Category Archives: Education (K-12)

Richmond’s Progressive Petri Dish…. Where Black Kids Are the Science Project

by James A. Bacon

One of the more interesting questions of 2019 is whether public figures like Governor Ralph Northam and Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras are more interested in striking poses that make them look enlightened on racial issues or in actually bettering the lives of African-Americans. In many cases, I would argue, progressive social policies are all about making educated elites feel righteous, not about the people they purport to help.

The latest example is a proposal under study by Richmond schools to “spread the cream,” so to speak — to distribute the relatively small percentage of white students among a larger number of of schools. The justification for scrapping the neighborhood-based school system, according to Kamras, is that “diverse” schools improve academic performance. The plan, he has said, “will provide academic and social benefits to all children of all backgrounds.”

But will it? Remarkably enough, that proposition can be tested with data from Richmond public schools. John Butcher, of Cranky’s Blog fame, has pulled Standards of Learning pass-rate data for white-majority Mary Munford Elementary and William Fox Elementary with that for two predominantly black elementary schools, Barack Obama Elementary and John B. Cary Elementary.(Cary would be merged with Munford under one of the proposals.) Continue reading

Richmond Schools: Changing Names, Acting White, and Serving Hispanics

by James A. Bacon

Look, there’s nothing wrong with re-naming public schools. I take no issue with the Richmond Public Schools changing the name of one of its predominantly black schools from J.E.B. Stuart Elementary to Barack Obama Elementary. And if Richmond school officials want to swap out the name of slave-owner George Mason for an African-American hero, that’s up to them. Personally, I feel that Mason’s positive contributions warrant recognition, but inherently local decisions should reflect community values.

“Mr. Mason obviously made many contributions to the country, but I think it is time to move beyond naming schools for individuals who were slave owners,” Superintendent Jason Kamras told the Richmond Times-DispatchThere are five city schools named for slave owners and three for Confederates. 

It’s good to know that Kamras is fearlessly tackling the big issues that afflict Richmond Public Schools, one of the worst-performing school districts in Virginia even after adjusting for the large disadvantaged student body. OK, I was being sarcastic there. But at least renaming schools does no harm, you say. That’s true. When social justice progressives are diverted by purely symbolic issues from actively undermining the educational system, one can argue that is a good thing.

Still, there are many other problems that the school board could be dealing with. We could start with issues raised in separate op-eds and news articles published today. Continue reading

The Unstated Assumption in Richmond’s School Rezoning Proposal

Sen. Glen Sturtevant

by James A. Bacon

Which position is more objectionable? Opposing a rezoning of Richmond schools to achieve greater racial balance on the grounds that it would eliminate neighborhood schools… or the unstated assumption that black kids need more white kids around them to perform better academically?

We can be assured that the the “neighborhood schools” argument will be tagged as retrograde. Indeed, for all practical purposes, it already has. But how about the black-kids-need-white-kids assumption? Isn’t that offensive, too?

Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Chesterfield, facing a tough re-election campaign, has made “Save Our Neighborhood Schools” a campaign issue. His district includes two white-majority elementary schools that would be merged with black-majority schools in a plan under consideration by the Richmond school system. Siblings would be split between schools, creating scheduling conflicts for parents, and fewer students would be able to walk and bike to school, he has argued.

Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams has likened the neighborhood-schools rallying cry to the rhetoric of whites resisting de-segregation in the 1970s. “Save Our Neighborhood Schools was to the 1970s,” he writes today, “what Massive Resistance was to the 1950s.” Continue reading

English Learners and SOL Scores

by James A. Bacon

A couple of weeks ago I speculated on the reasons for the continued fall in Standards of Learning (SOL) English test scores, a trend that was particularly conspicuous for African-Americans and Hispanics. The prime culprit, I suggested, was the imposition of “restorative justice” disciplinary policies, designed to reduce the disparity in suspensions between black and white students, which had the effect of undermining order in in classrooms and disrupting teaching.

