Category Archives: Education (K-12)

Media Gins up Anemic School Walkouts

by Kerry Dougherty

You could almost hear the local media panting Tuesday morning. There were rumors that some Virginia high school students were going to walk out of school to protest the new parental rights policies of the Youngkin administration.

You know, the Department of Education regulations announced earlier this month that support the principle that parents are the ultimate authority over their own kids.

I wrote about this reversal of Ralph Northam’s policies on parental authority last week.

The mainstream media, desperate to weaken an increasingly popular Youngkin, portrays the policy as limiting transgendered rights.

That’s nonsense and if members of the media took the time to actually READ the language of the regulations, as I did, they would know it. Continue reading

VEA’s Failing, Flailing Excuse for a Report

by James A. Bacon

The Youngkin administration threw down the gauntlet last week when it issued the latest public school-accreditation data. Despite unprecedented learning losses during the COVID epidemic, the percentage of Virginia public schools meeting the accreditation standards fell from 92% pre-COVID to 89% post-COVID, a decline of only three percentage points. Commented Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow: “Frankly, the ratings we are releasing today fail to capture the extent of the crisis facing our schools and students.”

Now the Virginia Education Association has countered with a report, “Failing State, Not ‘Failing Schools.’” The report blames systemic racism and under-funding of non-accredited schools.

“Certain politicians have deprived many of our schools of critical resources, particularly in Black communities, and then point the finger at educators for the challenges these schools face by referring to them as “failing schools,” the VEA says. “This deflects blame and ignores the legacy of state-sanctioned policies in certain Black communities, and perpetuate inequities we see in student outcomes today.”

The report is remarkable in many ways. First and foremost, it makes non-accreditation shortfalls all about race. While the Youngkin administration has emphasized that minorities are hurt the most by school-underperformance, it has never suggested that race is the issue. The VEA flat-out blames racism. Second, the VEA repeatedly contends that non-accredited schools are under-funded. This claim is so lacking in factual support that it approaches outright dishonesty. Finally, the VEA suggests that the answer is more money, always more money. No need for better management, no need for teachers, administrators, parents or students to change the way they do anything. The entire onus for fixing the system belongs to the state and Virginia taxpayers.

I’m not buying it. Not one little bit. Continue reading

Virginia’s Student “Growth” Model Stunts Achievement

by Matt Hurt

Virginia’s system for accrediting public K-12 schools has engendered some concern since the release of  school accreditation data on September 19. While  students exhibited lower proficiency during the 2022 school year than in 2019, as measured by Standards of Learning test scores, the percentage of schools meeting the requirements for full accreditation barely budged.

Table 1 below demonstrates the rates at which Virginia schools obtained a Level 1 rating (the highest available in our accreditation system) for each of the key metrics. Table 2 below displays the overall pass rates in Virginia for each of those content areas. (The English accreditation indicator is a composite of reading and writing results.)

Note that the English and math SOL pass rates dropped from 2019 to 2022, but Virginia schools didn’t realize similar declines in accreditation ratings. English (a composite of reading and writing) pass rates fell 4.27% but schools awarded the Level One accreditation rating increased 0.83%. Math SOL pass rates plummeted 15.56% but schools slid only 0.88%.

Continue reading

Addressing the Spiral Effect in Learning Loss

by Dr. Kathleen Smith

During the COVID-19 pandemic educators did what they had to do in a short amount of time (five months in the case of Virginia) with little resources (extra funding came long after September of 2020) to keep kids learning through the 2020-2021 school year. A wholesale shift to remote and hybrid learning had never been tried before. Perhaps the challenge could have been handled better, but educators did the best they could under trying circumstances.

Rather than panic over the gap between the pre- and post-pandemic Standards of Learning pass rates, educators should focus now on catching up. The good news is that they know what they need to do, and they have many resources to get the job done.

Here is the bad news: teachers have only a finite amount of time to sequence what needs to be taught, and the scope of recouping lost learning is more than can be accomplished in one school year. Their job is made more challenging by the phenomenon of “spiraling” — in which a student must master one skill level before moving on to the next.

For example, in mathematics, the student first learns simple multiplication and then moves on to more complex multiplication. Continue reading

Schrödinger’s Schools? Are Virginia’s Schools Good Or Not? Yes.

by Andrew Rotherham

In the tiresome debate about our schools, here in Virginia and nationally, questions like “Are schools as good/bad as people say?” dominate.

These are the wrong kind of questions.

The big story of American education is variance — in everything from funding to outcomes. School performance is mixed overall and here in Virginia. That’s why Virginia at once has schools that are the envy of the world, and also fewer than one in five Virginia low-income and/or Black 8th-graders are proficient on the highly-regarded NAEP assessment and there are big gaps on our state assessments and a lot of underperformance. Often the schools producing those disparate outcomes are in close quarters to one another.

