Category Archives: Discipline and disorder

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

Hoax Epidemic

Scene outside of Charlottesville High School yesterday. Photo credit: Daily Progress

by James A. Bacon

In the latest sign of spreading social disorder, Virginia underwent a plague of school hoaxes yesterday. According to media reports, incidents included:

  • The Loudoun County sheriff’s office and Leesburg police were notified of acts of violence at Loudoun Valley and Loudoun County high schools. The reports were false.
  • In Arlington County, officers responded to a false report in a 911 call of a possible act of violence at Washington-Liberty High School.
  • The Culpeper County school system placed all schools on lockdown after a 911 caller reported an “active shooter.”
  • A 911 caller told the Charlottesville police that there was an active shooter at the Charlottesville High School. (Eleven days ago, Albemarle County police had responded to a threat to Western Albemarle High School made through social media.)
  • E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg was placed on lockdown after a 911 caller alerted authorities to someone potentially being inside the high school with a gun.

There’s nothing new about shooting and bomb hoaxes. What is new is the epidemic-like frequency with which they are occurring. Apparently, the practice of reporting violent incidents in school buildings has reached such a critical mass that it now has a name — swatting. Continue reading

Lessons from One of the Worst Middle Schools in Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

I wrote last time about school climate surveys.

Yawn.

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

Virginia’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) for School Discipline – How is it Going?

by James C. Sherlock

The means that Virginia has chosen to maintain classroom discipline, called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), is controversial.

That controversy exists within the federal Department of Education (DOEd).

That organization’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has claimed for years that traditional methods of discipline are racist in outcomes and thus violate civil rights laws.

Well, last I looked, PBIS has disparate outcomes in Virginia.

Fairfax County Public Schools is the king of PBIS implementation in Virginia and has been for years.

Short Term Suspensions, Fairfax County Public Schools

Continue reading

Yup, Teacher Shortages Worst in High-Poverty Schools

by James A. Bacon

I have long contended that the teacher shortage is most acute in Virginia’s high-poverty schools where student discipline is the worst, but I didn’t have the school-by-school data to back up the proposition. Now the Richmond Times-Dispatch has published data for Henrico County comparing vacancies in the school system’s five districts. And it turns out that the affluent districts in the county’s west end have the fewest vacancies while the high-poverty schools in the east end have five times as many.

Days before the new school year begins, Henrico County has nearly 190 teacher vacancies. Nearly 70% are in the Fairfield and Varina districts.

“The three schools with the highest number of vacancies — Varina High, Rolfe Middle and Achievable Dream Academy at Highland Springs — are all in the Varina District,” notes the RTD. “More than 70% of the students at each school are Black, and at least 60% are economically disadvantaged, as defined by the state.”

I don’t think this data comes as a surprise to anyone. Where the story gets interesting is how the RTD seeks to explain it. Continue reading

Get Weapons Out of Schools – Start with the Schools Most Threatened

by James C. Sherlock

When we talk about getting weapons out of schools, most Virginians don’t have any concept of how many are found in schools every year.

Or think they are all in high schools. Or likely both.

When they do find out, eyes glaze over thinking of the cost and difficulty of fixing that problem in Virginia’s 2,100 or so public schools.

How could such a problem even be approached?

Consider the Willy Sutton rule.

The last full year pre-COVID, 2018-19, Virginia public schools reported 2,103 weapons incidents in 898 of its public schools. Yes, that is a disturbing number of weapons. I can find no indication on how many were guns and knives.

Yes, that only indicates the weapons that were found.

But “everybody” doesn’t do it at scale. There were seven or more weapons incidents in 41 schools. Continue reading

Hallelujah! Cellphones Banned In Virginia Beach Schools

by Kerry Dougherty

Quietly and without fanfare the Virginia Beach School Board on Tuesday night decided to ban cellphones in schools.

Even powering up a phone on school property will now be against school board policy.

Hallelujah!

No longer will teachers have to patrol the aisles, reminding kids to put their phones away. No longer will high school students be allowed to spend every break hunched over their phones and they won’t be permitted to text or call their friends or family during the school day, thus terminating one of the most persistent distractions to education.

Board member Carolyn Weems told her colleagues of a teacher who’d asked her kids to keep track of how many hours they spent on their phones each day.

