Category Archives: Discipline and disorder

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

What on Earth Is Going On in Richmond Public School Bathrooms?

by James A. Bacon

How dysfunctional are Richmond City public schools?

Consider the case of River City Middle School, which serves a population that is 59% economically disadvantaged. While many of the city’s schools have enrollments beneath capacity, due to a declining student population in the city, River City is bulging at the seams. Built to hold 1,500 students, the school opened in September with 1,626 students.

The city School Board has been debating whether to transfer some of those students to other schools. In a hearing Monday night, Principal Jacquelyn Murphy-Braxton told of the problems created for bathroom access. Reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

With a limited number of bathrooms and not enough staff to supervise them, teachers have to use instruction time to take their entire class to the bathroom. “No one wants to see us continue the way we have. No one. Not me, and you shouldn’t either,” Murphy-Braxton said.

Teachers using instruction time to take the entire class to the bathroom? Have you ever heard of such a thing? Ever? Anywhere?

What is going on over there? Continue reading

At This School, the Cellphones Rule

by James A. Bacon

Literally every student at the high-poverty high school where Fletcher Norwood teaches has a cellphone — and not just a flip phone, but an expensive smart phone. And every student seems to have an unlimited data plan, and earbuds, and a recharger. Kids may get free lunches, they may wear t-shirts to school, and they may not be able to afford backpacks, but they do have smart phones.

And they use them… Continuously… Even during class.

Norwood (not his real name) tells the story of a teacher who joined the staff in September. It was her first year of teaching. One day, says Norwood, a kid was being difficult and refused to put his phone away. The handbook discourages the use of cellphones in class (unless they’re part of the instruction), but leaves it to the discretion of teachers if and when to confiscate them. In this case, the teacher tried to grab the phone. A tug of war ensued. Other kids in the class whipped out their phones and filmed the encounter. The incident came to the attention of the administration.

“I don’t know if they fired her, or if she said, ‘f— this, I’m out,'” says Norwood. But she left. “This was within the first month.”

Cellphones are an issue in almost every high school in Virginia. School authorities remain in control at some schools. They’re struggling but at least trying to maintain control in others — such as the high school principal in Alexandria I blogged about yesterday who was cracking down on cellphone use. And in some schools, like the school where Norwood teaches, administrators and teachers have just given up. Continue reading

A Fairfax High School Principal Cracks Down on Cellphones in Classrooms

by James A. Bacon

Virginia educators are waking up to the classroom disruption caused by cell phones, and one is actually doing something about it. On April 11, Herndon High School in Fairfax County started enforcing major restrictions on cell phone use, reports Fox News-Channel 5. More recently, the New Kent County School Board has directed the schools to look at the issue of cellphones in classrooms, according to The Tidewater Review.

“Students will be able to use their phone during passing times and during lunch time, but once class time begins, their phones must be turned off and put away,” said Princpal Liz Noto in a letter to the school community. “There are a few exceptions to this rule, including the use of the phone to monitor medical needs and some specific documented learning needs.”

There is one big loophole, however. According to the Fox article, teachers will be allowed to provide students a five-minute “phone break” during class.

Students’ use of cell phones has become a major problem in many schools. Practices may vary from place to place, but in some schools students are routinely distracted by access to social media on cellphones and listening to music through earbuds linked to their cellphones. Continue reading

The Alexandria Experiment

Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr.

by James A. Bacon

The election of Governor Glenn Youngkin may bring about changes in K-12 educational policy in Virginia, but those changes will take time to take hold, and they will not play out uniformly across the state. “Progressive” school systems are organizing a form of Massive Resistance (a term I use with deliberate irony) to oppose Youngkin’s effort to rid schools of “inherently divisive concepts.”

In a recent essay published in Education Week, Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr., has called for “anti-racist” school systems to band together to “escape the reactionary trap that continues to perpetuate systemic racism in our public schools.” He doubles down on every leftist trope regarding the causes of racial inequality in educational outcomes.

