Mayor Calls for “Radical Reinvention” of Richmond City Schools

Egads, what's next? Vouchers?
Egads, what’s next? Vouchers?

Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones may be a liberal Democrat but he is also a pragmatist. He has consistently shown that he is interested in what works. His approach can be seen in his positive approach to economic development and his emphasis on sound finances. (The city’s bond rating has nudged up five ranks in five years.)

Now, after news reports that 12 Richmond city schools were listed among the lowest 37 lowest-performing schools in Virginia, Jones is questioning public school orthodoxy. “My position on education has been an evolution,” he told members of the Richmond First Club yesterday, as reported by the Times-Dispatch.

The situation is so dire, said Jones, that he is even willing to consider charter schools.

To quote Peter Vinkman from Ghostbusters, “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!”

“I’ve changed my thinking about the private sector being involved in education,” Jones said. “So I’m hoping this School Board will take this as an opportunity to do some radical reinvention in the idle schools. And I’ll be using the bully pulpit to encourage them to do that.”

Mayor Jones, may I introduce you to Ken Cuccinelli? The Republican candidate for governor has advanced a slew of education reforms that include making it easier to start charter schools. (See “Understanding Cuccinelli’s Proposed Education Reforms.”) Perhaps you should chat.


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13 responses to “Mayor Calls for “Radical Reinvention” of Richmond City Schools”

  1. DJRippert Avatar

    Dwight Jones ought to invest some time looking at what happened in Washington, DC when Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty tried to radically re-invent public education in DC. There are a lot of vested interests who want to keep the old system in place. They are well financed and politically powerful. I’d guess the same is true in Richmond.

    1. You’re probably right. But there is one difference between Washington and Richmond. Richmond teachers don’t have a public employee union. The VEA is strong, but not that strong.

      1. Another problem. The right-to-work states academic achievement is no better than union states so apparently the “bad teacher” problem doesn’t get resolved by getting rid of unions.

        another problem. the best state schools in the country – are largely in unionized states like Massachusetts.

        Finally, the “bad teacher” problem is basically an ignorant right wing canard with no basis in fact.

        you can find bad teachers and even entire schools that are “bad” – just like you can find bad corporations or bad governors.

        but to categorize the nationally lower achievement levels as compared to OECD countries as the result of teacher unions is just simply not true and repeating it over and over won’t make it so although it seems to be a tried and true technique these days.

        bad schools are USUALLY schools in poor urban and rural areas where much of the school population is at-risk kids whose own parents never received a quality education and most of whom are not college educated.

        Second, these schools in the poor locales are not attractive to “good” teachers who will, if they have a choice, get employment at a school at pays well, is in a safe place, and has far fewer “tougher’ kids to teach.

        It’s just human nature. The poor schools do not generally attract the teachers who have other options. They’re not “bad” – they’re just not highly qualified to teach the harder-to-teach kids – and on top of that they get saddled with a far higher proportion of such kids than they would if they worked at a school in a less poor area.

        these are the realities that we basically ignore when we go to the sound-bite concept of “bad teachers”.

        the bigger question is – what can we or should we do about it?

        The conventional wisdom seems to be that ANY non-public school, one without as many “rules”, and apparently one that does not have to meet the same standards for achievement and performance – and are ASSUMED to be “better” and somehow will attract “better” teachers than the unionized public schools will – and this seems to be the thinking even in right-to-work states – like Virginia.

        Teachers are not going to go teach in the poor areas if they have better alternatives – and that is going to be true – no matter whether the school is public or not. It’s not the school nor the teacher – it’s the locale and demographics. Kids of poor, uneducated parents are very hard to teach and to be honest – a lot of teachers are simply not going to take that on unless you assure their safety, pay them well, and help them when 3/4 of their class is at-risk kids.

  2. The demographic in Richmond as in many urban areas is largely at-risk kids -that are harder to teach than suburban kids with educated parents.

