Bacon Bits: Whistling Past the Graveyard

Feel-good story of the day. Northern Virginia boy scouts have cleaned up the neglected Alexandria cemetery named for abolitionist Frederick Douglass. They raked leaves, trimmed trees, and installed a new sign, according to the Washington Post. The black cemetery fell into disrepair over the years because no Alexandria church or other nonprofit cares for it; the city of Alexandria allocates only a nominal sum for upkeep, mostly mowing.

Boomerang watch. The Mountain Valley Pipeline has suspended all construction activities that could negatively impact four endangered or threatened species: the Indiana bat, the northern long-eared bat, the Roanoke logperch, and the candy darter, reports Virginia Mercury. For the time being, the pipeline company will refrain from tree-clearing, non-maintenance-related road building, grading and trenching, and stream-disturbing activities. Inquiring minds want to know: If such activities are permanently banned in and around habitat of threatened species, will it be possible to build wind turbines anywhere in the Blue Ridge or Allegheny Mountains?

The real structural racism. John Butcher delves into the latest SOL scores for Richmond’s Carver Elementary school, where cheating by teachers and administrators had artificially elevated SOL test scores last year. Now that the testing issues have been resolved, the tragic dimensions of students’ educational under-performance have been laid bare. Students rated as “economically disadvantaged” passed reading, writing, math, history and science at rates in the 20% to 32% range — far lower than the rate for economically disadvantaged children in most other schools. Richmond school officials blame racial bias and under-funding. But the real racism is that poor kids are trapped in a failing because Virginia’s educational establishment does everything in its power to block escape hatches in the form of charter schools or tax-favored scholarships.

A green bank for Virginia? The Northam administration is exploring an alliance with the New York Green Bank, a billion-dollar financier of clean energy programs. Energy News Network examines the pros and cons of such an affiliation here. Apparently, creation of a quasi-public entity like a green bank in Virginia would require General Assembly approval, and Republicans haven’t been much interested. As long as taxpayers aren’t asked to subsidize the loans and are not at risk for bad loans, I don’t see a problem.

The biggest opportunities in energy conservation are in the commercial/ industrial sector, however, and I’m not sure that financing is a significant barrier to getting deals done. I suspect a bigger obstacle is the lack of a legal/regulatory structure that would enable property owners in downtowns and office/industrial parks to pool resources and benefit from economies of scale. Not that the Northam administration is likely to be the slightest bit interested in anything I have to say, but it might well advised to explore enabling legislation for eco-districts. Read more about ecodistricts here.

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15 responses to “Bacon Bits: Whistling Past the Graveyard

  1. Haha! LarryG gave me a well-deserved e-mail poke for committing the following faux-pas: “the tragic dimensions of students’ educational under-performance have been laid bear.”

    Speaking of under-performing writing skills! No, Carver Elementary does not have a problem with roving black bears. I have corrected the misspelling in the post.

  2. Spell check and auto-complete. Two more signs of the digital age undermining education. But where you go, I have gone before, so no stones from me.

  3. Boomerang watch–I, for one, will not be upset if wind turbines are banned in the Blue Ridge and the Alleghenies. As Acbar (or Tom, I forget which) taught me earlier, it is much more economical to build them far out to sea.

    Structural racism–Forget about racial bias. This is obviously a school with a lot of bad teachers. The school division can’t claim racial bias when the reading passing rate of the not ED students is under 60 percent. I don’t understand John Butcher’s last comment: The General Assembly did not do its job. Based on the statutes he listed, it is the state Board of Education that is not doing its job.

    • Yr. Excellency!

      The point is that the MAXIMUM criminal penalty for the guilty principal/teachers is a $250 fine, and it’s possible to read the statute to say the only penalty is revocation of the teaching license. Those people belong in jail.

      So I say the Generous Assembly wussed out.

      • Sorry—I did not read your last paragraph. I think I assumed it was part of the statutory language. The revocation of a person’s teaching license would be pretty drastic (and appropriate, in this case). I don’t think you could convince the legislature to provide for jail time. I don’t think I could support that. I do like your “public stocks” option, however.

  4. Actually Douglass was buried in Rochester, NY. He preferred to live in the north after he escaped enslavement.

    Nevertheless a great story about a boy scout doing good work in Alexandria.

  5. I’m sorry, that website on “ecodistricts” it just “ecobabble.” But now that you’ve brought it up, watch the Navy Hill developers rewrite all their materials…..

    Yeah, I was somewhat doubtful that Frederick Douglass’ burial site was forgotten and overgrown or for that matter, located on former secessionist territory. Although if it were, the General Assembly of past years would neglect it, so it’s fair to bash them anyway in today’s climate.


    Breaking News on offshore wind, its risks, and a recent problem with the wind-dependent grid in the U.K. (one of your islands, Larry.) You can see where I’m reading on a quiet Friday…..Love the photo of ol’ Boris. He has more hair under there than you know who….

  7. on SOLs and academics:

    interesting chart:

    Here’s the bottom line. With kids whose parents are well educated – between the schools and the parents, most of them do well provided there are reasonably competent teachers and administration.

    But kids of parents who are not well-educated are problematical because they get little or no help from their parents (who themselves never received a good education). Then it falls to the schools and the sorry truth is that many school systems just essentially disown the poverty schools and places like Richmond are even worse. It’s hard and a thankless job that there are no winners, just scapegoats for folks like Butcher to go after.

