Category Archives: Education (K-12)

How Restorative Justice Is Wrecking Schools

School discipline in the days before students told teachers to go f— themselves.

As Virginia lawmakers brainstorm ways to prevent school shootings, recommending more funding for mental health and school resource officers, they continue to ignore the breakdown in school discipline that is causing the decline last year in Standards of Learning in schools across the state. They are fixated on hypothetical calamities while remaining oblivious to the very real disaster unfolding before our eyes.

If I’m right about what’s happening in Virginia’s public schools — school discipline is worsening under “restorative justice” disciplinary regimes, and the quality of classroom instruction is deteriorating as a direct result — SOL scores will continue to erode. And the decline will be concentrated in lower-income schools populated disproportionately by African-Americans where discipline problems are worst. White supremacists could not devise a more clever, insidious way of keeping African-Americans ignorant and poor than the social-justice regime imposed by the ACLU and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Maintaining school discipline has always been a challenge, especially as the family structure has broken down among Virginia’s lower-income groups, creating generations of neglected, defiant, and poorly supervised youths. Relying heavily upon suspensions and even arrests, the Zero Tolerance disciplinary regime that prevailed until recently may well have been harsh and arbitrary. But it did have one positive benefit — it removed the disrupters from the classroom. Teachers could get on with the job of teaching.

The new therapeutic approach may or may not be helping the bad students — there’s not enough good evidence to know — but it is definitely distracting teachers from doing their jobs. As evidence, I proffer the thoughts of a former Henrico County school teacher who blogs under her pen name, Christine S., on the Unbarbaric Yawp blog.

Christine S. loves teaching and loves her students. After quitting her job at an unidentified school to have a baby, she has no plans to return to teaching any time soon. She doesn’t think society sufficiently appreciates what teachers do, and she believes administrators and parents fail to give teachers the trust and confidence they deserve — sentiments that are commonly expressed and are no secret to the rest of the world. But her most compelling post addresses the new realities of school discipline, which have gotten very little attention. She makes several key points:

Discipline takes time. Under restorative justice protocols, more of the disciplinary burden now falls upon teachers. Instead of booting trouble-makers out of class — or school — teachers now are called upon to deal with student’s misbehavior on the spot through coaching and reasoning. She writes:

It takes time to address it in the moment. It takes time away from learning. It takes time (that frankly I don’t always have) during my planning period or before/after school.

I appreciate that experts, Central Office, administration, and parents want teachers to be the first point of contact for discipline issues. Teachers SHOULD be the first point of contact, for sure! Instead of immediately writing a student a referral to the administrator, teachers should have conversations with kids, come up with a behavior contract, assign a detention of their own, or do whatever other steps they deem appropriate.

But in order to do that, teachers need TIME. When I taught, I had one 90-minute planning period every other day. I often had meetings before school, during lunch, or after school (or I was a coach and had practice after school).

I really didn’t mind calling parents or writing up behavior contracts or having a kid in my room for detention. But I needed time to do this. A planning period every day would’ve been so helpful for discipline (and other things, of course). Or teacher workdays that are ACTUALLY teacher workdays (teachers nowadays have so much professional development and few actual workdays, which many who are not in education don’t realize).

And one reason that sometimes my discipline wasn’t followed through, on MY part as the teacher, is because I simply did.not.have.time. I guess I could’ve made time — at the expense of grading assessments, making copies, tutoring, sponsoring clubs, coaching…

Teachers spend 80% of their time on 20% of the students. Writes Christine S.: “This is the most frustrating part of discipline issues for me: I literally spent the majority of my time addressing the same handful of students all year long.”

They have a right to an education, but at the expense of all of my other kids? I don’t think so. But as a teacher, sometimes my hands are tied. The system is flawed. The disruptive student who is making poor choices gets to stay in class, and no matter what I try or who talks to him or how many behavior plans we go over or how many times I call home, the student’s behavior doesn’t change, and class is ruined for 25 kids who actually want to learn.

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Clean Bathrooms in Richmond Schools, Hurrah!

School Superintendent Jason Kamras at Boushall Middle School. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

I don’t normally have much good to say about Richmond Public Schools, but the system deserves credit for this: The school board found $350,000 this year to finance a “bathroom blitz.” With significant assistance from community volunteers, the school system made tremendous progress this summer bringing school bathrooms into a state of cleanliness and good repair.