    Moving them to a private school that also lacks the resources the public schools lack in dealing with at-risk kids is not going to solving any problems and if there is less accountability – it’s just going to hide the problem from public view – of which I would have nothing but nasty words to describe.

    Until I hear someone say these schools will be subject to the same reporting standards for academic achievement as public schools – I view this as a cynical effort to basically move these kids to where they are hidden from public view… and scrutiny.

    this is not a teacher union problem.

    who in the world are you going to attract to teach at-risk kids in urban poor regions in the first place?

    do you think by calling them “private” schools that all of a sudden – highly qualified teachers are going to flock to these urban poor areas to teach – difficult to teach kids?

    who are we fooling?

    public school teachers are _bad_. Private school teachers are _good_.

    kabuki theater at it’s worst.

  3. Breckinridge Avatar

    This is a symptom of the larger problem of the breakdown of the family and family responsibility. Even intact two-parent families expect the school to teach the kids and can’t be bothered with taking charge of their own children’s education and introduction to life. I remember some great teachers but I learned more from my parents and grandparents and my own reading and travel. I’d been to Gettysburg before I ever had a teacher tell me about the Civil War (or Late Unpleasantness.) Likewise Mount Vernon (and in my case, Versailles and Ephesus.) I read newspapers and watched Walter Cronkite nightly. My parent’s didn’t teach me calculus but they taught me basic math and they made sure I understood I WAS going to get A’s all the time.

    My wife has taught for approaching 40 years. Parents have changed. They expect the schools to do it all and don’t want to hear that it is their job, too — in fact their job MAINLY.

    Now comes a society unknown in the history of the world, where 30-40-65 percent of kids are growing up in single parent households, and that parent is herself poorly educated. As was her mother. As was her grandmother, because the kids today are third and fourth generation high school dropouts.

    A charter school or a private school is a valid escape route for those families seeking to escape the collapsing public schools, some of them middle class and some of them poor. But their departure will just leave those that remain even further behind and more devoid of hope. If the Mayor wants to save the next generation his message is 1) finish high school, 2) get married and 3) don’t have kids until you’ve accomplished 1 and 2.

    1. I don’t think poor, uneducated parents are going to do any better any choosing a school than they do at other things like loans, etc, especially if the school is exempt from reporting academic performance.

      It’s true that even not poor parents these days are remiss in teaching their own kids and expect the schools to do it.

      but poor, uneducated parents kids often are never introduced by the parents to basic reading and learning concepts. They show up at K and pre-K without a culture to read or learn.

      and you can’t fix it by a couple of years of “head start”. It takes most of elementary school to get them up on grade level and keep them there and in a poor school district – there are so many at-risk kids that most would-be teachers will not take a job there or will leave soon-after if they have alternatives.

      The idea that this is wrong I totally agree with but I’m not at all convinced that alternative schools are going to do any better at attracting teachers to teach large classes of at-risk kids – either.

      it’s a sound-bite response to the original problem where we blame the teachers and administrators in a “bad” school because that school has such a large population of much-tougher-to-teach kids and attracting and keeping the higher level professionals to deal with it – especially in neighborhoods that are not safe – is not what most teachers, with options, are going to do.

      instead – we say it is a “bad teacher” problem… a “union” problem.

      on one parent families:

      when you put a lifetime prison record on an 18 yr old dropout – and expect him to be gainfully employed subsequent to prison – we’re dreaming.

      when we say we will not pay for abortions – but we also will not pay for morning-after contraception what exactly are we doing?

      My view is that 1. – we are not really looking at the actual problems and 2. we prefer sound-bite demonization of suitable proxies for blame and 3. – we seriously are not interested do what it will take to fix the problem – like dealing with black teen unemployment – which drives them into drugs and thence into prison and thence into one-parent families where Mom herself lacks an education and likely – if working, is not home to watch over her kids anyhow.

      We say the “solution” to this is “personal responsibility” not government.

      is this realistic?

