

Likewise, Virginia ranks No. 1 in the country for the percentage of drivers with a reckless driving offense (0.56%). That is more than five times the national rate (.09%) Continue reading

A “Best Universities” Ranking Virginians Can Be Proud Of

by James A. Bacon

There are multiple college rankings these days. Results vary widely based upon the criteria used to rate the institutions: prestige, social justice, affordability, and the like. Money magazine uses 24 factors reflecting upon the quality of the education, the cost of the education (net price after adjusting for financial aid), and outcomes (post-graduate earnings, economic mobility and return on investment).

I could give a flying fig about “prestige” — prestige in the higher-ed world doesn’t translate into anything I value — or “social justice,” as defined by leftists. Money magazine’s ranking comes closest to reflecting my values and priorities, which can be summed up as educational value added.

Of the 671 institutions that met Money’s qualifications (minimum size, reliable data, above-median graduation rate), here is how Virginia institutions fared under Money’s methodology.

University of Virginia — No. 3.
Virginia Military Institute — No. 5
Washington & Lee University — No. 11
Virginia Tech — No. 22
George Mason University — No. 72
James Madison University — No. 86 Continue reading

Silence of the Trumpets

by Jim McCarthy

Criminal justice at the local level in Virginia is the province of the 120 Commonwealth’s attorney offices funded primarily by the state, with some also receiving local supplement. Indigent defendants may avail themselves of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel through 28 public defender offices. Many other indigent defendants will be represented by court appointed counsel from lists and attorneys overseen by the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission (VIDC) which is the statutory organization for public defenders.

The genesis of the existence of public defenders arose in 1963, ten years before Roe v Wade, with the SCOTUS opinion in Gideon v Wainwright. The defendant, Clarence Earl Gideon, was sentenced to five years in prison after trial at which he requested the appointment of counsel to defend him. At the time, states were mandated to consider appointed counsel only in capital offense proceedings, not for lesser offences which might involve imprisonment. The unanimous court in Gideon concluded that the Sixth Amendment did not distinguish between capital and non-capital cases, finding that a defendant faces the danger of criminal conviction “because he does not know how to establish his innocence.”

This hallmark decision and its progeny later gave rise to the familiar Miranda warning (Miranda v Arizona, 1966), a required notification by police in a custodial setting: Continue reading

Once Upon a Time, Schools Didn’t Need Fancy Buildings, Big Bureaucracies and Trauma Counselors to Teach

Gail Smith

by James A. Bacon

When Gail Smith talks about growing up in 1950s-era Goochland County, she calls her time attending the Second Union Rosenwald School as “the best years of my life.” The two-room schoolhouse was lacking in what we refer to today as “amenities.” But it was supported by the local African-American community, and it had spirit.

There were no school buses in her poor farming community — Smith passed through woods on her trek to and from school. There was no indoor plumbing or running water, either. The boys went to a nearby spring with a bucket and dipper to fetch water. Nor were there grocery stores, much less free meals — students brought their farm-raised lunches in brown bags. There wasn’t even central heating. During cold weather, the boys scoured the woods to gather kindling for the fire. School lasted five hours until 2:15, with time off for two 15-minute breaks. When the kids heard the bell, they hurried back to their classroom. Smith and her contemporaries recall a teacher, Fannie Beale, with great fondness for her firmness and her ability to inspire.

“We were poor but we were happy,” Smith says. “We came to school excited to learn.” She and many classmates went on to earn higher-ed degrees and pursue professional careers. Continue reading