Yesterday, Virginia released school accreditation ratings based on the most recent student achievement data. Because Virginia doesn’t have any sort of accountability system or much in the way of school choice, these ratings take on a lot of substantive and political weight. They also pretty consistently lead to a lot of confusion. This year is no exception. The new rankings show that almost all Virginia schools are accredited and doing OK, even though we know there were problems before the pandemic — and that the pandemic was a disaster for a lot of kids. Continue reading

Youngkin Admin Questions Value of School Accreditation Standards

Source: Virginia Department of Education

by James A. Bacon

A Virginia Department of Education press release issued yesterday contained a vitally important message: Virginia’s school accreditation standards are failing to do their job. Despite unprecedented learning losses during the COVID epidemic, the percentage of Virginia public schools meeting the standards fell from 92% pre-COVID to 89% post-COVID, a decline of only three percentage points.

“These ratings call into question the effectiveness of our accreditation standards in identifying schools where students are struggling to achieve grade-level proficiency,” stated Superintendent Jillian Balow. “Frankly, the ratings we are releasing today fail to capture the extent of the crisis facing our schools and students.”

And how did the legacy media treat this story?

The Washington Post ignored it. Instead, it published a story headlined, “Youngkin’s rules for trans students leave many teens fearful, despondent.” As far as I can tell from the round-up of clips in the VA News aggregator, not one of Virginia’s major metro dailies covered the announcement. The (Charlottesville) Daily Progress, the (Harrisonburg) Daily News Record, and WSLS (Roanoke) and WTOP (Washington) were the only legacy media outlets to mention it. Only the two TV stations included the Balow quotes in the body of their stories. Continue reading

The Social Emotional Learning Establishment Seeks Progressive Reordering of Society

by James C. Sherlock

Social emotional learning is based on a good idea. The underlying concept is to train adults (teachers and staff) in child psychology with a goal of shaping learning environments that optimize development of children to societal standards of behavior.

To teach them how to act.

The rub: who decides on the target societal standards of behavior?

Virginia’s vision for SEL is published as:

intended to center equity in this work, which is key to VDOE’s vision and mission.

The vision of social emotional learning in Virginia is to maximize the potential of all students and staff to become responsible, caring and reflective members of our diverse society by advancing equity, uplifting student voice, and infusing SEL into every part of the school experience.

You can figure out where the educational establishment is going with that. But if you cannot, they have told us in no uncertain terms.

They intend to integrate issues of race, class and culture into academic content with a primary goal of making social justice warriors out of America’s children; to bring down capitalism, individualism, and what they call neoliberal democracy.

To lead our children to help redistribute power in America.

Not my words, theirs. Continue reading

Some School Divisions Successfully Mitigated COVID Learning Losses in Math

by James C. Sherlock

Congratulations are in order.

Some school divisions, spread around the state, did a terrific job in mitigating mathematics learning losses during COVID.

I picked math for its baseline importance in school and in life and the relative inability for students to advance in that subject without instruction, compared to reading and writing.

In trying to measure those losses with available data, I have compared division math SOL pass rates in 2021-22 to those in the last pre-pandemic year of 2018-19.

I believe it to be a good measure of successful teacher instruction, the learning environments at home, and in school and student effort.

That standard produced an eclectic and in some ways surprising list of divisions with the lowest learning losses.

Continue reading

Parents’ Rights Are On The Virginia Ballot. Again.

by Kerry Dougherty

Good news. Virginia’s Democrats have taken the bait.

So far at least four liberal school districts in the commonwealth have declared that they will defy Virginia’s Department of Education model policies on parental rights that were unveiled late last week.

You know, policies that contain “radical” ideas such as these:

“Parents have the right to make decisions with respect to their children”

“Schools shall respect parental values and beliefs.”

Oh, and here’s the new definition of “transgendered”:

The phrase “transgender student” shall mean a public school student whose parent has requested in writing, due to their child’s persistent and sincere belief that his or her gender differs with his or her sex, that their child be so identified while at school.

This means that students who present themselves as a gender other than the sex they were given at birth without their parents’ permission will not be allowed to change their identities in school. Continue reading

Prioritize Joyful Teaching and Learning in Virginia Public Schools

Courtesy Success Academies

by James C. Sherlock

Sometimes things are so right in front of you that you look past them.

I have been studying public education in Virginia for more than 15 years.

The policy face of the teaching and learning is — there is no other word for it — depressing, at least to the degree that those policies as written can be decoded into English.

Especially when our schools’ processes are constantly re-engineered at the behest of the education establishment. Teachers and students struggle to adjust to policies that are said to “work” in small, targeted studies but prove after enormous effort and expense not to scale as predicted. Or they work in the best schools and not in the worst.

At the federal level, the VDOE level, the ed school level and the local school division level, policies are frenetically changed to clean up problems real or perceived.

Virtually no solution I have seen focuses on enhancing the joys of teaching and learning.

