Category Archives: Education (K-12)

The Honesty Gap: Yes, Virginia, There Is a Problem

by Andrew Rotherham

Two days ago, Governor Glenn Youngkin released the analysis of achievement and accountability in Virginia that was part of his executive order package when he took office. It was an open secret this was coming – it was right there in the EO – yet there is still some surprise. Here’s the RTD.

The surprise is likely because it’s pretty comprehensive. It’s reflexively getting framed as Youngkin versus Ralph Northam – the previous governor – but the problems the report outlines are more longstanding.

And they are real. If you live in the commonwealth you should read it because it’s an important and relatively unsparing look at achievement gaps that are too rarely discussed in Virginia, and some of the gamesmanship employed to sweep them under the rug. It also has information about overall achievement that is sobering. There is a lot of work to do to create a genuinely inclusive school system in Virginia…

First, the report is a good look at the tension between looking good and doing well or as we sometimes call it around here, achievement realists versus public relationists. Every state should think about an analysis like this that gets beneath the puffery and reflexive tendency to focus on silver linings disproportionately to clouds. Continue reading

Can Education Standards Be Brought Back?

by Chris Braunlich

“… score standards were adopted that made it easier for students to pass; and changes in accreditation regulations let schools off the hook for their failures.”

The words of Governor Glenn Youngkin at Thursday’s unveiling of a new report analyzing the decline of Virginia’s public education?

Nope. They came from The Washington Post, in a February 8, 2020 editorial titled “Virginia made a mistake by easing its academic standards.”

Three years earlier, The Post presciently predicted the standards decline after interviewing the future governor: “Mr. Northam claimed to believe in accountability, but was utterly unable to explain what he means by the word,” as Northam suggested different standards for different students.

An editorial titled, “Virginia’s retreat from academic rigor,” noted: “Creating different expectations for children does them no favors; it just allows adults to escape responsibility…. The emphasis appears to be not on actually improving schools but rather on approving how they appear….”

This was precisely the result of the last eight years. And it is precisely what the Virginia Department of Education report has exposed. Continue reading

The Empire Strikes Back

by James A. Bacon

That didn’t take long. Yesterday the Youngkin administration issued its report detailing the perilous condition of Virginia’s public schools. Today the
progressive educational establishment struck back, thoroughly rejecting the administration’s claims that educational performance is heading in the wrong direction.

The most forceful denunciations are found in The Washington Post, which not only quoted numerous critics of the report, but joined in the fray with its own “analysis” suggesting that Team Youngkin’s “use of data is misleading.”

According to the Post (quoting verbatim):

Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said in a statement: “To accuse Virginia’s education system of failure is an outright lie, supported by cherry-picked data and warped perspective.”

The Virginia Education Association, a teachers union, called the report “biased” and designed to “get the public to want school choice measures like vouchers.” The association shared a video of [Secretary of Education Aimee] Guidera speaking at an April panel hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, in which she promised to publish data on students’ poor academic performance to “hopefully … have those conversations about expanding choices outside the public system.” Continue reading

Two News Organizations Report on the Youngkin Administration Initiative to Improve K-12 Outcomes

by James C. Sherlock

I submit for your review two articles about the report of the Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction, “Our Commitment to Virginians”.

The first is by Sarah Rankin of the Associated Press.

The other is by Hannah Natanson of The Washington Post.

Both review the same report.  Both are presented as news not opinion.

That report promises broad attempts to improve the education of all Virginia public school children. I suggest that is what we employ a Superintendent of Public Instruction to do.

Read both stories and the report in question. Make the effort a Rorschach test.

What do you see?

Youngkin’s Principles for Achieving Educational Excellence

Governor Glenn Younkin speeds during a news conference announced his latest education report.

by James A. Bacon

Educational outcomes in Virginia have been trending negative since 2017, says a report issued by the Youngkin administration today, “Our Commitment to Virginians: High Expectations and Excellence for All Students.”

So… how does Team Youngkin plan to get things moving in the right direction?

