The Heights, a $100 million school in Arlington County, co-locates a “democratic alternative magnet” program and a program for students with severe intellectual disabilities, according to School Construction News. It comes equipped with a lobby/gathering space, a theater, a gymnasium, rooftop terraces, and smart panel screens. Wildly extravagant, yes. But, in all fairness, no one else in Virginia is building schools like this.
by James A. Bacon
Some public schools in Virginia, especially in inner cities and rural areas, are in disgraceful condition. Rainwater leaks into classrooms, ceiling tiles are falling, mold is growing, and rats are scurrying. We can all agree that something needs to be done. But what? How widespread are these problems? Are they so ubiquitous that the state should step in?
Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, thinks so. “We have a constitutional obligation to provide high-quality education to every child, regardless of their ZIP code or financial situation in life,” he says. Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond seems to agree. “We ought to be able to figure out a way to do better for our children and teachers.” So reports the Roanoke Times.
To lawmakers, finding a better way almost always translates into providing mo’ money. Schools crumbling? Give localities more money to pay for repairs, renovations and new construction. And maybe mo ‘money is what’s needed. But maybe not. Given legislators’ Pavlovian response to any problem — spend more money — citizens should insist that legislators examine the possibility that maybe, just maybe, there are other ways to deal with the phenomenon of crumbling schools. Continue reading
In the Virginia political world, everyone’s attention is riveted today upon the gun-rights rally in Richmond. We are all hoping that everyone behaves himself and the event remains peaceful. But other things of interest are happening around the Commonwealth.
Washington Metro ridership back up. The years-long downward slide in Washington Metro ridership reversed itself in 2019, increasing 4% over the previous year — about 20,000 trips per weekday on average, according to the Washington Post. One possible explanation for the turn-around: People now can use their cell phones as fare cards. Also, Metro now offers a money-back guarantee that credits riders whenever a rush-hour trip is delayed more than 10 minutes. The greatest growth occurred in Saturdays and Sundays. Metrobus ridership continues its steep fall, down 2.5% last year. But it’s encouraging to see that the Metro, after years of effort to improve safety and on-time performance, may be pulling out of its slump.
Cherokees will have skin in the game. With the surge in proposals by Indian tribes to build casinos in Virginia, a central question I have been asking is what value the tribes are providing. Do they contribute anything beyond bartering their privileged status as a federally designated tribe? Are outside investors doing all the work and taking all the risk? Or do the tribes actually have skin in the game? Well, in the case of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which is proposing a resort and hotel in Bristol, it appears that the tribe is willing to invest $200 million of its own money. The Bristol Herald-Courier quotes tribe chief Richard Sneed: “Looking at the potential customer base and what the market would support, we’re estimating about a $200 million investment. The Eastern Band could come in covering the full cost of the investment as an owner operator.”
Well, there’s always home school. The culture wars in Loudoun County public schools are roiling around the appropriateness of LGBTQ literature in elementary school libraries and classrooms. Should public schools being legitimizing gay relationships and trans-sexual identity as early as elementary school (or at all)? Many parents, especially those of a fundamentalist Christian persuasion, object to books they consider “leftist propaganda” and “moral corruption”? Said one parent, according to the Washington Post: “They’ve removed everything with a Christian influence … and replaced it with smut and porn.” In a nation with irreconcilable value systems, this kind of conflict seems inevitable in public schools. Perhaps the best way to deal with the conflict is to let the majority’s values prevail (in this case, those who promote the LGBTQ agenda) while making it easier for those with minority views to opt out of the system, either through private school or home schooling.
by James A. Bacon
No question: The Holocaust was one of the defining events of modern history. An estimated six million Jews and five million others (Poles and Roma, mostly) died under the Nazi regime’s genocidal programs. No question: Ignorance of the Holocaust among American youth is startling and dismaying. A 2018 survey of Millennials found that 66% could not identify the Auschwitz death camp. No question: Virginia schools need to incorporate teaching of the Holocaust and other genocides into their history curricula.
But does Virginia really need a Holocaust and Genocide Advisory Committee?
Does Virginia really need to develop, as called for in HB 916, a “robust model curriculum and teacher training module” to provide instruction on the Holocaust and other historical genocides for the purpose of providing “anti-bias education for public school students in the Commonwealth?”
