Loudoun County Public Schools – Part 2 – Sterling

Park View High School – Courtesy Loudoun County Public Schools

by James C. Sherlock

We are told by the left that more money is the answer to better schools. That is what Virginia Democrats are running on as education policy.

I am comparing two high schools in America’s richest county, Loudoun, to control for per pupil expenditures.

In Part 1 we looked at Freedom High School in Chantilly. Breathtaking results.

Park View High School, like Freedom, is in Loudoun County. It’s in Sterling.

Park View has 1,400 students, Freedom 2,000. The demographics are different. The Park View student body is far more economically disadvantaged and heavily Hispanic.

Asian, White, Black and Hispanic kids from wealthy families at Freedom High all blew away the state assessments in 2021-22. The outcomes were far worse, even among Asian-American students, at Park View.

Those results can be explained by differences in the learning environments.

  • At Park View 33% of the students were chronically absent in 2021-22; at Freedom 11%.
  • Offenses, Referrals and Arrests and Suspensions reported to the government in 2017-18 (last year available) not only between the two high schools, but even more disturbingly at Sterling Middle, a feeder to Park View, were starkly different.

Loudoun County’s money has not provided a suitable learning environment at Park View or Sterling Middle.

Because of that failure, despite all of the spending, economically disadvantaged students in Loudoun test no better in math, reading and science than the state average for similarly disadvantaged students.

The lesson I take away from this is that schools can’t create learning environments and teach at schools like Park View and its feeders using the same methods they do with kids from wealthier families and expect good results.

A focus on race, ethnicity and money misses the point. The issues are discipline and self respect. Both can be taught.

Park View High School in Sterling. The student body at Park View is, rounding, 73% Hispanic, 10% Asian, 8% white, 5% Black, 2% mixed races and 1% American Indian.

Students last year were 76% economically disadvantaged.

Like Freedom, Park View has a very large staff.

  • Principal
  • 3 Assistant Principals
  • A Student Support Admin
  • A Student Activities Coordinator
  • A Special Education Dean
  • An Athletic Director
  • An Assistant Athletic Director
  • A Financial Technician
  • A School Nurse
  • 2 front office Secretaries
  • Attendance Secretary
  • 3 Safety & Security personnel
  • An SRO Sheriff’s Deputy

And a huge counseling staff:

  • A Director of School Counseling
  • 8 additional school counselors
  • A Counseling Registrar
  • A Counseling Secretary
  • A School Psychologist
  • 2 Social Workers
  • A Career Center Specialist

The ideal case load for counselors in Virginia is, in law, 250-1. With nine counselors for 1,400 students, Park View has a ratio of 155:1.

The student assessments (SOLs) at Park View have never been good. But then we look at the scores at Sterling Middle School, a primary feeder to Park View. They were, in the same year, worse than at the high school.

Both Park View and Sterling Middle are Title 1 schools, have been extraordinarily well-funded (2018-19 numbers), with Park View at over $18,500 per student and Sterling Middle at over $16,500. They had very low student-to teacher ratios of 10.1:1 each against a state average of 14.8:1.

As an old man, I find this level of staffing amazing, but good for them. They mean it to result in student success.

But, even with Loudoun County’s massive investments, assessments in reading and writing at Park View in 2021-22 were at state level. Math and science assessments were far below state results.

Chronic absenteeism in the 2021-2022 school year at Park View was 33%, far higher than the state average of 20%. Higher even than Richmond Public Schools, reported at 28%.

Park View dropout rate, at 10%, was twice the state average.

Scientific approaches to learning environments. I suspect expenditures can matter at the margins. But the learning environment in many schools with high concentrations of poor minority children must improve.

I have recommended for years that such schools emulate many of the best charter schools in general, and Success Academy, the gold standard for making scholars of poor urban minority kids, in particular.

KIPP Academy, generally acknowledged as an excellent program, but not one that produces Success Academy’s consistently extraordinary student outcomes, is reported by the Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) as providing Strong Evidence (Tier 1) of effectiveness in math and English language arts achievement.

KIPP schools also provide about 60% more instructional time than traditional public schools—through a longer school day and additional instructional days on Saturdays and in the summer. I am pretty sure that the teachers unions would not be onboard.

Success Academy gets its results in a standard school year.

