Category Archives: Attendance

Local Elections Dominated by School Issues – Chesapeake Edition

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.”

Take Chesapeake.

Harder to finesse.

Republican and Democratic parties and the teachers union each endorse candidates. Continue reading

Prioritize Joyful Teaching and Learning in Virginia Public Schools

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

Another COVID Impact: Bad School Data

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

Lessons from One of the Worst Middle Schools in Virginia

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

Fredericksburg Schools Need a New Superintendent

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

Truancy Morass

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

School Attendance Is a Right and an Equal Opportunity Issue

by James C. Sherlock

I wrote a column yesterday on chronic absenteeism in Virginia’s schools. The article has generated confusion among some readers about the obligations of parents and those of the state in getting children to school.

Some wonder if absenteeism is even the problem that the data say it is. And what about … (fill in the blank)?

But as a society, we have already decided. Truancy is against the law. For good reasons. Attendance is a right and denying it denies equal opportunity.

And adults in both homes and government offices are denying children that right. Continue reading

Virginia Public Schools and Learning Losses – Part 2 – Chronic Absenteeism

by James C. Sherlock

Woody Allen is quoted as saying that seventy percent of success in life is showing up. So it is with school.

Absenteeism is the most correctable scourge of Virginia public schools.

It is not the teachers’ job to get the kids there. But unexcused absenteeism is something other adults can fix pretty much at will. We have mandatory attendance in Virginia, and although the penalties can be significant,  the law is enforced only sporadically.

Some divisions enforce it. Some don’t. And there is a wide variation of enforcement in between.

Most will assume that in my data analysis project, the effects of reported chronic absenteeism in 2020-21 were generally reflected in:

  • 2021-22 SOL scores; and
  • three-year SOL learning losses of the school divisions between 2018-19 and 2021-22.

They are right. Continue reading