Broadly speaking, the answer is to raise expectations and raise standards.

In the Youngkin administration narrative, a succession of Republican and Democrat governors built one of the best public education systems in the country by setting ambitious goals and holding schools accountable. Beginning around 2017 concerns over racial disparities in academic performance prompted policies that, though well meaning, had the effect of watering down standards and hiding failure. Youngkin is determined to restore the commitment to excellence.

“The future prosperity of our Commonwealth depends on how well we prepare our students,” the Governor said in a prepared statement today. “Working alongside parents, teachers, and policymakers, we will restore excellence in education and ensure that all students have access to quality education opportunities that prepare them for success in our workplaces, our communities, and our democracy.” Continue reading

The Hard Truth about Virginia Schools

by James A. Bacon

Virginia’s public schools, once among the best in the nation, are slipping badly. Some of the learning loss can be attributed to school closings driven by the COVID-19 epidemic, but the slide began several years before, when education leaders began lowering standards. And despite a relentless focus on “equity,” the racial achievement gap is getting worse.

So concludes a report issued this morning, “Our Commitment to Virginians: High Expectations and Excellence for All Students,” prepared by Jillian Balow, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The bulk of the report is devoted to documenting the seldom-acknowledged reality that educational outcomes in Virginia are deteriorating. “We need a clear understanding of where we are right now,” said Education Secretary Aimee Guidera in a press briefing before the official release. The report, she said, presents “a sobering picture.”

Bacon’s Rebellion will present the data behind that conclusion in this post, and then describe how the Youngkin administration intends to address the challenge in a follow-up post.

Central to the report is a concept called “the honesty gap,” a metric popularized by a nonprofit organization, Achieve Inc., to express the gulf between state and federal measures of student proficiency in math and English. According to Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) tests, 75% of the state’s 4th graders are proficient in reading. But according to the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) — the “gold standard” in educational testing — only 38% are proficient, a gap of 37%. The discrepancy is even wider for Blacks and Hispanics: 45%. Continue reading

Richmond Public Schools, VSU, VUU Teacher Residency Initiative is Promising

RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras

by James C. Sherlock

The Richmond Public Schools RVA Men Teach program has partnered with Virginia State and Virginia Union Universities to create a HBCU (Historically Black College/University) Teacher Residency program for male minority teachers.

As a long time observer and sometime critic of RPS, I congratulate it and the two universities for this initiative.

The benefits for minority children, and in fact all children, of having male role models in their classrooms are both self evident and well documented.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has reported that about 76% of public school teachers were female and 24% were male in 2017–18, with a lower percentage of male teachers at the elementary school level (11%) than at the secondary school level (36%).

This RPS/VUU/VSU initiative represents a promising effort to increase the supply of male teachers. I congratulate them for it. Continue reading

Judge Finds Probable Cause Two Smutty Books Are Obscene For Minors

by Kerry Dougherty

Get ready. Any minute now, local lefties will have their hair on fire. They’ll be screaming about book banning and censorship.

They will be wrong.

Circuit Court Judge Pamela Baskerville’s finding Wednesday that there is probable cause that two books available in Virginia Beach Public Schools are “obscene for unrestricted viewing by minors” hardly amounts to book banning. It means children shouldn’t have access to the novels without parental approval.

Baskerville is a retired judge from Petersburg who was brought in to hear the case after Virginia Beach Circuit Court judges recused themselves.

The books in question, “Gender Queer, A Memoir,” by Maia Kobabe and, “A Court of Mist and Fury,” by Sarah J. Maas are sexually explicit and entirely inappropriate for young kids. Anyone who’s glanced at them can see that.

The fact that a judge agrees is a win. Continue reading

A Seat at the Table — State and Local Advisory Boards in Virginia Need Ideological Balance

Willow Woycke, president of the Transgender Education Association

by James C. Sherlock

One of the opportunities offered by investigative journalism that is denied to the average citizen is to observe appointed government advisory boards in action.

