Author Archives: sherlockj

Welcome, Secretary Guidera and Superintendent Balow

By James C. Sherlock

Aimee Rogstad Guidera, Virginia Secretary of Education

I dedicate this as a welcome to our new Secretary of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction.  Both are very accomplished and we are lucky to have them.

I find it upon occasion useful to review for myself the facts on the ground when dealing with Virginia K-12 education reform.   They are daunting.

Some of the most challenging include:

  1. Our state constitution assigns responsibility to both the state and to local school districts for school quality.  The state sets standards but has no effective authority to hold the school districts accountable for meeting them.  That cannot work, and does not.
  2. Fierce and important culture war issues now tend to obscure information about fundamental student learning.  They set people who should be allies in improving basic learning at odds with one another about fundamental questions concerning the definition of what should be taught, learned and how.
  3. Many in education, like much else in public policy in Virginia, appear viscerally opposed to emulating proven best practices (New York’s astonishing successful urban charter school networks) from other states, or even considering them as possibly applicable in Virginia.  See Note*
  4. Virginia’s graduate schools of education aggressively stoke the culture wars from the left.  Indeed, many have proven to be opponents of the foundational standards of Western civilization. That will stir a debate every time.  Many have proven to be opponents of setting objective, measurable standards for K-12 learning and of employing standardized tests for school accountability.
  5. Statewide all-student SOL averages in our public schools hide the tragedy of the failure of many children of the urban poor to learn what they need to know to have a fair chance in life.  We don’t live in Lake Wobegone.  Consider English reading SOL results from 2018-19. 
    • Twenty-two percent of all kids failed English Reading SOLs.    
    • Thirty five percent of kids reported as economically disadvantaged failed those same tests.
    • Black (35%) and Hispanic (34%) children failed at nearly exactly that same rate as the economically disadvantaged.  Failed.  Could not read at grade level.
    • To the degree that children must read to learn, which is true in every subject starting in 4th grade, they cannot learn.  And do not.

6.  COVID has proven to be a huge disruptor to a flawed system.

Continue reading

What are We Doing to Ourselves with the Criminal Justice System?

by James C. Sherlock

I will share a press release this week from the Justice Department.

Convicted Felon Pleads Guilty to Fraud, Identity Theft, and Firearm Offenses

We’ll try to figure out at what point we lost our minds about law enforcement. Continue reading

A New Virginia Charter Schools Policy – Recommendations for Success

Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy

by James C. Sherlock

My articles about charter schools draw passionate comments.

Proponents argue what they are trying to achieve with charters. Opponents argue what they want to avoid. Fair enough. There is wisdom in both positions.

So, how does Virginia structure a program that supports successful charters and both denies and closes unsuccessful ones? The most obvious path is to examine thirty years of experience with charters across the country.

I will here provide a brief review of those successes and failures and describe what I understand to be the features of each. The goal is for Virginia to develop a program that features the successes and avoids the pitfalls. I will make specific recommendations that attempt to accommodate the wishes and fears of both sides of the debate. Continue reading

Biden Mounts a Direct Attack on America’s Most Successful Schools for Poor Minority Children

by James C. Sherlock

This is pretty cringeworthy, even for the Biden administration.  

We have new rules for federal funding for new and expanded charter schools that are demonstrably racist. They uniquely disadvantage the poorest minority students because charter schools are proven to help them learn better than any other option.

But the rules are offerings to a higher power- – the teachers’ unions.  

The Biden administration Education Department’s new rules for use of federal charter school startup funding are virulently anti-charter and appear to directly violate the law they pretend to enforce.  

They regulate the distribution of federal funding — $400 million annually — under the charter schools startup support provisions of the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (the Act).

Those new rules are unambiguously aimed to stop the expansion of New York City’s Success Academy (S/A) and non-profit charter management organizations (CMOs) like it that focus their efforts on educating poor minority children in our inner cities.

But the new broom sweeps away pretty much every charter that might apply.

The CMOs have proven amazingly successful — embarrassingly so for the teachers’ unions that hate them for it. These rules are political payback.

Actions are required by Virginia’s Governor and Attorney General. Continue reading

George Orwell Call Home

Nina Jankowitz

by James C. Sherlock

This blog, while proudly based in individual research, often offers controversial ideas.

Uniform agreement is not expected. Debate is encouraged. We learn from one another and even occasionally change a few minds on both sides.

Yesterday the Biden administration announced the establishment of a federal “Disinformation Governance Board” in the Department of Homeland Security to “combat online disinformation in the 2022 midterms.”

Seriously. It was disclosed yesterday afternoon by Secretary Mayorkas in his testimony on Capitol Hill.