Clearly for the teachers unions, thus for the left, charter school methods are anathema.

But even they can, if they will, start with the (Tier 1) results for K-4 teaching from the Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) and cull out those from charter schools.

Results can be filtered for any and all grades, for practice guides, intervention reports and reviews of individual studies, for English Learners, Children and Youth with Disabilities, Literacy, STEM, Social Emotional Learning and Behavior, Teachers and School Leaders, and High School Completion.

And for rural, suburban and urban schools.

As a key example, filtering for social emotional learning and behavior, WWC has found only one approach:

  1. with studies that meet WWC standards without reservations; and
  2. produces a statistically significant finding of improvement in both individual behavior outcomes and social interaction outcomes among elementary school children with aggressive behaviors.

It would be useful to see that method, Incredible Years Teacher Classroom Management (IY TCM), taught at our schools of education and used in our school divisions. I’d very much like to see the Commonwealth assess the ed schools to see what they are teaching.

Disappointingly, IY TCM is not listed by VDOE as a Planning Resource on its SEL web page. It simply refers to CASEL and Transforming Education for information.

Incredible Years Teacher Classroom Management is one of 85 programs reviewed by CASEL. You can get a sense of Transforming Education from its home page linked above:

The US education system is one of many structures in our nation that was designed in a way that upholds systemic racism and perpetuates the cycle of racial injustice. We believe that the system must change.

I’d also like to see VDOE assess the Standards of Learning against other WWC Tier 1 methods shown effective for individual subjects.

Bottom line. Politicians say that more money will fix poor learning results for economically disadvantaged minority children. Loudoun County results seem to disprove that.

So do other schools with similar demographics in Virginia that perform poorly while well-funded.

Supportive learning environments, centered on personal and group discipline, are the keys to K-12 education. We must fix learning environments where broken, or all the money in the world won’t produce educated students.

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41 responses to “Loudoun County Public Schools – Part 2 – Sterling”

  1. Matt Adams Avatar
    Matt Adams

    I do understand what you wanting to get towards, but South Riding (Freedom) and Sterling, while only 10 miles apart are completely different.

    It would most likely provide a better comparison between Freedom and something in Ashburn, as they are setup similarly.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I think I made the point that they are completely different.

      Money – translated into more staffing and lower student-teachers ratios – are where the left says more money is what is needed.

      Freedom High has abundant staffing and funding. Park View and Sterling have abundant staffing and even more funding.

      I use Park View and Sterling Middle to show that money is not the problem. We will indeed throw good money after bad without changing the underlying school climates in poor performing schools.

      1. Matt Adams Avatar
        Matt Adams

        Money isn’t the problem, you would’ve garnered that from my comment. Comparing apples to apples to prove that point would been better suited to areas which match.

        South Riding median household income is $180,767. Sterling’s is $126,201, that’s a $54k difference 10 miles apart.

        Why I also said you should compare a place that I lived for 5 years with another adjacent place, is because they are setup the same. The schools are in the community instead of being outliers.

        1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          We must be talking past one another, so I’ll stop.

        2. Lefty665 Avatar

          At $126k Sterling is way above median US family income. It is hard to argue from that the issue is poor kids, except the statistic quoted is 76% economically disadvantaged. That leaves me with cognitive dissonance. NVa cost of living cannot be so high that $126k is “disadvantaged” can it? Would mean or mode income vary considerably?

          Sherlock hit a huge point, the 33% chronic absentee rate, as did DJ with Spanish as predominant language. Can’t teach kids who are not there, and can’t teach kids who have to learn the language first. With Petersburg as the other example, there can be a whole lot of other ways to fail to prepare kids for school.

          It’s a good point that in Loudoun money itself is not either the problem or solution. Simple and obvious as it seems, throwing money at a problem does not always fix it, nor does one size fit all.

          With regular classes, just as with special ed, instruction has to be matched to the students. That is where Virginia (and most of the country) fails repeatedly. It is easy to teach motivated kids from educated, intact, affluent families. Everyone else, varying degrees of not so much to not at all.

          10:1 student teacher ratios provide the opportunity to individualize instruction. That ratio worked well with people with severe disabilities I worked with and was better than my wife ever had as a successful special ed teacher.

