Author Archives: sherlockj

A Far Better Option for Public Education of Poor Urban Minority Students in Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

We are going to discuss here — it will be a series — Virginia’s urban majority-minority school divisions.

School boards, superintendents and teachers in those divisions want their students to learn. They are especially frustrated that far too many of their minority students fail to do so.

For those divisions, an exhaustive 2023 report from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) confirms that poor urban minority students can and do learn at the same or higher levels as white children.

They do so in charter schools nationwide managed by the best Charter Management Organizations (CMO).

The results reported are stunning.

CMO schools make a bigger difference in urban environments, and for poor minority kids, than anywhere else for any other populations.

Those kids come to school. They and their parents like school. In some of the toughest neighborhoods in America.

Readers who oppose charter schools think there are unacceptable explanations for that. Fair enough. CREDO addresses every one of the commonly cited rationalizations and bats them away. We will get to that in a follow-on article.

What matters here is that the study, focused on equity, finds over 1,000 “gap buster” public charter schools, most run by CMOs, that deliver academic results that eliminate the learning gap across student groups. Continue reading

Virginia Child Victims in the Left’s War on the Enlightenment and Science

Richard Bernstein, a founder of American critical theory.

by James C. Sherlock

Modern progressivism is religion, defined by Webster as “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.”

The critical theory progressive, that is to say the modern American progressive, rejects proudly and publicly, root and branch, both the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolutions of the 16th through 18th centuries in Europe.

Critical Theory developed into a synthesis of Marx and Freud. The Frankfurt School which birthed it studied the sources of authoritarianism. Their followers, as in much of human experience, wound up as practitioners.

By contrast, the leading lights of Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution awakenings, bravely in their time, stressed the belief that science and logic give people more understanding. And with understanding came freedom and the rights of man.

Logic is the principles of reasoning; science provides the principles of investigation and proof.

They led much of Europe, and the American colonies, to develop more successful systems of governance, economics, mathematics, physics, astronomy, biology, chemistry, and education than did tradition and religion.

One development, capitalism, has raised more people out of poverty than any economic system ever.

Some of the rest of the world followed. Some did not. Those that did, prospered, and improved the lives of billions of people.

But success in those twin intellectual revolutions came too slow for some.

To that table came two prominent 19th and 20th century experiments in rejecting the Enlightenment: communism and national socialism.

They proved the deadliest political movements in human history. Continue reading

Standards of Learning, Educational Reform and the Blob

by James C. Sherlock


Readers opine that I am throwing ideas into institutional quicksand when advocating for education reforms. But I hope not.

For example, in my most recent series I have suggested that Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) process needs fundamental reform with the integration of learning and teaching standards.

Critics have written with varying levels of insistence that teachers do not like being told how to teach. That horse has been out of the barn for a very long time.

That is perhaps one reason why so many of them are leaving.

The system of which they are part does little else but tell them:

  • what to teach;
  • how to teach;
  • what they can and cannot say about what they teach; and
  • even how to feel about all of that.

And God help parents or teachers that disapprove.

VDOE claims, in the case of its new math SOL, to take input from:

parents, teachers, the business community, school administrators, representatives from higher education and state mathematics education organizations.

That is boilerplate.

Does anybody know a parent or a business that made an input? Or whose input was accepted? The NEA itself complains that teachers have little voice.

Education is a closed government-industry system that literally cannot imagine being better than it is. The words “closed” and “government” in that context are redundant.

To understand how it is so closed we need to examine it. Continue reading

The Institute of Educational Sciences and its Missing Role in Virginia Standards of Learning

By James C. Sherlock

In investigative reporting on education in Virginia, I regularly refer to the federal Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences (IES) and its What Works Clearinghouse (WWC).

The Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002 (ESRA; amended in 2004) Part A established the Institute of Education Sciences.

Section 111 establishes IES as a research institute within ED.

The mission of IES is to provide national leadership in expanding fundamental knowledge and understanding of education from early childhood through postsecondary study, in order to provide parents, educators, students, researchers, policymakers, and the general public with reliable information.

