Category Archives: Education (K-12)

New Admissions Policy for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology Will Stand

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear the appeal of the Coalition for Thomas Jefferson challenging the decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the changes in the admissions policy for the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.  The result is that the changes in the school’s admission policy adopted by the Fairfax County School Board in 2020 will stand.  Justices Thomas and Alito dissented from the decision not to grant certiorari.  (Their dissents begin on page 30 of the linked document.)

This issue has been discussed extensively on this blog.  For some background, see here.

Partisan Poison: Va Dems Quash a Bill to Protect School Kids

Del. A.C. Cordoza

by Kerry Dougherty 

How exactly is Virginia’s General Assembly celebrating Black History Month?

By killing a bill to protect children in public school lavatories, introduced by Del. A.C. Cordoza of Hampton.

Cordoza is an African-American. And a Republican. He was famously denied membership in the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus when he was elected in 2022.

Sadly, to the caucus, he’s not the right kind of Black man. Because his views are on the right.

Cordoza claims his bill that would require school personnel to check bathrooms every 30 minutes would not require added personnel nor would it cost taxpayers a dime.

It was tabled, he told the Virginia Mercury, because he’s a Republican.

While the proposed legislation was not expected to impact state spending, Cordoza said his bill was still forwarded from the House Education Committee to the House Appropriations Committee for review. It died in that committee without a hearing.

“It’s sent there to die,” said Cordoza, “to die quietly because they don’t want the world to know that they’re killing a bill to protect little girls in the bathroom, but they want to make sure that a Black Republican is not the one who does it.” said Del. A.C. Cordoza, R-Hampton.

It’s actually a practical suggestion, given that there have been a number of assaults in several school bathrooms, and perhaps some that have not been reported. Having an adult stick his or her head in the lavatory every 30 minutes would certainly discourage bullies and sex offenders. Continue reading

Doing the Math

Image credit: National Review

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

I have a dilemma. I can’t decide if I am just like most old farts who think “the way I used to do it” is the right way and the modern way is all screwed up, or if I am just out of touch with the modern way.

Here is the situation. As I have mentioned before, I volunteer in the local elementary school. I meet with a group of fifth-graders twice a week for about 25 minutes to help them with math. Most of the students in the group last fall simply did not know the multiplication tables well.  Therefore, I decided to drill them on those tables.

After their mid-year assessment, I got a different group of students. Almost all of these students know the multiplication tables. I realized I need to give them something more challenging. I asked a couple of students to show me how they would go about multiplying a double-digit number and a single digit, such as 14 x 7. One boy did the calculation in his head. The other student wrote it out.

The approach goes like this: multiply 7 times the number in the “ones” column—28. Multiply 7 times the number in the “tens” column—70. Add the two: 98.  This is done with a matrix of boxes into which the 28 is placed in one box, and 70 in the other and the two sums are then added. The “old” way of putting 8 in the “ones” column and “carrying” the 2 to the “tens” column is totally foreign to these students. Continue reading

Moving the Goalposts (for Banning Books)

by Joe Fitzgerald

Everybody probably already knew what moving the goalposts meant, but with Taylor bringing in a new set of football fans, the sports-related metaphors can probably be used more widely.

Moving the goalposts is of course a reference to changing the standards in the middle of a process. Latest example: the Rockingham County School Board’s half-assed approach to banning books.

We all know the things wrong with their approach. Some of the books aren’t in the library; they haven’t read them; they can’t substantiate their claims of parental complaints; they’ve over-ruled a policy they didn’t know existed; and they’ve interfered in an educational process in which they have no training.

Two writers in The Harrisonburg Citizen have recently suggested that there are two sides to the issue or that the problem is not the book-banning but the way it’s being discussed. Giving the Fahrenheit 451 crowd this benefit of the doubt moves the goalposts toward censorship and religious domination of public discussion. There’s a reason the First Amendment is the first one, and there’s a reason its first clause says the nation won’t give special respect to an establishment of religion. Continue reading

The General Assembly’s Gift to Virginia’s Students

by Matt Hurt

During the 2024 General Assembly session, two bills were introduced which have the potential to provide two additional weeks of uninterrupted learning that Virginia’s students in grades three through eight haven’t had in a few years.  Specifically, HB 1076 and SB 435 are two very concise sister bills which simply intend to allow school divisions the flexibility to administer other assessments in lieu of the through year growth assessments (HB2027/SB1357) that were required by the 2021 General Assembly, so long as the alternative assessments are aligned to Virginia’s Standards of Learning.  Last week HB 1076 passed the House 80-18 and SB 435 made it through the first Senate subcommittee.

