Category Archives: Education (K-12)

How to Help Economically Disadvantaged Students

Click image to enlarge.

by James A. Bacon

Over the past several days I have been highlighting how public schools in Southwest Virginia have bucked the statewide trend of declining standardized test scores. While the Northam administration has implemented a top-down “social justice” approach, a consortium of rural Southwest Virginia schools has embraced a totally different  strategy: (1) identifying the most successful teachers across the region; (2) sharing their instructional materials and other best practices; (3)  measuring results and incorporating feedback, and (4) raising expectations.

John Butcher, the author of Cranky’s Blog, has done some follow-up numbers crunching to show just how effective Southwest Virginia’s Comprehensive Instructional Program (CIP) has been at lifting the Standards of Learning pass rates of economically disadvantaged students — the very same demographic the social-justice crowd wants, but has failed, to help.

The first two graphs (above) show how the reading and math SOL scores, which were at rough parity with statewide averages in 2014, have zoomed ahead of the pack. Continue reading

CIP: the Secret to SW Virginia Schools’ Success

School divisions participating in the Comprehensive Instructional Program

by James A. Bacon

The school districts of Southwest Virginia are among the poorest in the Commonwealth, but that hasn’t stopped them from out-performing more affluent districts across the state. Public schools in Region VII, stretching from the City of Radford to Virginia’s far-western tip in Lee County, have the lowest per-pupil funding in the state, yet they have the highest average pass rates for Standards of Learning (SOL) test scores. I highlighted those findings in a recent post. What I couldn’t say then was how Region VII managed to score the best results of the state’s eight education regions.

So I talked to Matt Hurt, curriculum director for the Comprehensive Instructional Program (CIP), a bottom-up initiative starting in Southwest Virginia, to find out more. It is a remarkable story and an encouraging one. With the right approach, Virginia schools can lift themselves up by their boot straps. Lesson for the General Assembly: The answer isn’t Mo’ Money.

Southwest Virginia students have not always been top SOL performers. Their rise to the top has occurred in just the past few years, says Hurt. The secret: Local school districts pooled resources to do three main things: (1) identify the most successful teachers across the region; (2) share their instructional materials and other best practices; (3) set high expectations, and (4) measure what works. Five years have made a significant difference. Continue reading

The Winners-Take-All Politics of Virginia Schools

by James A. Bacon

Two stories today highlight how public schools have become a political and culture-wars battleground in which winners take all and losers are vanquished.

First, the culture-wars story courtesy of the Daily Signal, a conservative news source associated with the Heritage Foundation:

Parents in Loudoun County, Virginia, are outraged after discovering that thousands of books were placed in classrooms across the school district this year as part of a new “Diverse Classroom Library Initiative.”

While most of these books focus on introducing kids to different cultures and ethnicities, parents began to discover that an alarming number of the books focused on “sexual diversity,” contain sexually explicit language, including “frequent descriptions of underage drinking, fondling, masturbation, orgasms, oral sex, sexual intercourse, sexual abuse, statutory rape, incest, and rape.”

Even books at the kindergarten level promote LGBT ideology through books such as “My Princess Boy,” designed to introduce 5- and 6-year-olds to the harmful idea that they can change their gender.

Second, an article in the Washington Post about privacy-invading technology, also in Loudoun County, as it turns out: Continue reading

We Can’t Explain Virginia’s Declining Test Scores — Just Trust Us and Give Us Mo’ Money

by James A. Bacon

The Richmond Times-Dispatch took a good hard look today at the alarming decline in reading scores by Virginia students in standardized tests, including both the state Standards of Learning (SOL) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). But reporter Justin Mattingly came up dry in explaining what might have caused the lower scores, which represent a stark reversal from improving or steady scores over the previous decade. “Why scores are on the decline,” he writes, “is the million dollar question.”

Mattingly makes a remarkable statement in the article that deserves highlighting: “State education leaders — who aren’t sure why the scores have dropped so much —  are calling for $36 million to go toward new reading specialists.”