Now comes another explanation — at least a partial one — by way of Debbie Truong with the Washington Post, who focuses on the precipitous decline among English as a Second Language (ESL) students. It turns out that the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) changed the way it calculated pass rates for ESL learners in response to a change in federal education law. Continue reading

What Is the Ideal Percentage of White Kids in a School?

Fox Elementary

Many well-to-do white families in the Fan District of Richmond send their children to the neighborhood elementary school, William Fox Elementary. By many peoples’ standards, the student body would be considered “diverse.” The student body is 64% white, 18% black, eight percent Hispanic, and ten percent Asian, multiracial and other, according to SchoolDigger.com. Roughly a quarter of the students are considered economically disadvantaged.

But that’s not diverse enough for Superintendent Jason Kamras, who has thrown his support behind a school rezoning proposal that would combine the student bodies of white-majority Fox and Mary Munford elementary schools with black-majority George W. Carver Elementary and/or John B. Cary Elementary, depending on which of three options is selected.

“It’s a creative way to increase diversity and bring communities together,” Kamras told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “It’s not perfect and there are significant implementation issues to be worked out, but I continue to believe it’s worth pursuing, as it will provide academic and social benefits to all children of all backgrounds.” Continue reading

Crash and Burn: How Misguided Policies Ruin Lives

by James A. Bacon

Give Richmond educators credit for brutal honesty. A presentation of the school system’s five-year plan surfaced some devastating data: Only one in ten Richmond high school students is ready for college and a career, according to College Board criteria. If it’s any comfort, that number is up from 9% in the 2017-18 school year.

“Finally we can demonstrate with empirical evidence that RPS has failed our students and our families and our city,” said Board member Jonathan Young, as quoted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. That sentiment was echoed by Superintendent Jason Kamras. “It’s devastating. We, the adults, have failed our kids for years.”

Indeed, the educational system has not only failed Richmond’s predominantly African-American students, it has shepherded many young people into college programs from which they subsequently dropped out. Left unsaid in the analysis is that college drop-outs are typically saddled with thousands of dollars in student debt, which many cannot repay. In other words, the coupling of high expectations (every student has a right to attend college) with abysmal performance is ruining thousands of lives. Continue reading

Educators Focus on Critical 3rd-Grade English Pass Rates

Virginia educators are honing in on a key metric, the Standards of Learning pass rate for 3rd-grade English, that needs focused attention. One in four Virginia 3rd graders aren’t reading at grade level by the 3rd grade, and SOL test scores fell for the third straight year, from a 76% pass rate to a 71% pass rate in the 2018-19 school year, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Third-grade English reading skills are deemed especially critical in childhood educational development. Third grade represents the transition point between learning to read and reading to learn. Studies suggest that half of what students are taught later in school will be incomprehensible if they are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

There seems to be no consensus among experts quoted in the article about what to do. Ideas range from hiring more reading specialists to adopting phonics-oriented curricula, to confronting food insecurity. Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said Virginia Department of Education staff will take a close look at schools that did not see drops in SOL scores to see what they might be doing right and whether their practices can be replicated.

That’s a dandy idea. I have some suggestions… Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Whistling Past the Graveyard

Feel-good story of the day. Northern Virginia boy scouts have cleaned up the neglected Alexandria cemetery named for abolitionist Frederick Douglass. They raked leaves, trimmed trees, and installed a new sign, according to the Washington Post. The black cemetery fell into disrepair over the years because no Alexandria church or other nonprofit cares for it; the city of Alexandria allocates only a nominal sum for upkeep, mostly mowing.

Boomerang watch. The Mountain Valley Pipeline has suspended all construction activities that could negatively impact four endangered or threatened species: the Indiana bat, the northern long-eared bat, the Roanoke logperch, and the candy darter, reports Virginia Mercury. For the time being, the pipeline company will refrain from tree-clearing, non-maintenance-related road building, grading and trenching, and stream-disturbing activities. Inquiring minds want to know: If such activities are permanently banned in and around habitat of threatened species, will it be possible to build wind turbines anywhere in the Blue Ridge or Allegheny Mountains?