The school system was able to improve about two-thirds of the 44 schools’ bathrooms by the beginning of the school year, and will continue work on the others this fall, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch

“We still have a lot more to do, but we made a lot of headway,” said Superintendent Jason Kamras.

So far the division has replaced:

  • 200 paper towel dispensers
  • 150 toilet paper dispensers
  • 150 soap dispensers
  • 260 faucets
  • 170 sinks
  • 20 stall doors
  • 200 stall locks
  • Three toilets
  • 100 ceiling tiles

More than 50 bathrooms were freshly painted.

Clean, functional bathrooms are a bare minimum standard. The willingness of the school system to allow the bathrooms to deteriorate before now was disgraceful. Kudos to Kamras, who is new to the job, and to the school board for finding the money and mobilizing the volunteers to get the job done. The next step is to permanently reallocate funds to the maintenance budget to ensure that bathrooms continue to meet basic standards on an ongoing basis.

The City of Richmond doesn’t have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars building and renovating new schools. The Commonwealth of Virginia doesn’t need to issue $3-$4 billion in bonds for the same purpose. Instead, school systems need to stop deficit spending. And let’s be clear: Deferring basic maintenance is a form of deficit spending.

Bill Stanley’s $4 Billion School Modernization Crusade

School officials show Sen. Bill Stanley a piece of electrical conduit removed from Christiansburg Elementary School during recent repairs. Photo credit: Roanoke Times.

State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Moneta, wants to know if the deteriorating physical condition of many Virginia schools violates the U.S. Brown vs. Board of Education ruling against “separate but equal” schools for whites and blacks, reports the Roanoke Times.

It’s not remotely clear from the article what that landmark ruling might have to to with the situation in Virginia today other than the superficial parallel between physically deteriorated inner-city schools and better-maintained structures in suburban counties. But Stanley is determined to do something about the physical condition of Virginia’s schools, and he has been stumping the state to raise $3 billion to $4 billion for modernization.

“This isn’t merely an infrastructure issue: it’s a moral issue too,” Stanley wrote in a letter Thursday asking Attorney General Mark Herring to look into the constitutional issues arising from Virginia’s deplorable schools.

The family’s role in education may be paramount, and he can’t fix that, he said. But repairing the physical condition of Virginia’s schools, he told the Roanoke Times, is something that government can fix.

Nearly half of the state’s schools are close to 50 years old, and some are even old enough to be considered historic buildings under federal and state law.

In rural and urban schools, there are trash cans positioned to collect water from leaky ceilings, tiles falling from the ceiling, children burned on exposed pipes, rats scampering through hallways.

In Floyd and Pulaski counties, students have been dismissed early multiple times since the school year started because they don’t have air conditioning.

Stanley would solve the problem by dedicating the anticipated $250 million to $300 million windfall revenue stream from the sales tax on Internet to paying off some $3 billion to $4 billion in bonds issued to pay for the modernization program.

Bacon’s bottom line: Before I start my critique of Stanley’s atrocious proposal, let me first affirm that the condition of certain schools is an embarrassment to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Children should never be forced to use squalid rest rooms, be exposed to falling ceiling tiles, or burn themselves on exposed pipes. These are Third World conditions that have no place in Virginia.

The issue isn’t whether we should address these problems — I dare say that there is near unanimity that the conditions are disgraceful — but how we address them. First, do schools really need $3 billion to $4 billion to deal with the problem? Second, should the state take on responsibility for a local responsibility. And third, are old schools really what’s holding Virginia school children back?

Is this a $3-$4 billion problem? First, I’d like to know how Stanley came up with a price tag of $3-$4 billion. A previous Roanoke Times article attributed that number to a “a school facility modernization subcommittee ” formed this spring. I can find references online to the subcommittee agenda but none pointing to any reports or studies. I suspect that the figure encompasses a much more expansive program than simply fixing exposed pipes, rehabbing bathrooms, getting rid of rats, and installing air conditioning.

If that’s true, fixing scandalous conditions highlighted in hearings and news articles account for only a fraction of total expenditures under the proposal. Perhaps my suspicions are wrong — it wouldn’t be the first time. But if Virginians are to support the issuance of billions of dollars in bonds, they need total transparency on what the money would be used for.

