by Kerry Dougherty
Excuse my language, but what the hell is going on at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News?
On Saturday, The Washington Post reported that school administrators there have downplayed threats of violence, apparently ignoring pleas for help from frightened teachers.
One account claims that the same boy who shot and nearly killed his teacher two weeks ago threatened another teacher saying he wanted to set her on fire and watch her burn.
The Post story is crammed with horrifying accounts of violent outbursts by an out-of-control child allegedly terrorizing his fellow students and teachers.
If true, there needs to be a wholesale shake-up in that school and this bleeding heart nonsense needs to STOP.
School officials must explain why they allow students who have threatened violence against teachers to remain in the classroom. Then they need to tell us why THEY deserve to keep their jobs.
Here’s a question for Richneck school leaders: Is there anything they WON’T tolerate at that dysfunctional elementary school, where a substitute teacher told The Post that the kids were so frightening that after one day she refused to go back to that particular school?
By James C. Sherlock
Richneck Elementary Credit WAVY TV 10
The shooting at Richneck Elementary was a tragedy by every measure.
I am not going to discuss the shooting itself here.
I will instead offer a summary of the school’s state quality data so we can get a sense of the environment in that school. It is located across I-64 from Fort Eustis in a neighborhood described in The New York Times as “generally safe”.
Fort Eustis hosts General Stanford Elementary, the highest performing elementary school in the Newport News Public Schools system. In a neighborhood generally considered extraordinarily safe. Hooah.
Martin Luther King Middle School Richmond. Credit RCPS.
by James C. Sherlock
I have crafted and will share what I believe to be an epitaph for public education in Virginia.
All of the evidence we see is that Virginia’s public school system, counseled and cheered on by its disgraceful publicly funded schools of education, is crumbling at its foundations.
We start children in school at ever younger ages to give them a head start. We have moved supervision of child care to the Department of Education, thus rearranging the deck chairs.
Many of the adults in the system, and quite possibly many of the students, have given up on education in actual facts. Adults argue about the teaching of history as if, evidence aside, kids were going to learn it.
Displacing traditional course time, teachers are directed to spend dedicated hours to try to instill social-emotional learning that kids traditionally learned at home.
Those kids who already have those skills sit wondering what they have done wrong.
The lessons plans, unfortunately, will tell them soon enough.
But that is just the beginning. Continue reading
by James C. Sherlock
What makes teachers want to teach?
The satisfaction that comes from helping children and adolescents learn and grow into productive, mature adults. It is amazingly powerful.
What is required for them to choose to teach? Enough money to live comfortably and a safe, supportive working environment.
So that is three:
- teaching satisfaction
- salary and benefits
- working conditions
What happens when those all go badly? We are finding out.
We have far too many schools in which students measurably are not learning. Astonishingly large numbers don’t show up to school.
As for safe, supportive working environments, forget it in many schools. Feral children and adolescents attack one another and their teachers.
Teachers are disgusted and, in some cases, terrified. So are their best students. Teachers are leaving not only their own schools but the profession in ever larger numbers.
Some readers may console themselves that time will heal all wounds. It won’t in this case. As the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) reported, both the teacher retention and new teacher training curves are sloping dramatically in the wrong direction.
So, the question in the title requires an answer — immediately. Continue reading
Stone Bridge High School Chantilly
by James C. Sherlock
So, let’s examine a theoretical.
A kid gets thrown out of a high school for a suspected rape.
The (ex-) superintendent places him in another high school awaiting trial.
He rapes again.
What’s wrong with this picture? OK, lots of things.
But let’s examine just one solution that can have wider applicability.
Why could not that alleged (at the time) criminal, or any suspended kid, participate remotely with his classes broadcast to him?
The equipment to do so is available in public schools all over the state after COVID. It is also available in our institutions of higher learning (IHE). Continue reading
Freedom High Woodbridge
by James C. Sherlock
The Washington Post, in a lengthy article, “The crisis of student mental health is much vaster than we realize,” wrote about the mental health crisis facing our school children, especially adolescents.