    But to think that private, non-public schools can do better – reveals a persistent problem – the advocates don’t want to hold those schools to the same levels of accountability – which is dishonest because they proclaim they want to “help” the kids but in reality they have an anti-public school agenda and really do not give a crap about the kids – just the politics.

    The first one that advocates BOTH – charter/non-public schools AND equivalent accountability – I’ll duly note and applaud. Until then the current narrative is just plain not an honest one.

    In terms of “green” , wind power, renewables, etc, et all..

    We are NOT there yet – we ARE working that way but the simple truth is that islands that do not have native fossil fuels have to import them and it’s usually diesel fuel that is cheaper than coal or natural gas …..

    … and one would think that where electricity is generated by diesel fuel at almost twice the cost of mainland fossil fuels that wind/solar would gain a significant foothold but the reality is – it has not – yet.

    That’s not a failure – that’s growing pains because on many islands at this point, they do not have 24/7 power and/or power is so expensive that folks use 1/3 to 1/4 of typical by employing as much conservation technology that is affordable.

    And finally, in the end, we may never get totally free from fossil fuels – in our life times – that may well be a bridge too far – but if we can cut our use of fossil fuels by a third or by half – with no increase in cost – why do we oppose that? It’s at it’s CORE – “conservation” which used to be a closely related word to “conservative”.

  8. Here’s more on the SOL issue:


    ” Virginia trails the majority of states in the amount of funding dedicated to students from low-income families, according to a report released Thursday.

    The research shows that Virginia provides low-income students with 14 to 19 percent more than other students, which is about half the 29 percent other states give on average.

    The report, “Weighing Support for Virginia’s Students,” was put together by the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, an economic think tank in Richmond.

    “This became an area of interest for us as national studies have shown that Virginia does a poor job in distributing funds to school divisions relative to student poverty,” said Chris Duncombe, a policy analyst for the institute and the report’s co-author.

    He said the findings are important because the number of low-income students in the state’s public schools is growing, with more than 4 of 10 students economically disadvantaged. Virginia now has more than 512,000 such students, up nearly 146,000 since 2008.

    In Richmond, more than 40 percent of students are living in poverty, according to the report.

    “These students face serious challenges that could make success in the classroom more difficult, (including) hunger, transience and substance abuse in the family,” Duncombe said.

    “They are also less likely to have outside resources such as tutoring, or participate in organized activities. All of this leaves these students on an uneven playing field when they enter the classroom and has resulted, in Virginia, in lower test scores on average, lower on-time graduation rates and higher dropout rates.”

    The problem with not giving high-poverty districts enough funding, according to the report, is that it costs about twice as much money to make sure low-income students reach the same educational level as their wealthier counterparts.

    The report says these districts need additional money because low-income students need services such as early childhood education to be better prepared for kindergarten and remediation when they’re struggling. School districts, the report found, also need to be able to pay the type of salaries that will attract and retain quality teachers.

    By not providing impoverished school districts with enough money to address students’ needs, the state is risking that those students will fall further behind and never recover.”

    Now I’m quite sure some will object to having to pay more to educated poverty-level kids (and I do too) but what is the realistic (as in real-world possible) alternative to doing this?

    Do we resent the situation so much that we just want to walk away from it and let whatever happens – happen?

    Is that a responsible approach?

    Does “Conservative” mean that you just walk away because you don’t like the idea of having to pay more to educate poor kids and it’s easier to blame the schools and the parents?

  9. Low income schools get extra money from the feds under Title 1. The Commonwealth provides additional state aid to the very same schools. Some local jurisdictions, including Fairfax County, provide even more money to those same schools. Title I schools have considerably more resources per student than non-Title 1 schools. So what else should taxpayers do?

    At some point in the process, one has to take responsibility for one’s own actions. If a parent doesn’t provide any support to his/her child, good things are unlikely to happen for that child. In many instances, the child has access to additional resources. Maybe that will help, maybe not. Some will make it; some won’t.

    A few years ago, a high level Fairfax County Schools administrator attended a committee meeting of the McLean Citizens Association. The administrator told the group that in many instances Hispanic parents who were recent immigrants pressured their children to drop out of school as soon as they could to got to work. The Schools try to offer a counter-message. But at some point, neither the Schools nor taxpayer are responsible for what happens to kids who drop out of school at the behest of their parents.

  10. Extra money IS provided but LESS than many other states as shown in the charts.

    You ask: ” So what else should taxpayers do?” but if we are not providing ENOUGH money to start with – it’s not going to be effective.

    I totally agree – that whatever amount we do provide – needs to be effective and if it’s not effective – we need to think what we’re doing but if we are not providing ENOUGH money then we’re wasting money – it’s like not having enough police because we do not provide enough funding for them or the same for any function that needs funding.

    In the case of kids and schools – if we do not educate those kids to the level they need to be able to get jobs in the economy – we end up paying for their welfare and entitlement benefits – and no – we’re not going to go cut those benefits as a “solution” either.

    The real point is that we have to do what is necessary to produce grads that are employable in the 21st century workforce and if we continue to underfund that – it justs becomes a bigger problem with even more expense costs to taxpayers.

    • You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. We need to provide reasonable access to education, including additional resources for kids with additional needs. But if a kid isn’t interested in learning or his/her parents discourage learning, there isn’t realistically much anything that can be done. It takes a personal commitment to learn.

  11. Jim,
    Blame your computer. That’s what I do.

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