This information is to address (1) the condition and progress of education, (2) practices that improve academic achievement, and (3) the effectiveness of federal education and other education programs.

IES must carry out its mission by compiling statistics, conducting research and evaluations, and disseminating information in a manner that conforms to high standards of quality and objectivity.

The IES was established under the oversight of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to sort out the claims of sponsors of various educational interventions.  

Professors and their PhD or EdD candidates in schools of education have tended to examine their own theories with studies as they can find grant money.  

Those studies earned a very bad reputation for lack of scientific testing and proven efficacy.  Sometimes because the sponsor did not have enough money to do it right.  

But they are published anyway.  It’s a free country.

People with an agenda can and do cherry-pick evidence for articles and presentations supporting their favored policies.  They then tour education symposia.

That was the problem that IES was created to solve.

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) has long ignored the proven solutions IES has offered.  

They often choose instead among educational intervention prescriptions favored by those schools of education and the less stringent standards bodies that support them.  And they document it.

Doing so bucks the standards under which Virginia receives federal education funds.

It is a mistake even if there were no dollars at risk.

Continue reading

A Proposal for a Broad Trial of Single Sex and Co-ed Virginia Classrooms on the Woodbridge Middle School Model

by James C. Sherlock

This is an expanded version of an article originally published on Dec. 16 of this year.  To avoid confusion, the original has been removed.

This update contains important information about the multi-year experience of Woodbridge Middle School in Prince William County with the approaches recommended here for broader testing in Virginia.

See the video below.

It also contains Australian results.  

Both are based on reader tips. A tip of the hat to Abigail Norfleet James, Ph.D. for the Woodbridge Middle tip and the commenter with the pen name Nancy for the Australian information.

This is part 2 of a series on the learning deficits in boys relative to girls in Virginia public schools that are measured by the SOLs every year.

Part one, Boys Left Behind Academically – Yet Another Crisis in Virginia Schools, defined a problem. This essay offers a potential solution.

Everyone talks about school choice. Everyone wants better schools.

But as a nation we have gone into our two corners relative to public policy.

  • Parents — and conservatives — want choice;
  • Teachers unions — and thus progressives — do not want the type of choice most commonly offered, which is generally something other than the neighborhood school;
  • By school choice, both sides generally mean choice external to the neighborhood school — magnet schools, charters, single-sex academies, etc. And that’s the rub.

I offer here a suggestion for a wide and deep trial in Virginia of parental choice of single-sex classrooms internal to the neighborhood school. Such an experiment is not unprecedented.

It has been in place for more than a dozen years in Woodbridge Middle School in Prince William County, as featured in the attached video. Watch it for the observations of the teachers and the kids.

A similar program has been tried in New York City.

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) of the Institute for Educational Sciences (IES) within the U.S. Department of Education is the gold standard for finding scientific evidence of the efficacy of educational interventions.

There is no indication that such a school format has been subjected to a trial that meets WWC standards.

I think that, with well-documented and increasing problems of learning, attendance and behavior in many Virginia public schools, the time is right to create a broad, scientifically designed trial of parental choice for single-sex classrooms here.

The goals are to observe, improve and report on single sex classroom:

  • learning by boys;
  • learning by girls;
  • behavior of boys;
  • the learning environment;
  • attendance, with improved parental valuation of schools that give them choices for their kids; and
  • school order and safety.

Continue reading

Teacher Vacancies in Virginia Cities with a Majority of Black Students Continue to be Very High

by James C. Sherlock

The statewide performance of Black kids on Virginia’s SOLs was horrible. Chronic absenteeism is a primary reason.

But I continue to look for underlying reasons and solutions for both.

This morning I checked the Staffing and Vacancy Dashboard.

The teacher vacancy rate for Region 2, Tidewater and the Eastern Shore, is currently the highest in the state at 7.62%. That statistic combines teachers and special education teachers aides and paraprofessionals. There are 3,115 unfilled positions in Region 2.