Rewarding the profligate and punishing the responsible. The maintenance of school facilities is a local responsibility. Some local governments have done a good job of maintaining facilities and modernizing schools, and some have done a lousy job. For instance, in 2016 Henrico County voters approved the issue of $276 million in school bonds, more than $10 million of which was to be devoted to the repair and modernization of old school buildings. Now Stanley proposes having the state take over that responsibility for cities and counties that have been less diligent with their finances.

If the state intervenes in the way Stanley proposes, why would any locality issue school modernization bonds ever again? The City of Richmond spends significantly more money per student than Henrico County, yet the city’s schools are among the most deplorable in the state because the city has failed to allocate proper sums for routine maintenance. If school buildings now require major capital outlays, why can’t Richmond issue its own bonds? Oh, yeah, that’s because it’s tapped out its bonding capacity on other projects (some of dubious value) and any additional debt would make it difficult to maintain its AA bond rating.

What difference does it make? While all schools should be required to maintain basic standards of habitability, is there any evidence that new schools make a difference in academic achievement? Writes the Roanoke Times:

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New Richmond Schools Administrative Scandal

Another day, another K-12 education scandal.

The latest news: A state investigation has found that more than 1,000 Richmond public school students received credit for high school courses they shouldn’t have, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The lack of compliance with state standards affected more than 1,500 credit hours.

Among the six major “errors” identified in a Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) audit, which will be released later this month:

  • Some students were awarded two credits when they should have received one. Most of these courses were in career and technical education classes.
  • Some students received credit for taking the same class multiple times and for taking classes not approved by the state for credit.
  • Some middle-school students took high school-level classes and received credit when those classes weren’t eligible for credit by the state.

Of the more than 1,000 students who earned credit when they shouldn’t have, writes the T-D, 300 are now seniors. Richmond schools have roughly 1,200 a year in the senior class, suggesting that roughly one in four students were affected.

Bacon’s bottom line: Are these just random errors, or do they reflect another example of how educrats game the system? Richmond city schools have long been criticized for having one of the highest dropout rates of any school district in Virginia, and school officials have been working to improve the numbers.

In 2107, the dropout rate was reported to be 17.08%. Stated Interim Superintendent Thomas Kranz in a press release at the time:

As we continue our work with VDOE, our expectation is that with their support we will be successful in achieving our ultimate goal of 100% On-Time Graduation Rate. We are committed to increasing our On-Time Graduation Rate by 5 percent and lowering our dropout rate for this school year.

Despite a system-wide dip in the on-time graduation rate that year, some high schools experienced improvement:

Armstrong High — 4 percentage point increase to 80.8%
Franklin Military Academy — 2 percentage point increase to 100%
John Marshall High School — 1 percentage point increase to 90.1%

There is a very easy way to determine if the errors reflect random bureaucratic ineptitude or a deliberate gaming of the system: Find out how many of the students receiving extra credits needed them to graduate on time. If the students getting the extra credits wouldn’t have graduated anyway, we may be talking about random error. But if the “mistakes” were putting a lot of students over the top, so to speak, there is a strong likelihood they were intentional.

My usual philosophy is never to attribute to evil intention what can be explained by simple incompetence. But given the prevalence of administrative cheating in Virginia schools, I’m tempted to suspend that principle and make the opposite assumption. If errors occur in the reporting of educational metrics, they aren’t accidental. Find out who benefits.

Oh, and one more thing. According to the T-D, Richmond is the only school district in Virginia under VDOE scrutiny. If it turns out that Richmond administrators figured out a trick for improving dismal dropout rates, their counterparts in other districts may have too. Whenever you see sudden, dramatic improvements in on-time graduation, it’s time to start digging.

Now Drug-Free School Zones Hurt Blacks

By conventional measures of racist attitudes — support for school segregation, opposition to racial intermarriage and the like — white people have become decreasingly racist over time, as seen in the chart above extracted from Gallup organization data and published by the Institute for Government and Public Affairs. Older racists are literally dying out, replaced by young people with egalitarian attitudes.

