Category Archives: Education (K-12)

A Broader Perspective on Teacher Shortages

Photo credit: Bloomberg News

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There have been several articles recently on this blog related to the looming shortage of teachers in Virginia. This is a legitimate, and serious, concern.

The tone of many of those articles has been that one of the primary factors behind so many teachers leaving has been the breakdown in discipline resulting from the adoption of “progressive” policies favored by Democrats. For an example, see here.

There is a major fallacy in this argument: the teacher shortage is nationwide, in all areas of the country. An article in today’s Washington Post leads off featuring drastic steps being taken by Florida, Texas, and Arizona to deal with significant shortages of teachers in their states. The leader of the Florida Education Association described the situation in that state as “dire.”

Those three states are led by Republican governors and legislatures and are in no danger of being labelled “progressive” or “woke.” Obviously, there is something going on that is larger than any changes instituted by Virginia Democrats over the last two years.

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

Virginia Needs Better Information Sharing to Provide Mandated Public Services to Illegals Efficiently and Effectively

by James C. Sherlock

I am on record as a persistent advocate of improving the quality of both schools and medical services for poor and minority citizens. It has been the main focus of my work for years.

In a directly related matter, we read, with different reactions depending upon our politics, of the struggles with uncontrolled immigration on border states on the one hand and D.C, New York City and Los Angeles on the other.

We are treated to the public spectacle of the mayors of sanctuary cities deploring massive new influxes of illegal border-crossers and asking for federal assistance. It provides one of the best object lessons in being careful what you ask for in recent public life.

All of that is interesting, but Virginians know that the problem is increasing. They know Virginia can’t fix it, and they want to know how Virginia will deal with it.

By law we owe illegals services. And we need to provide them efficiently and effectively both for humanitarian reasons and to ensure that citizens are not unnecessarily negatively affected.

There is work to do. Continue reading

Teacher Shortage Update: Fairfax and Richmond

As students get ready to return to school later this month, Fairfax County classrooms are 97% staffed, incoming Superintendent Michelle C. Reid told parents in a July 28 letter to parents and staff. “We are working hard to continue to fill those remaining vacancies and to ensure that we will have a licensed educator in every classroom.”

The Fairfax Education Association said it believes the county has about 600 remaining vacancies, and that openings may be more common in low-income, Title I schools, reports WTOP News. With about 13,300 FTE teaching positions in Fairfax schools, that implies a vacancy rate of about 4.5%, not far off from Reid’s estimate. Continue reading

Audit Skewers Arlington’s Virtual Learning Fiasco

Photo Credit: Thomas Park on Unsplash by way of the Sun Gazette.

by James A. Bacon

An internal audit of Arlington Public Schools’ calamitous virtual-learning program during the 2021-22 school year cut school leaders no slack.

“There was insufficient or minimal ownership, leadership . . . stakeholder input, planning, risk assessment, pilot study and progress reports,” John Mickevice told School Board members, as reported by the Sun Gazette. Among the key findings:

  • The school system “lacked a formal project plan” to implement the program;
  • Those leading the program provided “no timely feedback” to upper-level school leaders when things began to go south;
  • There was not sufficient time given for staffing the program and training that staff.

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

Frank and Me

Sinai Elementary School, Halifax

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Several commentators on this blog have frequently taken issue with the approach of the Virginia Dept. of Education’s (VDOE) Code of Student Conduct and its emphasis on avoiding suspensions. They often quote passages from that document without specifying what is wrong with them. Presumably, the wrongheadedness of the approach should be apparent to all.

The latest such criticism was in a recent article by Jim Sherlock. He complained particularly that recent guides and documents on the subject of student conduct issued by VDOE did not refer to the “evidence-based techniques offered by the federal study Reducing Behavior Problems in the Elementary School Classroom.” However, after perusing that document, it seems to me that the recommendations put forth in the report are largely compatible with the approaches recommended by VDOE. For example, here are two recommendations of the report: Continue reading

The Great Escape

Scene from “The Great Escape”

by James A. Bacon

Fletcher Norwood has made his great escape. It feels, he says, as if he’s broken out of a German stalag and been elevated to Winston Churchill’s aide de camp. When he resumes teaching in August, he’ll no longer be consigned to the high-poverty Title I high school where he has been teaching the past several years. He’ll join a school in a neighboring county where he expects most students will be motivated to learn, classroom behavior will be manageable, and administrators will have his back.

Norwood, whose experiences I have chronicled in previous columns, has a lot of company. Teachers have staged what can best be described as a mass breakout from Virginia’s failing schools: retiring, transferring to other schools and districts, or just quitting the profession altogether in unprecedented numbers.

Based on extensive word-of-mouth, Norwood (not his real name) estimates that one quarter to one third of all the teachers have resigned from his old school this year. The school he’s going to is close to fully staffed. “I got a job in a better county that is reaping the benefit of poorly run counties that are losing teachers,” he says. Continue reading

The Public Housing and Education Debate – Who, Exactly, are the Racists?

Norfolk public housing immediately adjacent to old Virginian-Pilot building

by James C. Sherlock

There is agreement on both sides of the political divide in Virginia and the rest of the country that public housing projects were and are hellholes.

I have written that the bipartisan response, vouchers, run into lack of supply virtually everywhere.

Cue the debate about causes and solutions.

Let’s take a look at the evidence. Continue reading

Portsmouth, Norfolk and Newport News – New Applications for Section 8 Vouchers, Public Housing Mostly Closed

Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District – Congressman Bobby Scott (D)

by James C. Sherlock

I authored a piece here recently about the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA) and the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program.

I made the point that it is very difficult to find housing that can profitably be rehabbed to Section 8 standards.