That region has been the worst in the state for a long time.

The next highest is Central Virginia at 4.9%. Southwest Virginia is lowest at 2.28%.

Region 2 vacancies both in actual numbers and in percentages are always high because school staff vacancies in Hampton Roads’ majority Black urban cities, and their proportion of the region’s public-school population, drive them up.

The data reveal that in divisions with majorities of Black students in the rest of the state, some are very high and some not.

Petersburg, as such things happen, is off the charts.

But there are a major differences in teacher vacancies, and in student performance, between Black kids in Black majority urban cities (Suffolk is a officially a city but not urban) with the honorable exception of Hampton’s Black student SOL scores, and those in Black majority rural counties.

We should perhaps look at what vacancies can tell us.

And another time at what the City of Hampton Public Schools has been doing right for so long. Continue reading

Boys Left Behind Academically – Yet Another Crisis in Virginia Schools

by James C. Sherlock

Girls significantly outperform boys in English Language Arts (ELA) (reading and writing) in public schools and perform about as well in math and science, both across the nation and in Virginia.

Virginia statewide SOL performance statistics give the details here.

Across the state, girl students are better readers and far better writers than boys. Those English language arts performances at the state level of course mask both smaller and greater gaps in individual divisions and schools.

The writing gaps exist in both high-performing Loudoun County and in poor-performing Richmond City schools.

Broken down to the next level of detail in writing performance statewide, it looks worse.

There is a single-sex classroom option that has been operating for a long time at a middle school in Prince William County. For the best ELA results, it is reasonable to think that model may have to be extended to elementary school.

College and Career Readiness statistics offer confirmation of the outcome of boys’ ELA deficiencies.

The Virginia Literacy Act starting in the 2024-25 school year will make major upgrades to literacy instruction.

Absenteeism.  It would be easy to consider educational gaps in boys to be an artifact of higher absenteeism than girls.  But that’s not it.

One of the artifacts of my research into chronic absenteeism in Virginia public schools statewide in 2023 was that male and female results by percentage were exactly the same: 19.5%.

That, on the surface at least, may confirm parental influence on absenteeism.

The science of learning in boys. The medical community has offered scientific observations of brain science and social development that matter here.

Those observations typically include, aggregated by Microsoft Bing AI search from three different sources:

  • Boys’ brains secrete less serotonin, which is directly related to impulse control;
  • Boys start out primarily as tactile and kinesthetic learners;
  • Boys show more areas in the brain dedicated to spatial-mechanical strengths;
  • Girls generally demonstrate a focus on verbal-emotive processing;
  • Girls have more of their cerebral cortex defined for verbal function;
  • The hippocampus, where memory and language live, does develop more rapidly and is larger in girls than in boys. This impacts vocabulary, reading, and writing skills.

We will consider those to be illustrative. They certainly seem to argue for different approaches to educating boys and girls.

Asian students.  The special case of Asian students in ELA and all other subjects must be taken into account when seeking solutions to the boy/girl gaps. They absolutely blow away all other demographics of students, despite the fact that English may not be the first language spoken at home.

That clearly represents a difference in learning style and effort, not in teaching style.

The public data on Asian students are not in Virginia deconstructed by male and female results, but I have asked VDOE to provide and I will report it.

Educational evidence.  In 2005, the Policy and Program Studies Service of the U.S. Department of Education published Single-Sex Versus Coeducational Schooling: A Systematic Review.  

The reviewers used What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) standards to sort through 2,221 studies.

The Executive Summary is here. I urge you to read it.

You will see that the bulk of the evidence at the time of that review favored learning in single-sex schools. But you will also see that the support for the conclusions is generally thin because of a dearth of scientific studies of important issues.

A current search of WWC on that topic yields no study that meets their standards.

The ed schools have moved on.

Single-sex classrooms have been offered successfully at Woodbridge Middle School in Prince William County for more than a dozen years.  We will examine that in more detail in the next article.

