Author Archives: sherlockj

Virginia Public Schools and Learning Losses – Part 2 – Chronic Absenteeism

by James C. Sherlock

Woody Allen is quoted as saying that seventy percent of success in life is showing up. So it is with school.

Absenteeism is the most correctable scourge of Virginia public schools.

It is not the teachers’ job to get the kids there. But unexcused absenteeism is something other adults can fix pretty much at will. We have mandatory attendance in Virginia, and although the penalties can be significant,  the law is enforced only sporadically.

Some divisions enforce it. Some don’t. And there is a wide variation of enforcement in between.

Most will assume that in my data analysis project, the effects of reported chronic absenteeism in 2020-21 were generally reflected in:

  • 2021-22 SOL scores; and
  • three-year SOL learning losses of the school divisions between 2018-19 and 2021-22.

They are right. Continue reading

Virginia Public Schools and Learning Losses – Part 1 – Winners and Losers

by James C. Sherlock

This article is the first in a series about COVID-associated learning losses in Virginia public schools.

The contribution I hope to make is to measure learning losses and correlating factors in each of 132 school divisions horizontally against its own pre-COVID learning assessment results.

That is different than comparing Richmond to Falls Church to Wise County vertically. We will do that too, but only in knowledge differentials — gains and losses — across all grade levels, not in specific levels of knowledge attained by the students before and after COVID interruptions.

Then we will seek correlation of learning losses with other factors. At this level of aggregation of statistics, correlation is what can be done. Causation assessment requires far more information than is available to the public.

I have left out race as a factor on purpose, at least at this time. I have found that when race is included all of the rest of the data tend to be ignored. A mistake in my view. I have included a factor of percentage of students in each school division economically disadvantaged for this data run. I may check it against racial correlations later.

The measures of student achievement used here for measuring learning losses are:

  • the last SOLs taken before COVID in 2018-2019 and
  • the SOLs in the post-COVID-shutdown year of 2021-22.  

Resources over that period were teachers, kids and their parents. Some turnover in teachers and kids, but not significant at this level of aggregation. The kids were three years older, replaced by younger ones in each grade. Since SOL testing does not begin until 3rd grade, virtually all that took SOLs in 2021-22 were in the system in 2018-19.

You will see that some divisions — teachers, students and their parents together — navigated the three years between the spring of 2019 and the Spring of 22 well. Some very well. Others failed in what they tried to achieve. Some badly.

As I roll out the data in a series of articles I think readers will find the learning loss data and its horizontal and vertical correlations informative.

And in some cases surprising. Continue reading

Education Schools Redux

by James C. Sherlock

Dick Hall-Sizemore went to great lengths in an article to rebut one of my own.

He attempted to disprove the two major assertions in my article:

  1. The ed schools have had control of education policy in the Commonwealth and nationally for a very long time. They have in the process made the profession of education in Virginia, both in the preparation stage and the classroom teaching stage over a career, much more expensive and generally maddening for teachers and school staff than it needs be. Ed school careers have been multiplied, assured and profited immensely from the requirements they have sponsored in the General Assembly and the Board of Education.
  2. Democrats in Richmond in the interregnum years of 2020 and 2021 made major changes to the way K-12 education is conducted, and therefore must be taught, in Virginia.

He was right that I should not have mixed politics and the ed school issues.

Dick’s most heartfelt issue is my take on the Democrats’ interventions in education. The Democrats themselves are so publicly proud of what they accomplished in education in the 2020 and 2021 sessions of the General Assembly and in the Board of Education that it seems remarkable to have to prove it to a Democrat.

But so be it. I will now deal with each in turn.

This one is about the ed schools and their death grip on teacher education and promotion in Virginia. And whether they earn their costs. And what the options might prove to be. Continue reading

Challenge Accepted

by James C. Sherlock

I posted a column here based upon government data, specifically the chronic absentee rates of Fredericksburg schools in 2020-21.

The data, not my reporting of it, have been challenged by multiple colleagues as unreliable. They expressed their belief that the data were such outliers that they must have been transcribed improperly by the data entry techs or some other technical issue.

They were so strong in that challenge that the conversation could not move past that point of contention.

My initial reaction to the Fredericksburg data, part of a larger study I am conducting, was doubt as well. So, before publication I re-aggregated them from the individual cohort level at each school and found them internally consistent.

Thus if the data are wrong, they represent an extraordinarily meticulous series of data errors for every racial and gender cohort in each of four schools.

