Category Archives: Education (K-12)

Go, School Board, Go. Hold Their Feet to the Fire!

Wow, the Richmond School Board is asking some very pointed questions about the unexplained ballooning of costs to build three new schools for the Richmond Public School system. I’m impressed.

In a letter sent to the city’s procurement director and city engineer in charge of the construction projects, four school board members asked why the estimated $110 million construction cost leaped to $140 million in just five months. The spunky Richmond Free Press obtained a copy of the letter. City officials blew off the Free Press when its reporter inquired into the cost escalation, but it may be more difficult to ignore the school board members. Continue reading

Coming to a Classroom Near You: Lord of the Flies

In 2015 Virginia enacted a law requiring the Virginia State Board of Education to develop regulations limiting the use of involuntary seclusion and restraint as tools to maintain order in public school classrooms. The state now is close to finalizing the regulations, reports Community Ideas Stations.

Putting students in isolation or employing mechanical constraints should be used only “when there is a serious danger to the child or to others in the environment,” says Colleen Miller with the Disability Law Center of Virginia.

How widespread is the practice? In 2015 Chesterfield County reported secluding students a total of 80 times, and restraining students a total of 29 times. Henrico reported six instances of seclusion and 21 of restraint; the City of Richmond reported zero instances of seclusion and 41 of restraint. However, a public radio investigation suggests that actions are under-reported. An investigation uncovered hundreds of instances that never got reported in Fairfax County in 2015. Also, Powhatan and Hanover County public reported no cases to federal authorities. Continue reading

What Is Causing Teacher Churn?

Emma Clark, from her Twitter page

Emma Clark was an idealistic young woman who became a teacher at Boushall Middle School, a Richmond school where three in four students are eligible for government assistance. “I wanted to get into a high needs school because, to me, the whole point of getting into education was to try to create more equity of opportunity in our country,” she told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “That meant teaching in a school where kids aren’t getting everything they deserve.”

After two and a half years of teaching civics, Clark left Boushall. She didn’t like the direction the school was heading under a new principal, she told the RTD. She would have liked to have transferred to another city school but a Richmond Public Schools policy prohibited teachers from transferring schools before they’ve taught for three years. She now teaches in Chesterfield County.

Desperate to reduce a teacher turnover rate of nearly 20% — compared to a national average of 11% to 13% — superintendent Jason Kamras has rescinded the policy. Better to let someone transfer within the system than to see them move to a school in Henrico, Chesterfield, or Hanover County.

Teacher turnover is a chronic issue in Richmond Public Schools, as it is at many other low-performing school districts. (And by “low performing,” I mean schools where standardized test scores fall below the level expected based on the percentage of students classified as disadvantaged or disabled.) But it astonishes me how little attention is given, either by school administrators or local media, as to why turnover is so high. City schools attract many idealistic young teachers who want to make a difference — they just don’t stay long. Continue reading

Why Teachers Leave Schools

John Butcher (aka Cranky) has brought to my attention a pilot exit questionnaire for teachers administered back in January 2017. The questionnaire, given to teachers leaving five “geographically and demographically diverse” school divisions, yielded 212 responses. The pilot project field tested a more comprehensive survey designed to gauge a perennial problem in Virginia public schools — teacher turnover — for purposes of analysis in future state Superintendent’s annual reports.

The results, as preliminary as they are, are fascinating. Of the 50 or so reasons teachers listed for leaving their positions, four clusters predominated: personal, such as retirement or a decision to relocate; salary (presumably too low); workload and poor learning climate; and lack of support from administration.

