Charter Schools Reveal Hypocrisy and Incompetence of Loudoun and Albemarle School Leadership

Albemarle County Schools Superintendent Matt Haas

by James C. Sherlock

Some people are exactly who they say they are.

Not so with the Loudoun County and Albemarle School Boards and their superintendents. They are nationally famous for projecting moral superiority. They arrest lesser mortals for objecting in their presence to the policies they impose.

The public charter schools in those two counties provide ongoing rebukes to their faux-elite, hectoring wokeism.  

They offer charters at enormous public expense only to parents wealthier and whiter than the district as a whole. And none to poor and minority communities.

Yet even with enormous budgets and small classes they can’t get those select student bodies to outperform academically the rest of their districts.

We are thus witness to an absolutely perfect storm of hypocrisy and incompetence.

We have seen this movie before in Virginia. Loudoun and Albemarle County public charter schools are exactly what they seem.

All kids deserve a chance at a quality education. 

I have demonstrated in this space repeatedly with public data that Virginia does not provide it to many economically disadvantaged and minority kids in our public schools.  

Charter schools can help bridge the gulf. But there are only seven charter schools in Virginia today. One of those in Richmond has only 24 students.  

There are charter management organizations that specialize in seeking and providing world-class educations to poor and minority kids. But they don’t operate in Virginia because of our laws.

Instead we see charters like the three in Loudoun and Albemarle counties today.

None of those three serves economically disadvantaged and minority children in proportion to their presence in district schools, much less targets those children specifically for help.  

Indeed, each of those charters educates at great additional cost in small classes students considerably whiter and wealthier than average in those school districts. Yet somehow the children get educations without any measurable academic advantages over the other kids across the districts.

That must make sense to the Albemarle and Loudoun school boards, at least in private. Just not to me.

Loudoun County. There are two charter schools in Loudoun,

  • Middleburg Community Charter with 144 students K-5 in 2018-19,  24 kids per grade; and
  • Hillsboro Charter Academy near the West Virginia border in Purcellville, PK-5 with 143 kids, 20 kids per grade.

Loudoun County Public Schools. The demographics of the Loudoun County public school student population as a whole in 2018-19: Asian 22%; Black 7%; Hispanic 18%; multiple races 6%; white 47%; economically disadvantaged 19%; Homeless 2%.

Hillsboro Charter Academy. Purcellville is 89% white, 5% Asian and 4% Black and 2% mixed race. Hispanics can be of any race and are included in those totals. The white population is older than average; 74% of the households make over $100,000 per year. There is not much of a middle class. Children in about 20% of the households can qualify as economically disadvantaged.   

In 2018-19 Hillsboro Charter Academy in Purcellville had 143 kids. Students: 2.8% Asian; 2.8% Black; 6.3% Hispanic; 7.7% multiple races; 80% white. Economically disadvantaged 2.1% – three kids. English learners 1.4% – two kids. No category for homeless.

Hillsboro students in 2018-19 outperformed the district by two points in math SOLs and underperformed by four points in reading.

Middleburg Community Charter. The town of Middleburg has 656 residents, of whom 75% are white, 19% Black and 4% Asian and 1% mixed race.  A third of households make over $100,000 annually. Children in 45% of the households can qualify as economically disadvantaged.

Yet the 144 students of Middleburg Community Charter are 4% Asian, 4% Black, and 2% economically disadvantaged. Again, no category for homeless.

2018-2019 assessments. Middleburg Community Charter students in 2018-19 outperformed the district in reading by two points and underperformed by one point in math.

Hillsboro Charter Academy outperformed the district by two points in math and underperformed by 4 points in reading.

The costs in 2019-20. Per-pupil public school spending at Middleburg Charter is $21,065. At Hillsboro $19,930. Divisionwide $15,507

There are no charter schools in the heavily Black and Hispanic areas of Loudoun. You know, where they might actually make a difference.

