Category Archives: Education (K-12)

Innovation Sharing in Virginia Schools

Virginia School Consortium for Learning logo

This may be the most promising initiative I’ve seen coming out of Virginia’s educational establishment in a couple of years. Press release from the Virginia Department of Education:

Teams of educators from 31 school divisions gathered last week [in Chesterfield County] to share ideas on how to accelerate innovation and promote deeper learning in the commonwealth’s public schools. The educators make up the first cohort of the Virginia Is for Learners Innovation Network. …

The innovation network’s goals are to promote deeper learning at all grade levels and to align instruction and assessment across the state with the expectations of the Profile of a Virginia Graduate. The profile — which was adopted by the state Board of Education in November 2016 — describes the knowledge, skills, attributes, and experiences identified by the board, higher education and employers as critical for future success.

Of course, the sharing of educational best practices does nothing to advance the Narrative of Endemic Racism, so it’s not surprising that we read nothing of it in any of Virginia’s newspapers. I didn’t attend the gathering, so I can’t vouch for the quality of ideas exchanged. But the meeting sounds like a win-win proposition.

Richmond Schools Weaken Anti-Truancy Initiative

Attendance officer Breon Eppes. Photo credit: Richmond Free Press

It has long been a pillar of Virginia education policy to increase the high school graduation rate. To advance that goal, several school districts have cracked down on students skipping school. The Richmond Public School system, for instance, has long employed a team of “school attendance officers” to round up truants and get them back into the classroom.

Then last year, in a move that generated little publicity, the General Assembly gutted a 20-year-old anti-truancy law. That bill, according to the Richmond Free-Press, did four things: It (1) doubled from five to 10 the number of days that a student could miss, (2) allowed schools to wait another 10 days before meeting with parents, (3) eliminated most of the authority of school attendance officers to be involved, and (4) allowed school districts to use volunteers instead of paid staff to work on attendance issues.

Now, with support from the Richmond school board, Superintendent Jason Kamras proposes to save $500,000 by eliminating 21 positions slotted for attendance officers and replacing them with seven “attendance liaisons.”

The Richmond Free-Press quoted Bacon’s Rebellion’s friend and comrade-in-arms John Butcher, author of Cranky’s Blog and the first person outside the educational establishment to notice the change:

Update: In an important comment, Dick Hall-Sizemore takes exception to the way the Richmond Free-Press characterized changes to the anti-truancy law, and suggests that the tweaks might have stemmed from issues specific to Fairfax County, and anything happening in Richmond was unintended consequence. Continue reading

Moral Measures, Skin in the Game, and K-12 Education

Four former state secretaries of education banded together to publish an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch today in support of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s proposal to raise real estate and cigarette taxes to fund the Richmond public school system’s strategic plan. In the op-ed they made a statement that is core to liberal thought:

The moral measure of any community is its commitment to investing in opportunities for its neediest citizens. About 40 percent of children in the city of Richmond live below the poverty line, and nearly three-quarters are economically disadvantaged. All of Richmond’s children deserve the opportunity to reach their potential to be contributing members of society. When that happens, our entire community will benefit.

The answer, of course, is mo’ money. The answer is always mo’ money.

I may not speak for everyone with conservative or libertarian leanings, but I speak for many. We, too, want to create a society in which every Virginia child has access to a good education. We, too, want to see African-American children in Virginia’s inner cities escape the clutches of poverty. We, too, want everyone from every county, city and town in Virginia to become a productive and contributing member of society enjoying a decent standard of living.

We disagree on how to achieve those aims. Continue reading

Too Many Problem School Kids? Hire More Counselors!

In its ongoing transformation from an organization dedicated to protecting civil liberties into an organization dedicated to advancing social justice causes, the ACLU has issued a report, “Cops and No Counselors,” which makes the case that “the lack of school mental health staff is harming students.” (The study was picked up obligingly by Richmond’s WRIC TV.)

The ACLU, which has taken the lead in instituting a social justice model of school discipline in Virginia schools, argues that Virginia should reallocate resources from law enforcement and “school resource” officers to more mental health counseling.

The study documents that 86% of Virginia students attend schools that fail to meet the benchmark of American and Virginia school counselor associations of at least one counselor per every 250 students. As WVIR notes, mental health support for schools was a focus of the General Assembly this year. Among other measures enacted, the budget set aside $12 million to cover the cost of hiring about 250 more counselors across the state, enough to reduce the ratio of counselors to high school students from 1-to-350-to 1-to-325.

Another bill requires counselors to spend 80% of their day working with students. Apparently, counselors aren’t doing enough counseling. Continue reading

But… But… The Narrative!

Funding disparities between 75%+ white and 75%+ minority school districts by state. Source: Edbuild

While it may be true nationally that predominantly white school districts spend more money than predominantly black school districts, that’s not the case in Virginia, reports Radio IQ. In Virginia, districts that serve mostly black students spend about $200 more per student on average.