The real structural racism. John Butcher delves into the latest SOL scores for Richmond’s Carver Elementary school, where cheating by teachers and administrators had artificially elevated SOL test scores last year. Now that the testing issues have been resolved, the tragic dimensions of students’ educational under-performance have been laid bare. Students rated as “economically disadvantaged” passed reading, writing, math, history and science at rates in the 20% to 32% range — far lower than the rate for economically disadvantaged children in most other schools. Richmond school officials blame racial bias and under-funding. But the real racism is that poor kids are trapped in a failing because Virginia’s educational establishment does everything in its power to block escape hatches in the form of charter schools or tax-favored scholarships. Continue reading

Unintended Consequences and SOLs

It has been fascinating to observe the reaction to the disappointing news that Standards of Learning (SOL) test scores for reading and writing for Virginia’s major racial/ethnic groups declined in the 2018-19 school year, and that, despite strenuous efforts of school administrators to address racial inequities, the gap between blacks and whites grew wider.

The Washington Post, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and the (Charlottesville) Daily Progress all duly noted the erosion of black and Hispanic educational attainment. In none of the articles, however, did state education officials proffer an explanation for the regression. Certainly no one suggested that Virginia Department of Education’s relentless implementation of “restorative justice” disciplinary policies, designed to reduce the disparity in suspensions between black and white students, might have had unintended consequences.

I have warned that the emphasis on therapeutic interventions over suspensions and other traditional disciplinary policies was contributing to the erosion of classroom discipline, particularly in predominantly black schools. As far as I know, I am the only member of Virginia’s chattering class to stick out his neck and predict that black students, whose educations were disproportionately disrupted by this social engineering, would suffer the most. The proof, I suggested, would be seen in lower SOL scores for black students.

Well, the results are in. While all racial/ethic groups lost ground in reading and writing — the two disciplines in which apples-to-apples comparisons are possible this year — blacks and Hispanics backtracked the most. Continue reading

Latest SOLS: More Declines in Reading, Writing

Source: Virginia Department of Education

The Virginia Department of Education has released the results of the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests for the 2018-19 school year. While changes to the test methods make it difficult to make valid comparisons for math and history/social sciences, reading and writing test scores declined somewhat, most markedly for blacks, students with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged students.

Here are the top-line results for the state:

  • Reading: 78% pass rate, down 2 percentage points from the previous year.
  • Writing: 76% pass rate, down 2 percentage points.
  • Math: 82% pass rate, up 5 percentage points.
  • Science: 81% pass rate, unchanged
  • History/social science: 80% pass, down 4 percentage points

Asians, as usual, out-performed all other racial/ethnic groups, followed by whites, Hispanics, and blacks. Despite a heavy emphasis by the Northam administration to address racial inequities in schools, the black-white achievement gap grew wider last year in reading and writing, while remaining the same for science. Continue reading

VCU Study Jumps to Unsubstantiated Conclusions

Richmond-area schools suspend black students at four times the rate of white students, a gap that exceeds the national average, a study by the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education has found. The findings have been duly reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

One in five black students in the region received an out-of-school suspension during the 2015-16 year compared to 5% of white students. Nationally, the numbers are closer to 15% and 5%, according to a study by the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium (MERC), a research arm of the VCU educational school that gives special emphasis to “social justice, equity and diversity.”

“This is a long-standing problem with deeply rooted causes, and it’s going to take dedicated leadership and policy to resolve it,” the RTD quoted Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, a VCU education professor and one of the study’s authors, as saying.

To drive home the point, the RTD also quoted Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras: “We have a moral obligation to end racial inequity in school discipline — particularly here in the Richmond region given our history as the former capital of the Confederacy. Continue reading

Teachers Say, Yeah, School Discipline Is a Big Problem

Source: Fordham Institute. Click for more legible image

Many people in Virginia’s political class have much to say about discipline in schools. Many politicians, advocacy groups and educators have embraced the narrative that discriminatory enforcement and unnecessarily harsh punishments have created a “schools-to-prison pipeline” disproportionately affecting African-Americans. Based on that belief, the state has pushed school districts to adopt a “restorative justice” approach to discipline. A few lonely voices, such as this blog, have argued that disciplinary practices may need reform but restorative justice contributes to disorder in the classroom, disrupts the teaching environment and harms students who want to learn.