Albemarle County. Albemarle County Public Schools is a “uniquely antiracist school district,” says Matt Haas, Ed.D.,  Superintendent. 

Indeed.

Albemarle County is one of the wealthiest school districts in Virginia and home to the School of Education and Human Development of the University of Virginia.  

Albemarle had two charter schools, a middle school (Community Public Charter) and a high school (Murray), until this year when they merged into Community Lab School. The merged school has 162 students this year in grades 6-12. Twenty three students per grade.

The district had 14,013 students in 2018-19. So just over 1% of Albemarle County public school students attended Community Lab School. 

2018-19 assessments. Mathematics in middle school. In 2018-19, the middle school (7th grade) mathematics pass rates of Albemarle public school students were 83% all students, 89% white, 62% Black, 69% Hispanic and 67% economically disadvantaged students.  

In that same year the middle school part of the now merged Community Lab School had mathematics pass rates of 71% all students, not enough Black students to publish a score, not enough Hispanic students to publish a score and a 67% pass rate for the relatively few economically disadvantaged students. Short version: the Community Lab School middle school kids performed worse than the district as a whole in math.

Reading in middle school.  The 2018-19 middle school (Grade 7) reading pass rates for students in that district overall were 81% all students, 89% white, 58% Black, 60% Hispanic, and 53% economically disadvantaged students. The district had 1,350, nearly 10% English Learners.  

The middle school kids in what is now Community Lab School had reading pass rates of 82% for all students, 81% for white students, not enough Black students or Hispanic students to publish a score and 82% for economically disadvantaged students. The charter school had four English Learners.

High school math. Albemarle County Schools students had an 83% Algebra 2 pass rate.  Community Lab School students had the same result.

High school reading. Albemarle County Schools had a 87% pass rate in EOC reading. The high school component of Community Lab School had a 100% pass rate. 

Demographics. 

  • Albemarle public schools are 10.8% Black, 13.2% Hispanic and 29.4% economically disadvantaged. 
  • Community Lab School is 3.7% Black, 8.6% Hispanic and 22% economically disadvantaged.

The costs in 2019-20:

  • Community Lab School $23,787 per pupil. 
  • Division wide $12,766. You read that right.

Community Lab School and its predecessors:

  • demonstrated no widespread academic advantages over the rest of the school district despite small class sizes; and 
  • have considerably fewer economically disadvantaged and minority kids by percentage than does the district as a whole.

Bottom line. Next time the Boards or Superintendents of Albemarle and Loudoun County schools want to lecture the rest of us about systemic racism or claim superior morality, cultural awareness and sympathy for the poor and minorities, save it. (That’s the nicest way I can say it.)

Instead, they can join Governor Youngkin in trying to change current laws on charter schools to let Virginia attract charter management organizations proven to help those who most need it.

Perhaps I can help the superintendents locate the new charters.

On second thought, perhaps not.


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41 responses to “Charter Schools Reveal Hypocrisy and Incompetence of Loudoun and Albemarle School Leadership”

  1. Wow. I’d say the data you present is powerful evidence that high per-student spending is no guarantee of superior academic performance!

    It’s also evidence that charter schools are not a panacea. Some charter schools work well, some do not. Yes, we do need more charter schools. But we also need mechanisms for weeding out the schools that deliver sub-par results.

    I’m surprised at how woefully the charter schools under-performed, given their demographics and the money spent. I’ve had time to check the website of only one, the Middleburg Community Charter school. The vision is based providing an education using Leonard da Vinci-inspired principles for teaching. The website seems free of the all-too-common “equity” cant, so that does not appear to be a factor. It would be interesting to do an even deeper dive and find out what’s happening there.

    Your larger point about the hypocrisy of Loudoun and Albemarle school leadership holds up, though. How can they tolerate these privileged charter schools in their midst?

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      You are exactly right. Not all charters are created equal. My position on charters in Virginia is do it right or not at all.

