Category Archives: Education – Early Childhood

The Latest Euphemism: “Unfinished Learning”

PALS screening tool results, 2019 and 2021. Source: Virginia Board of Education

James A. Bacon

A remarkable euphemism has entered the lexicon of Virginia’s educational bureaucracy — “unfinished learning.” Unfinished learning is what you get when school children do not demonstrate grade-level proficiency in reading, math, and other subjects by the end of the year. Ever sensitive to tender psyches, Virginia educators don’t want to tell anyone they “failed.” Using the “F” word puts the onus on individual students to do better. Saying instead that students are unfinished learners places the onus on schools to remedy their deficiencies. That distinction goes to the heart of Virginia’s modern-day educational philosophy.

Be that as it may, we may be thankful that the Virginia Board of Education’s (VBOE’s) “2021 Annual Report on the Condition and Needs of Public Schools in Virginia,” does acknowledge that “unfinished learning” is a significant issue. As shown in the graph above, which compares end-of-year reading proficiency as measured by the PALS K-3 screening tool, the percentage of students who are “at risk” for reading proficiency in kindergarten, 1st grade and 2nd grade roughly doubled between the pre-pandemic year of 2019 and the pandemic year of 2021.

The COVID-era collapse in learning cuts across all demographic groups — Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, economically disadvantaged, not economically disadvantaged, English learners, not English learners, and students with disabilities. Even Asians saw a decline (although it was the least marked of all groups measured). Continue reading

Mystery: What’s Behind the Dramatic Fall-off In K and Pre-K Enrollment?

Source: Virginia Board of Education

by James A. Bacon

There are many gaps and omissions in the Northam administration’s just-published “2021 Annual Report on the Conditions and Needs of Public Schools in Virginia” — most notably the lack of recognition that the acute problems described by the report stem in part from policies endorsed by the Northam administration itself — but the Board of Education (BOE) document does highlight several issues that any fair-minded person would acknowledge need highlighting.

One of those issues is the sharp decline in public school enrollment since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, most notably in Pre-K and Kindergarten. As seen in the graph above, pre-K enrollment is down 18.6% and Kindergarten is down 12.8%.

Do these declines portend comparable declines in public school enrollment as these age cohorts work their way through the educational pipeline? Has something fundamental changed about the way parents of young children think about their schooling? Or are these declines transitory blips that will disappear as America learns to live with the virus? Continue reading

Day One Powers of the Governor – Removal of Members of Boards and Commissions

Glenn Youngkin Photo Credit: NBC News

by James C. Sherlock

The left routinely reminds us that elections have consequences.

Well, indeed they do.

People ask what can Glenn Youngkin really do on day one of his administration. The answer — more and more consequentially — than is commonly understood.

I have written here repeatedly about long term corruption in the Board of Health and rigid and relentless progressivism in the Board of Education.

Those boards are very powerful in Virginia. They are charged with both writing regulations and oversight of the underlying departments. The current members of those boards need to go — en masse.

The new governor has the power to make that happen. Continue reading

Candidates Matter

by James C. Sherlock

Glenn Youngkin and Terry McAuliffe proved that candidates matter, even in blue states like Virginia.

Jack Ciattarelli and Phil Murphy in yet bluer New Jersey have proven it again, no matter how that dead even race turns out.

I wrote here in early May that Glenn Youngkin and Jason Miyares would not only win the nominations, but go on to win the general election because of the education policies of the Northam administration.

I was proven right about that.

In the same column, however, I predicted that Terry McAuliffe would “read the room” among Virginia voters and ask Northam to fire his education leadership team.

I was wrong. McAuliffe doubled down. I am very happy he did not take my prediction as advice. Continue reading

By Failing, Progressives ‘Win’

by James C. Sherlock

Progressives in America have perfected the art of winning by failing. 

They create demand for more government with devastatingly destructive government programs badly run.  

It is the idea of control and the money it brings policy makers from rent seekers rather than the management of programs that attracts them. Plenty of progressives make fortunes playing the strings of the government program violins they have created.

Ask Terry McAuliffe.

When those policies inevitably fail to produce the promised results and simultaneously restrict human achievement, the Left considers that a feature not a bug. That is the job, for example, of many prominent ed schools.

