Black Students Disappearing from Classrooms Disproportionately in Ten of our Largest School Divisions

by James C. Sherlock

For those who support local control of schools no matter what, I will offer you a “what” to consider.

For those who are nervous about even discussing why some jurisdictions in Virginia have failed to ensure “an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained” for Black children, that works for Black children no matter their circumstances, you are reading the wrong article.

Twenty percent of Virginians are Black, as were 22% of our public school students in 2022.

Virginia lost 4% of its Black public school student registrations in the last three years, compared to 2.6% of all students including Black students. Black chronic absenteeism statewide jumped from 13.1% to over 25%. All student chronic absenteeism including Black students was 20%.

Ten jurisdictions with at least 2,000 Black students at the start of that period lost higher percentages of their Black students than the state average. Some much higher.

Those ten lost 8,668 Black student registrations. The entire state lost 10,674. Chronic absenteeism of black students in those jurisdictions increased in line with statewide increases.

Without even bringing up school quality, this is unacceptable if we care about the futures of Black kids.

We have to get them in school. I say “we” because it will be a long-term disaster for both these children and Virginia if we don’t.

Lots of different things have to be done to get them there, which is where school quality comes in. But I will share some of the raw numbers.

I spent a lot of time, with the assistance of VDOE, assessing the decline in registration and the increase in chronic absenteeism among Black students in Virginia public schools between 2018-19 and 2021-22.

Some data decisions.

  • I looked only at school divisions with at least 2,000 Black students to ensure the percentages of increase or decrease of black registrations were meaningful;
  • I did not consider any other demographic. Just Black students and total students;
  • I have all of the other data, and will consider other demographics in future articles.

You will see both familiar and unexpected names here.

Perhaps these jurisdictions can explain how they got on this list.

Losses in registration. In losses of registered Black students:

  • Richmond and Newport News are not surprises.
  • Fairfax County and Virginia Beach are. At least to me.

We have no idea where most of these students went, if they are being educated, and by whom.

Chronic absenteeism. In the case of Black student chronic absentee rates, Hopewell, Richmond, Lynchburg, Newport News and frankly the rest need to figure out how to enforce state truancy law.

It is not OK for these kids to miss school as much as they are with or without an excuse.

Adults in the school systems need to care enough to bring truants to school if their parents won’t see to it.

Bottom line. We have no more important demand on the public’s attention and the public purse than educating our children.

For many, improvement in attendance means making their schools worth attending.

VDOE should help with developing correction plans if asked and recommend funding for any that show need and merit in improving the quality of the schools and decreasing truancy. Out-of-state systems proven successful at attracting and educating poor urban Black children should be asked to help with the improvement designs.

Again, I will address other demographics in follow-on articles.

But more money for business as usual should not be supported. No excuses are acceptable. About any of this.  Including from the General Assembly.

Read Virginia’s constitution.

Virginia has made quality education a civil right. And it has become the civil rights issue of our time.