Category Archives: Education (K-12)

Teaching History as the Struggle for a “More Perfect Union”

The Youngkin administration has published a document, “The Guiding Principles for Virginia’s 2022 History and Social Science Standards Revisions,” which lays out the thinking behind revisions to the history and social-science Standards of Learning standards.

The document does not dictate what teachers will teach. To the contrary, it states explicitly that the goal is to teach history “in an objective, fair, empathetic, nonjudgmental and developmentally appropriate manner” and that teachers must facilitate “open and balanced discussions on difficult topics, including discrimination and racism, and present learning opportunities without personal or political bias.” Rather, it explains the rationale for determining the body of knowledge that K-12 students must acquire.

To many Virginians, the principles will seem laudable. But they are antithetical to ideological currents prevalent in the educational establishment that regard the American republic as conceived in sin and that interpret history through the lens of racial, sexual and gender oppression. Because the legacy media will never present the Youngkin administration’s thinking in depth — and because I cannot articulate those principles any better than the the authors — I republish lengthy excerpts of the document here. — JAB

Introduction

Virginia’s History and Social Science standards aim to restore excellence, curiosity and excitement around teaching and learning history. The teaching of history should illuminate insights from the past and inspire current and future generations to lead lives that are informed and inspired by those who walked this journey before them.

Expectations for Virginia’s Students

Every graduate from Virginia’s K-12 schools will posses a robust understanding of the places, people, events and ideas that comprise the history of Virginia, the United States and world civilizations. Our students will learn from the rise and fall of civilizations across time, so that we may pursue and maintain government and economic systems that have led to human achievement. The Virginia standards are grounded in the foundational principles and actions of great individuals who preceded us so that we may learn from them as we strive to maintain our political liberties and personal freedoms and thrive as a nation. Continue reading

So Much for Burying the Dark Side of Virginia History

Should this be our framework for learning American history and civics?

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) has posted a new set of proposed goals for the teaching of civics, geography, and economics — the first major changes to the History and Social Science Standards of Learning since the existing standards were adopted in 2015.

Critics have accused the Youngkin administration of wanting to ban the teaching of the more unsavory aspects of Virginia history such as slavery, racism and segregation. The charges were leveled without any evidence and in the face of repeated declarations to the contrary by Youngkin administration officials, but Virginia’s legacy media has allowed them to pass unchallenged.

If Governor Youngkin is bent upon whitewashing Virginia and U.S. history, it’s not apparent from this overview to be presented to the Virginia Board of Education November 17. Consider these proposed changes to learning goals enumerated in that document:

  • Adding more specific and thorough treatment of the issue of slavery, particularly by requiring more content in earlier grades;
  • Adding more specific and thorough treatment of the issue of segregation, particularly by requiring more content in earlier grades;
  • Adding more specific and thorough treatment of the Reconstruction era;
  • Adding more clear and thorough treatment of the issue of the Civil Rights Movement in Virginia;
  • Requiring the examination of important Supreme Court cases like Dred Scott v. Sandford, Plessy v. Ferguson, Korematsu v. U.S., Buck v. Bell, Loving v. Virginia and others;
  • Further examining the critical role of the Founding Fathers and the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence and codified in the U.S. Constitution;
  • Further explaining the importance of Women’s Suffrage and key events in history that led to the Nineteenth Amendment.

The devil is not so much in the details, which Virginia school children undoubtedly will learn, but in how the issues of slavery, racism, segregation and women’s rights are framed. Continue reading

Student Misbehavior Is Schools’ Biggest Challenge, JLARC Says

Source: Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), “Pandemic Impact on Public K-12 Education.” Click for more legible image.

by James A. Bacon

In what will come as no surprise to Bacon’s Rebellion readers (other than the reality-denying ankle biters frequenting our comments section), Virginia public school staff cite poor student behavior as their most serious challenge, found a study of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC).

More than 56% of respondents to a JLARC survey said student behavior was a “very serious” problem, and another 24% said it was a “serious” problem. It exceeded other issues such as teacher compensation, student academic progress, lack of respect from parents, and concerns about mental health.

