Author Archives: sherlockj

Teach for America in Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

One commenter on my last article was highly critical of Teach for America (TFA). I cannot let that go without refutation.

Look at the map of TFA places to work.  

You will see that in Virginia only the inner suburbs of the D.C. area have access to those highly motivated young people. Alexandria is the first school division in Virginia to partner with Teach For America. It is actively recruiting TFA volunteers.

Now look at North Carolina on the same map. Read the Charlotte-Piedmont Triad TFA web page.

Now look at the Petersburg teacher charts again. Continue reading

Petersburg School Board Folds on Union Bargaining

by James C. Sherlock

The Petersburg Education Association has a plan for collective bargaining.

So, once, did the school board. Unanimously.

We have been looking for signs of strength in the Petersburg School Board so we can believe it will take strong and innovative measures to improve the city’s dreadful schools.

It is the wrong place to look. The union routed the board on collective bargaining without resistance.

Petersburg School Board – Official Photo

The state, during the Democratic interregnum in the General Assembly and governorship, made local government collective bargaining optional.

On June 21st, the Petersburg board passed a resolution for teachers, guidance counselors and librarians who hold a teaching license to have a form of collective bargaining.

As reported by The Progress-Index’s Joyce Chu,

The resolution does not allow teachers the ability to negotiate their wages or benefits, limiting the scope of negotiations to hours and scheduling, health and safety, and work rules.

Just a guess, but that board likely did not vote originally to allow negotiations on wages or benefits for a pretty good reason. Continue reading

An Inspiring Story about Public School Reformation, Beautifully Written

by James C. Sherlock

Sometimes it is fun to acknowledge great work.

For a wonderful story about schools and kids transformed for the better by local action, see “The Rutters of Athens County” from New York Magazine reprinted in the Intelligencer.

It is beautifully written by Dan Xin Huang, an investigative journalist who lived in Ohio for three years to create this story.

His work was funded in part with a 2020 grant from NYU’s Matthew Power Literary Reporting Award. It was featured in One Great Story, New York Magazine’s reading recommendation newsletter.

He and his work have proven worthy of all of that.

The author unfolds the story of a school district reformation in a series of individual conversations over several years with those directly involved, many with contrasting viewpoints.

School change to achieve excellence takes leadership at the local level first, especially in Virginia, given our constitution.

For those who need inspiration to engage in that quest, this should do it.

Petersburg Public Schools Cheat Children of Their Futures

by James C. Sherlock

We like to think of ourselves as civilized people.

Virginia and America are at an advanced stage of social and cultural development.

Aren’t we?

For the children of Petersburg, we are not. We continue to let them quite publicly and measurably be cheated of their futures by their public schools.

Queue the excuses for bad schools. Whatever list you can come up with, it’s not good enough. We are not civilized if we, as a state, continue to let it happen to children with no other option.

Virginia is unique in that our state constitution explicitly gives local school divisions control of their schools.

Virginia passed a law in 2013 that created a body to take over schools failing to receive accreditation or what is now accreditation with conditions for three consecutive years. It was found unconstitutional.

I don’t know why the constitution was written without some provision for dealing with failed schools and school divisions after long-term failure.

But it was, and it was a mistake. We need to change the constitution to give the children of Petersburg and in other failing schools a chance in life.

That goal is, and must be, worth the effort it will take to accomplish it. Continue reading

A Concept for Simpler and More Compliant Virginia Regulation of Medical Facilities and Services in Virginia

By James C. Sherlock

UVa Children’s Hospital courtesy UVa

I saw a comment somewhere that medical facilities are the second most regulated industry in America, just behind nuclear power.

Yet we see that it has not been working in Virginia in the case of nursing homes.  And compliance is considerably harder in the other medical facilities and services in Virginia than it needs to be.

A big part of the reason is that Virginia has laws and regulations that either:

  1. Do not implement federal laws or regulations that require the state to do so for facilities accepting Medicare or Medicaid/Children’s Health Improvement Program (CHIP); or
  2. Conflict with the Social Security Act and its executing regulations, which take precedence in the case of those federally-funded programs; or
  3. Both.