      Right means charter management organizations (CMOs) that specialize in providing world class educations to economically disadvantaged minorities. Virginia, of course, can’t attract them because our laws prelude them running schools that work for that demographic.

      I have used this column as a precursor to another on the other three (of any size) charters in the state. Only one of them is doing what I consider to be even approximately the right thing for the students who need the most help.

      Then I will post a story on the successes of the best of the charter management organizations.

      I hope to get the Governor-elect and the GA on the right path to change our laws to welcome the right CMOs.

    2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Given the hand-picked student bodies, extraordinary expenditures and small class sizes, it is beyond incompetent that LCPS and ACPS cannot achieve extraordinary academic results in these schools. And they have not.

    3. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      Yes, the Republicans who forced charter status in Hillsboro and Middleburg certainly screwed the pooch (and are indeed hypocrites). Maybe you should read up a little more about the two.

    4. Truth Matters Avatar
      Truth Matters

      If you’re interested in delving into this, you may want to read my lengthy (so I won’t repost) comments from earlier. The data presented here is most inaccurate from cost to successes. You’ll find that one of the schools mentioned in this article is actually a nationally recognized model for excellence. We would be extremely well-served if it were possible to replicate it throughout the state.

    5. Truth Matters Avatar
      Truth Matters

      Nevermind. My data post was bounced as spam.

  2. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    We are basing our opinions on two different kinds of charter schools. First, as Mr Sherlock has described, are charter schools that parents for whatever reason wanted to operate and have more control over. These kinds of charters are doable under Virginia code. They cost more then they are worth and are no more or less than public schools. The board of the charter is controlled by the board of the district.

    The second type of charter school is not in Virginia code. It is controlled by a charter management operator. These schools usually serve the underserved. They offer a choice to poor parents much like private schools offer a choice to those parents sho can pay. They are funded with public money. The school board association is opposed to these schools for that reason.

    The second type is usually liked by Republicans as a solution for poor performing school, while the first type offers no real threat to school boards. However, as stated herein, can have enormous public cost.

    Reality in Virginia, until the code changes, parents in poor performing schools who can’t opt for private schools are left with no options.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I will continue to try to get the law changed to provide them options.

      1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
        Kathleen Smith

        I will as well. The opportunity zone didn’t quite make it and was riddled with problems making sure it failed. This needs to start early in Youngkin campaign!

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    It took a long time to get the Middleburg Academy going. So many roadblocks.

    1. Matt Adams Avatar

      Beautiful and historic area, just very, very expensive. Hunter’s Head Tavern has some delicious food as well.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        Best pizza outside of Brooklyn is Teddy’s on a side street of Middleburg. Big slices that fold like the best city pizza.
        https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/0f/24/2a/ca/outside.jpg

  4. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    I suggest you do a little background research into when and why two LCPS elementary schools were converted to charter schools…. this may give you a place to start:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/proposal-for-hillsboro-charter-school-brings-both-support-and-concerns/2015/03/17/b5abf072-ccba-11e4-8a46-b1dc9be5a8ff_story.html

    Edit: this too… https://wamu.org/story/14/04/25/virginia_residents_score_victory_in_battle_over_loudoun_board/

    The schools were very successful and historic small community public elementary schools that Conservatives (Hornberger being the lead) who controlled the board then targeted for shuttering. These two schools and their communities were given the choice by Conservatives on the board to shift to charter status or be shut down completely. There was never a big community need for these two charter schools and there still is not.

    It was not until after these two schools were re-established as charters that Democrats gained control of the LCPS board.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      And that matters why? The LCPS board continues to fund them and the superintendent continues to operate them.

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        You are saying that Dems who only have controlled the board since Jan 2020 should have immediately shut down both schools? You place no blame on the Republicans who created these schools when they were not needed and oversaw them since their inception? Really…?? Do better research next time.