It will not surprise reader’s of Bacon’s Rebellion that I am particularly interested in two closely inter-related factors, “school culture and climate” and “student discipline/behavior.” Each of these factors was listed by one out of four teachers as a reason for leaving their jobs. Continue reading

Innovation Sharing in Virginia Schools

Virginia School Consortium for Learning logo

This may be the most promising initiative I’ve seen coming out of Virginia’s educational establishment in a couple of years. Press release from the Virginia Department of Education:

Teams of educators from 31 school divisions gathered last week [in Chesterfield County] to share ideas on how to accelerate innovation and promote deeper learning in the commonwealth’s public schools. The educators make up the first cohort of the Virginia Is for Learners Innovation Network. …

The innovation network’s goals are to promote deeper learning at all grade levels and to align instruction and assessment across the state with the expectations of the Profile of a Virginia Graduate. The profile — which was adopted by the state Board of Education in November 2016 — describes the knowledge, skills, attributes, and experiences identified by the board, higher education and employers as critical for future success.

Of course, the sharing of educational best practices does nothing to advance the Narrative of Endemic Racism, so it’s not surprising that we read nothing of it in any of Virginia’s newspapers. I didn’t attend the gathering, so I can’t vouch for the quality of ideas exchanged. But the meeting sounds like a win-win proposition.

Richmond Schools Weaken Anti-Truancy Initiative

Attendance officer Breon Eppes. Photo credit: Richmond Free Press

It has long been a pillar of Virginia education policy to increase the high school graduation rate. To advance that goal, several school districts have cracked down on students skipping school. The Richmond Public School system, for instance, has long employed a team of “school attendance officers” to round up truants and get them back into the classroom.

Then last year, in a move that generated little publicity, the General Assembly gutted a 20-year-old anti-truancy law. That bill, according to the Richmond Free-Press, did four things: It (1) doubled from five to 10 the number of days that a student could miss, (2) allowed schools to wait another 10 days before meeting with parents, (3) eliminated most of the authority of school attendance officers to be involved, and (4) allowed school districts to use volunteers instead of paid staff to work on attendance issues.

Now, with support from the Richmond school board, Superintendent Jason Kamras proposes to save $500,000 by eliminating 21 positions slotted for attendance officers and replacing them with seven “attendance liaisons.”

The Richmond Free-Press quoted Bacon’s Rebellion’s friend and comrade-in-arms John Butcher, author of Cranky’s Blog and the first person outside the educational establishment to notice the change:

Update: In an important comment, Dick Hall-Sizemore takes exception to the way the Richmond Free-Press characterized changes to the anti-truancy law, and suggests that the tweaks might have stemmed from issues specific to Fairfax County, and anything happening in Richmond was unintended consequence. Continue reading

Moral Measures, Skin in the Game, and K-12 Education

Four former state secretaries of education banded together to publish an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch today in support of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s proposal to raise real estate and cigarette taxes to fund the Richmond public school system’s strategic plan. In the op-ed they made a statement that is core to liberal thought:

The moral measure of any community is its commitment to investing in opportunities for its neediest citizens. About 40 percent of children in the city of Richmond live below the poverty line, and nearly three-quarters are economically disadvantaged. All of Richmond’s children deserve the opportunity to reach their potential to be contributing members of society. When that happens, our entire community will benefit.

The answer, of course, is mo’ money. The answer is always mo’ money.

I may not speak for everyone with conservative or libertarian leanings, but I speak for many. We, too, want to create a society in which every Virginia child has access to a good education. We, too, want to see African-American children in Virginia’s inner cities escape the clutches of poverty. We, too, want everyone from every county, city and town in Virginia to become a productive and contributing member of society enjoying a decent standard of living.

We disagree on how to achieve those aims. Continue reading

Too Many Problem School Kids? Hire More Counselors!

In its ongoing transformation from an organization dedicated to protecting civil liberties into an organization dedicated to advancing social justice causes, the ACLU has issued a report, “Cops and No Counselors,” which makes the case that “the lack of school mental health staff is harming students.” (The study was picked up obligingly by Richmond’s WRIC TV.)

The ACLU, which has taken the lead in instituting a social justice model of school discipline in Virginia schools, argues that Virginia should reallocate resources from law enforcement and “school resource” officers to more mental health counseling.

