Category Archives: Education (K-12)

VDOE’s Plan to Impose Social Reconstructionist Dogma on School Children

OK, kids, raise your hand if you can spell  i-n-d-o-c-t-r-i-n-a-t-i-o-n.

by James C. Sherlock

The 2020 General Assembly required the Virginia Department of Education to develop and publish standards for Social Emotional Learning (SEL) that start in Kindergarten and go through 12th grade.

VDOE has done so, disregarding entirely hundreds of comments on Virginia Town Hall on the draft of those standards that had a 10-to-one negative-to-positive ratio.

Town Hall in theory allows citizens to influence regulations. VDOE changed not one word from the draft.

Good news:  Virginia school divisions are not required to adopt the standards — yet. Bad news: Some will. Continue reading

Will Liability Insurers Drive School Mask Policies?

by James C. Sherlock

California has imposed a school mask mandate for the fall.  Virginia has not — yet.

California shows us some of the implications. In that state, the mandate has produced varying reactions.  Reporting in Education Week has illuminated some of those. Continue reading

No PAC for Disaster Preparedness and Response

Why is this man smiling?

by James C. Sherlock

Virginia’s responses to COVID were a continuing national embarrassment. 

  • Individual Virginia department and agencies had no operational pandemic response plans. They ignored specific and prescient directions to build and exercise such plans in the dormant Virginia Pandemic Emergency Plan. VDEM then attempted a coverup.
  • No PPE stockpiles. Last in testing. Last in vaccinations. Hospitals first, physicians last in every decision by the VDH. 
  • Last in distribution of unemployment checks. 
  • The General Assembly was given and took no role in pandemic response for 15 months.
  • The Canterbury nursing home scandal. State nursing home inspections that failed to report staffing shortages. The directly related shortages in staffing of state inspectors.
  • The failure to sanction teachers unions for strike threats in Northern Virginia during COVID. The officially sanctioned lapse in school accountability.
  • Poorly prepared official press conferences that often added confusion rather than clarity.

This was in its totality the biggest government scandal in Virginia history.

Continue reading

“Model Polices” on Transgender Students vs. Laws Guaranteeing Parental Rights

by James C. Sherlock

Emilio Jaksetic wrote an excellent article this morning.

Mr. Jaksetic, a lawyer, commented on the decision by Judge J. Frederick Watson of the 24th Judicial Circuit of Virginia, to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the Virginia Board of Education’s Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools for lack of standing.  The judge did not rule on the substantive merits of lawsuit.

So, Christian Action Network did not have standing. I also believe that it sued under the wrong theory of law and in the wrong court. I told them so at the time.

One basic flaw in Model Policies is that it specifically permits portions of educational records to be withheld from parents by school personnel. That was not challenged by the Christian Action Network suit.

Yet it appears to be illegal under both federal and state laws.

School boards should take actions on Model Policies only with qualified legal advice. Continue reading

Dueling Claims of Victory in Transgender Lawsuit

by Emilio Jaksetic

On July 27, 2021, Judge J. Frederick Watson, with the 24th Judicial Circuit of Virginia, issued a decision on a lawsuit challenging the adoption of the Virginia Board of Education’s Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools, reports The Virginia Star. Because Judge Watson dismissed the lawsuit for lack of standing, he properly did not rule on the substantive merits of lawsuit.

A copy of Judge Watson’s decision is available here. A copy of the Virginia Board of Education Model Policies is available here.

Despite dismissal of the lawsuit on procedural grounds, both sides claimed victory.

The Christian Action Network claimed victory on the grounds that Judge Watson’s decision included a ruling that the Model Policies is a guidance document and that school boards have the option to decide whether or not to follow it. Furthermore, the Christian Action network claimed “the judge is granting school boards the right to decline to act on Virginia’s ‘Model Policies,’ which is exactly what our lawsuit intended.”

The ACLU of Virginia claimed victory on the grounds that dismissal of the lawsuit was warranted, and asserted “[a]ll school boards in the state are legally required by law to pass policies aligning with the model policies for the 2021-22 school year.” Continue reading

COVID School Closure Learning Losses in K-12 Students – a Generational Catastrophe

by James C. Sherlock

I have written here extensively about the pre-COVID state of learning in Virginia’s public schools and my concerns about COVID school closure learning losses exacerbating the issue.

Those learning losses have come to pass.

McKinsey & Company just published a study of the results from Curriculum Associates testing.  That in-school sample consisted of 1.6 million K–6 students in mathematics and 1.5 million in reading. The sampling that required in-school testing favored states that opened earliest for in-person schooling.

