by James C. Sherlock
Chief Dan George played Lone Watie in the 1976 classic The Outlaw Josie Wales, one of the greatest westerns ever made.
Lone Watie related a story of a visit to Washington. The visit was the occasion on which the Secretary of the Interior told the chiefs that they would have to relocate their tribes far from their homes.
“He told us ‘Endeavor to persevere.’”
“When we had thought about it long enough, we declared war on the Union.”
The Secretary was callous but at least he was brief as he presaged the trail of tears.
I will give you a taste of VDOE guidance in the current educational crisis. You can choose whether the leadership are in way over their heads or simply blinded in the thrall of their own dogma. Or both.
Not sure it matters. “Endeavor to persevere” would be preferable to what they have delivered.
Situation schools face
Principals and teachers are facing the greatest educational challenges of their adult lives framed by the results of the late spring 2021 SOLs.
I have taken the time to annotate those results in a spreadsheet that color codes the results in each school district in Virginia. Those data represent a combination of massive learning losses and lessons never learned.
The results for most districts are horrible.
I try to put myself in the shoes of a principal or teacher facing those children and those challenges. I admit I cannot.
Teachers generally come back to school a week before the kids.
Awaiting them is a May 2021 VDOE how-to manual to prepare for the new school year. It consists of of bulleted ed school woke speak that would be somewhere between annoying and dangerous in the best of times.
This is not the best of times.
Lacking the brevity of Lone Watie’s long ago bureaucrat, VDOE has offered 48 pages of guidelines — checkpoints they call them — for this school year.
I will give you a tiny sample and try to respond parenthetically to the guidance the way I suspect school staff will in their private moments.
Some equity headlines and one or two of the “key” recommendations from each:
- Courageous Leadership
“Conduct an initial equity audit with staff and provide appropriate professional development based on indicated gaps in knowledge and understanding.”
(Plenty of time for that. Can’t wait to get started)
“Consider how increased student stress and trauma caused by the pandemic may manifest as adverse behaviors in school and use positive interventions to address challenging behaviors. Avoid increased disproportionate student discipline outcomes. Consider whether revisions to the Code of Conduct may be necessary to mitigate against bias.
(Anybody got any ideas how to revise the Code of Conduct to make it less stressful – more equitable really – to disrupt a class full of kids?)
- Compassionate Family and Student Engagement
“Access and adjust absence and attendance policies to ensure that they do not create barriers to student access to learning and support due to conditions created by the pandemic.”
(So we are to make it easier to skip class while we try to make up for a lost year?)
- Continuous Reflection
“Train teachers and staff to recognize possible indicators of trauma and adopt restorative and trauma-responsive practices to address them.”
(Recognize indicators of trauma — behind masks? Adopt restorative and trauma-responsive practices? Don’t we need a license for that?)
- Culturally Responsive
“Mitigate any power imbalances based on race, culture, ethnicity, and class, especially considering heightened racial harassment of particular student groups. “
(“Heightened racial harassment of particular student groups? They haven’t been in school in 17 months. Did we miss a memo? Do we dare ask?)
- Curriculum Reframing
“Commit to data-informed, just in time, interventions and remediation strategies embedded in a tiered system of support Due to extended school closures, curriculum should focus on student mastery of priority standards and address learning gaps, while remaining grounded in research based instructional practices that support deeper learning. Continue to provide opportunities for advancement and access to rigorous learning experiences for all students based on individual needs.”
Student & Staff Wellbeing Checkpoint
(Now that we have our heads straight on equity, we need to check that everyone is OK).
A couple of examples of this guidance:
Q. “How are we identifying resources, supports and interventions needed for our diverse student populations and using a structure to inform all of this work in our school communities?”
A. “Implement a multi-tiered framework of supports that integrates universal practices focused on student well-being throughout the curriculum and layers on additional supports for those students who may need more targeted or individualized supports.”
(Can we just say we have done that, whatever it is?)
Q. “How are we placing scaffolding of staff supports around our students, staff and families?
A. “Increase staffing levels of school-based mental health providers (school counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, school nurses, community MH providers), and maximize direct service delivery time for SBMH personnel.”
(Seriously? Scaffolding? Do they even remember that they last year mandated that we offer new positions in those specialties? Those jobs have been posted, many still unfilled, for months.)
Lots more “checkpoints,” but enough.
VDOE thinks this nonsense important. Right now It is instead insulting.
They have absolutely no sense of perspective on the moment we are in. No ability to prioritize. No ability to underpin the dogma they mandate with the English language.
George Orwell, in his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language, described contemporary political polemics as:
“gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.”
VDOE leadership and the kinds of people who they assemble for panels to crank out this rubbish are true believers. That these products are hopelessly abstruse and some utterly unexecutable eludes them.
A different approach
I offer a draft memo from Superintendent James Lane for his consideration.
“To School Divisions, Superintendents, Principals, Teachers and Special Staff:
We are in the midst of the biggest educational challenge any of us have ever faced.
We here at VDOE have published everything we have to offer that might assist.
That done, we will not presume to tell you how best to mitigate student learning gaps in your individual districts, schools and classrooms in these extraordinary circumstances. Only you can make those choices.
You are professionals. You have studied, trained and worked to earn our trust. You have it. We hope to earn yours under the stress of this crisis.
Please advise us if there is anything we at VDOE can do, or stop doing, to help.
Otherwise, we will leave you to it.
Continue to be strong and take care of yourselves as well as the children in your care.