That’s not all they’re asking for. The State Board of Education is recommending the state increase support for K-12 education by $950 million next year. Virginia’s educrats can’t explain the decline in reading and math scores, but they still have the audacity to say, “Trust us to spend more of your money.”

The usual suspects, like the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, are backing them up. Providing no evidence to demonstrate an empirical link between the funding decline and student achievement, CI has been pounding the drums to remind legislators that state support, adjusted for inflation and increasing enrollment, is 8% less than before the Great Recession. Continue reading

Are SW Virginia Schools Doing Something Right?

Abingdon Elementary School in Abingdon, Va.

by James A. Bacon

Yesterday I published a map showing the proficiency of Virginia schools broken down by census district. Schools in Western and Southwestern Virginia fared remarkably well, often competitive with schools in the affluent suburban neighborhoods of the state’s big metropolitan areas. Reader Frank Kilgore has responded with some additional data from the 2019 Region VII Performance Report that puts school performance in Southwest Virginia (Region VII) in a flattering light.

Some highlights:

  • Percentage of economically disadvantaged students — 55.5% compared to 40.4% state average, second highest of eight regions. (Southside has the highest percentage.)
  • Students with disabilities — 15.3% compared to 13.2% statewide, second highest of eight regions. (Southside has the highest rate.)
  • Per pupil funding — $10,404 per student compared to $12,032 state average. (Lowest in the state.) Continue reading

Housing Values and School Quality

Virginia school proficiency levels. Source: StatChat. Click to enlarge.

by James A. Bacon

In an essay posted earlier this week on the StatChat blog, Spencer Shanholtz with the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia explored the relationship between housing values and school quality. He documents the reality that children living in census tracts with low-value housing are more likely to attend low-performing schools. He finds this disturbing. “Children in lower-cost housing should be able to attend good schools,” he says.

I quite agree. Every child should be able to attend a good school. The pertinent question is whether it is necessary for a school to be located in an affluent neighborhood and have students from affluent families in order to accomplish that goal.

In this, first of two blog posts, Shanholz provides some useful data. It would unfair to critique his argument until he publishes the second post. For now, let’s take a look at the case he makes and raise some questions for him to answer in his follow-up post. Continue reading

Virginia Reading Test Scores Plunge

by James A. Bacon

Reading scores of Virginia students taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, a national standardized test, plummeted this year, and math scores declined as well. The average reading scores of Virginia fourth- and eighth-grade students on the national tests fell by four and six points, respectively. The average math scores for percent proficient fell by two points for both grades.

In releasing the results, Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane acknowledged that Virginia has a big problem. “The latest NAEP results — coupled with the declines we have seen during the last several years on our state reading tests — underscore the importance of the efforts already underway at the state and local levels to strengthen reading instruction for all students,” he said.

He implied that factors other than the Progressive “racial equity” policies he has championed are to blame. Rather, he said, “We must … recognize that Virginia’s schools are enrolling increasing numbers of students whose learning is impacted by poverty and trauma.”

The solution: $950 million in money for “equitable supports and services for all of the students who need them.” Continue reading

Revamping Virginia History as Oppression Studies

My beef with the teaching of Virginia history — not enough attention to Bacon’s Rebellion!

Virginia schools do a poor job of teaching the history of African-Americans in the United States and Virginia, says Governor Ralph Northam. Black history is “difficult, complex and often untold,” he said yesterday when addressing the Virginia Commission on African American History Education, a body he created 10 months ago in the wake of his blackface scandal. Black history in schools is often “inadequate” and “inaccurate,” he said.

Reports the Virginia Mercury:

Northam said one of the most pressing issues he hopes the commission will address is casting the end of slavery as the end of oppression for black people. The Jim Crow Era, Massive Resistance and mass incarceration have followed, he said.