That data is based on a report by Edbuild, an organization that studies school funding. “It’s somewhat challenging to put together a simple narrative for Virginia because it doesn’t necessarily follow easy and simple trends,” says Matt Richmond with Edbuild, Writes Radio IQ:

One possible reason Virginia looks different than the rest of the country could be because the state has relatively large, county-based, school districts. That’s actually one of EdBuild’s policy suggestions for states aiming to increase equity in education funding.

I am not conversant with how other states organize their schools. But apparently counties outside Virginia often include cities and towns, each with their own school district. Edbuild contends that district boundaries are frequently gerrymandered to protect the interests of more affluent (mostly white) residents. I cannot say if this is a fair critique or not. But in Virginia’s distinct and often maligned system of local government, counties and cities are distinct, not overlapping, municipal entities. Furthermore, for the past 40 years or so, cities have lost the right to annex territory from neighboring counties. Local politicos have no ability to gerrymander school district lines.

But that is a partial explanation at best. Continue reading

Educators, Stop Your Whining!

by Bob Shannon

Having attended last Thursday’s Joint School Board and Board of Supervisors meeting at Hamilton Holmes Middle School, I have a few observations.

Dr. David White, King William County school superintendent, made specific mention of the low morale problem among school personnel. Of course the remedy, according to Dr. White, is an across-the-board 5% pay raise for everyone. He cited the lack of a pay raise last year and the need to keep King William schools’ compensation attractive/competitive.

Last year in an effort to keep anyone’s take home pay from declining, measures such as higher co-pays and deductibles had to be raised in order to accomplish this. Have these folks already forgotten the hundreds of thousands of dollars that tax payers picked up in their increased health care costs?

In the economic contraction beginning in 2008 and lasting six years, did a single school employee get laid off or lose their job? Did one school employee have to take a pay cut? Did a single school employee have their pension contributions cut?  Did even one of them lose a week of the 12-13 weeks they get off each year ? Continue reading

What Can Educators Learn from CollegeU?

ChallengeU, says it’s website, can “put success in the palm of your hand.”

It’s a heart-warming story: Thanks to the intervention of the nonprofit ChallengeU program, four former high school dropouts from the Petersburg school system received their high school diplomas in a ceremony Wednesday. (A fifth diploma earner could not participate.)

“The event was much the same as a traditional graduation ceremony, complete with speeches and a walk across the stage to receive their diplomas,”  said the Times-Dispatch editorial page today. “The euphoria in the room was electric. All four students say they hope to continue with higher education.”

It’s always good news when at-risk kids manage to turn their lives around, complete their high school educations and get a shot at climbing out of poverty. As the ChallengeU website notes, in Virginia 8,000 kids dropped out of high school last year. Coaxing these kids back into the educational pipeline is one of society’s great challenges.

ChallengeU takes on hard cases with some success, as evidenced by the graduation of those four Petersburg kids. But the program is highly unconventional — the kids learn online — and it is resource intensive. The question arises: Does ChallengeU provide an educational model that can be replicated, in whole or in part, in the public school system? Does the ChallengeU model warrant greater support from the philanthropic sector? Conversely, do the high school diplomas reflect real learning? Are the program’s successes worth the resources expended? Unfortunately, ChallengeU’s website provides no metrics, so those questions are difficult to answer. Continue reading

Institutionalizing the Social Justice Movement in Virginia Schools

James F. Lane, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction

In the aftermath of revelations that Virginia’s governor and attorney general both dressed in blackface more than 30 years ago, James F. Lane, superintendent of Virginia public schools, thinks it’s time to engage in a “dialogue” about race, racism, and bigotry. He laid out his thoughts about how to shape such a dialogue in a Feb. 22, 2019, memo to local school superintendents.

The memo starts promisingly enough, expressing lofty ambitions that all can share: “We must all join together to renew our commitment to equity and the elimination of racism of any kind from our public school experience.” But he quickly goes awry. He next urges the school superintendents to “reflect on these events and the conditions that exist within our culture and communities that created space and place for these hurtful symbols to be perceived by some as acceptable” — implying that incidents and attitudes that took place decades ago are prevalent in schools today.

Lane then reiterates a call for “meaningful dialogue” on racism and bigotry with students, staffs and school communities. He encourages the superintendents to ensure that lessons are designed “with racial sensitivity and cultural competence in mind,” and to take action when students or staff engage in “inappropriate and unprofessional conduct.”

Questions arise. How does Lane define “racial sensitivity and cultural competence?” And what constitutes “inappropriate and unprofessional conduct?” He answers the questions indirectly by providing a list of “resources” for teachers, parents, and school division leaders, as well as his own “reading list.” His idea of “dialogue,” it appears, consists of indoctrinating Virginia’s school system with the radical left-wing narrative of Endemic Racial Oppression. Continue reading

Torturing the Data: Richmond Schools Edition

If you want an explanation of why the Richmond Public Schools (RPS) are such a mess, start with the fact that the Richmond educational establishment is in a state of denial, unable to acknowledge reality. Unless Richmond educrats cast off their the false premises under which they operate, the school system will continue to fail the thousands of children, mostly minorities, that it purports to educate.