What’s more, concluded JLARC, student behavior appears to be worse than before the pandemic: “85 percent of school staff believed the number of student behavioral issues had either greatly or somewhat increased.” Teachers and other school staff shared the sentiment. Continue reading

Will Fredericksburg Revert to Being a Town?

Fredericksburg Virginia Crime Rate Map (Courtesy Neighborhood Scout). Mary Washington University is the light sliver in the center of the worst crime

by James C. Sherlock

There are two major reasons that Virginians organize themselves into local governments:

  1. public safety; and
  2. public schools for their children.

Fredericksburg has proven unable to provide either competently. It’s record is unapproachably bad given its assets.

We have documented its deplorable schools. When I wrote in that piece that they need a new superintendent, I failed to understand the crime picture and undershot the solution.

In 2021, the State Police reported that Fredericksburg had an incredibly high Group A crime rate (Crimes against persons, property and society).

Nearly the worst in the state. I admit that it shocked me.

Neither the crime rate nor the bad schools finds easy excuses in demographics or poverty. I will offer the census figures to prove it.

Fredericksburg’s schools and crime rates are literally breathtakingly bad for no identifiable reason other than governmental incompetence.

The city may wish to consider reverting to a town, either by vote of the City Council or by citizen initiative, and let either Stafford County or Spotsylvania County take over responsibilities its current government has proven it cannot handle. Continue reading

Aftermath…The Midterm Elections

by Kerry Dougherty

In the aftermath of the midterms there is gnashing of teeth among Republican voters who wanted a red wave.

But, hey, we did our part in southeastern Virginia. We flipped the 2nd District congressional seat and some of the woke Virginia Beach School Board.

Well done, neighbors!

On Tuesday I met Mike Callan in the parking lot of my polling place at Galilee Church. He was running for the District 6 seat on the Virginia Beach School Board.

We chatted about the importance of school board elections and agreed that the city was in desperate need of new board members. Representatives who would be responsive to parents and who would raise the academic bar instead of lowering it.

“I think school board elections are more important than Congress,” I said.

“More important than president, in some ways,” Callan said.

After all, he added, school board decisions directly impact our precious children. Continue reading

Parental-Rights Candidates Fared Well Tuesday

Tiffany Polifko, parental-rights advocate and apparent winner of a Loudoun County school board seat.

by James A. Bacon

It has been the conventional wisdom for some time now that Governor Glenn Youngkin’s winning gambit in his race against Terry McAuliffe was tapping into the parental rights movement. Parents furious about the injection of wokism into public schools were emerging as a new political dynamic, and Youngkin was the first gubernatorial candidate nationally to tap into it.

Youngkin wasn’t on the ballot this November, but many school board candidates were. So, how did the parental rights movement fare?

The Virginia Public Access project (VPAP) identified 17 school board races across Virginia where at least one candidate made the parental-rights agenda championed by Younkin the centerpiece of the campaign. Eleven won, six lost.

Parental-rights advocates won in red-leaning counties such as Augusta, Bedford, Isle of Wight, and King George but lost in two small cities: Staunton and Harrisonburg. In Loudoun County, which was ground zero for Virginia’s K-12 culture wars, Tiffany L. Polifko is reported to cling to a narrow plurality, but in the Leesburg district the parental-rights candidate fell short.

The movement gained the most traction in Hampton Roads: specifically in Virginia Beach and Suffolk. Parental-rights candidates won the two Suffolk seats up for grabs, while in Virginia Beach, they snagged four of six seats. Not mentioned by VPAP, Chesapeake elected six new Republican-endorsed candidates to the school board. Continue reading

School System in Meltdown Approves $1,000 Employee Bonuses

Fredericksburg City Hall. Photo credit: Adam Fagen, Flickr

by James A. Bacon

Two months ago, citing a 71% rate of chronic absenteeism in Fredericksburg public schools, Bacon’s Rebellion columnist Jim Sherlock called for the resignation of the city’s superintendent, Marci Catlett. Looks as though she’ll be getting a bonus instead.