The through year growth assessment legislation was certainly well intentioned.  Educators have clamored for years for a process that would demonstrate student growth throughout the school year and to use this measure for accountability purposes.  The problem with this method of determining growth is that there is a great incentive to obtain high scores at the end of the year, and equally great incentive to obtain low scores at the beginning of the year in order to demonstrate high degrees of growth.  This problem was explained in detail here, and the negative unintended consequences yielded were outlined here

Currently, these through year growth assessments disrupt instruction in each elementary and middle school for a week in the fall and another week in the winter.  While these assessments take a little less time to administer than the end-of-year SOL test, the entire process still takes a significant amount of time.  For example, many students with disabilities require testing accommodations such as small group or one-on-one testing, having the test read aloud, etc., all of which requires teachers to spend extra time testing that they would normally spend instructing students.  Classroom teachers, special education teachers, intervention teachers, instructional aides, etc. are all pressed into service to help with testing, and this limits the amount of time that they work with students. Continue reading

2023 School Success Stories

by Matt Hurt

According to the SOL data from the end of the 2022-2023 school year, thirty-four Virginia schools (of three hundred seventy-seven) in the Comprehensive Instructional Program (CIP) consortium achieved the highest level (Level I) for all academic indicators the state uses for accreditation. The intended purpose of these performance benchmarks is to ensure we effectively assure success for all students, regardless of subgroup status.  The Level I benchmarks for the academic indicators for school accreditation ratings are listed below.

English Performance

  • Overall school combined rate (combination of students who scored proficient or advanced and students who were not proficient but made significant gains towards proficiency) of at least 75%;
  • Each subgroup (for which there are at least 30 students in the subgroup enrolled in the school) must also meet the 75% combined rate.  Subgroups used for accreditation purposes are as follows: Asian students, Black students, economically disadvantaged students, English learners, Hispanic students, students with disabilities, White students, and multiracial students.

Math Performance

  • Overall school combined rate (combination of students who scored proficient or advanced and students who were not proficient but made significant gains towards proficiency) of at least 70%;
  • Each subgroup (for which there are at least 30 students in the subgroup enrolled in the school) must also meet the 70% combined rate.  Subgroups used for accreditation purposes are as follows: Asian students, Black students, economically disadvantaged students, English learners, Hispanic students, students with disabilities, White students, and multiracial students.

Science Performance

  • Overall rate of students who scored proficient or advanced of at least 70%.

Once these outcomes were discovered, several of these schools were visited prior to teachers leaving for summer break.  Schools with the highest poverty rates and/or highest minority enrollments were targeted since time only allowed for eight school visits (Bessie Weller Elementary- Staunton City, Highland View Elementary- Bristol City, Saltville Elementary- Smyth County, Sugar Grove Elementary- Smyth County, St. Paul Elementary- Wise County, Tazewell High School- Tazewell County, Tazewell Intermediate School- Tazewell County, Woolwine Elementary- Patrick County).  During these visits, teachers and principals shared the factors that they felt were most significant in their success.  The following narrative is intended to communicate the most common factors for success noted by these dedicated educators.

Continue reading

RVA HISTORY: Strides of Strength

by Jon Baliles

Richmond unveiled a new sculpture last week on the site of the old Westhampton School (near St. Mary’s Hospital) that marked the desegregation of the West-End school in 1961. The 12-foot piece, entitled “Strides,” marks that day when 12-year old student Daisy Jane Cooper (now Jane Cooper Johnson) arrived as the first African American student following a three-year legal battle that took a U.S. District Court’s intervention. (Photo courtesy of Bon Secours.)