“My perception is that when we talk about black oppression, I think a lot of us need to understand that concept a lot better and this needs to start with the education of our children,” Northam said. “Black oppression is alive and well today, it’s just in a different form.”

After reading Northam’s critique of how Virginia schools teach state history, I thought I’d see for myself: What do the schools teach? What are students expected to master for their Standards of Learning exams? What I found surprised me. Northam’s description might have been an accurate representation of how history was taught when he was a pupil, but it bears no resemblance to what’s taught today. Continue reading

Fairfax County: A School Board Election that Truly Matters

by James A. Bacon

The implementation of social-justice policies in public schools is gaining momentum in urban and suburban school districts across Virginia. Nowhere is the trend more evident than in Fairfax County, which administers the state’s largest school system.

The Democrats’ social-equity agenda has inspired a spirited resistance this year. Republican School Board candidates contend that the Democratic-dominated board intends to re-engineer the racial and income mix of the county’s public schools by re-drawing school district boundaries, even if it means busing some children to distant schools.

Fanning fears is the “One Fairfax” policy adopted by the board that “provides a framework to advance equity.” School board members and senior administrators have made clear their intention to apply the “One Fairfax” lens to the next redrawing of school boundaries.

Ideological Progressives have many attributes, but humility is not one of them. Despite a decade’s worth of policies promoting diversity and inclusion, the racial gap in academic achievement in Fairfax schools has gotten worse, not better. But Progressives are doubling down on failed policies: What’s needed, they insist, is more of the same. The likely consequence will be more of the same — an even wider chasm in academic performance. Progressivism is the problem, not the solution. Continue reading

This Is What Meritocracy Looks Like in 2019

Breakdown of the class of 2023 admissions to the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology has published the admission rates, broken down by ethnicity and gender, for the the 2023 class. Nearly three-quarters of the students admitted to the elite Fairfax County institution, one of the most highly regarded public schools in the country, were classified as Asian. One in five was white, and only 8% belonged to other groups.

The breakdowns by gender and race are little changed from previous years.

Despite the marked under-representation of Hispanics and blacks — sadly, so few blacks were admitted that they were lumped in with “other” — Thomas Jefferson HS’s admission policies appear to place a premium on scholastic aptitude. I admire the school for hewing to meritocratic principles in this age of racial bean-counting and the reflexive attribution of racism and discrimination to any disparity in racial statistics. I do wonder, though, how long the school can withstand the hurricane-force winds of change. Continue reading

Disorderly-Conduct Complaints in Schools Surge 45% in Past Five Years

by James A. Bacon

Who possibly could have predicted this? After years of “racial equity” and “restorative justice” disciplinary policies in Virginia school districts, discipline in schools has gotten worse, at least as measured by the number of disorderly conduct charges filed by school resource officers.

The number of disorderly cases filed increased from 360 in 2016 to 523 this fiscal year, a four-year increase of 45%, reports the Virginia Mercury, citing data from a report by the Legal Aid Justice Center. Black students, representing 22% of the state’s school population, account for 62% of the complaints. Charges against black girls have increased in “startling” numbers, the study observes.

The Legal Aid Justice Center’s proffered solution? Rewrite the disorderly conduct law to “stop criminalizing childhood behavior and unnecessarily pushing youth into our criminal legal system.”

Despite the imposition of therapeutic disciplinary policies designed explicitly to reduce the black-white gap in in-school arrests, out-of-school suspensions and in-school suspensions, the gap is as vast as ever. Logically, one might conclude from this data that these ideologically driven policies are not working and it’s time to re-evaluate them. But there is no sign of such a reappraisal in the Legal Aid Justice Center’s report. To the contrary, the proffered solution is to deprive teachers and administrators of another tool for maintaining order in schools. Continue reading

Want Better Schools? Get Parents Involved.

by Brian Glass

My first career was as a Junior High  School teacher in New York City. I taught in Brownsville Brooklyn (African-American), the South Bronx (Puerto Rican), and Astoria Queens (a mini U.N.). In all three schools there was no truancy problem, lack of a  desire to learn or major discipline problems. I never had to remove a student from my classroom! There were, however, common themes: good teachers, and administrators, parental involvement, and support, and, perhaps as a result, a desire to learn.