          Bottom line, it is not just a school problem, it is a societal problem. We are unlikely to fix our schools, and prepare all our kids for decent lives until we fix our society, but then it’s hard to fix our society without fixing our kids. Chicken meet egg.

          If it was easy we’d have accomplished it long ago. What is clear is that what we are doing is not solving the problem. It is long past time to try another way.

          1. Matt Adams Avatar
            Matt Adams

            It does indeed cause a incongruence that $126,000 is poverty. The poverty rate is 7.23%.

            Oh no I agree with what he’s saying, I think however his example isn’t the best. My point was that Sterling and South Riding aren’t similar in design of the city and what I experienced as a resident of SR. That Ashburn would be a better comparison, as they are more similar in make up.

            I am not in disagreement with the assessment that truancy and other items pointed out are the more likely causes vs money. More that his argument can’t be steel-maned as they are dissimilar and that would be used to negate his result.

            “If it was easy we’d have accomplished it long ago. What is clear is that what we are doing is not solving the problem. It is long past time to try another way.”

            I concur and yes, it’s progressively gotten worse at least that was my Father Experience as an educated before he retired.

          2. Lefty665 Avatar

            Thought where Sherlock was going was that schools in the same county that are very similar in terms of money spent and resources applied but have very different educational outcomes due to different populations. Our problems are not all about the money or neglected schools. His illustration eliminated two big variables. Would Ashburn have highlighted the same issues? I dunno.

            Expect you have a more intimate understanding of areas of Loudoun than most of the rest of us.

            Tough issues and no simple solutions.

          3. Matt Adams Avatar
            Matt Adams

            They are all close to one another, but different arrangements in regards to how their built. Sterling is more like Manassas, a place where people flight from.

      2. DJRippert Avatar

        Go to Sterling. I go there all the time. I went to the Sterling DMV yesterday. All the conversations were being held in Spanish. I don’t know how you could work at that DMV unless you are fluent in Spanish.

        It’s hard for me to understand how any amount of money could get students who don’t speak English to learn (in classes taught in English) at the same rate as English speakers.

    2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I think I made the point that they are completely different.

      Money – translated into more staffing and lower student-teachers ratios – are where the left says more money is what is needed.

      Freedom High has abundant staffing and funding. Park View and Sterling have abundant staffing and even more funding.

      I use Park View and Sterling Middle to show that money is not the problem. We will indeed throw good money after bad without changing the underlying school climates in poor performing schools.

  2. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    Again, you make some good points. But does this tell me that maybe public schools are asked to do so much it can’t be done without changing the structure of schools is the problem no having a Kipp Academy or is the problem the very standardized school structure, 180 days, required number of hours, graduation required credits, certified teachers…..

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I am not sure they are asked to do as much as some of them are attempting to do.

      Some seem to create an entire different syllabus our of social-emotional learning, for example, rather than blending it into the other subjects. And I have found a few with as many as 70 different student clubs.

      But that is not the problem in Petersburg. The way Petersburg conducts school is clearly not working.

      The performance of Petersburg schools http://schoolquality.virginia.gov/divisions/petersburg-city-public-schools#desktopTabs-2 makes it hard to prove that the children there benefit from having their schools open at all.

      Petersburg schools have both per/pupil funding and staffing that are in the middle of the pack in Virginia school divisions. But I understand that much of the population is dysfunctional.

      Petersburg schools are going to have to do something radical, like putting students that are socially and emotionally ready for school in first grade on one track, perhaps in different buildings, and those who are not in another.

      As a child becomes socialized, he or she can be moved into the regular track at whatever grade that he or she is ready for.

      At the same time they need to try the Kipp Academy approach – 11 month school years.

      As far as I know there is nothing in Virginia law or regulations that would prevent them from doing all of that in the Fall.

      I think the Federal Title 1 crowd can be convinced to let Petersburg try it.

      Because it is hard to imagine that it is possible for schools to contribute less to kids’ educations than the way they are doing it now.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Park View would be a great candidate for the One Subject Plan practiced at Fork Union Military Academy. Each student takes one subject, in class of less than 20, same teacher everyday for 7 weeks, and 240 minutes of guaranteed instruction time without interruption.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      They must first come to school. 33% chronic absenteeism represents at least five failures:
      1. Failure to enforce the law;
      2. Failure to make schools a safe place with a supportive learning environment;
      3. Social promotions that make students helpless in class;
      4. Failure of parent/parents;
      5. Failure of students

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        All true. I expect the data from 2022-23 will not show much improvement. I do not expect any political change at the school board level either. The band will continue to play this sad song.