The study documents that 86% of Virginia students attend schools that fail to meet the benchmark of American and Virginia school counselor associations of at least one counselor per every 250 students. As WVIR notes, mental health support for schools was a focus of the General Assembly this year. Among other measures enacted, the budget set aside $12 million to cover the cost of hiring about 250 more counselors across the state, enough to reduce the ratio of counselors to high school students from 1-to-350-to 1-to-325.

Another bill requires counselors to spend 80% of their day working with students. Apparently, counselors aren’t doing enough counseling. Continue reading

But… But… The Narrative!

Funding disparities between 75%+ white and 75%+ minority school districts by state. Source: Edbuild

While it may be true nationally that predominantly white school districts spend more money than predominantly black school districts, that’s not the case in Virginia, reports Radio IQ. In Virginia, districts that serve mostly black students spend about $200 more per student on average.

That data is based on a report by Edbuild, an organization that studies school funding. “It’s somewhat challenging to put together a simple narrative for Virginia because it doesn’t necessarily follow easy and simple trends,” says Matt Richmond with Edbuild, Writes Radio IQ:

One possible reason Virginia looks different than the rest of the country could be because the state has relatively large, county-based, school districts. That’s actually one of EdBuild’s policy suggestions for states aiming to increase equity in education funding.

I am not conversant with how other states organize their schools. But apparently counties outside Virginia often include cities and towns, each with their own school district. Edbuild contends that district boundaries are frequently gerrymandered to protect the interests of more affluent (mostly white) residents. I cannot say if this is a fair critique or not. But in Virginia’s distinct and often maligned system of local government, counties and cities are distinct, not overlapping, municipal entities. Furthermore, for the past 40 years or so, cities have lost the right to annex territory from neighboring counties. Local politicos have no ability to gerrymander school district lines.

But that is a partial explanation at best. Continue reading

Educators, Stop Your Whining!

by Bob Shannon

Having attended last Thursday’s Joint School Board and Board of Supervisors meeting at Hamilton Holmes Middle School, I have a few observations.

Dr. David White, King William County school superintendent, made specific mention of the low morale problem among school personnel. Of course the remedy, according to Dr. White, is an across-the-board 5% pay raise for everyone. He cited the lack of a pay raise last year and the need to keep King William schools’ compensation attractive/competitive.

Last year in an effort to keep anyone’s take home pay from declining, measures such as higher co-pays and deductibles had to be raised in order to accomplish this. Have these folks already forgotten the hundreds of thousands of dollars that tax payers picked up in their increased health care costs?

In the economic contraction beginning in 2008 and lasting six years, did a single school employee get laid off or lose their job? Did one school employee have to take a pay cut? Did a single school employee have their pension contributions cut?  Did even one of them lose a week of the 12-13 weeks they get off each year ? Continue reading

What Can Educators Learn from CollegeU?

ChallengeU, says it’s website, can “put success in the palm of your hand.”

It’s a heart-warming story: Thanks to the intervention of the nonprofit ChallengeU program, four former high school dropouts from the Petersburg school system received their high school diplomas in a ceremony Wednesday. (A fifth diploma earner could not participate.)

“The event was much the same as a traditional graduation ceremony, complete with speeches and a walk across the stage to receive their diplomas,”  said the Times-Dispatch editorial page today. “The euphoria in the room was electric. All four students say they hope to continue with higher education.”

It’s always good news when at-risk kids manage to turn their lives around, complete their high school educations and get a shot at climbing out of poverty. As the ChallengeU website notes, in Virginia 8,000 kids dropped out of high school last year. Coaxing these kids back into the educational pipeline is one of society’s great challenges.