Richmond educators blame everyone but themselves for the abysmal standardized-test outcomes of its students — racism, not enough money, and in particular the high poverty rate of its school population. We have busted these claims on this blog, but John Butcher at Cranky’s Blog shows how the most recent budget plan perpetuates the self-serving narrative by twisting the data.

Using the free-and-reduced-lunch population as a measure of poverty, the RPS budget notes that the city has the 9th highest free and reduced lunch population, which it documents in the following graph that compares Richmond to “neighboring” jurisdictions:

Continue reading

Kamras Feeds a False Narrative

Jason Kamras

In a Sunday op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond city school Superintendent Jason Kamras opined on “institutional racism” in Virginia schools. In building his case for the existence of such injustice, he cited the supposed disparity in funding, writing:

According to the National Center on Education Statistics, Virginia’s highest poverty school divisions — which serve large percentages of children of color — receive 8.3 percent less in per pupil funding than the state’s wealthiest districts. Put plainly: the students who should be getting more are actually getting less. If all the children in our poorest school divisions were white, I am certain the commonwealth would have found a way to fix its convoluted and unjust funding policies so that our lower-income communities received more.

Really? Let’s look at the numbers. The following data come from the Superintendent’s Annual Report for Virginia based on FY 2016 budgets:

Per pupil spending
City of Richmond — $13,843
Hanover County — $9,772
Henrico County — $9,644
Chesterfield County — $9,592 Continue reading

Virginia Voters Should “Clean House” this November

State of affairs / affairs of state.  Multiple scandals have rocked Virginia’s state government this week.  All three of our state’s top officials stand accused of substantial wrongdoing.  Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring have admitted to dressing in blackface during their college / medical school days. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is being accused of sexual assault.  The stories have become national news – read the New York Post article here. Given this chaos one wonders how the good people at Amazon feel about their decision to put one-half of their new headquarters in The Commonwealth of Virginia. I’m guessing we’ll hear more about that in the near future. In the meantime, Virginians need to ask two key questions – how did we get here and what can we do about it.   Continue reading

Equal Access for Teachers Organizations!

Bill DeSteph

by Chris Braunlich

Should Virginia teachers have equal access to any legitimate employee association offering professional support, insurance and other benefits, so they can find the best deal for their money?

Legislation introduced by Sen. William DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, SB1236, would give non-profit Virginia teacher associations an equal opportunity to make their pitch to teachers in every school division. It would end the practice in many school systems of providing monopoly access to politicized employee associations, notably the Virginia Education Association.

The issue is no trivial matter – not for the associations nor, especially, for the employees. In a litigious world, teachers – who regularly interact with underage minors, parents, colleagues, and powerful administrators – are especially in need of professional support and liability insurance providing legal protection. It is something they never want to use but know they need to have. Continue reading

Bible Teaching Should Be a Local, Not a State, Issue

I may be an atheist, but I believe the Bible to be the greatest work of literature in Western Civilization and, thus, the entire world. No person can style himself literate without at least a passing knowledge of its contents and the great themes it explores. Even secular humanists who reject the Bible as the word of God owe a vast debt to the ethical teachings expressed in the New Testament. Most humanist values can be traced directly back to the sayings of Jesus, whose values were rooted in the Judaic tradition of the Old Testament.

That said, SB 1502, submitted by Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson, is a terrible idea.

The bill would require local school boards to offer an elective, for-credit course on “the Hebrew scriptures/Old Testament of the Bible of the New Testament of the Bible or a combined course on both.” The courses, the bill says, shall not favor or promote hostility toward any particular religion or religious perspective. Continue reading

Senate Addresses Supply of Affordable Housing

Affordable housing in Northern Virginia

One in three households in the state spends more than 30 percent of their income on housing, reports the Virginia Mercury. The apartment industry argues that housing will become unaffordable for even more as the state’s population grows faster than the housing supply.

If I were a middle-class Virginian most of whose net worth was tied up in my home equity, I expect I’d be particular about who lives near me. I probably would not be happy to discover that some developer wanted to build “affordable housing” next door. But my right to build a house on my own property does not entitle me to stop someone else from building housing on his property. Continue reading

What? The School-to-Prison Pipeline Is a Myth?

The House Committee on Courts of Justice has tabled a school discipline bill, essentially consigning it to oblivion. The bill, described as an effort to disrupt the “school to prison pipeline,” would limit the practice of charging students found guilty of disorderly conduct in school with a misdemeanor.

“We’re criminalizing conduct that really needs to be corrected,” said one of the bills’ sponsors, Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond.

But the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys and the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association both opposed the legislation, and some subcommittee members expressed concern that the bill would eliminate a useful disciplinary option, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Here’s the quote in the article that caught my attention: “The whole issue of a school-to-prison pipeline is a myth,” said Bryan Haskins, the commonwealth’s attorney for Pittsylvania County.

Continue reading