        1. Matt Adams Avatar
          Matt Adams

          The only person bringing up political parties is you.

          Stop being a partisan hack next time.

          1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
            Eric the half a troll

            The critique was placed at the feet of the CURRENT LCPS board (which is run by Dems as of January 2020) when these schools are the responsibility of the prior LCPS boards (which were run by Republicans). Sorry but party matters in this case.

          2. Matt Adams Avatar
            Matt Adams

            Again, the only person invoking political parties is you. You do so in every comment, you’re a partisan hack.

            Party doesn’t matter, it only matters to partisan hacks (i.e. you).

          3. Eric the half a troll Avatar
            Eric the half a troll

            Go pound sand, Sparky.

          4. Matt Adams Avatar
            Matt Adams

            “Eric the half a troll 2 minutes ago
            Go pound sand, Sparky.”

            How precious, your condescension shows back up.

            How’s about you make me partisan hack?

        2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          Reasonable question.

          My answer is the school board should review both the cost and performance of every school in the system. If any is either failing in student performance or unable to justify standard performance in the presence of extraordinary cost, they should be fixed or closed.

          The current two charter schools in Loudoun County fail the second test. Why pay a huge premium for average performance?

          My research is precisely accurate. Deal with it.

        3. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          Reasonable question.

          My answer is the school board should review both the cost and performance of every school in the system. If any is either failing in student performance or unable to justify standard performance in the presence of extraordinary cost, they should be fixed or closed.

          The current two charter schools in Loudoun County fail the second test. Why pay a huge premium for average performance?

          My research is precisely accurate. Deal with it.

    2. There is a tendency among some Republicans to think that sprinkling the magic “charter” fairy dust on public schools will miraculously make them better. But don’t generalize about what we think. Some of us understand that the situation is complicated. Charter schools do offer an alternative to public schools, especially to failed public schools. Some charter schools may have great chemistry and great curricula and might do a great job. In which case, we should continue funding them. Other charter schools will be a failure. We should not subsidize failures.

      It is critical to establish criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of charter schools. SOLs are the obvious measure, and pass rates should be adjusted by the demographic makeup of the student body. Cost per student is another criteria. I see no justification for charters to spend 50% more per student than regular public schools.

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        There was no need to mess with these schools at all in the first place they were hardly “failing” quite the opposite. This IS indeed a long story and it has to do first with LCPS overbuilding 900 student regional elementary schools in the west and then drawing attendance boundaries in such a way so as to drain the small community-based elementary schools of students. Middleburg was the first victim. This battle goes back to the early 90s and was fought annually by western Loudoun parents until we finally rid ourselves of the Republican- controlled board. It is lazy “reporting” to jump to the old elitist liberal school board meme based on a few numbers and ignore the actual history of these schools and who is responsible. Even the old $/student figure is easily manipulated.

      2. Truth Matters Avatar
        Truth Matters

        I see your point, but this position lacks nuance. For instance, a charter high school serving at-risk or troubled youth cannot be fairly judged on a spreadsheet against more affluent high schools, just as we cannot blindly compare test scores of recent immigrant populations against established ones.

        Charters offer school choice and as with the private sector, parents vote with their feet. I wrote earlier about Hillsboro Charter Academy. Currently their wait-list exceeds enrollment capacity by a factor of between two and three. Parents and local districts are in a better position to weigh the success of the unique opportunities and programs charters create. In Loudoun County, hands-on learning, collaboration, multi-discipline integration and early engineering education define the focus of one of the charter schools, while the other explores the merits of multi-grade classrooms, student mentorship/collaboration and even created the district’s only elementary strings program.

        Small charters serve as laboratories of innovation and provide opportunities for local self-governance, allowing the community to focus on and address their specific needs – a huge asset in the large districts where smaller communities are frequently overlooked or lost in the shuffle.