As insurance of failure, the Left has perfected incompetent government. It creates opportunities for yet more government control.  

Pure alchemy. Continue reading

Terry McAuliffe as Governor Aggressively Denied Charter Schools to Poor Minority Children

by James C. Sherlock

Terry McAuliffe demonstrated as governor that he will fight public charter schools.

He will oppose them regardless of the lifelong costs to the students of some truly pitiful Virginia public schools, many with majorities of minority students.

When governor, he vetoed a major attempt by the General Assembly to help those kids.

Indeed, not a single charter school has been approved by the Virginia Board of Education since the McAuliffe administration took office in 2014. Two, subject to reauthorization by hostile Boards, have closed.

He and his supporters in the unions and the ed schools consider the children be acceptable collateral damage to their policy preferences. Continue reading

Biden and McAuliffe to Complete the Roundup of Toddlers by the State

Terry McAuliffe. Photo credit: The Virginia Star

by James C. Sherlock

Updated 26 October 1:48 PM

The progressive dream of government control of children from birth is approaching reality in Virginia.

Terry McAuliffe shares that dream and wants to lead Virginia to that promised land.

Governor Ralph Northam and the Democratic General Assembly have established state control of our youngest children, but will struggle to fund it. And if a progressive government could pass those new laws in 2020, future state governments can repeal them.

McAuliffe wants to be Governor to opt in for Virginians to the early childhood education provisions of the federal “Build Back Better” program.

To complete the government control of children from birth with federal money. Under federal regulations and requirements. Wrench control of toddlers from their parents with two sets of laws.

Who says progressives don’t like walls.

Every parent in Virginia should pray he never gets the chance. And vote to prevent him from being in position to do so. Continue reading

Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI+) Pilot – Hidden Data, Disappearing Value — Thanks for Nothing

by James C. Sherlock

This is a follow-up to my Monday report on VPI+, a federally funded four-year pilot program to assess the value of the Virginia Preschool Initiative.

Today we will discuss what was not reported to the public. We will also assess the dreadful results of the pilot participants after those kids graduated and went on the kindergarten and first grade.

Clearly, SRI International (main report) and RAND (cost-benefit report) were directed not to disaggregate the results of the data they collected by division and school. Those, of course, are the levels that give parents enough information to evaluate the program.

What was revealed, at the very end of the main report, was that disadvantaged kids participating had made learning gains compared to their disadvantaged peers who did not attend, but

“like other state public preschool programs, by spring of first grade the differences were no longer statistically different.”

That heart-breaking outcome was left un-assessed.

The mandarins at VDOE (and perhaps the federal DOE) appear to believe that pre-school is too important for parents to get involved.

If given full information, some might challenge the program or decide it is not appropriate for their own children in their local school district.

Like the domestic terrorists some of them are considered in certain circles to be. Continue reading

Virginia Preschool Initiative Pilot – Political Conclusions Belied by the Data

by James C. Sherlock. Updated Oct 18 at 5:38 PM

Those who have followed my reporting know that I am passionate on the subject of helping poor children do better in Virginia’s schools. They also know of my disdain for Virginia’s hyper-political education establishment.  

Well, the Northam administration has turned the Virginia Preschool Initiative Plus pilot into a full fledged program.

In doing so, it has finessed the needs of the children by ignoring the results of that pilot to satisfy the political desires of the progressive education establishment. Continue reading

McAuliffe Lets the Cat out of the Bag

by James C. Sherlock

Current Virginia law and Terry McAuliffe cannot coexist.

“A parent has a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education, and care of the parent’s child.”

Code of Virginia § 1-240.1. Rights of parents.

“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Terry McAuliffe, Sept 28, 2021

Let’s walk that forward. Progressives all over Virginia and the nation were horrified. They consider McAuliffe’s words to be dogma. But they wish he hadn’t exposed it so publicly. 

During an election bid.

So, now that the cat’s out of the bag, let’s experiment with changes to  § 1-240.1. Rights of parents and see what it takes to make it comport with progressive thinking. Continue reading

How Does Virginia Budget Early-Childhood-Education Money Wind Up in a Park in Detroit?

by James C. Sherlock – updated Oct 15

I’d like to report an organized crime. It’s just not illegal in Virginia.