But in response to the challenges of those colleagues, I have taken the article down and submitted it to VDOE for verification of the data and comment.

I expect them to be confirmed.

I will republish the article either way. And we can move on with the conversation either way.

What Leadership Looks Like – Teacher Shortages, Learning Losses and Gov. Youngkin

by James C. Sherlock

Sometimes you just have to let leaders speak for themselves.

This is one of those times.

Faced with critical teacher shortages and learning losses, I publish here the Governor’s Executive Order 3 and Bridging the Gap: Learning Loss Recovery Plan

I don’t just congratulate the governor, but everyone involved, especially including the fifteen school divisions who agreed to try to become part of the solution in learning losses. Continue reading

Virginia’s Self-Perpetuating Schools of Education

by James C. Sherlock

We are in the midst of a series of articles examining Virginia’s system of schools of education. In this one we will look at how the rules for licensure of teachers and other school staff have changed and impacted teacher education.

Those answers are found in the laws of Virginia and in the Board of Education’s regulations and comprehensive plans. All are political documents written by political organizations.

As we examine them below, we will see that the politicians, on the advice of the schools of education, have made the business of traditional schools of education a sinecure.

In Virginia, those schools have become an integral part of the system of laws and regulations that make them a self-perpetuating system that has no apparent purpose other than to sustain itself. Continue reading

Regulatory Capture of the Board of Education by Virginia’s Schools of Education

By James C. Sherlock

Virginia’s schools of education have for years captured Virginia’s oversight of their profession.

With that power they have reinvented the entire nature of schools and the professional standards for the education and professional conduct of schoolteachers in the Commonwealth.

In the process, they have brought both the schools and schoolteachers to near ruin.

Let’s examine the source of that power.

Continue reading

Virginia’s Schools of Education – Part 1 – Overview of the Upcoming Series

I had barely started a draft of a series on Virginia’s schools of education when it was inadvertently released Saturday.  We took it down when we discovered the error.

by James C. Sherlock

People on both sides of the political divide have acknowledged enormous challenges to Virginia’s pre-K-12 public education system.

Some of the problems we all know about:

  1. poor minority children had disproportionate learning deficits pre-COVID;
  2. poor minority children experienced disproportionate learning losses during COVID;
  3. increasing stress for teachers, parents and students;
  4. teacher shortages.

We just disagree about the causes and appropriate mitigations.

News this series will break for many readers will include:

  1. the meager and declining productivity of Virginia’s schools of education;
  2. the astounding Virginia regulatory requirements for Bachelor of Education teacher training and the meager requirements for student teaching;
  3. the major expansions since 2020 to regulations that govern additional fields of knowledge that both teacher education programs and active K-12 teachers must learn and incorporate into the teaching to their students;
  4. Virginia’s closed loop system of ed school regulatory development;
  5. Alternative routes to licensure to see if all of those regulatory requirements for a Bachelor of Education are really necessary to produce a first-year public school teacher. We will find out that not even the Board of Education thinks they are.

Those are some of the sausage-makings of the train wreck that is the problems that we all can see in our public schools.

We will take a deep dive into both the requirements for and the performance of Virginia’s teacher education system, Virginia’s laws governing that system and its regulation by the Board of Education to see what part those issues play in causing or mitigating the problems we already know about.

In doing so we will discover issues that most of us had no idea about. Continue reading

The Richmond Free Press and the Contrast with Other Progressive Outlets

by James C. Sherlock

I celebrate the Richmond Free Press (RFP).

I discovered that newspaper in a terrific article in Richmond Magazine in 2015.

RFP calls itself a progressive newspaper. And it is. Black progressive.

I find it sometimes, but not always, mirrors the views of the White progressives who dominate the national press.

RFP staff reporters present the news far more straightforwardly than many progressive news outlets, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Virginian-Pilot, The Washington Post and others here, and I find it far more contemplative and locally focused in its editorials.

It is unlike its progressive competitors in many other informative ways.

We will look at a few of them. Continue reading

Virginia’s Teacher Shortages – Alternatives in Teacher Preparation and Recruitment

by James C. Sherlock

There is much discussion of Virginia’s teacher shortages.

They are traceable to lack of productivity in some combination of Virginia’s recruitment of its high school students to careers in teaching and its teacher preparation programs.

Teacher recruitment starts with recruiting high schoolers to go into teaching. Virginia’s program for that is Teachers for Tomorrow. I have asked the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) how robust that program is in Virginia public schools and will report when I hear back.