But that single school effort is not robust enough to meet WWC standards. It will take a much broader, scientifically designed and run trial.

Bottom line. The educational gaps between boys and girls are too big for state government and citizens to continue to ignore in Virginia.

Indiana has not ignored them. See both sides of The Great Gender Debate: Should Boys And Girls Learn Separately? published by Indiana’s State Impact Project.

It is time to focus on the education of boys who, unsurprisingly, act and learn like boys.

Woodbridge Middle has proven it is possible to offer single-sex classrooms in co-ed public schools, subject to parental choice of classroom assignments.

And it has apparently solved, if such a thing is achievable, the ACLU’s objections to single-sex schools detailed in The Great Gender Debate.

Next time I will offer a concept for the voluntary implementation by school divisions of single-gender and co-ed classrooms in co-ed public schools across Virginia.

It will serve as the basis for a definitive study to provide the evidence needed to solve the debate.

Updated Dec. 19 at 15:20 to add the discussion about Woodbridge Middle and to eliminate the discussion about ed schools.

Insufferable and Dangerous Nonsense in Academia – Antisemitism Sector

A rally on the steps of the University of Virginia Rotunda calls for a free Palestine amid the war in Israel on Thursday, Oct. 12. CAL CARY, THE DAILY PROGRESS

by James C. Sherlock

I read this morning in the latest issue of Chronicle of Higher Education a particularly smarmy article by a Keith E. Whittington.

He is, among other things, “professor of politics at Princeton University and founding chair of the Academic Committee of the Academic Freedom Alliance”.

Good to know.

He addressed in his article the Congressional hearing that put the presidents of Penn, Harvard and MIT on the hot seat for the unaddressed antisemitic turmoil on their campuses.

Other articles in the same issue called the hearings a disaster for the colleges.

“Since Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, administrators have struggled to respond. Many issued statements that faculty members, students, and others saw as tepid, while protests drove deep rifts into campus communities.”

Whittington’s was titled:

“Colleges Can Recommit to Free Speech or Double Down on Sensitivity – The congressional hearing on antisemitism presents a stark choice.”

He offered a false, self-serving choice of only two ways forward.

If President Ryan of UVa had joined the others in front of the committee, they could have gotten past statements to actions, and lack of them. Continue reading

Governor’s Chronic Absenteeism Task Force – Part Three – Vital New State Roles

By James C. Sherlock

A compilation from

I have found in 18 years of reporting on education in the Commonwealth that each school, each school division and each region is to some degree its own ecosystem.

Taking the example of chronic absenteeism, an individualized assessment of causes could be attempted:

  • if a single school‘s chronic absenteeism can be adjusted statistically for differences in its demographics (race, ethnicity, economic status, English learners, IEPs, etc.) to its division norms, and
  • if that school is a statistical outlier from its division good or bad.

But those are very big if’s because of the complex algorithm that would be required for comparing.  And the results would apply only to that specific school.

I have sometimes compared divisions‘ statistical performances on absenteeism and SOL pass rates against state norms, but usually at the extremes.  There are too many variables to sort among the bulk of them.  At the division level, the variables are as great as at the school level.

Regional differences are there, but causes are hard to pin down beyond differences in demographics and cultures.

That said, and to some degree for that reason, I offer two new state roles for improving school attendance:

  1. marketing, which is either not now done at all or done ineffectively, to increase parents understanding of the value of school; and
  2. investigations and enforcement, which are done sporadically across the state.  That is because of both the time and expertise investigations take and current laws that require schools to involve the court system in enforcement.

Those recommendations are not budget neutral.  This is a budget year.  They are tailored to draw Democratic support.  The time for them is now.

Given the time necessary to prepare proposals, it will likely take a special session to address them.

The chronic absenteeism crisis, appropriately designated by the Governor, rates one.

Continue reading

Governor’s Chronic Absenteeism Task Force – Part Two – Restructure for Balanced Debates

By James C. Sherlock

Lisa Coons, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction

I have watched the public sessions of the Governor’s Chronic Absenteeism Task Force.