Under the bill introduced by Del. Mark Sickles, D-Alexandria, the Advisory Committee would go beyond just teaching about the Holocaust. He envisions a broader initiative in which case studies and instructional lessons in public schools would explore the Holocaust and other genocides “in the context of how lower levels of hate, ridicule, and dehumanization” led to wider acts of violence. Anti-bias education also would provide “tools for responding to different forms of racism, bigotry and discrimination,” and explore “slavery and other forms of historical dehumanizing injustice.”
Wow. I guess Virginia’s public schools aren’t politically correct enough. Now we need a formal program of indoctrination in which legislators not only dictate which subjects to teach but how to teach them. Continue reading
Eric Williams, superintendent of Loudoun County public schools, has proposed a 10.8% increase in the school system’s local funding. The sum includes a $6 million “investment effort” to address equity concerns, reports Loudoun Now.
The initiative would create a “supervisor of equity” position to report to the recently created “director of equity,” and create a team of a supervisor and three instructional facilitators to “focus on equity and culturally responsive instruction.” Two teachers will be hired to bring more diversity to gifted education programs. Five positions will be empowered to reduce discipline proportionately (by race) and decrease use of hateful speech and racial slurs.
Here’s a prediction: That $6 million will be a total waste, as measured by educational outcomes.
Note: This chart corrects an error that appeared in the e-mailed version of this post.
The English Standards of Learning (SOL) pass rates for major racial/ethnic groups in Loudoun County and for the state as a whole appear above. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
The Richmond Times-Dispatch has posted a front-page story today exploring all the reasons why Virginia needs to increase its K-12 education spending. Student achievement on standardized tests are declining. School facilities are crumbling. Racial/ethnic disparities persist. And then this factoid: State inflation-adjusted spending per student is 8% lower than before the Great Recession. Mo’ money is needed for reading specialists. Mo’ money for smaller class sizes. Mo money for schools with low-income students. Mo’ money for teacher pay. Mo’ money for English-as-Second-Language students. Mo’ money for everything.
The article quotes spending advocates as arguing that even the $1.2 billion in added biennial funding recommended by Governor Ralph Northam is not enough to meet K-12’s voracious needs. Says Caroline County teacher Rachel Levy: “The governor’s budget proposal for education is a step in the right direction, but unfortunately, it’s not sufficient.”
Northam comes across as the voice of fiscal reason. “Would we like to do more?” he is quoted as saying. “Absolutely. But we have to live within our means. Education will continue to be a top priority for us, but you can’t make up in just one year.”
Nary a dissenting voice was seen. The article contained not one hint of a whisper of a suggestion that maybe $1.2 billion was excessive in any way, or that there might be other ways to view the educational budget. The debate is entirely between the moderate Left and the far Left. Continue reading
by Steve Haner
Dear “John Randolph of Roanoke,” you very much have a choice if you are tired of paying dues to the Virginia Education Association. I saw your lament in the comment string on Jim Bacon’s report today about pending legislation to force non-union employees to pay union dues.
“Can’t drop out though. These guys are the only ones that will go to bat for me if I am falsely accused of something at school. We are so wide open and vulnerable these days. I guess I have the wolf by the ears.”
Here is information on three alternatives you might consider, with up to $2 million of professional liability coverage offered for far less cost than VEA dues. You can choose from:
Half a loaf is worse than none. Sen. Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Springfield, has introduced a bill that would represent a significant erosion of Virginia’s Right to Work law without repealing it outright. SB 426, entitled “Fair Share Fees,” would authorize an employer to charge employees within a collective bargaining unit who choose not to join the union for the union’a cost associated with collective bargaining, administrative overhead and representation of employees before public bodies. The “fair share fee” would exclude the cost of political activities, lobbying and other activities unrelated to collective bargaining and in no case would exceed 60% of dues. The justification is to eliminate the “free riding” of non-union members who benefit from a union’s collective bargaining efforts.
Tactically, this is a brilliant move by Saslaw because it undermines the most powerful argument against mandatory union membership and payment of union dues — that it forces employees to contribute to political causes with which they disagree. Politically, the bill represents a big payoff to organized labor. Republicans in the General Assembly aren’t likely to support this half-a-loaf approach, but it could persuade moderate, pro-business Democrats. If Saslaw’s gambit succeeds, it would significantly increase the economic power of unions in Virginia and undermine the state’s business climate.
