Category Archives: Education (K-12)

Marxist Critical Theory and Education

By James C. Sherlock

Perhaps my biggest concern for our society is that Marxist critical theory ideologues have taken over the Graduate Schools of Education.

From Jim Bacon’s post earlier:

“The new cultural elite is envious and would like to reappropriate much of that wealth for redistribution as it sees fit. Even more alarmingly, the cultural elite has a totalitarian instinct. Convinced of its righteousness, it is bent upon imposing its values and priorities upon the rest of the population.”

Critical theory was a primary creation of Karl Marx.

It rejects capitalism, property rights, individual freedom and democracy without as far as I have been able to find in my research offering an alternative.

Communism, socialism and fascism all attempted to achieve these goals. All three have proven practical and moral failures.

“Socialism” only works with a capitalist economy and the person freedom to innovate and public welfare programs to redistribute some of the profits of capitalism.  That was the successful concession of the post-Mao communist party leaders in China that is being eroded today by the restrictions on personal freedom.  The Chinese economic miracle was capitalist, not communist.

Communism and fascism have resulted in unprecedented human cruelty and suffering and ultimately societal destruction.

Critical theory, of which critical race theory is but an offshoot, demands redistribution without considering what happens the day after redistribution, when, if unfettered, talent and effort will instantly start reinstating unequal distribution of property.

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Catholic Schools: Boldly Putting Kids First

by Kerry Dougherty

Any parent of a kid with disabilities will tell you, more than anything else in the world, their child just wants to fit in.

Not easy when you’re a little different.

My son doesn’t mind if I tell you he has severe learning disabilities. He’s worked hard his whole life to overcome them. But I still remember his look of surprise and relief on the morning of his first day of 1st grade at St. Gregory the Great in Virginia Beach.

We held hands as we walked from the parking lot to the line for his class. He was taking deep breaths and squeezing my hand.

Then he caught sight of his classmates and his first-day nervousness evaporated .
“We’re all wearing the same thing!” he exclaimed.

The 26 or so children in his class were all dressed as he was, in khaki shorts, polo shirts with the school logo, brown shoes and socks.

In that moment I saw the genius behind school uniforms. They give every kid – even the ones who struggle to keep up – a sense of belonging. Continue reading

K-12 Schools Need Immunity for COVID-19

by James C. Sherlock

In May we saw several states pass laws that gave businesses immunity from COVID-19 claims.

We need similar but expanded protection for public and private schools, their school boards, superintendents and all of their employees.

In North Carolina, for example, immunity protection granted businesses was sweeping. That immunity does not bar regulatory actions, criminal charges, workers’ compensation claims, gross negligence, recklessness or intentional infliction of harm. It continues until emergency orders expire or are rescinded.

But the schools are in worse position than businesses.

Suits against schools for educational malpractice have been thrown out by courts for decades. However, COVID-19 offers opportunities to sue schools

  • for gross negligence or reckless endangerment if the schools are open; or
  • for violation of various constitutional guarantees if the schools are closed and provide remote learning only.

Quite literally, damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

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Who Cares about the Kids? Not the Teachers’ Unions.

Did school teachers abandon their students during the Spanish influenza? I suspect they were made of tougher stuff than teachers today. — JAB

by Kerry Dougherty

They hate it when we call them teachers’ unions. But when organizations act like trade unions, throw tantrums like unions, put their own needs before the people they serve, you’re looking at a union.

Make that unions. Plural.

In Fairfax County there are three: the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, the Fairfax Education Association and the Association of Fairfax Professional Educators.

According to a piece in The Washington Post headlined, “Teachers in Fairfax Revolt Against Fall Plans, Refusing to Teach In-Person,” these three groups are acting in concert to force Fairfax County students to miss another year of school.

Maybe two years.

Heck, Fairfax County schools may never reopen since these teachers are demanding that all learning be virtual until a Covid-19 vaccine is available. Continue reading

The Big Lie of Unequal Funding

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) has unanimously adopted a statement regarding its commitment to provide equal access to a high-quality public education.

“Systemic racism and discrimination still exist in public education, and too often, a student’s skin color or socioeconomic status predicts the quality of their educational opportunities,” says the statement. The VBOE goes on to attribute the educational achievement gap between whites and “people of color” to unequal funding.

The current system of funding for our schools, codified as the Standards of Quality, has not resulted in meaningful changes in educational outcomes. In fact, in combined effect with the previously long-standing Standards of Accreditation, segregation in our schools has increased. We have seen resources, in terms of funding and personnel, migrate to schools and localities that disproportionately served fewer students of color. The result has been a recognized achievement gap that continues to persist.