Assuming Hutchings puts his principles into action, Virginia will get to witness a living-lab experiment in social policy. If Hutchings’ understanding of the causes of racial inequality is based on reality, we should expect to see a significant narrowing in the racial achievement gap, as measured by Standards of Learning test scores, over the next few years. By contrast, if his “anti-racist” paradigm is riddled with false premises, as I believe it is, we will likely see no progress — or even a retrogression in learning.

Hutchings calls for educators to embrace several steps to build “anti-racist” school systems. These include: Continue reading

The Dude Had It Coming!

by James A. Bacon

Most people watching the Academy Awards ceremony were shocked to see movie star Will Smith stride unbidden onto the stage and slap master of ceremonies Chris Rock across the face. Smith later apologized for his action, and then resigned from the Academy. Condemnation was widespread. But the disapproval was not unanimous.

Fletcher Norwood teaches high-school honors classes at a Title I school in Virginia, and he recalls how social media lit up the cell phones of the kids in his classroom the day after the awards ceremony.

“Of course, Smith slapped him. Rock dissed his wife. That’s how you’d react to a situation like that,” says Norwood, summarizing the prevailing viewpoint. To his students, there was nothing remarkable about the incident. “If you’re going to say something like that, you should expect to get hit.”

After a decade of teaching lower-income kids in Title I schools, Norwood was not surprised by his students’ attitude. Most come from broken families in low-income neighborhoods mired in a culture of poverty and violence. Attitudes and expectations are radically different from those of the middle- and professional-class educators, politicians, journalists, and activists who have been driving educational policy in Virginia. The political class is, in a word, clueless about what’s happening in schools. The theories of bureaucrats in Richmond and district offices are unmoored from reality. Adult authority at his school is disintegrating, disorder is rampant, and the quality of education, which was never great to begin with, is tragic. Continue reading

School Threat Assessment Teams Revisited

by James C. Sherlock

I wrote on February 12 of this year about what I consider an indicator of a potential overreach by the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS).  FCPS security has published an RFP for corporate support for web search to support its threat assessment team.

Since that article, I have conducted extensive email exchange with Donna Michaelis, Director of the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety at the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). She is a dedicated public servant responsible for policy in this area. She gave me a lot of her time. It has proven an informative exchange and I thank her for it.

I see three gaps in current law and policy on school threat assessment teams.

They both set school divisions up to make mistakes that may possibly compromise any case that may be built against an actual threat and can permit them to overreach on matters that they should leave to law enforcement:

  1. Virginia law and policy fail to define roles and responsibilities
    1. on school threat assessment teams between law enforcement and school system personnel on the teams; and
    2. between school systems and law enforcement agencies.
  2. They set no clear limits on what types of “individuals” are within the scope of school investigations.
  3. Finally, there is no requirement that the school division threat assessment oversight teams as currently constituted under Virginia law have the expertise to deal with the legal complexities involved.

Continue reading

The National Association of School Psychologists is Going to Get Its Members Fired

George Will

by James C. Sherlock

I had dinner with George Will once years ago aboard ship. He is very smart, uncannily observant, understatedly amusing and a terrific dinner guest.

He published yesterday in The Washington Post a column, “Witness how progressives in government forfeit the public’s trust.”

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has proven that Mr. Will’s observation of progressive behavior has escaped the confines of government and infected nonprofits.

As proof of its commitment to progressive dogma, NASP has published a position statement, Promoting Just Special Education Identification and School Discipline Practices. The redefinitions of roles for and recommended assumptions of authority by school psychologists recommended in that paper are absolutely breathtaking. It unintentionally but very effectively challenges the trust of parents, teachers and principals in the very professionals it represents.

NASP wants them to devalue objectivity, the results of tests that only they are qualified to perform, and assume the roles of school sociologists, principals and assistant principals. Roles the NASP defines, of course, with — wait for it — progressive dogma.

Let’s assume they do that. Two related questions:

  • Who in the schools or among the parents will ever again trust school psychologist evaluations? The NASP has now set them up to be sued. Successfully.
  • What school principal will have them?

Continue reading

LCPS Superintendent Ziegler and the Superintendent of Public Instruction

by James C. Sherlock

Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) can generously be described as “troubled” during the tenure of superintendent Scott Ziegler. You know, the guy who got left holding the bag when his predecessor fled the state.