Before Brown V. Board of Education, education  was “separate” and certainly not “economically  equal.” Integration was considered a good idea. However, busing caused white flight, and the schools became re-segregated over time. Some African-American schools, such as Dunbar High School in Washington D.C., out shined their white counterparts. Its school building was old, but Dunbar was the highest-rated school in the District before integration. That’s no longer the case, even with the new, and very expensive, Dunbar High replacing the old.

So, now we have the City of Richmond seriously considering to re- integrate several schools with a new twist called “diversity.” This is the school district that spends more than 25% more money than the counties that surround it and is building three new schools as part of the answer to the continued problem of “separate but unequal.” I find it ironic that of the two best elementary schools in the city, Mary Munford Elementary is in a 68-year-old building and William Fox Elementary is in a building more than 100 years old. In the plan under consideration, African-American children would be bused to these ancient edifices. Continue reading

How to Integrate Richmond Schools: More Charters

by James A. Bacon

The Richmond Public Schools school board is desperate to get more diversity in its schools, meaning it wants more white kids in schools dominated by African-Americans. The board has been considering a proposal to smear the cream, so to speak: spread the limited supply of white kids, concentrated in two elementary schools, among more schools. Another option, described in the Richmond Times-Dispatch today, is to create a “weighted lottery” for open enrollment, giving preferential treatment to students from low-income students trying to get into schools that aren’t in their neighborhood zones.

One option that the superintendent and school board have steadfastly ignored is creating more charter schools. Richmond’s only charter school, the Patrick Henry School of Sciences and Arts, is about as integrated as you can get. The 318 students enrolled in 2018-19 were 41% white and 56% black, according to Virginia Department of Education statistics. Forty percent of the student body is classified as disadvantaged. In other words, Patrick Henry fits progressives’  dream of mixing poor African-American kids with better-off white kids.

Why don’t Richmond school officials look at Patrick Henry as a model? Could that school be doing something different than other public schools?

Continue reading

More SOQ Money

The other shoe has dropped on the budget requests for K-12.  The Department of Education has told the Senate Finance Committee that it will cost approximately $300 million per year over the next biennium to “rebenchmark” the Standards of Quality.

This amount would be in addition to the $950 million needed annually to finance the proposed changes in the SOQ proposed earlier by the Board of Education.  (I summarized the policy changes in the SOQ being proposed by the Board of Education in an earlier post.)

The rebenchmarking process is a technical one in the sense that it involves no new policy changes in the SOQ.   The rebenchmarking  uses updated data for numerous inputs into the SOQ calculation.  The most important ones are prevailing non-personal costs and support positions, salaries, and student enrollment.  If you are feeling especially wonky, the 45-page PowerPoint presentation, with detailed graphs can be found here.

Do Financial Literacy Classes Do Any Good?

by James A. Bacon

It’s not often that I speak kindly of government programs of any kind. But a few days ago, I praised a financial literacy initiative recently announced by the City of Richmond with the goal of empowering citizens, especially lower-income citizens, with the knowledge to make better consumer decisions. The program not only educates but preaches the virtues of saving money, building assets, and participating in the banking system.

Now a column in Governing Magazine calls into question the value of financial literacy education, especially if it is tied to obtaining Medicaid benefits, as has been proposed in Kentucky. Matt Darling, vice president of Ideas42, a nonprofit that “uses behavioral science for social good,” argues that poor people already know how to handle their money better than wealthy people. They, unlike the wealthy, have to stretch a dollar. Additionally, he cites a 2014 study, “Financial Literacy, Financial Education and Downstream Financial Behaviors,” as evidence that “financial education programs, while well-intentioned, don’t noticeably improve the financial behavior of their participants.” Continue reading