Nationally, adolescent depression and anxiety — already at crisis levels before the pandemic — have surged amid the isolation, disruption and hardship of covid-19.
Now, the Post tells us. They even hint that more federal money may not help. Which must have taken an extra couple of days of meetings before publication.
The article did not identify the “we” who were cited in the headline as not realizing this was happening. Who indeed could have guessed such an outcome?
Other than anyone older than 12 not blinded by a “narrative” that never included the children’s mental health.
Some even wrote about the issues when recommending that kids go back to school in person. Before the start of the 2020-21 school year.
In the Post story, not a word about the “leaders” in state and local governments and the teachers union strike threats that kept some Virginia public schools closed up to an extra year.
Not a word about the Catholic schools that opened across the state in the fall of 2020.
Not a word of apology for being a big part of the problem that needs to be fixed. Continue reading
by L. Scott Ligamfelter
It should surprise no one. After the ill-conceived March 2020 closing of Virginia’s public schools by former Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam, it should have been evident that children would suffer academically.
We now know the extent of that damage to fourth and eighth grade students. Virginia’s Secretary of Education, Aimee Rogstad Guidera, put it aptly. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, she said, offer a “clear and heart-wrenching” statement on the “catastrophic decline” and a “predictable outcome of the decade-long systemic dismantling of a foundational commitment to excellence in education.” It didn’t have to be. What followed was a complete failure in virtual education. In the process, children fell victim to the self-absorbed politics of teachers’ unions and a complete disregard of the medical evidence from European countries that school-aged children were not at increased threat to contract COVID-19.
Moreover, the teachers’ unions saw the COVID-19 closing as an opportunity to keep schools shuttered while they lobbied for more pay and fatter school budgets once the pandemic crisis passed. A cynical assessment? Yes. But even when high schoolers in my county of Prince William returned to classrooms in 2021, teachers remained out, preferring to instruct kids virtually even as their students sat in segmented classroom space watching their teacher on a computer screen. It was farcical, and Virginia’s parents knew it.
Enter Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, who correctly characterized parental outrage in Virginia, not only for the elongated closure of public schools, but also for the “woke pandemic” spread by liberal school boards bent on indoctrinating children to be social justice warriors. Of almost no concern to these latter-day commissars was the performance of our kids and grandkids in reading, math, genuine history, and critical thinking skills. Mr. Youngkin listened to parents. In turn, they elected Mr. Youngkin because he pledged to realign educational priorities to those of parents, not woke administrators.
The governor is rightly indignant over the recent NAEP results and has committed to ensuring that Virginia children “have the tools and support structure to get back on track.” Tutors, particularly in math and reading, are needed for our fourth graders. Reading scores for this segment were dismal, tumbling from seventh to 33rd place among all states. In math, fourth grade students barely reached the national average.
Chesapeake’s Oscar Smith High School’s dominant football team – Tigers indeed
by James C. Sherlock
Check out closely the citizens who are running for city councils, boards of supervisors and the school boards this time of year.
The concerns of Virginians are still focused tightly on schools.
That is the definition of the stakes in school board elections, which used to be sleepy, low-turnout affairs. But no longer.
And school issues are bleeding over into city council and board of supervisor elections.
Some candidates pick a side and say what they mean to do. Others try to finesse the issues with word salads and “edspeak.”
Harder to finesse.
Republican and Democratic parties and the teachers union each endorse candidates. Continue reading
Courtesy Success Academies
by James C. Sherlock
Sometimes things are so right in front of you that you look past them.
I have been studying public education in Virginia for more than 15 years.
The policy face of the teaching and learning is — there is no other word for it — depressing, at least to the degree that those policies as written can be decoded into English.
Especially when our schools’ processes are constantly re-engineered at the behest of the education establishment. Teachers and students struggle to adjust to policies that are said to “work” in small, targeted studies but prove after enormous effort and expense not to scale as predicted. Or they work in the best schools and not in the worst.