As for teacher preparation, there are federal data that show the vast differences among the states in the mid-Atlantic in both the percentages of potential teachers enrolled in traditional and alternative programs and the productivity of those programs.

Let’s look at what we are doing in teacher preparation, which shows how the productivity of that system in Virginia lags that of nearby states, and then look at one program that Virginia is not meaningfully accessing. Continue reading

Interview with Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources on Petersburg Health – Part 1

John Littel, Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources

by James C. Sherlock

I have written about the initiatives of the Youngkin Administration to help Petersburg improve the economic situation and quality of life in that city.

Petersburg is last in education of children, last in health outcomes and factors, last in public safety. It is an economic basket case.

The Youngkin administration and the Attorney General are focusing on mitigating the worst case — Petersburg.

They will support the efforts of the mayor, government, non-profits, and industry — including business and the citizens of Petersburg — the way it must be to succeed.

I have applauded the governor’s initiative as both right and brave. These are now what Teddy Roosevelt called “men (and now women) in the arena.” An arena that they created on Monday.

John Littel, the Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources, is in the center of that arena. He knows well where the problems lie.  He knows what has been tried and failed to mitigate them.  He granted me an interview.  

He answered a tough question that I will discuss today. Continue reading

A Chance for Petersburg

Credit: Urban News Weekly

by James C. Sherlock

The Youngkin administration is doing an unalloyed good thing the exact right way. In partnership with two Democrats.

The Governor, in an extraordinary joint presentation with his cabinet secretaries and Democratic Mayor Samuel Parham, laid out a plan for broad state help to Petersburg.

Standing on the stage with Democratic State Senator Joe Morrissey.

Parham, speaking to reporters, said

Governor Youngkin is the first to step down here and say that he is going to put all of his resources in a city to move the dial to create prosperity here in the city of Petersburg. Democrats and Republicans working together — that’s what makes Virginia special.

Occasionally. Continue reading

U.K. Suit Demonstrates Legal Jeopardy for Virginia Child Transgender Clinics

by James C. Sherlock

You knew it was coming.

The Times of London has reported the inevitable lawsuit.

Tavistock gender clinic ‘to be sued by 1,000 families’

The Tavistock gender clinic (now closed) is facing mass legal action from youngsters who claim they were rushed into taking life-altering puberty blockers.

I have no idea if the firm that plans the suit will get 1,000 families to join the class. Neither do they.

But everyone knew the suit itself was coming. The defense against this suit, if it ever reaches court, will be severely challenged.

Unless the tort bar retires en masse, such suits are coming to Virginia. Continue reading

Welcome to Richmond, Mr. Kamras

Jason Kamras. Credit: Richmond Times Dispatch

by James C. Sherlock

Richmond Mayor Stoney tweeted today urging the school board not to fire Superintendent Jason Kamras at the emergency board meeting tomorrow night.

Which means, of course, that they plan to fire him.

If they do, it will not be because of the terrible SOL scores.

It will be because the Richmond teachers most influential with the school board and thus the school board itself have been gunning for him for at least 18 months for floating a proposal to help avoid low SOL scores.

That proposal would have asked some teachers to work longer last school year to help the children most challenged by the 18-month COVID break. The longest-in-the-state 18-month break that the teachers had insisted on and gotten.

The proposal would have paid them more to provide the extra help. For which federal money was available.

The school board shot down that proposal. At the behest of the teachers. Who now want him fired.

Welcome to Richmond, Mr. Kamras. Continue reading

Virginia Must Ensure Transgender Medical Treatment Is Safe

by James C. Sherlock

Attorney Hans Bader and I in parallel articles have pointed out the serious questions posed by national and international experts about current medical practices in gender transitions for minors.

Those questions include both the ethics of the diagnosis and treatment processes in use and the safety of the puberty blockers and cross-gender hormones used in those treatments. Hormone treatments are administered to hundreds of minors annually in Virginia in the face of both new FDA warnings and other major open questions about their safety and long-term outcomes.

Virginia taxpayers pay for a lot of these treatments in state hospitals and clinics with state-funded private insurance plans and now Medicaid.

I will recommend the Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources organize and oversee practice and research networks in Virginia that mirror the recommendations of the Cass Review in the U.K. to make it safe.

Virginia has the assets necessary to carry out those recommendations and the state has the authority. It must demonstrate the will.

No new law appears necessary. Continue reading