The Fredericksburg School Board approved Monday drawing from federal COVID-relief funds to pay $1,000 bonuses for full-time employees and $500 for part-time employees, according to The Free Lance-Star.  

The newspaper did not report a justification given for the bonuses.

Could it have been a reward for a job well done in educating Fredericksburg school children through the COVID pandemic? Let’s check the numbers. Continue reading

“The Fortune in the Book”

Fortune in the Book from Pacific Legal Foundation on Vimeo.

by James A. Bacon

A new Pacific Legal Foundation video tells the story of parents who fought changes to the meritocratic admissions policy at Fairfax County’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, rated the best public high school in the country, in the name of “equity.”

Bacon’s Rebellion readers will find most of this tale familiar, for we have chronicled it on this blog. But the interviews of TJ parents yield new nuggets of insight. The video demolishes the canard that the high school’s rigorous entry exam privileged affluent Asian families that could afford tutors and other educational assistance unavailable to lower-income minority students.

The parents in the video don’t see themselves as privileged. Many, if not most, TJ parents are Asian immigrants, and the emphasis on education is part of their culture.

The Chinese have a saying “There is fortune in the book.” If you want a better life in the future, study, says Julia McCaskill, an Asian-American. “The importance of education … it’s built in our culture.” Continue reading

What If They Threw a Party and the Wrong People Came?

Source: Fairfax County Office of Research and Strategic Improvement

by James A. Bacon

In an effort to overcome “catastrophic learning loss” among Virginia school kids over the past five years, Governor Glenn Youngkin has ramped up efforts to recruit more tutors. This morning, for instance, he announced a tutoring partnership between the Urban Leagues of Hampton Roads and Greater Richmond, and the state’s four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs).

Finding more tutors is a great idea. It would be a wonderful thing if every child who wanted help catching up to grade level could find one-on-one help. But it’s important to set realistic expectations. Not every child who needs help takes advantage of it.

Fairfax County used $488,000 in federal funds to partner with Tutor.com to provide free online tutoring to help students overcome “unfinished learning” last spring, reports WTOP News. But only a tiny percentage of Fairfax County students used the service when it was rolled out in April, and those who did often needed it the least. Continue reading

Team Youngkin Allocates $7.7 Million for “Extended-Year” School Programs

by James A. Bacon

It’s a drop in the bucket compared to what’s needed, but it’s the right priority. The Youngkin administration is awarding $7.7 million in state grants to support year-round and extended-year instructional programs in 44 schools in five school divisions.

“Extended-year and year-round school programs provide consistent and structured learning environments for our students to succeed,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow in a press release. “Extending the school year or adopting a year-round calendar are research-backed strategies to put students on the road to recovering learning lost due to the extended closure of schools during the pandemic.”

The General Assembly created the Extended School Year Grant Program in 2013 in response to a study which found that achievement of underperforming students improved faster in extended-year programs. Continue reading

Surveying the Damage in K-12 Schools

by James A. Bacon

Last month the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)  released its Nation’s Report Card, which showed that the average math test scores declined by eight points nationally. It was difficult for most Americans to know what to make of the loss. The scores were an abstraction. How bad was the loss of five points?

The Education Recovery Score Board, a collaboration between Harvard University and Stanford University, has devised an answer. Drawing upon the NAEP scores and standardized test scores from 29 states, the Harvard-Stanford team translated the drop in NAEP scores into years of education lost. The average U.S. public school student fell behind a half year in math, and a quarter year in English.

The Education Recovery Score Board performed another valuable service. Where the NAEP published state-average scores, the Harvard-Stanford project mapped the NAEP scores to the school-district level, providing greater granularity in the data and exposing wide differences between school districts within states.

“The pandemic was like a band of tornadoes that swept across the country,” said project co-director Thomas J. Kane. “Some communities were left relatively untouched, while neighboring schools were devastated.”