The political Left, fully in control of Virginia government, sends taxpayer money to leftist non-profits, who take their cuts and then send it on to local government entities and yet more nonprofits.

It is unethical, but that does not matter to Virginia’s elected Democrats.

But they have set themselves up for a fall. They may not know enough about nonprofit reporting laws to understand it opens the tax money transfers up to public examination.

Federally required independent accountants of nonprofits won’t play along. When non-profits touch the money, they have to report it to the IRS on their annual Form 990’s, where we mere taxpayers can see it.

In this case we will trace early childhood education money from the Virginia budget to a park in Detroit. Continue reading

What Does Northam’s Masking Order Mean for 70,000 School Kids with Disabilities? Does Northam Even Know?

Governor Ralph Northam…. Oh, our bad, that’s a weasel.

by James C. Sherlock

My own preferred policy for schools is mandatory vaccination for school staff, recommended vaccinations for the kids and voluntary masks for everyone.

One of the advantages of that is that it is executable.

One of the disadvantages is that I have no influence whatever over the governor or health commissioner. Pretty big disadvantage.

But Virginia’s current order for schools is purposely garbled when addressing accommodations for disabled children, and the health commissioner understood that when he signed it for the governor.

The authors of that document had no idea how to handle the mask issue for the over 70,000 kids in Virginia public schools were labeled as “disabled” last year.

So they punted. Continue reading

Shots and Masks in Richmond Schools

Why is this man smiling?

by James C. Sherlock

Belt and suspenders?

Vaccinations and masks now are both mandatory in Richmond Public Schools. Vaccinations because the school board ordered it last night. Masks because the Governor ordered it last week.

The vaccination order, though many oppose it, has science behind it. Vaccinations work. For the vaccinated, though, the mask wearing mandate is purely political – and political theater. The mask mandate did not presume vaccination mandates.

Cue the squeaking from the “yeah, but” crowd.

Let’s look a these one at a time.

Vaccinations – Richmond

After a vote last night by the school board, nearly all employees of Richmond Public Schools (RPS) must be vaccinated by Oct. 1.

I wish them godspeed.

This policy, with which I agree, is a major experiment with a very short time horizon, an unknown baseline and an unknown outcome. Continue reading

Virginia Local Ability-to-Pay Calculation and State Contributions to Public Schools — Some Surprises

by James C. Sherlock

Some things are very important that the average citizen knows little to nothing about.

For example, a complex state computation, the Composite Index of Local Ability to Pay, determines how much state money per student goes to your school district to maintain an overall state ratio of 55% state and 45% local.

The lower your district composite index of ability to pay, the more money per student your district gets.

You will find some big surprises in the list of school division indexes, or at least I did.

My home division of Virginia Beach did not make the top 20 highest indexes, while the City of Richmond did. Fredericksburg is a top-20 division. Stafford County is in the lower middle group. Bath County has the third highest index out of 133. Continue reading

Some Northern Virginia Schools Get Failing Grades on Black Student Literacy and Numeracy

Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane

by James C. Sherlock

We spend a lot of time here documenting the raging debates at Northern Virginia school board meetings over Critical Race Theory in schools. Raging is the right word.  

Yet those same school systems fail to educate the kids they claim to care about most.

Consider what we see from VDOE and them instead:

  • the teacher strike threats;
  • the elimination of competitive tests for magnet schools and AP courses;
  • the ongoing attempt to recall Loudoun school board members;
  • the lawsuits;
  • the “too many Asians” idiocy of the Secretary of Education and the new rules that will push most high achieving Asian American students out of the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in the name of “equity”;
  • the Virginia Board of Education taking over as the regulator for child care, writing a 24-page draft regulation on transgender students and working every day to write regulations to create little social activists starting at birth.

It is past time for Northern Virginia school systems and VDOE to get to work doing something a little more basic.  

I have a thought. Start by teaching the far too many Black students who, pre-COVID, had failed to achieve literacy and numeracy at or even near grade level.  

Hope I’m not out of line. Continue reading