You will not be shocked to learn that neither The Washington Post nor The New York Times has yet covered the story. I just checked. Yet it represents a bigger threat to our nation than Russia and China. And it lives within the Department of Homeland Security. Continue reading

Conservative-Liberal Common Ground on High Stakes K-12 End-of-Year Testing

by James C. Sherlock

I have reported here often on the fierce opposition of much of the public education establishment — read graduate schools of education and the teachers unions — to what they label “high-stakes” testing.

What many in those groups really object to is the visibility of standards that subjects them to public review and the accountability that testing brings.

But there are legitimate complaints about the current system.

  • Some teachers feel constrained by the tests. Many think the time devoted to end-of-year testing could be better spent.
  • Others, including parents, contend that accountability is necessary, but they find the information comes too late to be actionable.

Those are legitimate observations. Florida appears to have found a way to satisfy those issues while maintaining accountability. Continue reading

Unionize Virginia’s Worst Nursing Home Chains

by James C. Sherlock

If you go back to the series of articles I published here in October of 2021, you can refresh your memory on the dangers represented by Virginia’s worst nursing home chains.

If you look at the complete spreadsheet of every Virginia nursing home from that data sorted by ownership, the bad actors jump off the page. Their business models treat understaffing as a feature, not a problem. The fact that it endangers their employees and kills their patients seems not to matter.

The Commonwealth’s executive and legislative branches have for a very long time absolutely ignored their responsibilities as the state legislature and as the state executive regulator, federal and state inspector and state licensor of nursing homes, respectively. There is as yet no sign that will improve. I have hopes the new administration will step up to those responsibilities, but we’ll have to wait and see.

For now, the only fix that appears viable is unionization of the work forces of the bad actors. I encourage their employees to do it for themselves and their patients. Continue reading

Fix the Virginia Department of Health

Credit: PBS Healthcare Management

by James C. Sherlock

Governor Youngkin and his new administration have an opportunity to fix crucial problems in the Department of Health that have been festering for decades.

The issues:

  • How can Virginia regulate effectively its state-created healthcare monopolies?
  • In a directly related matter, how can we fix the failures, famously demonstrated during COVID, of the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) in its other missions ?

The power of Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) to control the business of healthcare in Virginia was the original sin.  Giving that power to the Department of Health made it worse.

From that point VDH was the agent of its own corruption. Never charged by the General Assembly to create regional monopolies in its administration of Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) law, VDH did so anyway.

Actions have consequences.

Now those regional healthcare monopolies are each the largest private business in their regions, have achieved political dominance in Richmond, and effectively control VDH. Continue reading

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics in the Virginia Department of Education – Average Teacher Salaries Edition

by James C. Sherlock

I was in the early stages of researching a column on school salaries in Virginia when I came upon yet another bad report.

In 2021 Special Session I, the General Assembly directed the Superintendent of Public Instruction to provide a report on the status of staff salaries, by local school division, to the Governor and the Chairmen of the Senate Finance and Appropriations and House Appropriations Committees.

The appropriations committees wanted to know how much teachers and others were getting paid so they could raise the state contribution. It would seem to be a report that VDOE would like to get correct.

As with many other reports I have documented, the January salary report on its face cannot possibly be correct. VDOE and thus the Governor and General Assembly have no idea how much teachers and other instructional staff are paid in Virginia.

This report was a parting gift from the Northam administration.

The question itself — average salaries — may prove not to provide information useful for legislation and appropriations however accurately it is answered. Continue reading

Washington Post Editorial Board Nails a Belly Flop

Why is this man laughing?

by James C. Sherlock

We sometimes note here that the editorial boards of the largest press outlets in Virginia can seem out of touch.

Most lack philosophical balance on their editorial boards. We get that. It is their right.

But that in turn can create intellectual echo chambers, denying the discipline offered by internal challenges. Such discussions can weed out embarrassments before publication. Without them, editorials are vulnerable to occasionally displaying a stunning lack of self-awareness.

Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post, in order to prove the point, editorialized:

If you can’t join them, buy them. This is the philosophy billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk appears to have adopted as he launches a hostile takeover bid for the social media platform Twitter. Let’s hope he doesn’t succeed.

Seriously. They published that.

Existing Gun Laws Get Some Help from a Perp

A Select Fire (Semi Auto / Full Auto) Glock 17 – credit: ENDO

by James C. Sherlock

This guy was better armed than the average citizen or cop. But just with a weapon. It did not seem to help him. Darwin was right.