I note that the only open waiting list in the NRHA is for an apartment at Riverside Station Apartments, a 220-apartment mixed-use development using tax credits for public housing set-asides. Twenty-three apartments are set aside for NRHA, but the development is not yet ready for occupancy. I am unable to determine when it will be.

In the spirit of evenhandedness, I offer the following about vouchers and public housing at the Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Agency (PRHA) and the Newport News Redevelopment and Housing Agency.

In Portsmouth and Newport News, both the voucher programs and the public housing program waiting lists are closed to new applicants, and reportedly have been for years. The only exception noted is in the availability of single room accommodations in public housing in Portsmouth.

It is sad. We hear all about the housing programs when they are authorized and funded.

Nothing when they create expectations — dependencies really — that they fail to meet. Let’s take a look. Continue reading

Mitigating Nurse, Teacher and Police Officer Shortages in Virginia – An Illustrative Example

by James C. Sherlock

Virginia is currently dealing with big shortages of nurses, teachers and police officers.

If any one doubts that, please consult other conversations that have already been presented on this blog. We have also written here about working conditions for all three professions. Those need to be addressed and, again, have been on this blog. But not in this article.

This article is about state funding to address statewide shortages in professions — education, health care, and law enforcement — without which society cannot function.

College degree programs. The shortages of undergraduate candidates for degrees as registered nurses and teachers are projected to get worse with the “freshman cliff” in 2025.

The “cliff” represents a 15% drop in freshman prospects beginning in 2025 due to the decline in birth rate in the 2008 recession and lasting for years after. Those missing babies in 2008 would have begun entering college in 2025.

Cops. The recruiting of cops has collapsed for cultural reasons including the public trashing and resulting lack of respect for cops and the frustrations and increased dangers (see any article on progressive prosecutors) on the job.

Methodology. I will offer the data on current state budget investments in higher education, K-12 education, health care and law enforcement and recommend targeted investments in new teachers, new registered nurses and new cops.

The Virginia Employment Commission is of no help currently in recruiting for these positions, and needs to re-evaluate and reform its statewide support.

The strategic recommendations are firm. But while I have chosen the numbers of positions and investments in the requirements with some general care, they are used for impact illustration only. Continue reading

Liberal Democracy, Illiberal Institutions

Maybe no one wants to work for a public education system that hates our values.

by Shaun Kenney

Carl Schmitt isn’t precisely a household name. The German political theorist was a deep reader of Thucydides and Thomas Hobbes, whose evolution of thought occurred during the fratricidal tumult of Weimar Germany in the 1920s.

One of Schmitt’s particular insights was the totalitarian nature of political parties, namely that the adjudication of power is both an authoritarian act and a totalitarian demand on the consciences of those who participate in it.

Consider for a moment those who waver on any particular piece of Republican orthodoxy — tax cuts, the right to life, the Second Amendment, immigration, supporting our police, or a robust national defense posture. Or on the left with the presence of a social welfare state, abortion on demand, gun control, open immigration policies, defunding the police, or a liberal internationalist order.

One could be an avowed communist, but if that person also happened to be pro-life? The Democrats would savage that individual. Conversely, consider a Republican who was rock solid on every issue except life. Would most Republicans vote for that person? Probably not.

Continue reading

What Virginia Gets Right About K-12 Education

by Matt Hurt

Much controversy surrounded Superintendent Jillian Balow’s report (Our Commitment to Virginians) in May 2022. While I disagree with a few of the details included in the report, I agree with (and have written about) many of the main concerns that were presented. If we want to have the best educational program in the country, we need to increase expectations and accountability. Luckily, Virginia laid a solid educational foundation in the 1990s which provides the basis which can help us produce the most successful students in the country.  

First, Virginia developed (and continues to update) a set of grade-level standards which ensured a continuum of skill attainment from year to year. These standards were sequenced to build upon prerequisite skills from the prior year, are very well aligned vertically, and the skills expectations in each grade are reasonable for the vast majority of students to master. While some may argue that this system might hold some students back from progressing at a quicker rate, there is nothing in the regulations which states that schools can’t accelerate students through this progression.

Second, Virginia has supplied educators with curricular documents (curriculum frameworks) which fully communicate exactly what students are expected to know, understand, and be able to do. Continue reading

K-3 Reading Instruction – Federal Recommendations vs. Virginia SOLs

by James C. Sherlock

This column has been withdrawn while under revision based upon updated 2017 reading SOLs. Those SOL are published on the same web page as the 2010 SOLS which are still available for download. I will remap the revised reading SOLs with the Federal model depicted and report.

Why Teachers Are Resigning: Student Behavior

Source: Chalkboard Review

by James A. Bacon

Why are so many teachers resigning from Virginia’s public schools? Based on widespread anecdotal evidence, I have suggested that the breakdown in classroom discipline is a major contributing factor, especially in high-poverty schools. But anecdotes are just that — anecdotal — and others blame low pay, COVID, or meddling right-wing parents. Now comes a survey of teachers in six Midwestern states who have resigned or will resign before the start of the 2022-23 school year. Among the 615 respondents, students’ “classroom behavior” is hands-down the biggest issue.

Key findings: “319 of the 615 responders listed student behavior as their biggest reason to leave the classroom, followed by 138 for ‘progressive political activity’ and 134 for ‘salary is insufficient.’”

The survey was conducted by the Chalkboard Review, which was founded in 2020 to provide a “heterodox outlet” for news and commentary from educators. By emphasizing diversity of opinion, it is safe to assume, “heterodox” is roughly synonymous with “non-Woke.” So, one must take into account the possible biases of those conducting the survey. (See the description of the methodology here.) Continue reading