At the federal level, the VDOE level, the ed school level and the local school division level, policies are frenetically changed to clean up problems real or perceived.
Virtually no solution I have seen focuses on enhancing the joys of teaching and learning.
The best individual schools in Virginia can and many certainly do focus on joy. But that is not what they are told to do. And clearly many don’t do it.
It is no wonder SOL scores in many schools continue to be dismal, teachers and students quit and students are chronically absent in droves.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Continue reading
by Matt Hurt
In a September 14th post, Jim Sherlock referenced some data points that were collected during the pandemic. Specifically he brought up the topics of chronic absenteeism and how the graduation rate didn’t seem to correlate with SOL scores. My intent here is not to refute any specifics; it is to inform readers that there were a variety of aspects that impacted the quality of data that we collected during that time.
First of all, to say that the 2020-21 school year was chaotic is the understatement of the century. Most school divisions began the year in a virtual setting. As the year wore on, students were allowed to come into the school at varying rates. Also during that year, families were ubiquitously allowed to decide whether their students would participate in person, given that was an option.
Many families changed their mind multiple times throughout the year. This by itself caused a great deal of chaos, and it was nearly impossible to accurately reflect each student’s method of instruction during that time period. Try to imagine how this worked out in schools. Johnny’s family chose to have him attend school in person. Then the COVID infection rates in the community increased and Johnny’s family decided that he needed to participate virtually. How hard is it to believe that many kids were marked absent incorrectly when they should have been marked as attending virtually? Continue reading
by James C. Sherlock
I wrote last time about school climate surveys.
But perhaps not in this case. I am going to use the results of a 2019 climate survey of Fredericksburg’s only middle school, Walker-Grant, to make a point.
The results of that survey of students and staff were absolutely brutal. Especially the responses of the students.
When polled about student support, disciplinary structure, academic expectations, prevalence of teasing and bullying and aggression toward staff, they gave the bad “grades” to their school across the board.
I checked upon a couple of other middle schools in the state widely known to be problems, and the results were not close. Walker-Grant students had the worst opinion of their school I could find.
So, that is the context for the state-worst chronic absenteeism in 2021 and horrible learning losses in 2022.
The survey also predicted that nothing would be done by the leadership of the school to make improvements based upon that survey.
Because they never had before. Continue reading
by James C Sherlock
Note: I took the unprecedented step of taking a column down ten days ago.
I did so out of an abundance of caution in response to an outpouring of disbelief among colleagues and the readers about the 71% chronic absentee rate posted by Fredericksburg Public Schools in 2020-21. Many insisted the number could not be right. The discussion could not proceed usefully.
VDOE today confirmed to me that the absenteeism figures submitted by Fredericksburg match the ones posted on the VDOE website. That level of chronic absenteeism also aligns with the horrible learning losses demonstrated by Fredericksburg students in the AY 2021-22 SOLs.
Finally, the 71% absenteeism was the subject of a report by Rick Pullen in the Fredericksburg paper in February of this year. It brought no pushback from the school division.
I repost my column below. Continue reading
by John Butcher
In a follow-up to his post on chronic truancy in Virginia, Capt. Sherlock writes, “We have decided, with laws reflecting our decisions, that children must attend school.” (Emphasis in original).
If only it were that simple.
Va. Code § 22.1-254 provides:
Except as otherwise provided in this article, every parent, guardian, or other person in the Commonwealth having control or charge of any child who will have reached the fifth birthday on or before September 30 of any school year and who has not passed the eighteenth birthday shall, during the period of each year the public schools are in session and for the same number of days and hours per day as the public schools, cause such child to attend a public school or a private, denominational, or parochial school or have such child taught by a tutor or teacher of qualifications prescribed by the Board and approved by the division superintendent, or provide for home instruction of such child as described in § 22.1-254.1.
That’s wordy but clear enough: The parent or other person in loco “shall … cause” the kid to attend school. Continue reading