From a DOJ news release:

Virginia Beach Man Pleads Guilty to Possessing a Machine Gun Used in a Shootout

NORFOLK, Va. – A Virginia Beach man pleaded guilty last week to illegal possession of a machine gun.

According to court documents, Shy’Quan Dodson, 25, possessed a machine gun on July 18, 2021. That day, Norfolk Police (NPD) officers were in the vicinity of the 900 block of Tunstall Avenue in Norfolk, where they observed multiple individuals shooting at each other. The individuals fled in three separate vehicles, and during the ensuing pursuit a firearm was tossed from the rear of the vehicle. After a 15-minute pursuit that ended in a crash in Portsmouth, Dodson was detained while attempting to flee on foot from the vehicle. The firearm tossed from the vehicle was a Glock with an attached component that converted the handgun into a fully automatic machine gun.

A search of Dodson’s cell phone showed photos of him holding the weapon, and a primer residue test revealed that Dodson had primer particles on his hands from the discharge of a firearm. Dodson’s phone also contained communications with another individual related to the buying and selling of machine gun conversion kits.

Dodson is scheduled to be sentenced on August 12. He faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Continue reading

The General Assembly Adds New Requirements for Teachers that Virginia Schools Do Not Have and Cannot Hire

by James C. Sherlock

A tip of the hat to Dick Hall-Sizemore for pointing out the following bills.

I have written often on how Virginia is constantly loading up teachers and schools with additional reports and requirements.

This General Assembly is trying to add new requirements for teachers that we do not have and have proven unable to hire.

The bills listed below were passed almost unanimously in both houses of the General Assembly and are awaiting the Governor’s signature.

I recommend the Governor veto all of them. Continue reading

CMS Finally Withdraws Dangerous Waivers of Nursing Home Patient Safety Regulations

by James C. Sherlock

I published a series of articles last year on the dreadful conditions in some of Virginia’s nursing homes as reported by Medicare.

Two key observations were that:

  • bad nursing homes were traceable to specific chain operators; and
  • the Virginia Department of Health had admitted it was desperately short of inspectors.

Those two things are still true.

A major problem at that time was that nursing homes were provided an extensive set of waivers of patient safety regulations by the Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services (CMS). Those “COVID” waivers were overdone when granted and have been in place far too long.

This is a really big deal. CMS admits “mistakes were made” with waivers that endangered patients.

They are finally scheduled to be withdrawn. Continue reading

Exploding Requirements and Workforce Shortages – An Existential Threat to the Public Schools

by James C. Sherlock

The hottest buzz around many of the public schools, including my home area of Virginia Beach, is around the very real hardships posed by unprecedented staff shortages.

On return from COVID, it seems that our schools faced record shortages of personnel to deal with students that were traumatized and afflicted with massive learning losses.

I said “seems” because there is no accurate count. The new online report VDOE has recently published shows billet vacancies as of October 1 2021 to be 2 1/2 times a similar count it provided me two years ago.

A compelling and disturbing trend. Yet the personnel problem is even worse than we presently have documented.

The new, comprehensive VDOE report of public school personnel shortages is false because some of the inputs were false. The real numbers were higher.  In some cases much higher. Lies were told. I will demonstrate that in this article.

Other well-documented data show both an outsized number of pending retirements from the schools and the ongoing and rapid collapse of the new teacher pipelines.

And we don’t have a sufficient number of professional support specialists — school psychologists, social workers, school counselors and others. That also cannot be quickly remedied.

So the trends are all going in the wrong direction. For the schools, supply is decreasing. Demand, driven by programmatic decisions at VDOE as well as the strain of remediation of COVID learning losses, has been increasing.

This word for the crisis is existential. With a tip of the hat to Herb Stein, things that cannot continue will stop. Continue reading

Virginia’s Greens Need to Change Their Strategy

Utility-scale solar farm

by James C. Sherlock

When you ask a question you have to be prepared for the answer.

McKinsey Global Institute, in collaboration with McKinsey Sustainability and the Global Energy & Materials and Advanced Industries practices released in January a massive study of the costs to get the planet to net zero emissions by 2050.

The study is “The Net Zero Transition – What it would cost, what it could bring.

McKinsey’s short answer to the question of cost is $275 trillion globally between now and 2050; $275 trillion is $9.2 trillion per year on average if the entire world participates.

It won’t. Some nations will not or cannot. At what point do we expect China and Russia to pay their share? Or impoverished nations?

McKinsey noted that the increase in costs over previous assessments is $3.5 trillion annually. The increase is “approximately equivalent, in 2020, to half of global corporate profits, one-quarter of total tax revenue, and 7 percent of household spending.”

For reference:

Continue reading