        It’s also important to be sure the data we’re discussing is accurate. Unfortunately, the above article is not. Loudoun charter schools are not costing the tax-payers more than their other public schools. In fact, the Loudoun County School Board saved the county money when they converted the schools. Funding is based on the district average cost per pupil and then reduced by an indirect cost factor. The charters are billed separately for building maintenance, technology access, and a host of other services.

    3. What ended up happening to the Aldie School?

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        I believe they ended up renovating Aldie and it is still in the system – but I am not 100% sure, tbh.

        1. Matt Adams Avatar
          Matt Adams

          Otherwise known as you don’t f’ care except to make a political point. Do is all a favor and go back to Hamilton and zip it you partisan hack.

      2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        See https://schoolquality.virginia.gov/schools/aldie-elementary By the numbers, Aldie is expensive and slightly underperforming on SOLs.

        In 2018-19, it had only 128 students in K-5. In 2020-21, it had only 109, with fifteen 4th graders.

        With the mandated and boated administrative staffs, schools that small are always going to be very expensive to run per student, almost $22,000 per student compared the $15,500 for the division as a whole.

        The students are 1.8% Black, 11% Asian and 18% Hispanic and 17% English learners. Economically disadvantaged 18%. I don’t know the demographics of that area, but it is not a charter so I expect those percentages are representative.

    4. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      You brought it up, not me, but the LCPS superintendent presented and current school board reviewed and passed two annual budgets that have supported their two charter schools. Did they do their jobs, review what was presented and ask about plans to correct both the worst schools and the most expensive? It appears they did not.

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        These two schools are far from the “worst schools”. They are also not the “most expensive”. They are, in fact, a hiccup in the LCPS operating budget (a total of $4M in a $1.3B budget). $/student is (at this scale) an unreliable gauge of cost. It is no surprise that any 140 student population can yield a higher cost per student figure than a 900 student elementary school. The fact of the matter is that these schools should never have been charters and this was forced on these communities by the Republican school board. As you note, the community is hardly disadvantaged and the schools were far from failing. It would be better, imo, if they were simply reabsorbed into the LCPS system as non-charter schools. Given another year or so, perhaps this is what the Democratic school board may do.

  5. Steve Gillispie Avatar
    Steve Gillispie

    It’s not going to happen. Nor is a focus on what real education and educational proficiency are and how to get it in the schools for which they are responsible.

    It isn’t going to happen without getting these people out. Liberal ideas and policy have been replaced with jingo catechisms. Virtue is every manner possible of signalling adherence and belief to words and concepts which they label with the opposite of their definition — E.g. critical thinking and anti-racism.

    It’s like expecting a Catholic school to teach Islam.

    Let’s see some articles on strategies to replace these school boards.

    1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      The Loudoun schools were established by Conservatives, not Liberals. You get that, right…?? Dems only took over the board in 2020.

      1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        Eric, you refuse to get it. I did not accuse the left of starting these schools, just of supporting them while talking out of the other sides of their mouths about equity.

        I support charter schools, but only those run by charter management organizations that target and have a track record of successfully teaching disadvantaged students. There are at least a dozen such CMOs.

        Is that concept so hard to understand? If so, let me know.

        1. Steve Gillispie Avatar
          Steve Gillispie

          Any concept which questions current liberal practices, behavior, and convictions is “hard to understand”, but understanding is not what they are seeking–particularly BR’s ankle-biters.

          1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
            Eric the half a troll

            The Right is responsible for the state of these two schools. That is what is not “hard to understand”. Just hard for you to swallow.

        2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
          Eric the half a troll

          The left has only been in control of the board since Jan 2020. Blame the Republicans for these two. They were never meant to be model charter schools, they were meant to give Republicans a way to shed the schools from the system. Nothing more. See the 2017 attempt by Hornberger to divest the Middleburg property entirely and push it off on the town.

          I support good charter schools where they are needed as well – if they do well. These schools were not broken and Republicans broke them.