Yet I don’t remember the preoccupation with race, discrimination and prejudice being so intense since the urban race riots of the late 1960s. Partisan commentators like to blame President Trump, not without some justification, for rhetoric that is racially insensitive or, as they would say, outright racist. But that tells only part of the story. Leftist academics, think tanks, politicians, and media have committed themselves all out to the narrative that not only are Trump and his supporters grievously racist, but so are America and America’s institutions. The bombardment of messages is inescapable. I get reminders in my inbox every day.

The latest missive to provoke my ire comes from the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Policy, a Virginia think tank that is mainstream liberal in orientation — not on the lunatic fringe of the left. Today, an email arrived entitled, “Beyond Fiscal Impact Statements: Understanding the Racial Equity Impacts of Public Policy Choices.”

As an example of unintended racial impact, Research Director Loren Goren refers to policies that enhance penalties for distributing drugs within a certain number of feet of a school. Such penalties, she writes, “contribute to longer terms of incarceration and have a disparate impact on people of color. Communities of color generally have more population density and therefore any particular arrest is more likely to be within the school zone.”

As it happens, I have some knowledge of the intersection of drug violence and elementary schools. When I moved in Richmond’s gentrifying Church Hill neighborhood some 30 years ago, I lived a block from Chimborazo Elementary School. I participated in a neighborhood clean-up of the school grounds, cleaning trash and broken glass off the cement playground — not that it made much difference, because I don’t remember kids playing outside very often.

There was a reason for that. Drug-related violence was endemic in the neighborhood. Three people were murdered in a crack house on my block. I recall an incident in which perpetrators on the school grounds shot and wounded three people across the street.

So, who are we supposed to sympathize with? The shooters, on the logic that they operated in a dense urban neighborhood, thus finding it difficult to avoid the schoolyard when conducting their criminal mayhem? Or the school kids, whose recess activities were curtailed due to criminal behavior that ran rampant and uncontrolled at the time? (Things are better now.) I’m sorry, but I fail to see how this is even a question that intelligent people can ask.

Aside from white supremacists representing about one percent of the population, the most race-obsessed people in the United States today are white liberals who are desperate to avoid acknowledging the stupendous failures of welfare policy, K-12 disciplinary policy, the every-family-deserves-to-own-a-house policy, the every-American-deserves-to-attend-college policy, and the myriad other ways in which social justice palliatives have blown up like exploding cigars and made life worse for poor African-Americans. Instead, white liberals double down on the narrative that racism permeates every corner of our society and racists lurk behind every bush. The strategem absolves them of guilt for their failures but it feeds the narrative of African-American victimhood.

White supremacists could not have masterminded policies better designed to fail, demoralize African-Americans, and keep them poor and marginalized.

More School Discipline Data

In the 2013-14 school year, Virginia public school students were strapped into chairs, physically restrained, or put into seclusion more than 6,000 times, according to the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection.

That compares, reports Staunton’s News Leader, to the following national figures from the same data source:

During the 2015–16 school year, the nation’s public school students were physically restrained, mechanically restrained or secluded 122,000 times. In nearly 86,000 of those instances, students were subjected to physical or mechanical restraint, and in 36,000 were subjected to seclusion, according to the data collection.

Virginia accounts for 2.6% of the national population. Assuming that the Old Dominion accounts for a comparable percentage of its school population, one would expect about 3,172 incidents of physical restraint. Thus, the News Leader data suggests that Virginia schools are more likely to resort to physical restraints than schools in other states.

Policies have evolved since the 2013-14 year upon which the Virginia data is based. School officials told the News Leader that the Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County school systems have not used physical restraints in the last five years. Thirty-six school systems in Virginia use the so-called Mandt System, which trains school personnel to de-escalate situations and limit physical contact between staff and students.

Virginia schools have been criticized for the high rate at which they summon police to arrest students and for the high rate at which they suspend students, primarily on the grounds that African-American students are disproportionately impacted. The use of physical restraints has come under scrutiny since revelations of the practice used with unaccompanied minor children living illegally in the United States held at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center.

In other school disciplinary news… the Wall Street Journal reports on what school systems are doing to combat the increasing rate of student absenteeism.

About 16% of students, or nearly 8 million, were considered chronically absent for missing at least 15 days for any reason in the 2015-16 school year, the latest available data from the U.S. Education Department shows. That’s up 12% from about 7 million in 2013-14, while the student population rose only 1.1% over that period. Some education officials say an upward trend continues in their states.