In case of omission or conflict with the federal guidelines, state laws and regulations do not add value, just complexity and confusion.

And to no avail.

Continue reading

New Bad SOL Data Bring A New Youngkin Administration Plan for Mitigating Learning Losses in Virginia Public Schools

by James C. Sherlock

The Governor announced today that he and the General Assembly came together on a bipartisan basis to invest $418 million to tackle student learning loss.

The Virginia Department of Education recommends school divisions allocate the $418 million “to proven programs that will achieve the greatest student impact—approximately 70% for high-dose tutoring, 20% for Virginia Literacy Act acceleration, and 10% for chronic absenteeism response.”

Press releases today from both from the Governor’s Office and the Virginia Department of Education provide both a lot of data and a plan to assess.

From VDOE’s2022-2023 Test Results Show Virginia Students Continue to Struggle with COVID-Related Learning Loss in Reading and Math”

Today the Virginia Department of Education released the 2022-23 Virginia Assessment Results, demonstrating significant and persistent learning loss in reading and math for Virginia students in grades 3-8. More than half of 3rd-8th graders either failed or are at risk of failing their reading SOL exam, and nearly two-thirds of 3rd-8th graders either failed, or are at risk of failing, their math SOL exam….

In 2022-2023, the number of chronically absent students doubled from 2018-2019.

VDOE has also posted the school quality profiles to present the 2022-23 data.  So you can look at your local school division or school. Continue reading

The Virginia State Budget and the Rising Costs of Registered Nurses

by James C. Sherlock

I was asked yesterday by a reader about the relationship between nursing homes, rising registered nurse salaries and the new Virginia budget agreement.

Good questions. Virginia’s workforce includes nearly 70,000 registered nurses.

The state pays its workers, but it also pays its Medicaid share for private sector nurses. Pay for private sector workers is based upon market conditions. The market wage for registered nurses nationwide increased dramatically during COVID.

Perhaps the only good thing to come out of that mess was that registered nurses, of whom Virginia has 11% fewer than demand calculated by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, got very large pay and bonus raises, and the new wage points appear to have stuck.

If the laws of economics work here, that will over time increase the number of nurses if we can educate and train them in the required numbers.

The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for all states show that the median wage for an RN in Virginia was $79,700 a year. In Northern Virginia portion of the D.C. metro area, the median was $92,800.  The underlying data are a couple of years old.

Wages and bonuses can vary a lot among Virginia hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, nursing school staff and government employees, and are higher or lower depending on specialty. The private sector offers $10,000 to  $20,000 signing bonuses paid out after the first year.

Employers of course must pay payroll taxes and other expenses related to employees, and thus their costs will generally exceed $100,000 per RN.

Virginia RNs are still underpaid compared to national figures. The mean annual wage for America’s 3 million registered nurses in May was $89,010 compared to Virginia’s $79,900.

The federal Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services, aware of some of the questionable business models of bad actors in the nursing home industry, published last week a proposed rule to both increase the minimum number of RNs in nursing facilities and to require all nursing facilities to reveal every year how much of the Medicare and Medicaid payouts go to salaries and related expenses.

So, Medicare and Medicaid costs will go up yet again. Continue reading

Virginia Has an Opportunity to Take the Lead in Nursing Home Technology Insertion to Improve Care with Existing Staff

by James C. Sherlock

A pending new federal rule defining strong nursing home staffing minimums has finally accomplished something that I thought unlikely in my lifetime.

It has in a single stroke aligned the interests of patients and their loved ones, nurses, nursing homes, state and federal governments, and taxpayers in finding ways to make existing nursing home staffs more efficient and effective.

That alignment brings the miracle of the loaves and fishes to mind.

It takes some explaining.

  1. The value of the new regulations to patients and loved ones and nurses is clear. Better quality of care for patients and better working conditions — less stress and better job satisfaction — for the nurses.
  2. The nursing homes and their lobbyists oppose the new rule, but it appears that it will happen. They face a significant shortage of registered nurses in Virginia and competition for nurses from hospitals with deeper pockets. So, they very much want to somehow reduce the new minimum federal requirements.
  3. The state and federal governments, and thus the taxpayers, will inevitably see demands for Medicare and Medicaid payment increases to pay for the new staff. So, it would benefit taxpayers and the national debt to reduce those ratios as long as the desired levels of care could be maintained.