There is one big problem with this statement. There is no meaningful black-white funding gap in Virginia. The VBOE provides no statistics whatsoever to back up its statement. Repetition of a falsehood does not make it true. Here are the average annual per-pupil expenditures for school operations across the state broken down by race/ethnicity:

From a statewide perspective, there is a funding gap in Virginia, but it’s between Asians and Hispanics on the one hand and blacks and whites on the other. If the BOE had restricted its claim to the existence of a white/black funding gap, not a gap between whites and “people of color,” it would have been on firmer ground, although that gap is barely more than one-tenth of one percent. Good luck trying to explain the educational achievement gap (which is very real) on a one-tenth of one percent difference in spending. Continue reading

Roanoke County and Education in the Age of COVID

by James C. Sherlock

I subscribe to the Roanoke Times because I find it by far the best regional newspaper in Virginia. It produces local reporting that the rest of us can only envy.

I was drawn to two stories in the past week.

The first, on June 21 by Alison Graham, revealed only 2/3 of residents of Roanoke County have broadband access.

Roanoke County’s Tentative Plan

The second, by Claire Mitzel today revealed the school system’s tentative plan:

“Southwest Virginia’s second-largest school system on Thursday unveiled its plan to return to school in August, which will involve daily in-person instruction for pre-K through second grade students and twice-a-week in-person instruction for third through 12th graders. Roanoke County’s plan is based on the state being in Phase 3.”

The plan is preliminary, but the article reported that the School Board seemed to support its broad outline and will vote on a final plan July 2.

“Third through 12th grade students will be split into two groups under the plan to attend at 50% capacity. One group will attend school on Mondays and Thursdays; the other group will attend Tuesdays and Fridays. Families with multiple children will attend on the same schedule.”

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School Shutdowns Will Aggravate Racial Disparities

Graphic source: McKinsey & Co., “COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime.”

A new report by the McKinsey & Company management-consulting firm contends that delaying in-class schooling to Jan. 2021 would result in a catastrophic loss of learning for students — a loss that would be even more pronounced among blacks and Hispanics than whites (and, presumably, Asians, who are not mentioned despite comprising 5.6% of the U.S. population).

The average loss of learning for all students would be 6.8 months. The loss would be slightly less for whites, about 6.0 months, but significantly greater for blacks (10.3 months) and Hispanics (9.2 months). The racial/ethnic achievement gap, which has defied all efforts of school administrators to close over the past decade, would grow significantly worse, says the article, “COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime.”

The McKinsey scenario does not describe the hybrid stay-at-home/back-to-school model proposed by the Northam administration for Virginia, but it highlights many of the problems that Virginia school districts would encounter by having students attend school only two days per week. Continue reading

“Equity” and the Performance of Virginia’s Black and White Students

by John Butcher

The estimable Jim Bacon suggests that the Northam administration’s emphasis on “equity” and “restorative-justice” is keeping disorderly students in the classroom to the detriment of the other students. As well, he posits that behavior problems are more common among black students so the effect should be larger in divisions with larger black populations.

VDOE has some data that might speak to those issues.

Elementary and middle school students mostly take the same tests at the same time. High school, not so much. So let’s look at the data for the elementary and middle school grades.

First, the disorder. The Safe Schools Information Resource goes back to 2015. For grades 3-8, the statewide counts there of individual offenders as a percentage of their ethnic population are:

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Up Next: School Bus Crisis

by Kerry Dougherty

Last week we marveled at Gov. Ralph Northam’s unworkable guidelines to reopen Virginia schools this fall.

Richmond’s bizarre restrictions on social distancing and class size make it impossible for kids to be in their classrooms five days a week.

Instead, most school districts seem to cooking up schemes to divide student bodies in half with 50% of children in school two days a week, the other half in school for two other days a week, and the fifth day given over for teacher planning.

In other words, we’re looking at a two-day-a-week school year.

Sure, school officials insist that students will also have three days of virtual learning, but it’s no secret that distance learning was a colossal disaster this spring.

I read a Washington Post piece on distance learning this week and spied this comment from a teacher who wants to go back to the classroom five days a week even if it puts her and her family in peril for Covid-19:

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Open the Schools

By James C. Sherlock

I have written here multiple times about the terrible and disproportionate effects that school shutdowns are having on poor children in Virginia.

The public school is an enterprise that has no admission standards. We do it that way on purpose, to try to give every American child as much opportunity to learn and develop into a successful citizen as we can. Public schools represent a core value of the American way of life and provide foundational support to our republic.

Virginia Guidelines vs. CDC Guidelines

On June 9, 2020 Governor Ralph Northam announced guidance for a phased approach that allows Virginia schools to slowly resume in-person classes for the coming academic year. There were two sources for the Governor’s guidance, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). Both dropped the ball.

VDH summarized and truncated the published CDC school considerations to slow the spread of COVID-19 to the point that they are at best unhelpful. It is difficult to imagine why they did not just publish the CDC guidelines, but they did not.

That flawed guidance was absorbed into the VDOE reopening guidelines.