ChallengeU takes on hard cases with some success, as evidenced by the graduation of those four Petersburg kids. But the program is highly unconventional — the kids learn online — and it is resource intensive. The question arises: Does ChallengeU provide an educational model that can be replicated, in whole or in part, in the public school system? Does the ChallengeU model warrant greater support from the philanthropic sector? Conversely, do the high school diplomas reflect real learning? Are the program’s successes worth the resources expended? Unfortunately, ChallengeU’s website provides no metrics, so those questions are difficult to answer. Continue reading

Institutionalizing the Social Justice Movement in Virginia Schools

James F. Lane, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction

In the aftermath of revelations that Virginia’s governor and attorney general both dressed in blackface more than 30 years ago, James F. Lane, superintendent of Virginia public schools, thinks it’s time to engage in a “dialogue” about race, racism, and bigotry. He laid out his thoughts about how to shape such a dialogue in a Feb. 22, 2019, memo to local school superintendents.

The memo starts promisingly enough, expressing lofty ambitions that all can share: “We must all join together to renew our commitment to equity and the elimination of racism of any kind from our public school experience.” But he quickly goes awry. He next urges the school superintendents to “reflect on these events and the conditions that exist within our culture and communities that created space and place for these hurtful symbols to be perceived by some as acceptable” — implying that incidents and attitudes that took place decades ago are prevalent in schools today.

Lane then reiterates a call for “meaningful dialogue” on racism and bigotry with students, staffs and school communities. He encourages the superintendents to ensure that lessons are designed “with racial sensitivity and cultural competence in mind,” and to take action when students or staff engage in “inappropriate and unprofessional conduct.”

Questions arise. How does Lane define “racial sensitivity and cultural competence?” And what constitutes “inappropriate and unprofessional conduct?” He answers the questions indirectly by providing a list of “resources” for teachers, parents, and school division leaders, as well as his own “reading list.” His idea of “dialogue,” it appears, consists of indoctrinating Virginia’s school system with the radical left-wing narrative of Endemic Racial Oppression. Continue reading

Torturing the Data: Richmond Schools Edition

If you want an explanation of why the Richmond Public Schools (RPS) are such a mess, start with the fact that the Richmond educational establishment is in a state of denial, unable to acknowledge reality. Unless Richmond educrats cast off their the false premises under which they operate, the school system will continue to fail the thousands of children, mostly minorities, that it purports to educate.

Richmond educators blame everyone but themselves for the abysmal standardized-test outcomes of its students — racism, not enough money, and in particular the high poverty rate of its school population. We have busted these claims on this blog, but John Butcher at Cranky’s Blog shows how the most recent budget plan perpetuates the self-serving narrative by twisting the data.

Using the free-and-reduced-lunch population as a measure of poverty, the RPS budget notes that the city has the 9th highest free and reduced lunch population, which it documents in the following graph that compares Richmond to “neighboring” jurisdictions:

Continue reading

Kamras Feeds a False Narrative

Jason Kamras

In a Sunday op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond city school Superintendent Jason Kamras opined on “institutional racism” in Virginia schools. In building his case for the existence of such injustice, he cited the supposed disparity in funding, writing:

According to the National Center on Education Statistics, Virginia’s highest poverty school divisions — which serve large percentages of children of color — receive 8.3 percent less in per pupil funding than the state’s wealthiest districts. Put plainly: the students who should be getting more are actually getting less. If all the children in our poorest school divisions were white, I am certain the commonwealth would have found a way to fix its convoluted and unjust funding policies so that our lower-income communities received more.

Really? Let’s look at the numbers. The following data come from the Superintendent’s Annual Report for Virginia based on FY 2016 budgets:

Per pupil spending
City of Richmond — $13,843
Hanover County — $9,772
Henrico County — $9,644
Chesterfield County — $9,592 Continue reading

Virginia Voters Should “Clean House” this November

State of affairs / affairs of state.  Multiple scandals have rocked Virginia’s state government this week.  All three of our state’s top officials stand accused of substantial wrongdoing.  Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring have admitted to dressing in blackface during their college / medical school days. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is being accused of sexual assault.  The stories have become national news – read the New York Post article here. Given this chaos one wonders how the good people at Amazon feel about their decision to put one-half of their new headquarters in The Commonwealth of Virginia. I’m guessing we’ll hear more about that in the near future. In the meantime, Virginians need to ask two key questions – how did we get here and what can we do about it.   Continue reading