It has been enlightening, but almost always disappointing. The way the members of appointed boards are generally selected in Virginia is an artifact of a political spoils system.

Take education. Action boards such as the state Board of Education and local school boards have tended to appoint one-sided advisory panels and, unsurprisingly, get one-sided advice as a single option for public policy.

Minority ideas seldom make their way into the draft policies that advisory boards prepare. That in turn results in bad public policy. We need as a matter of some urgency to do better.

I urge the Youngkin administration to take the lead and change this tradition in state government. Continue reading

Once Upon a Time, Schools Didn’t Need Fancy Buildings, Big Bureaucracies and Trauma Counselors to Teach

Gail Smith

by James A. Bacon

When Gail Smith talks about growing up in 1950s-era Goochland County, she calls her time attending the Second Union Rosenwald School as “the best years of my life.” The two-room schoolhouse was lacking in what we refer to today as “amenities.” But it was supported by the local African-American community, and it had spirit.

There were no school buses in her poor farming community — Smith passed through woods on her trek to and from school. There was no indoor plumbing or running water, either. The boys went to a nearby spring with a bucket and dipper to fetch water. Nor were there grocery stores, much less free meals — students brought their farm-raised lunches in brown bags. There wasn’t even central heating. During cold weather, the boys scoured the woods to gather kindling for the fire. School lasted five hours until 2:15, with time off for two 15-minute breaks. When the kids heard the bell, they hurried back to their classroom. Smith and her contemporaries recall a teacher, Fannie Beale, with great fondness for her firmness and her ability to inspire.

“We were poor but we were happy,” Smith says. “We came to school excited to learn.” She and many classmates went on to earn higher-ed degrees and pursue professional careers. Continue reading

Relentless Promotion of Transsexuality in Children – Fairfax County School Board Edition

Willow Woycke, president of the Transgender Education Association

by James C. Sherlock

Family Life Education – Board of Education Guidelines and
Standards of Learning for Virginia Public Schools, updated in 2020 by a famously progressive Virginia Board of Education, requires:

A plan for teaching sensitive content in gender-separated classes shall be announced publicly.

Current Fairfax County School Board Regulation 3204.9 Effective 09/15/2020 requires both elementary and middle school Family Life Education classes to be gender-separate.

Those rules apparently are now judged to be insufficiently progressive in Fairfax County. Headline:

Fairfax County school board debates mixing genders in 4th-8th grade sex education classes.

Continue reading

Charter School Lessons for the Youngkin Administration from the New York Times

by James C. Sherlock

Probably surprising to many of my readers, one of the newspapers to which I subscribe is The New York Times. Another is The Washington Post.

Of the two, the Times demonstrates far more balance in its reporting. Not opinion – reporting.

Times education writers, direct witnesses to the astonishing achievements of New York City charter schools and their huge waiting lists, can be counted on to investigate and report stories that openly disregard progressive orthodoxy on such schools.

They reported on May 13 (adjacent picture) that opposition to charter schools disadvantages primarily poor minority children and is driving the support of poor and minority parents away from the Democratic party.

That is the message I have been trying to bring to the Youngkin administration. Continue reading

Planning for Telecommuting’s Effects on Virginia

By James C. Sherlock

I think that we don’t yet realize the full impact of the revolution being wrought by the telecommuting that accelerated during COVID.

Virginia Railway Express Route Map

I am sure I don’t.  But Virginians, and our state and local governments, must try to figure it out.

We are moving towards a world in which white collar workers will be increasingly exempt from commutes.

We have already seen during COVID the leading edge of the migration of workers and their families away from many of America’s cities, especially those with increasing crime, closed businesses and otherwise lowered quality of life.

Look at New York City.  I visited it a couple of months ago.  Many places I used to enjoy have become an urban wasteland.  D.C. is not far behind.

Virginia urban areas and some of our suburbs have experienced COVID-related business failures and are threatened with more that result from the lifestyle changes that COVID brought.

The attractions in these places are not directly related to employment, but rather to population density. Restaurants, night life and the arts were exposed by COVID as vulnerable.  Some people got out of the habit of centering their social lives on them.