One answer to address all of those interests is extensive automation of processes in which nurses are involved. Just some of the requirements:

  • Integrate electronic health records (EHR) and nurse support apps for real-time data entry on mobile devices;
  • Remotely pre-screen, prioritize and automate alert and alarm workflows;
  • Alert to medication administration requirements and help prevent medication errors;
  • Enable nurses to notify the appropriate responders to crises with one click on a mobile device.

Continue reading

An Overdue New Federal Rule to Improve Nursing Home Staffing

By James C. Sherlock

What would happen if the federal government were to propose for the first time specific nursing home staffing minimums?

We are about to find out.

A new rule.  A new federal proposed rule introduced yesterday has already survived fierce opposition from the industry, which tried to kill it in the womb.  They are not done opposing, but the administration seems to have its course set.

And the new rule is clearly within the letter and spirit of the Social Security Act that requires safe, quality care.

The new proposed federal rule consists of three core staffing proposals:

  1. minimum nurse staffing standards of 0.55 hours per resident day (HPRD) for Registered Nurses (RNs) and 2.45 HPRD for Nurse Aides (NAs);
  2. a requirement to have an RN onsite 24 hours a day, seven days a week (currently 8 hours a day); and
  3. enhanced facility assessment requirements.

While the final rule minimums will be phased in over a three-year period, five for rural facilities, they would, if in force today, render non-compliant 245 of the 281 Virginia nursing homes that are rated for staffing by CMS.

There are also groundbreaking provisions for transparency on the percentage of Medicare and Medicaid payments spent on direct care staff, not just for nursing homes but also for community and home care.

The new proposed rule is potentially a great improvement for prospective patients coming out of the hospital to recuperate and rehabilitate or entering long term care.

Which includes a lot of very vulnerable Virginians.

Continue reading

A Small Victory – So Far – for Common Sense and Flood Mitigation in Virginia Beach

The central Great Neck Corridor drainage system Virginia Beach

by James C. Sherlock

Sometimes things work. Perhaps they will this time.

There was a time in Virginia Beach when a partnership between a developer and a church to build new houses would have breezed through the Planning Commission and the City Council.

That kind of open season on clearing and building on Virginia Beach’s very low-lying land brought with it lots of problems, including flooding.

The citizens of Virginia Beach, tired of flooding in every heavy rain and even under a clear sky with a full moon, a couple of years ago passed a very large property tax increase on themselves to create a huge pot of money to deal with it.

One of the natural flood control systems already in place is a series of contiguous lakes along Great Neck Road in the eastern part of the city. They handle runoff from that major corridor. That system flows into the Lynnhaven River and the Chesapeake Bay.

To that place comes a developer and a local church with a proposal. Continue reading

The Decidedly Unintuitive Student Debt of Undergrads upon Graduation from Virginia’s Public 4-Year Colleges and Universities

William and Mary

by James C. Sherlock

I had never until now looked at college costs from the perspective of the new graduate, as opposed to his or her parents.

But it is fair to say that many look closely at their debt and their incomes after graduation and are taken aback, whether or not they borrow yet more to go on to graduate or professional schools.

So, I have examined available state data on student debt at graduation of the undergrads at Virginia’s public 4-year colleges and universities between 2016 and 2021.

If you expected the results that you will see here on their debts at graduation, you are much more informed that I was when I started.

Some are startling, at least to me. Continue reading

Changes in Student Populations and Choices of Majors in 4-Year Colleges and Universities 2010-2023 Challenge Virginia Schools

Virginia Union University

by James C. Sherlock

Tastes change, and with them trends.

Between fall 2010 and fall 2021, total undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions in America decreased by 15% percent (from 18.1 million to 15.4 million students).

In Virginia’s 4-year public colleges and universities, the drop was 8% in that same period, right at the national average for state schools.

Virginia’s HBCU’s, except for the highest ranked, Hampton University, have fought the trend and increased their student populations dramatically recently.