Are safe zones next? HB 40, sponsored by Del. Ibrahim Samirah, D-Herndon, would require every Virginia public school to create and maintain a “mental health break” space with the public school building. Under the bill, the Board of Education would promulgate regulations for the design of the space, student usage, and staffing. The spaces would be indoors, separate from classrooms and as close as possible to the school’s medical service facilities. I can’t imagine this bill will go anywhere this year — the Democrats have bigger fish to fry with the move to bolster K-12 spending by $1.5 billion — but it provides insight into emerging priorities among Virginia progressives. In the progressive vision, the mission of public schools is morphing from educating children to ameliorating their social, economic and mental-health condition. This my friends, is a bottomless pit. There will never be enough money. (Hat tip: Carol Bova.) Continue reading
Student protesters. Photo credit: Washington Post
by James A. Bacon
If you doubt that progressive public school systems are politicizing education, consider this: Beginning next year, Fairfax County Public Schools will allow 7th- to 12th-grade students to take off one day per year to participate in “civic engagement activities” — including marches, sit-ins, protests, or trips to lobby legislators.
“I think we’re setting the stage for the rest of the nation with this,” Ryan McElveen, the Fairfax County School Board member who introduced the measure, told the Washington Post. “It’s a dawning of a new day in student activism, and school systems everywhere are going to have to be responsive to it.”
No, Mr. McElveen, school systems have no obligation to be “responsive” to left-wing activism. They have an obligation to be “responsive” to students who go to school to get an education. Students should be free to discuss liberal-left preoccupations such as social justice and climate change in class or debate clubs. But schools have no business sanctioning the skipping of class in furtherance of political action.
It goes without saying that Fairfax schools would not be granting the day off droves of students were skipping school to attend gun-sanctuary rallies or anti-abortion protests. The measure is designed to empower the Liberal/Left. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
In thinking about what ails Virginia’s K-12 public schools, perhaps we should give some consideration to the state’s schools of education and what Virginian teachers are taught. To get a sense of the quality of scholarship and thought that comes out of our teaching academies, we might consider an op-ed penned nine days ago for the Washington Post by Robert C. Pianta, dean of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and Development.
Here is the thesis of his piece: “The perception that education is in crisis has contributed a fundamentally distorted view of the system that ignores the biggest problem plaguing U.S. public schools: a lack of resources.”
Sadly for Mr. Pianta, the op-ed now bears a correction at the top, which reads as follows: “An earlier version of this piece stated that, adjusting for constant dollars, public funding for schools had decreased since the late 1980s. This is not the case. In fact, funding at the federal, state and local levels has increased between the 1980s and 2019.” Continue reading
Hoo, boy! Governor Ralph Northam has added another priority to his list of new spending initiatives: $1.2 billion in the next two-year budget for extra K-12 schools.
About two-thirds of that sum will go to “rebenchmarking” the state’s Standards of Quality (SOQs), or required inputs into public schools. Another $145 million will boost teacher pay by 3%, $140 million will be distributed to school districts serving large shares of low-income students, $125 million will go to “flexible funding” for school districts, “$99 million will increase the number of school counselors, and smaller sums will provide for for English-as-a-Second-Language students and school meals for low-income students, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Northam’s plan falls short of what the Virginia Board of Education had asked for, which would have amounted to $2 billion in extra spending, said the RTD. But the $1.2 billion proposal is massive by any other measure. It also follows new spending initiatives for Virginia’s historically black public universities, maternal health, early education, low-income housing, free community college tuition, and environmental quality. Continue reading
Well, it looks like the many forecasts of doom and budget profligacy on this blog were in vain. According to this morning’s RTD, Governor Northam will be asking for an additional $1.2 billion over two years for K-12. That is about half of the total cost of earlier projections of SOQ benchmarking costs and the additional money the Board of Education recommended. And it includes money for teacher salary increases, which was not included in the earlier estimates. It would seem that the Governor does not feel bound to go along with all the recommendations of his BOE.
The entire budget proposal will be released later today and the details will be available for poring over. Based on the newspaper report, the Governor may be proposing to roll into the SOQ some funding that was previously supplemental. As I have commented earlier, that could be a concern.