Judging by NAEP’s state-level data, Virginia got hit by more than its share of tornadoes. The decline in math scores between 2019 and 2022 was the worst in the nation, and in English almost as bad. But the Education Recovery Score Board data show enormous variability within the state. Some school districts survived with modest damage; others were flattened. Continue reading

Teachers Are Critical to Student Success

by Matt Hurt

Twenty five years ago, the demand for teaching positions was not sufficient to supply the employment needs of newly-minted teachers. It was common in many divisions for teachers to serve for at least a year or two in an hourly instructional aide position before finally earning the coveted teaching contract. For whatever reasons, the teacher pipeline has dwindled to a trickle, and divisions can no longer be as particular when hiring teachers. If the candidate has a pulse, passes the background check, and has a provisional license (or at least close to it), they’re handed a contract. In far too many instances, divisions cannot find enough folks who meet these basic minimum qualifications to fill all of their vacant positions.

Many prerequisites must be in place to ensure positive student outcomes, not least of which is a teacher in the classroom. As of October 2021, 2.83% of teaching positions in Virginia remained unfilled, according to statistics conveyed to the Board of Education on September 15, 2022. The image below was shown to illustrate how the unfilled teacher positions were distributed throughout the state.

The Virginia Department of Education recently launched a new data tool (Staffing and Vacancy Report Build-A-Table) which allows anyone to view the number of positions as well as the number of positions that were unfilled at the time the data were collected. This tool should prove useful to track this problem over time, as well as to measure the impacts that this problem has on student outcomes.

Based on the statistics provided in the staffing and vacancy dataset as well as the SOL Build-A-Table data from 2022, there was a significant, negative relationship between those statistics. The rate of teacher vacancies accounted for 22% of the variance in SOL pass rates among the divisions in Virginia in 2022. This was greater than the relationships that many folks typically think impact scores the most, such as economically disadvantaged enrollment (18%), black student enrollment (17%), and white student enrollment (19%- positive correlation). Continue reading

“A Right Wing Group that Despises Public Education”

by James C. Sherlock

A commenter hiding behind the screen name “democracy” crawled out from under some rock to excoriate distinguished public servants and a philanthropic organization as “a right wing group that despises public education.”

That comment is now removed. I expect Jim Bacon did it. But it was there too long to let it go without rebuttal.

“Democracy” called them out because, apparently, they have spent considerable portions of their adult lives working to improve public education. In ways with which he or she did not agree.

Indeed.  Let’s see. Continue reading

Clarification and Additional Information

Jillian Balow, Superintendent of Public Instruction

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In a recent article, I discussed the progress that the Department of Education (DOE) and the Board of Education have made toward fulfilling two of the top educational priorities of the administration—increasing the SOL “cut scores” and revamping the school accreditation process.

In my research for the article, I overlooked, and thus did not report, a presentation made at the Board’s October work session.  The presenter was a senior policy fellow at ExcelinED, a nonprofit organization based in Florida.  Using Florida as an example, she advocated the use of a school accountability system that ranks schools on a scale of A to F.  Only a few states use such a system and doing so in Virginia would entail a radical change from the approach the Commonwealth has used in the past.

It seems that Jillian Balow, Superintendent of Public Instruction, whom I assume has the most influence over what is presented at Board work sessions, is preparing the Board members, especially the new ones, for a major examination, and possible overhaul, of the school accreditation standards and process.  It will not be something that can be done quickly or easily.

The presentation and video of the work session can be found here.

(A Hat Tip to Charles Pyle of the Dept. of Education for bringing this omission to my attention.)

The Size of the VDOE Rock

by James C. Sherlock

We postulate that elections have consequences. And they do.

Mostly.

But Sisyphus, sentenced by Hades to try and fail for eternity, never got the rock to the top of the mountain.

Yesterday Dick Hall-Sizemore provided an excellent deep dive into the last couple of months of Board of Education meetings.

He reported that the pace of change since the new majority appointed by Governor Youngkin took their seats on July 1 has been glacial.

He noted that for the Board:

there is often material to be reviewed in preparation for upcoming meetings.

Therein lies the rub.

They are pushing a very heavy rock. Continue reading