D.C. and Maryland had the highest percentages of students considered chronically absent, at about 31% and 29%, respectively. North Dakota had the lowest rate at 9.5%.

How Many Students Are Not In Public School?

The most beautiful private school in Virginia, according to Architectural Digest: Blue Ridge School near Stanardsville. Click on the photo to see all fifty.

Sometimes what we don’t know is important.  Sometimes what you cannot learn is the most interesting thing.

As the public schools take their annual flogging over scores on the state’s Standards of Learning test, especially discouraging in high minority and low-income jurisdictions, a question came to mind – just how many students don’t take those tests because they do not go to those schools?

How many students are instead enrolled in various private schools where the tests are not given?  I could not find out.

There are no reports on the State Department of Education website on private school enrollment by grade or locality, nor any indication of how many students statewide have gone elsewhere.  VDOE Director of Communications Charles Pyle confirmed they don’t know.   There are tracking numbers by locality on home-schooled students, who remain under state jurisdiction, or students pulled out based on religion objections, but not on private school attendance.  (Home-schooled students also skip the SOLs.)

The federal government does a survey of private school enrollment, and reports that during the 2015-16 school year 109,991 students were enrolled in 951 identified Virginia private schools.  They included church-related and lay schools, schools intended for special-needs students, and of course many that do not reach beyond the lowest grades.  They did grant 7,021 high school diplomas in 2015, however.

A decade before, the Virginia enrollment was 120,241 students in 738 schools, with 7,094 high school diplomas granted in 2005.

A hat tip for the help of John Butcher, of Cranky’s Blog, who downloaded and parsed the more recent data from the survey to try to get information by locality.  But something is clearly missing on that file, as it showed in total about 30,000 fewer Virginia students enrolled in private schools around the state for the 2016 school year.

For 2016 the Richmond City Schools public headcount was just under 24,000, Butcher told me.  It is impossible to tell from any of these reports how many Richmond school-age students went elsewhere.  A look at the list of more than 60 private schools serving the Richmond area teased out by Butcher revealed several major ones missing entirely – including Collegiate and St. Christopher’s (with more than 2,500 students just between them, according to their websites.)

Their omission from the list (but apparent inclusion in the statewide totals) makes me very dicey about this data.  But add them in and there were more than 11,000 students in private schools in Richmond, Henrico County or Chesterfield County.  All three localities are losing students from their testing database to these schools, but the most dramatic impact must be on the City of Richmond.

There is a graduate thesis waiting to be written (or shared with us) on the relationship between SOL scores and private school enrollment, testing whether the lowest scores correlate strongly with the highest flight to the privates.  The expected result would be met with a yawn, since one of the main reasons many parents choose to go private is to avoid low-performing schools (and to avoid the SOLs themselves – which must be mentioned.)

But first somebody needs to assemble the data and find out if an unexpected result is sitting out there.  All those who love to condemn the struggling (failing is the preferred term) public schools need to at least acknowledge that in places like Richmond, motivated parents of means by the thousands (and they are hardly all white) find and exercise choices that have a strong statistical impact on those tests that carry so much weight.  Inquiring minds want to know – what percentage of  students are opting out from each Virginia school division?

Does that mean we accept a school division that cannot get a high percentage of its remaining students meeting modest reading and math goals on grade level?  That is showing erosion when other division results are stable or improving? Of course not.  But neither can you fairly compare – or write off – a school division losing a major portion of students from high-income and educationally-motivated families to one where virtually everybody goes to public school.

Half of Virginians Dis Public Schools in Workforce Preparation

Click graph for more legible image. Image credit: L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs

A slim plurality of Virginians — 47% — believe that their public high schools are “doing a bad job” in providing skills that will be useful in obtaining a job, according to a poll published Sunday by Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. Forty-five percent graded schools as doing a “good job” and 8% did not know.

The negative appraisal of public schools was most intense in the “South Central” region (which includes the Richmond metropolitan area) and in Hampton Roads, and the most positive in Western Virginia and Northern Virginia, with Northwestern Virginia falling between the two extremes. In the South Central region, 62% of respondents rated public schools poorly; in Tidewater the response was 61% negative.