    2. Teddy007 Avatar

      Does not work for students who want to participate in band, orchestra, etc. Also, does not work with all of the career tracks.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        Not true. The fine arts have time under the one subject plan. There are three opportunities for this each day under the FUMA bell schedule.

        1. Teddy007 Avatar

          One does not have a good marching band or an orchestra that can travel to festival by practicing 45 minutes a couple times a week. Band and Orchestra in a large high school is a class, not a club. But of course, FUMA allow for three hours for sports. How what the school really cares about. Such a schedule would be viewed as for the dumb kids high school and would never be allowed at a place like Langley High School.

          1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
            James Wyatt Whitehead

            FUMA’s marching band and drill team swept the competition between military schools this past Feburary. I saw their performance. Most impressive. Each band had 24 hours to learn new material and then compete before judges. Great video to prove my point.

          2. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
            James Wyatt Whitehead

            Most of the sports kids are enrolled in the post graduate program designed to buff up blue chip division one prospects.

          3. Teddy007 Avatar

            It is know as gray shirting. Of course, no one ever does a follow up to see where such students are in three or four years. Just like no one ever studies the students who went to community college for their first two years with plans on transferring to UVA.

          4. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
            James Wyatt Whitehead

            Not necessarily true, at least at FUMA. They do track what becomes of their graduates. A strong alumni apparatus makes this possible. It is the key metric used to judge the effectiveness of the one subject plan. I spent two days shadowing students and teachers at FUMA. I gained an accurate insight into the program. The one subject plan generates real results and empowers the institution to raise standards. Grading scale is 75% above passing. NOBODY has a standard like that anymore. You cannot fail. I heard that from instructors and students.
            240 minutes of guaranteed instruction time for 35 days with an end of course mastery test. 90 minute supervised homework time every night. They have been doing this for 83 years.

          5. Teddy007 Avatar

            Do the football players who spend one fall semester there before green shirting in the spring at power five schools really count as alumni? And if one cannot fail, on does not really have standards. It is a system that fits with the culture of one school and could not possibly scale to the average suburban high school.

          6. WayneS Avatar

            And if one cannot fail, on does not really have standards.

            Thanks for your contribution, Mr. Literal.

          7. Teddy007 Avatar

            Remember, at Stanford, one can drop a class up until the day of the final. Thus, one cannot fail a class. Compare that to many universities where students really do fall out.

  4. Teddy007 Avatar

    All that one is learning is that it is the students that make the school. Loudoun County has not more magic dirt as any other county. When a public schools is filled with students from affluent families where the parents have multiple college degrees, the school succeed. When the school is filled with the children of poor immigrants who do not have college degrees, it is not very good.

    1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
      James Wyatt Whitehead

      Our friend in Southwest Virginia, Matt Hurt of the CIP, has proven what you can do with just a shoe string budget.

      1. Teddy007 Avatar

        Radford High school is only 20% free lunch and 70% non-Hispanic white. Not exactly a good comparison to a school that is 8% white. Many of argued that white kids from blue color and working class families are the lowest hanging fruit in the K-12 school system. Yet, everyone is the U.S. had rather throw money at blacks when they are the highest, hardest-to-reach fruit. Find a county where the black students at equivalent test scores as white or Asian students than then lets talk about educational reform.

        1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
          James Wyatt Whitehead

          Teddy nobody has the political will to attempt significant educational reform. What we see happening now will go on and on with no end in sight.

          1. Teddy007 Avatar

            A better way to think of education reform is that education performance/achievement falls along an S-Curve. The problem is that no none wants to admit that performance falls along an S-curve where a few student achieve with minimal effort or resources from adults and some students never achieve no matter the level of effort.

      2. DJRippert Avatar

        In Southwest Virginia, the students are fluent English speakers. In Sterling, many are not.

        1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
          James Wyatt Whitehead

          42 percent are listed as English Learners at PV. Central High School in Wise County 1.3 percent. The two schools do share a similar high number for economically disadvantaged.