      1. Using your argument, Larry, should the be permitted to vote? I’m not raising a legal or constitutional argument, but rather, a philosophical one. If society must pay to support and undo the problems created by some individuals, are they not effectively wards of the state? Should the totally dependent have an equal voice in governing?

  4. Yes they should because the Constitution gives them that right no matter their education.

    Would you have denied the vote to those who had not gone to school when the Country was first founded?

    the right to vote is totally unfettered and we know if it were (fettered) – how those of particular political views would “use” such opportunities to deny that right to those they disagree with philosophically.

    Hell, TMT, if I were going to use such criteria, I’d not allow anyone who worked for the govt to vote – a CLEAR conflict of interest!

    TMT, the right these days seems to have no problem re-writing history to suit their own narratives. I’d not let them vote either!

    I’d require a history test and no matter how well educated they were, if they flunked the history test (like who paid for the railroads) or can the POTUS spend money without authorization of Congress, I’d deny them the vote also!

    how about you? tease. tease.

  5. billsblots Avatar

    “Teachers are not going to go teach in the poor areas if they have better alternatives ” – not necessarily true, talk to my daughter.
    “Kids of poor, uneducated parents are very hard to teach and to be honest – a lot of teachers are simply not going to take that on unless you assure their safety, pay them well, and help them when 3/4 of their class is at-risk kids.” – Right on. And sometimes even that is not enough. Again, talk to my daughter.

    It could be an oversimplification to correlate poor school performance on lack of involvement by parents or lack of an education culture at home, but I bet it’s more closely related than anything else.

    My daughter earned a Master’s degree in elementary education at VCU with a 4.0 and moved to Winston-Salem as her husband was accepted to Wake Forest Law. She was offered several teaching jobs but chose the one with the shortest commute. First year teachers are probably always in for a shock, more so at this school. 40% of her fourth grade class were in an ESL program (English as a Second Language) and rotated out of her classroom throughout the day for special classes. The school was under substantial control of the federal government, with commensurate administrative burdens on the principal and teachers. She lead her students so well that 5 of the 23 passed either the English or math standards test, two passed both, which was remarkable for that school. One student was born when her mother was 14, impregnated by an 18 year old boy (now 28), and ironically, her best friend in class was the younger sister of her biological father, whom she has never met in ten years.

    She held Back to School and Parent-Teacher conferences with the school schedule. The most parents that ever came was three, of two different fourth-graders. She had to get letters about student progress to parents translated by school staff into Spanish. Rarely did she get any signed acknowledgement back as requested with the correspondence.

    She quit teaching after two years at the school in spite of the fact that she loved most of the kids, and had she completed five years in that school 50% of her student loans would have been forgiven.

    She now works for GMAC insurance.

    1. teaching that demographic is a very tough deal especially for new teachers and worse if they do not get help and support.

  6. billsblots Avatar

    I should mention also that the year she quit that school, an astounding total of 20 teachers also left that same school.

    As background, at the elementary school she attended in eastern Chesterfield County, for back to school night I looked around the classroom and every student’s desk had their parent sitting in it, and usually both parents were there or the second parent at their other child’s classroom. This even remained true every year through high school senior year. After it finished there was a steady stream of cars back into our neighborhood.

    I guess you could say she was shocked at the near total lack of parental concern and involvement with the kids she badly wanted to teach.

  7. the at-risk “schools” in many places work hard to connect with the parents and get the parents “involved”

    they have “parents nights” with pizza and events that involve parents and kids…

    people who do not graduate with a quality education have difficult lives – even though they have kids – they are often “not there” for their kids. Sometimes they don’t even realize what “being there” for their kids means.

    some kids spend great swaths of their lives at grand-moms or aunt so-and-so because mom/dad are in such chaos.

    but it’s very difficult for me to blame these kids for their circumstances and essentially abandon them because they are “too difficult” but that’s what we often do. We have a bunch of excuses why… but essentially – they get spun off to the side for a lack of funding or staffing resources, etc.

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