The outcomes were hugely troubling. Continue reading

Nuking the Schools

by James A. Bacon

The COVID-19-related shutdowns of K-12 schools across the country have been educational disaster of historic proportions, according to data published in a new McKinsey & Company report. McKinsey doesn’t use the phrase “disaster of historic proportions,” but how else can one describe a response to the pandemic that left students on average five months behind in mathematics and four months in reading?

Worse yet, the racial gap in educational achievement has widened. Students in majority Black neighborhoods ended the year with six months of unfinished learning and students in low-income schools with seven months, the report says.

Over and above the lost academic ground, the shutdowns had a tremendous adverse impact on children’s mental health. Thirty-five percent of parents say they are “very” or “extremely” worried, a significant increase from pre-pandemic levels.

The numbers are national in scope. McKinsey did not break down estimates by state, so there are no Virginia-specific numbers. But given the fact that the school shutdowns were more pervasive and longer lasting on average in parts of Virginia, especially in Northern Virginia and center-city jurisdictions, one can predict that the educational collapse is at least as catastrophic in the Old Dominion as in other states. Continue reading

Hopewell Public Schools Blazing a Trail for At-Risk Children

by James C. Sherlock

In 2015, over 2 million U.S. students attended school on year-round schedules every year in around 3,000 schools in 46 states. Half of those were in California, four-fifths in Western states.

Hopewell school district joined them on Monday in the first district-wide implementation of a year-round public school schedule in Virginia.

Hopewell has two goals:

  1. avoid the traditional summer learning losses that plague many at-risk school children;
  2. provide a broader range of educational opportunities to increase the motivation of teachers and students

The Hopewell City public school district has a total student population lower than either one of a couple of Fairfax County secondary schools, so it is small enough to manage this change if leaders, teachers and parents support it.

They have that support so far.  The Governor and First Lady attended a ceremony celebrating the initiative. and good for them.

Hopewell schools and all Virginians need this to work. Continue reading

The Impact of English Language Learners on Virginia Public Schools

by James C. Sherlock

We will briefly discuss here English learners in Virginia schools and the enormous impact they have. They truly offer to enrich the experience of all kids in our schools, but they need a lot of help and there are a great many of them.

There were 104,411 English learner students enrolled in Virginia public schools in 2020-21, about 8% of the total enrollment. See the breakdown by school division here.

That was down more than 12,000 from the year before, perhaps reflecting COVID-related failures to register for school rather than leaving the state. We are about to find out. 

The 2019-20 numbers represented a 44% increase in 10 years.

The huge influx of kids on our southern border this year will affect these numbers next month, but we have no idea how much because we don’t know where they have gone.

A lot of these kids, in addition to the challenges of language barriers, are also what are designated Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE). VDOE does not yet collect data on that sub-group.

It is easy to predict that those kids may have had a harder time with remote learning than native English speakers. In recognition of that problem, English learners were given priority for return to school in person in some districts. Continue reading

J.D. Vance, the “Childless Left” and the Commonwealth of Virginia Education Elite

by James C. Sherlock

J. D. Vance, the author of the acclaimed biographical work “Hillbilly Elegy,” is a candidate for the Republican nomination in Ohio to replace retiring Republican Senator Rob Portman.

I haven’t studied that Senate race, and don’t have a favorite, but Mr. Vance has raised an issue for our time.

He has last week called out “the childless left” for their lack of “physical commitment to the future of this country.” From the N.Y. Post:

“The left isn’t just criticizing our country … it’s trying to take our very sense of national pride and national purpose away from us,” he said, blaming figures such as Vice President Kamala Harris, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, along with AOC, for stoking “cultural wars.”

“Harris has called herself the “momala” of her two grown stepchildren, Cole and Ella Emhoff.  Booker, Buttigieg, and Ocasio-Cortez have no children.”

“Vance offered a startling solution to what he called the “civilizational crisis”: extra voting power for parents.”

“The Democrats are talking about giving the vote to 16-year-olds,” Vance said.”

“Instead, he said, “Let’s give votes to all children in this country, but let’s give control over those votes to the parents of the children.”

“Doesn’t this mean that parents get a bigger say in how democracy functions? … Yes,” he concluded.”

I don’t agree with Mr. Vance’s broad prescription for calibrated voting rights.  I don’t think he does either. In fact I believe that Mr. Vance, a Yale Law School graduate, used that statement to bring public attention to the issue rather than expecting his specified outcome. But I think it may be appropriate to consider his point in a narrower context in Virginia. Continue reading

How Bad Are Virginia Public Schools’ Personnel Shortages?

by James C. Sherlock

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) maintains a job board for itself and for school districts seeking personnel of all sorts. It shows about 1,6oo openings, but some of the postings are more than two years old. And the real number is somewhere around 7,000.