The structure of the task force, and its proceedings, have been fatally flawed.

That panel has been dominated by the progressive worldviews of Attendance Works and FutureEd.

I offer as evidence the “resources” for the first meeting on October 24th.  Every single one uses Attendance Works or FutureEd for its expert assessment.

Then consider the agenda, discussion guide and this slide deck used on November 7th to set the stage for deliberations.

Such meetings have not encouraged debate, but rather have seemed to suffocate it.  The process as it exists seems destined to coronate failed progressive ideas.

Progressive pressure reached the point that a member of the panel, Dr. Keith Perrigan, Washington County Public Schools Superintendent and President of the Coalition of Small and Rural Schools of Virginia, on November 7th felt it necessary to apologize in advance for seeming to be an “ogre” to the rest of the panel.

Because he spoke in favor of enforcement of truancy laws.

The Task Force needs to change that environment and the makeup of the task force or they will get more of what Virginia has already experienced using progressive approaches: chronic absenteeism.

Continue reading

The Governor’s Chronic Absenteeism Task Force – Part One – Failed Advice

Lisa Coons, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction

by James C. Sherlock

Governor Youngkin, in response to the real crisis in our schools, has established a Chronic Absenteeism Task Force led by the Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The Task Force is supported by the non-profit Attendance Works.

Attendance Works so dominates VDOE’s Attendance & School Engagement page that it can be deemed a key component of the home team.

That organization has teamed with FutureEd to write an updated Attendance Playbook (Playbook). The version at the link is a post-Covid update of an earlier edition that has been followed by VDOE in policy development since at least 2015.

The resulting complex and school-resource-heavy multi-tiered approach to improving attendance has proven inadequate to the task.

  • Using a baseline year of 2015-16, chronic absenteeism among all students statewide did not decline in a statistically significant way under the new program;
  • Group-to-group ratios and gaps in absenteeism statistics remained the same; and
  • Absenteeism rates doubled together for all groups after COVID.

A compilation from

Home team policies have failed.

That is possibly because no Playbook policies provide evidence for improving attendance that has met the standards of the federal Department of Education’s (DOE) Institute of Education Sciences (IES) What Works Clearinghouse (WWC).

Which is DOE’s home team.

The rigorous standards of WWC are required by DOE guidance Using Evidence to Strengthen Education Investments (Using Evidence) for a reason.

“The Department emphasizes the use of evidence-based activities, strategies, and interventions (collectively referred to as “project components”) in the design of education programs from pre-kindergarten through adult education.”

“The Department’s WWC uses rigorous standards to review education research, offering evidence of effectiveness on a wide range of project components.”

“Organizations should select project components that are supported by the most rigorous evidence
available, consider the needs of the learner population being served, and consider the ability and
capacity of the organization to implement.”

They work.

Continue reading

Charlottesville, Its Public Schools and UVa – Part Four – Chronic Absenteeism, Social Promotion, VTSS and UVa’s Ed School

by James C. Sherlock

There is a rule: nothing else schools do will matter much for kids who are chronically absent.

In Charlottesville, it is the Black children who dominate the chronic absenteeism statistics.

Their SOL performance validates the rule.

The process for preventing and dealing with chronic absenteeism within the school system is so lengthy, bureaucratic and “progressive” (literally and figuratively) that it has failed Black children starting in kindergarten.

Absenteeism and social promotion are recipes for educational failure.

They also contribute directly to the breakdown of order and discipline in schools, as kids who are frustrated and lost in class act out first in disruptive, and then destructive ways.

Yet CCS schools allow runaway Black chronic absenteeism without truancy charges and engage in wholesale social promotion of Black students who do not have the academic skills to learn in the next grade.

Lest they be labeled racist.

What they get are racist outcomes. Continue reading

Charlottesville, Its Public Schools and UVa – Part Three – CCS Abandons Truancy Filings, Absenteeism Soars

Courtesy of

by James C. Sherlock

The effects of public policies can be murky.