At age 9, Jane was having to travel five miles to get to the segregated Carver Elementary School. In 1958, civil rights attorney Oliver Hill submitted an application to the Richmond City School Board on behalf of Jane’s mother to transfer Jane to the all-white Westhampton School. The State Pupil Placement Board rejected the request, which led to the lawsuit that lasted three years and resulted in a groundbreaking victory in 1961. It impacted not only Richmond City schools but other localities as well — and the ruling meant that African-American students no longer required permission from the State Board to attend a white school.

A year after first walking through the doors of Westhampton, Cooper also became the first African-American student to integrate Thomas Jefferson High School in September 1962, after deciding she wanted to go there instead of the all-black Maggie Walker High School. Continue reading

Failure Is Not an Option with Proposed SOL Revisions: Part Two

Lisa Coons

by Charles Pyle

Last month, we examined two items on the agendas for the Board of Education’s January 24-25 meetings that seemed to fly in the face of Governor Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 campaign promises to raise expectations for students and schools and increase transparency in how the commonwealth reports on the performance of both.

Under one of Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Coons’ proposals — which was abruptly removed from the agenda of the board’s January 25 business meeting — students would no longer fail Standards of Learning tests in reading and math. Rather, students who failed to meet the proficiency benchmarks would be reported as performing at the “basic” or “below basic” levels. 

As pointed out in last month’s article, while these descriptors mirror those on the national reading and math tests, the potential for confusion would be high given that Virginia sets the proficiency bar on its reading and math SOL tests much lower than the benchmarks students must meet on the national tests, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Youngkin expressed his concerns about Virginia’s low expectations on the campaign trail in 2021, and vowed in his May 2022 report “Our Commitment to Virginians: High Expectations and Excellence for All Students” to raise the commonwealth’s expectations for students to equal the rigor of the national benchmarks. The governor’s report noted that while other states raised standards during recent years, Virginia’s expectations relative to national standards had slipped to the lowest in the nation. 

But a recent but little-noticed National Center for Education Statistics study confirms that this is still the case, despite the governor’s promise to raise expectations. Continue reading

The Most Improved Virginia School Division in 2023

by Matt Hurt

In a previous paper (Tales of Student Success in 2023) the successes of four of the top five divisions that realized the greatest improvement in SOL pass rates in 2023 were highlighted. Since then, I was afforded the opportunity to visit Greensville County, the division that realized the greatest improvement in Virginia. During this visit teachers and administrators outlined the aspects in their division which they felt lead to these significant improvements. These stories mirror those in the other divisions previously discussed.

Table 1: Top SOL Pass Rate Improvement Divisions from 2022 and 2023

The educators in Greensville County attributed  their significant improvement in student outcomes to a number of factors. They felt that the increased focus on relationships, expectations, leadership, and focusing on the positives helped them to ensure more success for their students than in the past.

Teachers related that they had invested more heavily in relationships with their students over the last few years. As in some other rural areas, these teachers reported that they were mostly from the county, but may not have lived in the same communities as their students. Through discussion with peers, teachers began to consider that some students live in situations that are significantly different from their middle-class experiences. Some of the teachers were familiar with these situations and shared this perspective with others. Continue reading

Competition for Schools

Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

One of the good bills introduced in the General Assembly this year would bring a measure of competition in public schools. Put in by Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg), SB 552 would require school districts to allow students to attend any school in the district. Currently, districts are allowed to adopt such open enrollment policies, but are not required to do so. Typically, students must attend the school within the attendance zone where they live.

The legislation would enable an elementary school student in the eastern part of Henrico County, for example, where the reading scores in schools are very low, to attend an elementary school in the western part of the county, which has schools with high reading scores. If the requests for “nonresident” students to attend a particular school exceed that school’s enrollment capacity, a lottery would be used to decide which nonresident students got to attend that school.

The legislation directs the State Board of Education to develop model policies and guidelines to implement the legislation. Under the provisions of the legislation as introduced, the Board would have to act quickly. The bill requires the policies and guidelines to be adopted by August 1, 2024, to enable the open enrollment process to be in effect for the next school year, 2024-2025. Continue reading

Whose Rights?

by Joe Fitzgerald

One thing you have to give the parental rights authoritarians. At least they’re more honest about their goals than some of their thematic ancestors.

Slave codes were not slave codes. They were master codes. Leftists in the 1950s weren’t involved in unamerican activities. The House committee harassing them was. Dissent and disagreement are supposed to be the American way, except to whatever faction is in charge and defining or redefining what’s American at any given time.