It is useless.

Apparently VDOE, in its striving under the whip hand of the Governor and General Assembly to regulate and oversee the minute details of school division compliance with massive changes to laws, lacks the personnel or inclination to keep its own job board up to date. Embarrassing.

So, VDOE may have no estimate what the shortages will be next month.  If it does, it is not sharing.

The current signs are not good. Continue reading

“Let Them Die” Redux

“Let them die” — words and applause heard around the world.

by Asra Nomani

Harry Jackson, the first Black president-elect of the PTSA at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, stood before a crowd of parents here at Luther Jackson Middle School last week to oppose the divisive ideology of critical race theory that has put forward flawed policies in K-12 schools across the country, including separating students into racial “affinity spaces” and eliminating merit admissions to TJ, America’s No. 1 high school.

Across the circular driveway, outside the front doors of the school, the first vice president of the Fairfax NAACP, Michelle Leete, stood in a counter protest, extolling the crowd of about 100 people gathered before her with a very different message.

Reading from a speech printed out on papers in her hand, Leete declared, “Let’s deny this off-key band of people that are anti-education, anti-teacher, anti-equity, anti-history, anti-racial reckoning, anti-opportunities, anti-help people, anti-diversity, anti-platform, anti-science, anti-change agent, anti-social justice, anti-healthcare, anti-worker, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-children, anti-healthcare, anti-worker, anti-environment, anti-admissions policy change, anti-inclusion, anti-live-and-let live people.”

Then she punctuated her protest with this proclamation: “Let them die!” Continue reading

The Governor, General Assembly, VDOE and the Lenin Doctrine

by James C. Sherlock

“J. Out of this appropriation, $120,000 the second year from the general fund is provided for the Department of Education to develop and implement a pilot program to more comprehensively supervise school division compliance with a subset of key standards by requiring (i) the submission of more comprehensive compliance information, (ii) selective independent verification of compliance, (iii) monitoring of corrective action implementation, and (iv) analysis of compliance trends and issues.”

Those words, “selective independent verification of compliance” and “monitoring of corrective action implementation”, from the Governor and the General Assembly of Virginia, 2021 Appropriations Act.

I am reminded of words attributed to V. I. Lenin, the author of State Planning Commission (1922) and How We Should Reorganize the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection (1923).

State control makes it possible to check systematically on the execution of the decrees of the central power, to strengthen state discipline and legality, and to study the validity of motives and feasibility of resolutions made by the central state bodies and help improve the practice of devising and adopting them.”

“Workers and peasants inspection” indeed. Continue reading

The Missing Data in the School-Mask Mandate Controversy

Virginia confirmed COVID-19 cases

by James A. Bacon

The Northam administration has issued new guidelines urging unvaccinated students and staff to keep wearing masks in K-12 schools this fall — but won’t require them to do so. Some school districts, like Chesapeake, have voted to nix the masks, while others, like Virginia Beach (see Kerry Dougherty’s column below), will make the masks mandatory.

The Virginia Department of Health’s “Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in Virginia preK-12 Schools” says the mask mandate should remain in place until there has been sufficient time to allow for children under 12 to be fully vaccinated. The VDH follows the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics. On the other hand, the Center for Disease Control has  said vaccinated teachers and students need not wear masks.

Does a mask mandate for schools make sense? News accounts provide no data to help Virginians reach an intelligent judgment. Bacon’s Rebellion steps in to fill the void.

The big picture. The debate over masks in schools occurs against a backdrop of resurging COVID-19 cases as the highly transmissible Delta variant becomes the dominant strain. In line with national trends, Virginia has experienced a rise in cases. However, as seen in the graph above, the number remains far below the levels seen earlier in the year. Continue reading

Far-Left Beach School Board Ignores Cries to Remove Masks

by Kerry Dougherty

I’ve seen this movie before, I thought, as I watched Tuesday night’s Virginia Beach School Board meeting on my computer. And I know how it ends.

To the parents lined up to speak in favor of a motion to make masks optional for students this fall I wanted to shout, Save your breath. Their minds are made up.

Have I mentioned I spent 42 years in daily newspapers? Well, I did, and during that time my least favorite assignments were always public meetings. Early in my career I covered the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and School Board for The Washington Post. Later, at The Virginian-Pilot, I covered several different City Councils as well as the Virginia Beach School Board.

Spend enough time in mind-numbing meetings and you notice a tedious predictability in the way they conduct their business.

This is how it goes: Continue reading