To make a very long story short, his fate is in front of the new Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jillian Balow.

An organization named “Fight for Schools” has sent a 149-page letter to Ms. Balow asking her to remove Mr. Ziegler for cause. The details of the cause apparently took 149 pages.

Probably something in that letter about two rapes at two different schools by a kid he transferred so he would not be stressed about staying in the first one. Continue reading

School Discipline – a Big Debate with Big Consequences for Education

by James C. Sherlock

Learning can only happen in an appropriate learning environment.

How to establish and maintain that learning environment is one of the most consequential debates in public education. In a lot of schools in Virginia, what we are doing now is not working.

Laura Meckler, writing in The Washington Post about a national problem, observed:

Test scores are down, and violence is up. Parents are screaming at school boards, and children are crying on the couches of social workers. Anger is rising. Patience is falling.

Public education is facing a crisis unlike anything in decades, and it reaches into almost everything that educators do: from teaching math, to counseling anxious children, to managing the building. [Emphasis added]

Teaching, counseling and discipline. In a functioning school, that is a virtuous circle.  In many schools, it is a vicious circle. Where to start to fix the broken schools?

My own answer is to do first what can be done most quickly. Establish  classroom discipline. Continue reading

School Choice Can Help Poor Parents Quickly Improve the Education of their Kids

by James C. Sherlock

The excellent education reporter Laura Meckler has written a terrific article in The Washington Post titled “Public education is facing a crisis of epic proportions“. Indeed.

Test scores are down, and violence is up. Parents are screaming at school boards, and children are crying on the couches of social workers. Anger is rising. Patience is falling.

For public schools, the numbers are all going in the wrong direction. Enrollment is down. Absenteeism is up. There aren’t enough teachers, substitutes or bus drivers. Each phase of the pandemic brings new logistics to manage, and Republicans are planning political campaigns this year aimed squarely at failings of public schools.

Public education is facing a crisis unlike anything in decades, and it reaches into almost everything that educators do: from teaching math, to counseling anxious children, to managing the building.

She wrote about the nation as a whole, but the same crises plague public education in Virginia.

Virginia, led by its Governor and General Assembly, must deal with it.

While we must improve every school over time, the most immediate approach for poor kids stuck in an underperforming school is school choice. Parents understandably don’t want to wait. Continue reading

Loudoun County Public Schools Bravely Faces Its Past

The Loudoun County Public Schools administration building in Ashburn.
Times-Mirror/Trevor Baratko

by James C. Sherlock

The Loudoun Times-Mirror has run a story headlined, Report detailing LCPS’ handling of sexual assaults complete; Title IX coordinator replaced.”

“Replaced” in this case does not mean the official was fired. The official in question is still chief of staff. The Title IX assignment was kicked down the food chain to HR.

That’s it. It was an enterprise architecture problem.

This story, of course, recounted Loudoun County Public Schools’ response to the rape of two students in two different high schools by a student who was moved by the superintendent to protect his “privacy.”

Loudoun County Public Schools acknowledged on Friday it has received an outside law firm’s report examining the school division’s handling of two sexual assaults at a pair of Ashburn high schools, according to a statement.

Loudoun County Public Schools has taken action, and will continue to take action, responsive to the concerns raised by the sexual assaults in LCPS, school officials said in the statement.

“The division’s handling.” Continue reading

Schools Gone Wild — Henrico Edition

by James A. Bacon

This story gives a whole new meaning — a literal meaning — to the phrase, “hair on fire.” According to WWBT/Gray News, a teenager at John Rolfe Middle School in Henrico County seta fellow student’s hair afire with a lighter. The boy is at VCU Medical Center suffering from second- and third-degree burns.

Here’s the TV station’s account of what happened:

His mother said she was told the school was on lockdown due to COVID-19 contact tracing, so her son’s math class was having lunch inside the classroom.

She says her son went to throw away his tray when another student approached him from behind with a lighter.

“That’s when the girl kind of flicked the lighter and lit his hair on fire,” the mother said.

Continue reading