  6. Truth Matters Avatar
    Truth Matters

    My post was removed as spam. As this is an important discussion based on false data, I am reposting it as a series of comments.

    1) Unfortunately this analysis is based on very inaccurate data. There are many monumental errors in the above article from cost per pupil spending to numbers of economically disadvantaged students. For example, the $19k figure you cited is actually the district baseline for the school in that building (not including transportation and overhead costs) prior to the charter’s existence. It represents the cost the school system had been footing when the closure discussion occurred. (Mind, it too is misleading without context, as senior teacher salaries are much greater than junior ones.) For some reason VDOE does not have the charter school financial data.

    The Loudoun charters receive only the district average cost per pupil (minus an indirect cost fee) which is multiplied by their enrollments. This has always been far less than the number you referenced. Any other funding is raised by the schools themselves, much as PTAs do.

    As both of these are small rural schools with only 144 students (K-5, no pre-k, 24 per class in Hillsboro – not 20), the economy of scale works against them.

  7. Truth Matters Avatar
    Truth Matters

    2) You should also know that your numbers for economically disadvantaged students are way off. Because the charters don’t report them up through the district, any information you may have pulled this way represents only those students or families who may have been listed prior to enrollment or through other reporting. Free lunches have always been provided to any who requested and they are paid for at the school’s expense. No federal lunch program dollars are available to these schools. (Pre-covid. There is a current work-around in place.) It’s also best to avoid generalizing using local financial demographics – for instance Middleburg’s affluent have many costly private school options and thus the local public school children have very different representation numbers. Both schools also serve broad areas and admit children through a lottery process.

    When evaluating the worth of an educational program, please look at more than one year of test scores. Many factors play a role, including size of the special education population (many of whom often favor alternative educational approaches) and the age of the school at the time (avoid pulling the first couple years of data for a new school and attempting to project). Also remember that test scores are a snapshot in time and small populations do not trend the way large ones do. Plus you should keep in mind that parental opt-outs count as zeros in the school-level and county reporting.

  8. Truth Matters Avatar
    Truth Matters

    3) You may not be aware of some of the advantages of these semi-autonomous charter schools. For example, charters are tremendously nimble–as seen last year when, through innovative staffing and scheduling, the scholars at Hillsboro Charter Academy were able to attend far more days of in-person school than all of their counterparts in the district. The benefits of this have created a stark comparison, the details of which are not appropriate to delve into here. Further powerful adaptability was evidenced by the identification of an issue with the district’s literacy program, the efficient evaluation of options, and the rapid selection, purchase and implementation of a solution. Hillsboro Charter Academy models as a laboratory of innovation for Loudoun County Public Schools and can provide valuable insight now when Loudoun is just beginning its own process to address and correct issues in literacy.

  9. Truth Matters Avatar
    Truth Matters

    4) Speaking of Hillsboro Charter Academy specifically, you may be interested to know that this school offers both a unique curriculum and a very different learning experience which have yielded some truly pinnacle awards and recognitions on state and national/international levels. Despite its youth (only five years of operation) Hillsboro Charter is widely regarded as the leader in elementary engineering education and featured prominently in publications and professional development conferences. Here are some of their most recent accolades:

    Program of Excellence from the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA) – To be awarded March 9, 2022.

    Program of the Year from the Virginia Technology and Engineering Education Association (VTEEA), 2021

    STEM School of Excellence from the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA), 2019, 2020

    Elementary Program of the Year from Virginia Children’s Engineering Council (VCEC), 2019

    Virginia Board of Education’s Highest Achievement Exemplar Award, 2019, 2020

    Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Distinguished Launch School, 2019-2020, 2020-2021

    School of the Year from National Civil Air Patrol (CAP) Aerospace Connections in Education (ACE), 2018

    There’s much more to these charters than you may be aware. I hope you found this helpful and would be happy to answer your questions, or perhaps you could call these schools directly.

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