The poll, a random sample of 802 adults in Virginia conducted by landline and cell telephone from July 10-30, has a margin of error of 3.49 percentage points. The poll also surveyed Virginians about their attitude toward higher education, which I will highlight in a future post.

When pollsters drilled into specifics, Virginians expressed the most confidence in the ability of public high schools to do a good job producing graduates in scientific fields, such as engineering, math and technology: 57% positive compared to 33% negative.

Respondents were more ambivalent about high schools’ track record in preparing students to be “engaged citizens” and developing students’ writing and communications skills.

By age, the 45- to 64-year-old grouping was consistently the most skeptical. By education level, the “some college” group was consistently the most skeptical. By party affiliation, Republicans were significantly more dubious than Democrats and Republicans: 63% of Republicans think public schools are doing a bad job of providing useful workplace skills, compared to 38% of Democrats and 34% of Republicans.

Whites were slightly more skeptical of the value of a public school education than minorities, although the difference was not large. There was little consistent difference between the attitudes of parents and non-parents of public school students.

Bacon’s bottom line: Surveys that provide a binary choice, like this one, irritate me. Either schools are doing a “good job” or a “bad job” with no room for ambivalence, which many people undoubtedly feel. With that caveat aside, it’s an indictment of the public school system when a plurality of respondents say the schools are doing a poor job at equipping Virginia’s children with the skills they need to participate in the workforce —  a searing indictment in the case of South Central and Hampton Roads.

The Free-Fall in Varina High School SOL Scores

Varina High School is a predominantly black (68%) high school in eastern Henrico County with a significant white minority (27%, mostly working class), and a smatter of Hispanics, biracial students, and others. As part of the Henrico County school district, Varina is one of the high schools subjected to a therapeutic disciplinary regime imposed by the Obama administration in order to reduce the number of students punished for disciplinary infractions on the grounds that the old methods disproportionately impacted African-Americans. I focus on this school because a source tells me that discipline, never great, is deteriorating — an assistant principal was assaulted by a student in the last school year —  teacher morale is terrible, and teacher turnover is high. The school appears to be a perfect example of what happens when social justice warriors impose “reforms” heedless of unintended consequences.

I have long maintained that the new, politically correct disciplinary regime, far from advancing racial justice, does grave damage to blacks. When teachers are unable to maintain order in classrooms, they cannot teach. Further, they get discouraged, and quit or transfer to other schools. Thus, predominantly black schools are staffed by less experienced teachers. I have predicted that as the new disciplinary regime took hold, academic achievement would suffer.

In the previous post, I noted that SOL test scores for blacks and Hispanics have deteriorated statewide in the past two years, which I tentatively suggested might reflect increased classroom disruption at schools in districts where the policies took hold. But I was reluctant to draw hard-and-fast conclusions on the basis of statewide data. We needed to drill down to a school-by-school level.

To get a sense of whether my hypothesis held up or not, I drilled down to Varina High School, which may or may not be typical of all high schools subject to the social-justice-warrior disciplinary regime. The results are startling. While average SOL pass rates have eroded statewide over the past two years, they have plummeted at Varina. As can be seen in the table atop this post, pass rates have deteriorated in subjects across the board.

As can be seen in the table below, the decline has been especially marked among blacks. To be sure, whites have suffered from the breakdown in discipline, displaying a greater cumulative deterioration in SOL pass rates than whites statewide. But the collapse in SOL pass rates among blacks has been disastrous.

Varina seems to be a perfect confirmation of the Bacon hypothesis. I don’t want to make too much of this one example. Conceivably, other factors could account for this skewed performance, although I can’t think of any off-hand. However, the results at Varina are so shocking that it would be reckless to refuse to consider the possibility that the same thing is happening elsewhere.

Someone — preferably VDOE — needs to conduct a systematic review that compares school districts and individual schools subjected to SJW disciplinary systems and those that have not been, paying special attention to high schools and junior high schools, where discipline is a more pressing issue than in elementary schools, as well as to schools dominated by economically disadvantaged and/or African-American students where the new rules likely have had the greatest impact on discipline and classroom disruption.

If you want examples of institutional racism, this is a good place to look — blacks as victims of social justice warriors’ half-baked theories and unintended consequences. Of course, being an SJW means never having to say you’re sorry. Ignore the wreckage, blame racism, and move on to the next cause.