One of the core recommendations that originated in VDOE — remote learning for large classes of K-12 students— has been shown in every study to have been ineffective in April and May. An alternative schedule will prove in practice unexecutable. Continue reading

The Post-COVID World: More Home Schooling

by James A. Bacon

The Home Educators Association of Virginia has seen a dramatic increase in inquiries about home schooling since the advent of the COVID-19 epidemic. In the past three months there have been 3,000 new members to the association’s Facebook page and 2,000 new requests to join through the website.

“Since [the pandemic], people are trying to figure out what to do. They’re very concerned now that the regulations and procedures on classrooms have been announced,” Anne Miller, president of the Home Educators association, told WYDaily. “Many parents are concerned about anxiety in the classroom and the threat of resurgence in the fall.”

Perhaps most notably, home schooling among African-American families is on the rise. Home schooling, say many African-American parents, helped their children learn about black history and culture. Home-schooled black children also out-perform their peers nationally, scoring above the 50th percentile in reading, language math and other core subjects, according to a 2015 National Home Education Research Institute study.

By accelerating the acceptance of the work-from-home norm, the COVID-19 epidemic may give parents more flexibility to home school their children. “I don’t believe as many people are going to want to go back to the office,” Miller said. “If you want to home school, there’s almost always a way to make it work with a working parent and working from home.” Continue reading

Virginia’s Recover, Redesign and Restart 2020 Manifesto – Legal Status

by James C. Sherlock

Recover, Redesign and Restart 2020, discussed yesterday here, was presented as a set of “guidelines,” but the Governor’s manual for re-starting public schools this fall amidst the COVID-19 epidemic included a mandatory reporting provision clearly designed to intimidate schools and school boards.

Let’s look at the legal status and implications of those guidelines.

Following the Governor’s unbroken pattern, the General Assembly was not called into session on this crucial matter, but rather a massive panel of “stakeholders” was convened with more than twice as many members as the elected General Assembly.

The members of the panel apparently considered its constitutional and legal questionability, preposterous length, pedantic unreadability, bureaucratic checklists, designated spaces for self-criticism in the Maoist tradition and internal contradictions to be features not bugs. The rest of us not so much.
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The Coming K-12 Meltdown

by James A. Bacon

Educational achievement in Virginia schools is heading for a melt-down. The racial achievement gap will get worse, not better.  And Virginians will live with the consequences for decades to come.

Part of this looming disaster can be attributed to the COVID-19 epidemic, which compelled the Northam administration to make difficult decisions on the basis of incomplete and evolving information. But much of it will be entirely man-made. I will touch upon broad themes in this post, and follow up with more detailed blogging in the future. Here are the key elements converging to create a perfect storm.

The epidemic. Governor Ralph Northam, like governors across the country, made the decision to close Virginia schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The necessity of this move, made in an environment of media-stoked hysteria, is, to be generous, debatable: School children are far less vulnerable to contracting and spreading the virus than adults. However justified the school shutdown may or may not have been from an epidemiological perspective, the educational consequences are undeniable. Children lost two- to three months of schooling as many districts fumbled the switch to online learning. Moreover, kids from poor families, who are disproportionately African-American, were less likely to have access to home computers and broadband, and their parents were less likely to provide the necessary supervision to ensure they were doing their work. The disparity in lost learning likely has been exacerbated. Continue reading

Virginia Department of Education’s Manifesto on School Reopenings

By James C. Sherlock

I have only a brief experience as a middle school teacher in Fairfax County back in 1966/67 and several years as a volunteer remedial math instructor in middle school in Virginia Beach in this decade. I am not a graduate of a school of education.

So I have just read with interest,” Recover, Redesign, Restart 2020,” by the Virginia Department of Education.

The forward says in part:

“Through this document, we strive to offer guidance, technical support, best practices and alternate solutions as divisions prepare to continue providing instruction to all 1.3 million Virginia students under uncertain and evolving circumstances.”

Fair enough.

Unfortunately, the document reads like a thesis. It is 136 pages long and credits for the product 228 participants, a great many of which are PhDs, in a long list of task forces and advisory panels.

I urge you each to open and at least scan it online.

It is full of such impressively pedantic guidance as: Continue reading

Northam Back-to-School Plan Unconstitutional, DeSteph Says

by James A. Bacon

Wise King Ralph may have a problem with his back-to-school plan for this fall: Some of his subjects think it may be unconstitutional.

Under the Governor’s directive, schools will return to something resembling normal in three phases. The most controversial part of the plan requires staggering classes so students attend in-person some days and remotely on others. Critics have questioned the quality of teaching that can occur in such an environment, and have noted that keeping kids at home makes it difficult for parents to go back to work.

Senator Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, issued a letter yesterday saying that the plan is not only misguided, but it is unconstitutional.

Despite the emergency authority being executed by your office, it is the General Assembly, not the Governor, that is given the power and authority to formulate the policies in our educational system for school boards to apply. Your plan announced June 9th is best characterized as gubernatorial overreach.

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