  5. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    One minor mystery solved — maybe. Living in Hampton Roads, it is not too uncommon to be driving across the HRBT and spot a warship with a slightly off color battleship gray paint and numbers amidships instead of on the bow, or to look up and realize that the silhouette of a fighter aircraft just isn’t one you readily recognize.

    For the past year or so two different and strange aircraft have appeared in the skies over the Peninsula that I know “ain’t one of ours” but are too high to see markings. One has swept back wings that looks very much like a Hawker Hunter but probably isn’t, and one with a delta wing and forward canards that were too big for an Israeli Kfir.

    Two of the delta wings were flying this morning, and success, I finally found the matching silhouette! They’re Gripens. Kinda makes sense.

    1. WayneS Avatar

      Saabs – ultimately headed to the Ukraine?

    2. WayneS Avatar

      Saabs – ultimately headed to the Ukraine?

      The Saab Lansen resembles the Hawker Hunter (from a distance) but they’ve been out of service since 1997. Maybe Sweden sent some over with the Gripens for nostalgia purposes. 😉

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Could be. Never know what some country could be keeping alive for whatever reason, even us. But we host an awful lot of countries and their air forces.

        Once when visiting Mom in San Antonio, we popped on to Lakeland to go bowling. Mom wasn’t fooling me. She was 90. She wanted a pitcher of beer. The lanes on either side had foreign pilots. On the lfet, Saudis. On the right, Israelis.

        1. WayneS Avatar

          Saudis on one side, Israelis on the other?

          At least your Mom was there to keep them in line.

  6. DJRippert Avatar

    “The student body at Park View is, rounding, 73% Hispanic, 10% Asian, 8% white, 5% Black, 2% mixed races and 1% American Indian.”

    73% Hispanic?

    How many are fluent in English?

    Sterling is an immigrant community, especially the young people.

    Not sure how any amount of money will get Park View on a par with Freedom.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I agree. No amount of money will get Park View on a par with Freedom. Problem is, all the left offers as policy prescription is more money.

      Virginia is going to have to agree to a completely different approach to teaching poor minority children concentrated in individual schools and some entire school divisions.

      It starts with the learning environment – attendance, discipline and respect. Regular schools can look to how many charter schools have accomplished that in inner cities like New York and emulate their approaches.

      Doesn’t cost money, just a change of mindset.

      1. Lefty665 Avatar

        Thought you picked very good examples, schools in the same county, with similar resources, money, staffing and structure. The schools were well matched.

        The difference is in the kids and the social structure they come from. That requires different approaches, and that is something we clearly are terrible at.

        You have done a nice job of illustrating the issues that are easy to lose when comparing different school systems.

        Thx for this series.

  7. DJRippert Avatar

    This well written series of blogs opens up a sore subject in Northern Virginia, namely – the Virginia school funding formulae.

    A new JLARC study was just released that concluded (in part):

    “The study outlined pitfalls in the state’s Standards of Quality, which encompass the requirements that all school divisions must meet, and include how the state funds K-12 education. JLARC found that Virginia’s funding formula does not adequately account for a school division’s size, its number of higher-need students or regional labor costs.”


    I’ve always questioned whether the funding formulae adequately covers students with special needs. One big special need is the ability to learn English at the same time as all the other subjects.

    The other question is whether regional labor costs are accurately factored into the formulae.

    Both issues differentially and negatively affect NoVa schools.

    Yet the voters in NoVa continue to elect gutless cowards to the General Assembly. The many leftists elected from NoVa spend their time endlessly ranting about social justice issues like “too many Asians” at TJ and no time looking at the fairness of the school funding formulae. The few righties who get elected find themselves caucusing with fellow righties from downstate who are only too happy to keep fleecing NoVa through the school funding formulae.

    The kids in schools like Park View pay the price for “Johnny come lately” transplants to NoVa whose votes are destroying their new locality just like they destroyed the localities they left behind.

    Look out Florida, Texas and Utah … once NoVa is completely ruined, the liberal locust plague will uproot themselves and come to your town. Expect to see more politicians focused on drag queen happy hours at the local public library than “meat and potato” issues like the fairness of school funding formulae.

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