A Discouraging Slippage in SOL Scores

Virginia public school students backtracked slightly in their Standards of Learning test scores administered this year compared to the previous year across the board — in reading, writing, math, science, and history/social studies — according to data released today by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).

In a press release, Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane managed to put a positive spin on the data:

Virginia has challenging standards and assessments, and students are performing at a much higher level today than when the state raised expectations six years ago. Pass rates are not the only measure of school quality. If we focus solely on annual pass rates, we miss the achievement of students who are making steady progress toward the benchmarks and the efforts of schools to address issues that directly affect learning and achievement. These factors are captured in the new accreditation system, and the ratings we will report next month will provide a more complete picture of where schools are today and where they can be enhanced in the future.

Pass rates on the 2017-2018 SOLs were “little changed” from the previous year, VDOE said. But what changed occurred was negative across the board:

  • 79 percent of the students who took reading tests passed, compared with 80 percent during 2016-2017;
  • 78 percent passed in writing, compared with 79 percent previously;
  • 77 percent passed in mathematics, compared with 79 percent in 2016-2017;
  • 81 percent passed SOL tests in science, compared with 82 percent previously; and
  • 84 percent of students tested in history and social studies passed, compared with 86 percent in 2016-2017.

Bacon’s bottom line: Perhaps progress is occurring beneath the surface of tepid results. If so, I look forward to seeing the evidence. Meanwhile…

Cumulative percentage point change in SOL pass rates by subject, 2015-16 to 2017-18.

In past years, VDOE has touted progress shown by blacks and Hispanics in SOL test scores. The department was uncharacteristically silent this year. Perhaps that’s because the news is so disturbing. A comparison of 2017-18 results with 2015-17 results shows a cumulative retrogression of 7 percentage points in the pass rate across the five subject categories for all students. The slippage for Asians was the smallest (surprise, surprise), slightly worse for whites, considerably worse for blacks, and catastrophic for Hispanics. Hispanic students experienced significant declines in English reading, math, science, and history/social science. Counter-intuitively, “English learners” are the one category of student that showed gains over the two-year period. Perhaps that is explained by the fact that the category of English learners encompasses many racial/ethnic backgrounds other than Hispanic.

Hispanic backtracking would seem to be serious enough to warrant concern. There is no evidence in the VDOE press release, however, that state education officials acknowledge the problem.

School discipline and SOLs. In the past I have advanced the theory that the disciplinary policies foisted by the ACLU and Obama administration upon many Virginia school systems in the name of racial justice have made it more difficult to evict disruptive students and maintain order in some classrooms. Insofar as the perpetrators — and victims — of disrupted classes are disproportionately African-American, I have hypothesized that the academic achievement of African-American students would be negatively impacted.

(In light of the marked results for Hispanic students, I might have to expand my hypothesis to include Hispanics.)

Do this year’s test results confirm that hypothesis? The evidence is suggestive but not conclusive. Black students, according to VDOE data, eked out one percentage-point gains in English reading and writing compared to two years ago, an encouraging sign. But they fell three points in math, three points in science, and one point in history/social science. In other words, black students have lost ground overall — consistent with my hypothesis.

There are many cross-cutting factors influencing the SOL test scores of Virginia’s black students, however, so I don’t want to make too much of this data. We need to dig deeper before drawing hard-and-fast conclusions. A more meaningful hypothesis would predict that SOL test scores declined most for black students in schools with predominantly black student bodies where the new disciplinary policies have had the greatest effect. That will take a time-consuming school-by-school analysis, comparing predominantly black schools in districts that have been subjected to the therapeutic disciplinary policies to schools that have not been so afflicted.

Update: John Butcher has an update on Cranky’s Blog on SOL pass rates in the City of Richmond school district: Up one percentage point in reading, the same in science, and down two percentage points in math, three in writing, and five in history. Says he: “This is a picture of abiding failure to properly educate Richmond’s schoolchildren.”

The majority-black City of Richmond schools, by the way, performed worse than blacks statewide. As it happens, the district is one that was forced to implement the ACLU disciplinary reforms. Anecdotal evidence, I know. But at some point enough anecdotes become a trend.