The Great Recession baby bust arrives as a freshman student cliff in 2025.

National trends. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data on enrollment in undergraduate majors in 4-year public and private institutions of higher education (IHEs) show significant shifts in majors between 2010 and 2023.

There are winner and loser programs, with implications for staffing and perhaps offering a data basis for my magnet schools suggestion.

Between 2010 and 2023, undergraduate majors in:

  1. liberal arts and social sciences continued to decline;
  2. engineering majors have been in serious decline since 2019;
  3. health professions and related programs, having seen huge increases between 2010 and 2019, and physical sciences with smaller increases in those same years, since then are in decline;
  4. technology continues to gain, even faster since 2019, possibly signaling a shift from engineering to technology majors for the same types of students;
  5. Psychology, flat between 2010 and 2019, is in a major uptrend since.

Adjustments within higher education are clearly necessary to accommodate the declines in student populations, the coming student cliff and shifting educational preferences by students.

Rational adjustments are clearly identifiable but rarely seen in practice. Because administrations and faculty oppose them. The ramifications: Continue reading

Huge Swings in Student Populations Among Virginia’s 4-year Public Colleges and Universities Have Consequences

University of Mary Washington

by James C. Sherlock

I have previously in this series on Virginia’s public institutions of higher learning (IHE’s) used the term “cannibalization” to describe some getting bigger and some getting smaller, a few much smaller, in terms of student populations.

I will here provide the numbers to back that up.

While the total undergraduates dropped 1.5% (minus 2,572) in the system between the fall of 2018 and the fall of 2022, the increase in graduate students (plus 3,604) made up for it and the total campus population changed 0.4%.

Basically flat.

But those system numbers mask huge swings in student populations, both undergraduate and total, among the 15 schools. The data compiled in that spreadsheet are sourced from the State Council on Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV).

The trends have enormous consequences for Virginia’s 4-year colleges and universities, both those that are growing and those that are shrinking.

The same trends have easily predicted consequences for Virginia students if not reversed. Continue reading

Virginia’s State Higher Education System – A Concept for Magnet Schools among the Smaller Ones

Radford University

by James C. Sherlock

Yesterday I posted an article listing a series of challenges facing Virginia’s Institutions of Higher Learning.

Today I will offer a concept for a solution designed to address both the cost of a 4-year degree and the thriving of the smaller schools.

Create a magnet school program in the smaller schools:

  • for majors that are increasing in popularity; and
  • to meet Virginia’s critical workforce needs.

To reduce costs for the schools and students, the magnet schools would focus on attracting third- and fourth-year undergraduates to a limited number of magnet majors as transfers from the community college system.

They inevitably would get some third-year transfers from the larger schools for strong majors, but that is not the focus.

The Community College system already has its guaranteed entry program, with courses specified by and tailored for specific institutions.

To strengthen specific departments, the schools would need to spend money.

I recommend developing a state fund administered by SCHEV, access to which would require firm plans not only to strengthen specific departments, but also to cut costs elsewhere.

The largest schools would not be permitted to apply, with a potential exception of a program for undergraduate nursing and education student stipends.

Continue reading

Virginia State Colleges and Universities Slouching Towards a Cliff

University of Mary Washington

by James C. Sherlock

The economist Herb Stein once said that if something cannot go on forever, it will stop.

The University of West Virginia has just stopped to take stock.

Facing a $45 million shortfall, it had to cut programs. Instead of taking the unthinking way out — assigning a cut target to each department — it restructured.

The university shut down nearly 10% of its majors entirely. The axe fell most directly on the humanities. The Athletic Department was told it was on its own for funding.

President Gee did not want a bailout, figuring it was time to bite the bullet. He and his board decided to emphasize the programs in demand and let go those which could not attract enough students to justify their costs.

Virginia’s portfolio of institutions of higher learning (IHEs) faces challenges, some unprecedented, from at least a half dozen different sources.

Eventually, sooner rather than later, we will have to deal with them as a state. Virginia’s state “Plan” for its IHEs is not helpful.

This issue needs detail for discussion, and I will provide some here. Continue reading