The costs of cities and suburbs, especially housing, are less and less affordable.  Prices have continued to increase in the face of fast-rising mortgage rates (Note 1).  This cannot continue, so it will not.

Other Virginia locations that offer attractive lifestyles, lower costs of living and the communications infrastructure to support telecommuting with bandwidth and speed at scale can expect to see in-migration and its economic benefits if they both prepare for and solicit them.

The knock-on effects may prove far-reaching.  I will offer a few of them for consideration.  Virginia state and local governments will either plan to accommodate them or be run over by effects which, planned for or not, they cannot control.

Continue reading

Welcome, Secretary Guidera and Superintendent Balow

By James C. Sherlock

Aimee Rogstad Guidera, Virginia Secretary of Education

I dedicate this as a welcome to our new Secretary of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction.  Both are very accomplished and we are lucky to have them.

I find it upon occasion useful to review for myself the facts on the ground when dealing with Virginia K-12 education reform.   They are daunting.

Some of the most challenging include:

  1. Our state constitution assigns responsibility to both the state and to local school districts for school quality.  The state sets standards but has no effective authority to hold the school districts accountable for meeting them.  That cannot work, and does not.
  2. Fierce and important culture war issues now tend to obscure information about fundamental student learning.  They set people who should be allies in improving basic learning at odds with one another about fundamental questions concerning the definition of what should be taught, learned and how.
  3. Many in education, like much else in public policy in Virginia, appear viscerally opposed to emulating proven best practices (New York’s astonishing successful urban charter school networks) from other states, or even considering them as possibly applicable in Virginia.  See Note*
  4. Virginia’s graduate schools of education aggressively stoke the culture wars from the left.  Indeed, many have proven to be opponents of the foundational standards of Western civilization. That will stir a debate every time.  Many have proven to be opponents of setting objective, measurable standards for K-12 learning and of employing standardized tests for school accountability.
  5. Statewide all-student SOL averages in our public schools hide the tragedy of the failure of many children of the urban poor to learn what they need to know to have a fair chance in life.  We don’t live in Lake Wobegone.  Consider English reading SOL results from 2018-19. 
    • Twenty-two percent of all kids failed English Reading SOLs.    
    • Thirty five percent of kids reported as economically disadvantaged failed those same tests.
    • Black (35%) and Hispanic (34%) children failed at nearly exactly that same rate as the economically disadvantaged.  Failed.  Could not read at grade level.
    • To the degree that children must read to learn, which is true in every subject starting in 4th grade, they cannot learn.  And do not.

6.  COVID has proven to be a huge disruptor to a flawed system.

Continue reading

Another Perspective on Youngkin Education Policy

Aimee Rogstad Guidera, Virginia Secretary of Education

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

After thinking about this a little more and doing some poking around on the Internet, I want to take issue with some of what Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera said at an AEI forum, as reported on Bacon’s Rebellion yesterday.  The goals are sound, but I am not so sure about the approach this administration seems to be taking.

In order to draw a contrast with the previous administration, she painted a picture of Virginia education that is worse than it is.

On the 4th Grade reading test for the NAEP, 38 percent of Virginia students scored proficient or above.  That was above the national average of 34 percent.  The Commonwealth’s score ranked 8th in the nation.  It is true that Virginia scores are lower than they were in 2015.  In that year, 43 percent of the 4th graders scored at proficiency or higher and the state was tied for 4th in the country.  However, scores across the country have been falling as well.  In 2015, Massachusetts was the highest ranked state with 50 percent of 4th graders scoring proficient or better.  In 2019, Massachusetts was still the highest ranked state, but its percentage of 4th graders scoring proficient or better slipped to 45 percent.  Nevertheless, Virginia did decline in absolute terms, from 43 percent to 38 percent, and in relative terms, from 4th place to 8th place.   There is work that needs to be done.  (For NAEP data, see here for 2015 and here for 2019.) Continue reading