The results? A shocking 10 to 12 hours. Every day!

Combine that ever-present distraction with the learning losses that took place during misguided covid shutdowns and the Beach had a recipe for failure.

The new cellphone policy was the subject of a refreshingly cordial conversation at the Board’s workshop, with all members seemingly in agreement that the insidious phones had to go. Continue reading

Equal Time: American Federation of Teachers on Teacher Retention and Discipline in Schools

by James C. Sherlock

To balance my reporting on discipline in schools and teacher retention, it is only fair to go to the best progressive source of ideas.

To give them equal time.

It is a close call, but the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is the most progressive and militant of America’s major teachers’ unions. They are proud of that.

But that does not imply that they are ignorant of what is going on in schools. I read their reports and recommendations regularly, and find some interesting ideas there. Some worth considering.

Many of those ideas unfortunately prescribe solutions that require an avalanche of new money and new hiring. More money than they are willing to estimate. More hiring of specialists than are available in the workforce. But a few do not.

One concludes from reading the dozens of resolutions and reports of the AFT that on the subject of student discipline:

  1.  The union recognizes that student discipline and teacher safety are linked and constitute a major problem;
  2. It wants to double down at breathtaking expense on current multi-tiered systems of supports like Virginia’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) to solve the problem; and
  3. It does not want students suspended or expelled.

The tension among those three bullets is not explored, but it is unfair to AFT to imply that is all they have to say.

Get a refreshment and we will review some of their ideas. Continue reading

Partisan Explanations for Teacher Shortage Are Inadequate

Governor Glenn Youngkin

by James A. Bacon

Governor Glenn Youngkin and state senator Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, have given WLJA-TV alternative explanations for Virginia’s teacher shortage. Youngkin’s is partisan and incomplete, and Surovell’s is partisan and disconnected from reality.

In an interview with the Washington television station, Youngkin blamed Democrats for holding up negotiations on the biennial budget that will provide a pay boost for teachers. “I did feel that Senate Democrats really dragged their feet unnecessarily,” he said. “And, yes, we signed the budget in June, but it included a 10% raise for teachers over the next two years along with bonuses, and it would have been really nice for the recruiting to be able to start much earlier for these spots with some certainty.”

State Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon.

Surovell took issue with Youngkin’s spin on the budget. Although the state budget wasn’t signed into law until this summer, says WLJA in summarizing his argument, both political parties in Richmond were in favor of teacher raises. The raises never were an issue in the negotiations. School boards have known that teachers could expect an 8-10% raise since February.

That argument seems persuasive to me. But Surovell undercut himself with this ludicrous claim: “Teachers are leaving because conservatives like the governor are making it unpleasant to be a teacher today by micromanaging how they should teach and what they can say in the classroom.” Continue reading

School Discipline Issues Meet Unshakeable Progressive Dogma

by James C. Sherlock

Moral panic has been defined as a:

…widespread feeling of fear, often an irrational one, that some evil person or thing threatens the values, interests, or well-being of a community or society.

Virginia’s progressive community is in moral panic over the refusal of school discipline outcomes to bend to their prescriptions for “equity.” Scientific surveys conducted by the state show teachers are scared of their students. In Virginia Beach.

To see that panic in action, read the comments on my article, “Why are Teachers Quitting? In Virginia Beach, It May Not Be “Mean Parents.”

Combative progressive comments offer a clinic on the subject.

Let’s look deeper to see sources of the progressive concerns. Continue reading

Why are Teachers Quitting? In Virginia Beach, It May Not Be “Mean Parents”

by James C. Sherlock

In the latest installment of “Why are Teachers Quitting,” I have come in possession of a summary copy of the 2020 responses of Virginia Beach teachers to a survey conducted by the Virginia Beach Public Schools (VBPS) administration relating to school discipline.

Survey results were forwarded by Dr. Donald Robertson, Chief Schools Officer. Remember when you read it that this is Virginia Beach.

The PBIS system of discipline implemented in Virginia Beach and referred to in the survey is Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.  To see what is expected of school systems implementing PBIS, see here.

There is, of course, a 27-page PBIS blueprint. From that blueprint:

The Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports Implementation Blueprint is to guide leadership teams in the assessment, development, and execution of action plans. The outcome is the development of local capacity for sustainable, culturally and contextually relevant, and high fidelity implementation of multi-tiered practices and systems of support.