One set of voices notably absent from this debate comes from teachers — those most intimately familiar with what is happening in hallways and classrooms. What do they have to say about discipline in schools?

A recent report, “Discipline Reform through the Eyes of Teachers,” attempts to address that deficiency. Partnering with the RAND Corporation, the Thomas Fordham Institute queried 1,200 teachers nationally. Because racial and socioeconomic equity is a key consideration in the discipline debate, the survey over-sampled African-American teachers and teachers in high-poverty schools — something that previous surveys had not done.

The findings? Let’s just say I get tired of being right all the time. Let me summarize: Continue reading

State Board Votes to Ban “Prone Restraint”

Prone restraint: Should this technique for controlling violent students be banned from schools?

The Virginia Board of Education voted last week to limit the use of seclusion and restraint of students in public schools, specifically prohibiting the use of “prone” restraint, or forcing a student to lie face-down to the floor. Board members expressed concern that the practice could limit a student’s breathing, reports Community Idea Stations.

“Too many children have been subjected to fear and trauma caused by prone restraints; some have been injured or killed,” responded Rachael Deane, Legal Director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s JustChildren Program, in a press release. “We are pleased the Board has recognized the dangerousness of these restraints and urge the Governor to sign the regulations so that our schools will be on notice that these restraints are dangerous, unnecessary, and unlawful.”

The action came in response to a law enacted earlier this year directing the board to identify and prohibit seclusion and restraint practices that posed a significant danger to students.

Bacon’s bottom line: It’s hard to know what to make of this vote. I’ll admit, my gut reaction was that the decision, if approved by the governor, represents another step in the steady erosion of the ability of educators facing challenging conditions to maintain discipline in schools. But I acknowledge that my gut reaction is uninformed by hard data, so I remain non-committal. Continue reading

An Education Where Students Have Skin in the Game

Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Cristo Rey Network, a chain of Catholic schools, has enrolled its first class of 105 students on the former campus of Benedictine High School in Richmond, creating an affordable private-school alternative for dozens of low-income black and Hispanic youth.

What makes Cristo Rey unique is the degree to which students and their families put skin in the game. To cover 60% of their $13,000-a-year tuition, students work one day per week in the Corporate Work Study Program, in which four students share a full-time, entry-level job with companies such as Dominion Energy, CoStar Group and Bon Secours. Local philanthropists cover 30% to 35% of the tuition, while families are expected to contribute between $20 and $40 a month.

The program helps students focus in the classroom because they have to work for their education, says Kathleen Powers, a Cristo Rey teacher told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “This is their investment.” Continue reading

Now Private-School Tax Credits Are Racist

Chris Duncombe

The Left continues to racialize everything, absolutely everything. It makes me sick to the stomach to write about race on this blog so often, but the “progressive” assault on a post-racial society in Virginia is an unrelenting, 24/7 activity, and if I don’t call the Left to account, it appears that no one else will.

Chris Duncombe, policy director of the center-left Commonwealth Institute think tank, opines favorably upon a new Internal Revenue Service rule that prevents people from “double dipping” when making charitable donations to scholarships provided by private or religious schools. My concern here is not the merits of the IRS ruling, which may be valid, but the reasons Duncombe expresses for disliking the special tax credit crafted to encourage donations to private-school scholarships:

People claiming these credits are more likely to be white than Black or Latinx, due to Virginia’s long history of racial discrimination and the under-representation of Black and Latinx filers in the state’s highest income brackets.

So… it’s now a bad thing for wealthy white people to make donations to provide scholarships that overwhelmingly benefit poor minorities. Continue reading