Not this one.

The subject in this Part 3 is alarming chronic absenteeism of Charlottesville City Schools (CCS).  

At issue is the virtual abandonment by that division of the use truancy filings with the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, removing parental consequences.  

That change has been accompanied by enormous increases in absenteeism and everything, all bad, that comes with it.

The numbers are stark. Continue reading

Charlottesville, Its Public Schools and UVa – Part Two – Black Students

by James C. Sherlock

What drew me to this story is the fact that Black students in Charlottesville City Schools (CCS) have suffered to a degree unequaled elsewhere in the Commonwealth.

Keeping in mind the domination of Charlottesville and its schools by the University of Virginia and its School of Education and Human Development discussed in Part One, we will move ahead from there.

CCS is a school system designed unusually with six schools for Pre-K-4, one for grades 5 and 6, another for 7 and 8, and a single high school with a couple of alternative programs.

Map of elementary school boundaries courtesy of Charlottesville City Schools.  Author’s annotations in overlays reflect Virginia School Quality data


The map above shows that the Pre-K-4 school boundaries roughly follow the city’s neighborhoods.

Now look at the elementary school performance and attendance annotations.

The biggest anomaly is that the gap between White and Black academic performance in CCS is an ocean. Worse than Richmond both in absolute performance by the Black students and relative to White students.

I can find nowhere in the Commonwealth, including other college towns (and I looked), in which White and Black public-school students exist in academic disparity to the extent they do in Charlottesville.

The Charlottesville High School riots reflect that gulf.  Buford Middle is worse.

CCS has managed to fail those Black children in a relatively balanced student demographic of 42% White, 29% Black, 14% Hispanic, 5% Asian and 10% multiple races.

The teachers have far more advanced degrees, most from UVa’s ed school, than the average school division.

It just doesn’t work.

Continue reading

Charlottesville, Its Public Schools and UVa – Part One – Bad things Happen

Charlottesville neighborhoods.  Courtesy Charlottesville Low-Income Housing Coalition

by James C. Sherlock

In the relationship between Charlottesville and the University of Virginia, very bad things have happened to Charlottesville and continue to do so.

I have developed a working thesis on that relationship.

The city is at the mercy of the University by virtue of the latter’s wealth, influence, and power in Charlottesville elections.

It is, driven by University community voters, the bluest voting district in the Commonwealth.

Unfailingly progressive Charlottesville city council, school board and Commonwealth’s Attorney candidates are elected by the dominant votes of the University, its employees and its students.

Charlottesville City Schools (CCS) are to a large degree creatures of the University.

Many CCS teachers have their bachelors and/or advanced degrees from UVa’s School of Education and Human Development. Many University ed school students do their student teaching in Charlottesville.

Every progressive educational policy and virtually every experiment the University’s ed school can dream up are visited on those students.  The University’s ed school Research Centers and Labs find the proximity convenient and a pliant school board welcoming.

The University can’t bear to leave anything in CCS alone.

As Charlottesville High School faces the aftermath of rising rates of violence at the school and three canceled days of school due to alack of personnel, teachers at the University and other community groups have assisted in the school’s response. Faculty from the University’s School of Education and Human Development were present at development sessions with Charlottesville High School teachers aiming to address underlying issues….

“Dr. Stephanie Rowley, dean of the University’s Education School, said faculty from Education’s counselor education and educational psychology programs were particularly involved with the efforts because of the relevance of their expertise.”

There is no record of their being invited.

“Lack of personnel”.  The teachers walked out because of runaway violence.

The University “lent a hand”.

“In light of the University’s recent push to bolster its impact in Charlottesville, some members of the University who specialize in education attended the teacher work day meetings at Charlottesville High School.”

Seriously.  To “bolster (the University’s) impact in Charlottesville”.

For Black children in CCS schools, that influence, long-running and well-meaning though it has been, has turned out to have been a disaster unparalleled in the Commonwealth.

Continue reading