The best individual schools in Virginia can and many certainly do focus on joy. But that is not what they are told to do. And clearly many don’t do it.

It is no wonder SOL scores in many schools continue to be dismal, teachers and students quit and students are chronically absent in droves.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Continue reading

School Climate Surveys Better Indicators of Learning Climate than Current School Quality Profiles

by James C. Sherlock

I spent some time yesterday discussing the Virginia Department of Education’s revisions to school climate surveys. If VDOE returns to the valid, older survey, results could be applied profitably to updating the Learning Climate section of the department’s School Quality Profiles.

Right now, that section contains only historical artifacts of the learning climate, not predictive ones. Learning Climate data include chronic absenteeism, suspensions, expulsions, free-and-reduced meal eligibility, and, for some unknown reason, five-year-old Civil Rights Data Collection data.

The Authoritative School Climate Survey (ASCS), that I have urged VDOE to resume using, has multi-question scales that describe the views of students and staff towards the school.

The data collected from ASCS are more useful than legacy attendance, discipline and poverty data because they are

  • more thoroughly descriptive;
  • predictive; and
  • actionable.

We’ll examine how. Continue reading

Hoax Epidemic

Scene outside of Charlottesville High School yesterday. Photo credit: Daily Progress

by James A. Bacon

In the latest sign of spreading social disorder, Virginia underwent a plague of school hoaxes yesterday. According to media reports, incidents included:

  • The Loudoun County sheriff’s office and Leesburg police were notified of acts of violence at Loudoun Valley and Loudoun County high schools. The reports were false.
  • In Arlington County, officers responded to a false report in a 911 call of a possible act of violence at Washington-Liberty High School.
  • The Culpeper County school system placed all schools on lockdown after a 911 caller reported an “active shooter.”
  • A 911 caller told the Charlottesville police that there was an active shooter at the Charlottesville High School. (Eleven days ago, Albemarle County police had responded to a threat to Western Albemarle High School made through social media.)
  • E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg was placed on lockdown after a 911 caller alerted authorities to someone potentially being inside the high school with a gun.

There’s nothing new about shooting and bomb hoaxes. What is new is the epidemic-like frequency with which they are occurring. Apparently, the practice of reporting violent incidents in school buildings has reached such a critical mass that it now has a name — swatting. Continue reading

Political Damage to Primary Instruments of Improvement in Virginia Schools

by James C. Sherlock

We need all the help we can get assessing Virginia schools and producing actionable information to make them better.  

The Standards of Learning exams show the results of poor learning, but do not identify actionable causes.

Directed to choose an additional measure of school quality by the federal ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) in 2015, Virginia, like most states, chose to use a school climate survey.

Virginia chose a hell of a good one developed in Virginia by University of Virginia scientists for the federal government. It was used here very successfully for several years.

Then Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) functionaries dumped it in 2020 for what were clearly political/philosophical reasons.

I have not seen any evidence that the new survey has been proven valid or reliable, even if one agrees with their woke philosophy. Frankly it could not have been validated in such a short span of time in the middle of COVID.

The new leadership at VDOE needs to return to the original.

Continue reading

Another COVID Impact: Bad School Data

by Matt Hurt

In a September 14th post, Jim Sherlock referenced some data points that were collected during the pandemic. Specifically he brought up the topics of chronic absenteeism and how the graduation rate didn’t seem to correlate with SOL scores. My intent here is not to refute any specifics; it is to inform readers that there were a variety of aspects that impacted the quality of data that we collected during that time.

First of all, to say that the 2020-21 school year was chaotic is the understatement of the century. Most school divisions began the year in a virtual setting. As the year wore on, students were allowed to come into the school at varying rates. Also during that year, families were ubiquitously allowed to decide whether their students would participate in person, given that was an option.

Many families changed their mind multiple times throughout the year. This by itself caused a great deal of chaos, and it was nearly impossible to accurately reflect each student’s method of instruction during that time period. Try to imagine how this worked out in schools. Johnny’s family chose to have him attend school in person. Then the COVID infection rates in the community increased and Johnny’s family decided that he needed to participate virtually. How hard is it to believe that many kids were marked absent incorrectly when they should have been marked as attending virtually? Continue reading

Virginia Model Policies on Protecting Students Show Differences in Constitutional Focus and Interpretation

by James C. Sherlock

There is lots of interest, and not a little headline hyperbole, concerning the change in Virginia’s model policies designed to assure all children appropriate treatment at school.

Two different world views are apparent in the titles:

  • the Northam administration’s Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools (Northam Model Policies) and
  • the Youngkin Administration’s Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools (Youngkin Model Policies).

Both attorneys and general audiences will find interesting the way the authors of each document interpreted the United States Constitution.

Each referred to the first and 14th amendments. And Virginia laws. The differences in emphasis and interpretation were chosen to support their cases.

That is not surprising, but I think those differences make or break the case for the two policies.

I will let readers decide. Continue reading