PBIS is our old friend MTSS – sorry, VTSS (Virginia Tiered System of Supports) – in the commonwealth. The holy grail of the progressive left.

Let’s see how PBIS is working in Virginia Beach. Continue reading

A Teacher Safety Perspective on Teacher Shortages

by James C. Sherlock

We have discussed here teachers shortages in Richmond and some of the other larger school divisions in Virginia.

When the issues of teachers being physically afraid to continue teaching because of behavioral chaos in the schools is brought up, it is ignored or dismissed by the left in favor of its “mean parents” narrative.

The facts do not matter to that narrative. But they matter to nearly everyone else except, for some strange reason, the teachers’ unions. I have no explanation for that.

Let’s look at high school teachers’ (and students’) fears for their safety from student assault. Continue reading

Alexandria Schools’ Tentative Return to Sanity

Image credit: Podcast Republic

by James A. Bacon

Yesterday I wrote about a move by the Alexandria public school system to designate 30 minutes each day to “social-emotional learning” — a therapeutic approach involving counseling and community circles to teach students how to behave themselves in school. This initiative follows a previous decision to restore School Resource Officers (SROs) in the public schools, and it accompanies other measures such as restricting access to school buildings, requiring students to carry student ID cards, and staggering student dismissal times.

Now comes this bit of context from WTOP News (my emphasis): “The school system has had problems with dozens of fights and weapons, on and off campus, including the stabbing death of a student at the Bradlee Shopping Center during a brawl in May.”

I have argued that violence and disorder surged in Virginia public schools, especially in low-income neighborhoods, as social-emotional learning proved inadequate to deal with disciplinary issues arising from COVID-driven school closures. Alexandria compounded the problem by removing SROs from the schools. The results were predictable — Bacon’s Rebellion saw the early signs around the state early last fall and warned repeatedly of the encroaching anarchy. In many high-poverty schools, it was evident that adults had effectively lost control.

Credit must be given to Alexandria school officials. Woke though they may be, they are not blind to reality. Fights and violence became a problem too severe to be ignored. The adults are trying to re-establish control. Continue reading

Alexandria Schools to Devote 10% of Instructional Time to Social-Emotional Learning

This © CASEL infographic on the Virginia Department of Education website shows how “effective implementation integrates SEL throughout the school’s academic curricula and culture, across the broader contexts of schoolwide practices and policies, and through ongoing collaboration with families and community organizations.”

by James A. Bacon

Beginning in the new school year, Alexandria City Public Schools will designate 30 minutes every day to “social-emotional learning,” according to the school system’s website. In addition, Student Support Teams will provide more “targeted and intensive” interventions for individual students identified through the school’s Multi Tiered System of Support process.

In Virginia the standard school year is 180 instructional days, or 990 instruction hours. The standard school day shall include 5 1/2 instructional hours in 1st through 12th grades, excluding time for recess, class changes and meals. In other words, 90 hours per year, equivalent to 10% of Alexandria schools’ instruction time, will be turned over to social-emotional learning.

What is social-emotional learning (SEL)? According to the Virginia Department of Education, the definition is:

The process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.

One might interpret this as a bureaucratic, jargon-filled way of saying that SEL is teaching students how to behave themselves. Continue reading

Social Theory vs. Science in K-12 Discipline in Virginia – Fraud or Just Wrong?

Both fraudulent and wrong?

by James C. Sherlock

American school children have in my lifetime been the subject of widespread experiments in theory disguised as breakthroughs in education.

Consider the “new math” and the “reading wars” as prominent examples.

Now we have social theory on school discipline created by federal civil rights lawyers piggybacking on what may or may not prove to be successful academic practices for children with disabilities. That social theory has been promulgated as state policy guidance in Virginia.

A Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) has been used successfully in some instances to help teach academics to the learning-disabled.

This system was extended by lawyers from the aspirational left to school discipline and social-emotional learning without evidence. Now it has been published by the Virginia Board of Education for use by every school division in Virginia as a potential cure for “systemic racism” in discipline.

The 2021 Model Guidance for Positive, Preventative Code of Student Conduct Policy and Alternatives to Suspension (Virginia Model Guidance) may be fraudulently referenced. It is certainly incompletely referenced. Continue reading