— Dick Hall-Sizemore
This graph shows the gap in the average percentage “pass” rate for Reading SOLs between Asians, the highest scoring racial/ethnic group, whites, blacks and Hispanics.
by James A. Bacon
What’s going on in Loudoun County public schools? Are teachers and administrators in one of Virginia’s most affluent counties making headway in bringing about “equity” (as in equal outcomes in academic performance) between Asians, whites, blacks and Hispanics? Or is the school system hopelessly mired in racism and discrimination?
One indicator comes from a recent Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) press release, highlighting the fact that the College Board, administrator of the Advanced Placement Program, placed Loudoun County Public Schools on its “honor roll” for expanding participation in the AP.
“The honor roll recognizes school divisions for expanding participation in AP courses — especially among black, Hispanic and other minority students — while maintaining or increasing the number of students earning scores of three or higher on AP tests.” Since 2016-17 the number of Loudoun County students taking at least one AP test has increased by 7 percent.
That sounds good. But it seem inconsistent with a report issued this summer by the Equity Collaborative, based on focus groups and interviews, on the state of race relations in Loudoun schools. Principals and teachers exhibit “a low level of racial consciousness and racial literacy,” the report concludes. Discipline policies disproportionately impact black students. And many minorities have experienced “the sting” of racial insults/slurs or racially motivated violent actions.”
Here’s a possibility. Perhaps both things are true. Perhaps Loudoun administrators, principals and teachers are trying harder to reduce unequal outcomes, and at the same time race/ethnic relations are getting worse. Continue reading
First Lady Pam Northam at a preschool in Warrenton. Photo credit: Washington Post
by James A. Bacon
Add another initiative to the ever-spawning list of new spending proposals facing the General Assembly in 2020: Governor Ralph Northam wants to spend $94.8 million on expanding early childhood education for poor Virginia children.
The primary justification offered for spending more on public pre-school is that other states spend more. If these articles in the Washington Post and Richmond Times-Dispatch are any indication, Northam provided no evidence — beyond his intuition — that the added spending would do anything lasting to advanced his stated goal of leveling “the playing field.”
“Where we end up in life has a lot to do with where we start,” Northam said in a statement. “Every child should have an equal opportunity to build a strong foundation, and early childhood education is one of the best investments we can make in our children’s health, well-being, and future success.”
First Lady Pam Northam, who has made early childhood education her cause, added this: “Ralph and I with our backgrounds — pediatric neurologist, pediatric occupational therapist originally and then as an educator — saw firsthand every day in our practices how little brains grow exponentially in those first years and how critical that window of time is.” Continue reading
Todd Gilbert, House Majority Leader and soon-to-be House Minority Leader: GOP must learn to appeal to suburban voters.
by James A. Bacon
So, the Republicans have wrapped up their annual “Advance” — a retreat at the Omni Homestead resort in Bath County. And if reports of the two newspapers that covered the event are to be believed — one from the Washington Post and one from the Roanoke Times — GOP leaders have absolutely no clue how to become competitive statewide.
Attendees do agree that they got shellacked in the November election, and they share a vague sense that they need to increase their appeal in the suburbs. But their only hope at this point resides in the conviction that Democrats will over-reach with Trump Derangement Syndrome in Washington and enact California-style legislation in Richmond. If voters get buyer’s remorse, they might start voting for Republicans again.
But you can’t defeat something with nothing, and there is no indication in either news account that Republicans gave much thought to what they stood for, other than not being insane. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Virginia schools soon could have a new set of regulations governing the use of seclusion and restraint of students. The regs are awaiting approval by Governor Ralph Northam, an official with Virginia’s department of special education and student services told lawmakers Wednesday, as reported by VPM news.
The state needs standards for the use of these disciplinary methods, elaborated retiring Del. Richard “Dickie” Bell, R-Staunton, because there are no standards now. Bell, a retired high school special education teacher, championed the legislation requiring the Virginia Board of Education to restrict methods deemed “unsafe.” The board voted in July to ban the use of prone, or face-down, restraint in July.
No one wants teachers and staff using disciplinary methods that are unnecessarily harsh or potentially harmful — even to quell students acting violently. However, someone needs to think through the implications of these regulations in a school environment were emotionally unstable children are being mainstreamed. Virginia’s dominant media outlets don’t talk about this issue. Thankfully, we have Bacon’s Rebellion, and Bacon’s Rebellion has the Internet.
For a peak at the likely unintended consequences, look to Oregon…