But parents’ rights, the latest right-wing lie designed to inflame rather than inform, is at least clear about who it’s aimed at. Teacher’s rights? Unless we’re talking about the right to be accused of corrupting and indoctrinating children, that’s not an issue for the rightists. Children’s rights? They have none in the world-view of people like the majority on the Rockingham County School Board. Continue reading

Failure is not an Option with Proposed SOL Revisions

Glenn Youngkin

by Charles Pyle

During summer and fall 2021, Glenn Youngkin tapped into rising parent frustration over prolonged school closures and a general unease about falling student achievement in Virginia’s public schools. 

Although a newcomer to state politics, Youngkin had the data and evidence to show the correlation between the lowering of expectations for students and schools under his two Democratic predecessors and declining achievement on state and national assessments. 

Youngkin seized on the performance of Virginia students on the pre-pandemic 2019 national reading and math tests to highlight the consequences — especially for minority students — of lowering standards. He correctly pointed out that Virginia’s definitions for proficiency relative to national expectations were the lowest in the nation.

The challenge Youngkin faced as he took office mirrored what confronted George Allen 28 years ago following sharp declines in student achievement on the 1994 national reading and math tests. 

Allen saw the results as a call to action. His Commission on Champion Schools laid the foundation for the Standards of Learning program, and Allen went on to become the most consequential Republican “education” governor of the 20th century. 

Allen launched the SOL reform despite Democratic majorities in both houses of the General Assembly and at times fierce opposition from the education establishment. But over time, the performance of Virginia students improved, and the “SOL wars” ended as a bipartisan consensus emerged around standards and accountability. Continue reading

Loudoun County Schools Defy FOIA Requests

Insignia, Loudon County Public Schools

by Kerry Dougherty

Luke Rosiak is the best investigative reporter in Virginia. There isn’t a close second.

Several years ago, The Daily Wire reporter uncovered Loudoun County Public Schools’ attempts to hide serial bathroom sexual assaults from the public.

Rosiak’s reporting ultimately resulted in the firing of former school superintendent Scott Ziegler. And the election of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who made parents’ rights a cornerstone of his campaign.

Rosiak is tracking down another potential blockbuster, but school officials in Loudoun are not cooperating. Apparently, they never learn.

The Daily Wire is now headed to court to try to wrench documents from the hands of secretive Loudoun school officials. These documents will reveal just how much public money the county’s school district blew in recent years settling embarrassing lawsuits.

So far, school officials are playing cute with FOIA, pretending that certain so-called privacy laws allow them to keep that information secret. Continue reading

Birth Dearth Portends Continued Public School Enrollment Losses

The Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia Projects significant erosion in public school enrollment in Virginia through 2030 — the effect of a seemingly permanent Covid-prompted loss of some 40,000 students to private schools and home schooling, combined with a shrinking birthrate that was evident before the Covid epidemic. Hamilton Lombard has the story here.

To see a map showing gainers and losers, read on…. Continue reading

Why Is Anne Holton Claiming the Length of Virginia’s School Closures Didn’t Matter? (Part 2)

Anne Holton

(Editors’ note” Part 1 of this series ran yesterday on Bacon’s Rebellion.)

by Vernon Taylor (a pseudonym)

Let’s take a look at Anne Holton’s claims about Virginia’s prolonged school closures and learning loss, which were made at a Dec. 12, 2023, meeting of the Virginia Board of Education, of which she is a member.


1. Virginia Data Are Sparse

Holton did not specify to which data she was referring. But Emily Oster of Brown University and other researchers looked at pre- and post-COVID test data from 12 states, including Virginia. The peer-reviewed study found that learning loss was generally “larger in school districts with less in-person instruction,” with Virginia’s test data showing the greatest correlation between school closures and learning loss. In addition, similar to the statement by Sturdefin about chronic absenteeism, the study notes its results are consistent with pre-COVID research on learning loss from summer break and unplanned closures.

2. The PISA Data Did Not Show a Significant Causal Effect

As explained above, Rotherham pointed out the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results still showed a modest causal effect. For instance, students from countries with closures of less than 3 months performed better on average in math than those from countries with closures longer than 3 months (Box II.2.1). Continue reading