Omissions and Lies in the Annual Report of the Virginia Board of Education

by James C. Sherlock

This weekend I read the 168-page 2020 Annual Report on the Condition and Needs of Public Schools in Virginia (the report) published by the Virginia Board of Education appointed by Governor Northam.  

The report is most notable for its omissions and occasional lies.

Poverty. First the good news.  

The Board reported well on one major issue affecting effective learning environments — the poverty of some students and school districts.   

The content of the report on the issues related to poor kids and schools in poor districts was excellent. I strongly support the recommendations for changing the state contribution formula to give more state money to poorer districts.
Those districts cannot raise enough tax money to make up the difference between state funding and the actual needs of their schools and the children they serve. Their kids need more help, and the poor school districts have fewer resources to provide it.

“The current funding system, increasingly reliant on local funding, is inherently inequitable.”

Indeed it is.  

Race. When the report segued between poor kids and black kids, however, the authors both made statements without evidence and intentionally misrepresented evidence they did cite.  

Race, as the left emphasizes, is a social construct subject to redefinition at any point by anyone, yet enrollment is tracked by “race.”  

The Asian “race” contains Americans of Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian and other countries of origin. Those countries don’t share the same religions, languages, customs or political alignments, but are lumped into a single category for the convenience of race hustlers and governments, which are becoming the same thing; neither do the countries of origin of African-Americans. Nor do recent African immigrants and multi-generational African-Americans.

But the Board could only comment on race based on such profoundly ill-defined data and yet clearly felt it must. Poverty is a much more scientific and meaningful category, yet the Board switches back and forth as if the categorizations were of equal value.

Academic Outcomes. The report attributed poor academic outcomes to systemic racism in the school system.  It more provably can be attributed to poverty and many other factors outside of school control. The report offered no proof; rather it offered systemic racism as an article of faith.

Governor Ralph Northam has been in office for three years, so if the Board is right, the outcomes gap can be considered at least partially his fault.

“Systemic racism and discrimination still exist in public education, and too often, a student’s skin color or socioeconomic status predicts the quality of their educational opportunities. As education leaders in the Commonwealth, we have a responsibility to recognize and confront such racism and discrimination.”

The authors failed to mention that charter schools in New York have for more than 20 years produced academic and career outcomes with poor black students that exceeded those of white kids in the wealthiest districts in that state.  If they had mentioned it, they would have had to explain why “systemic racism” had not crippled those children.  

They would have had to concede that better policies and pedagogy can cure the problem for a lot of currently underachieving black children. For reference they could have used the NAACP’s request for a charter school in Loudoun County to give black children a better chance at a good education.

Discipline. The Board of Education offers systemic racism as the basis for disproportionate minority representation in school discipline statistics, not poverty, not gangs, just systemic racism.

We know that poverty tracks geographically with underperforming schools. The Board itself makes this point. We also know that juvenile gangs are an enormous problem in Virginia and nationally and that they are disproportionately concentrated in urban areas.  

The word gang was not found in 183 pages of the report. 

Intentionally Misleading the General Assembly. The report’s authors were so strapped to find evidence for its statements on race that they used footnotes to back up statements that, upon examination, were actually refuted by the footnoted documents. 

Let’s look at the paragraph in the report that transitioned the discussion from poverty to race to see the intentional misleading of the General Assembly to whom this report is addressed.

“Research indicates that being taught by a teacher in the top quartile of effectiveness for four consecutive years would eliminate achievement gaps between black and white students. This is concerning as black students are nearly two times more likely to be assigned an ineffective teacher, and half as likely to be assigned to the most effective teacher. These inequities are reflected within different schools in single school divisions and across school divisions.”

Those statements are not only unproven by the footnotes cited, but indeed are refuted by them.  

The authors actually truncated the first sentence in that statement that they copied from a footnoted study, thereby changing its entire meaning to make a point.

“Research indicates that being taught by a teacher in the top quartile of effectiveness for four consecutive years would eliminate achievement gaps between black and white students.”

The citation with that statement is Gordon, R., Kane, T. J., & Staiger, D. O. (2006). Identifying effective teachers using performance on the job. Hamilton project discussion paper. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. .

The authors of that citation introduced raw speculation that was nowhere supported in their data, but at least they labeled it as speculation.

“Therefore, if the effects were to accumulate, having a top-quartile teacher rather than a bottom-quartile teacher four years in a row would be enough to close the black-white test score gap.”  

When the authors of the Board of Education report removed the phrase “if the effects were to accumulate” and by doing so translated 2006 speculation into 2020 certainty, they clearly meant to deceive the General Assembly. 

Second, the report followed that deception with: 

“This is concerning as black students are nearly two times more likely to be assigned an ineffective teacher, and half as likely to be assigned to the most effective teacher.”

The citation referenced, Sanders, W. L., & Rivers, J. C. (1996), Cumulative and residual effects of teachers on future student academic achievement, University of Tennessee Value-Added Research and Assessment Center used data from a single school district in Tennessee in 1996 in grades 1-5. Yet the report turns those into current global truths, not conclusions limited to one sample.  

Indeed Sanders and Rivers’ findings have absolutely nothing to do with race:  That report states in bold:

“These results suggest that although the student assignment from ethnic groups to effective teachers is slightly disproportionate, the achievement within the two ethnic groups (white and black) is comparable across the five levels of teacher effectiveness. These analyses suggest that students of the same prior levels of achievement tend to respond similarly to teacher effectiveness levels.”

That is of course good news, and the Board of Education report clearly banned good news on race.   

Summary and Recommendations. So the Board’s report authors took perfectly defensible data and recommendations relative to providing additional assistance to poorer schools and recruiting and retaining high quality teachers.  Then they tried to link them to the Board’s unhealthy fixation on race by misrepresenting the evidence they cited.  

The report cited racial differences in school discipline rates by race without a single mention of gangs.  

It reported the need to put more effective teachers in poor schools, but it cited studies on teacher effectiveness data that it does not have the systems, organizational or technical, to gather and process.  That need is not acknowledged in the report. They need to get started with the participation of teachers, principals and parents to set out the goals and standards of teacher effectiveness and create the systems to capture the data. When they do, it is a multi-year process to gain enough data to make such judgements.

Good teaching, classroom discipline and parental support are key “secrets” that make Success Academies, KIPP and their ilk work. And they do it as public schools. But they did not warrant a mention.

Neither did parental support itself. It is mandated by law in Virginia yet is certainly uneven and has direct effects on both student achievement and discipline. That, like many other issues, was entirely absent from this report.

I recommend that the state police and the VDOE get together and map juvenile gang activity vs. underperforming schools. With that information, the school divisions can work with their law enforcement agencies to work the problem together.

If this type of intentional misrepresentation by omission and commission is let to happen without consequence, there is no report from the Northam Administration to the General Assembly that is to be believed.

Final point. There is no mention in the report of what the Commonwealth and the school districts are going to do or even what the options are about the “lost year” of education of the children due to the shutdowns and all of the associated problems with distance learning. If we thought the shutdowns were a huge fight, wait until the Commonwealth and, God help us, the Board of Education try to deal with whether kids need to repeat the year lost.

The Governor must act to sanction those responsible.The members of his Board of Education have by this report demonstrated that they are at least incompetent.

They should apologize to the General Assembly on the way out.

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28 responses to “Omissions and Lies in the Annual Report of the Virginia Board of Education”

  1. James Wyatt Whitehead V Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Interesting how the report identifies the state funding of school districts as a problem. Last year in Loudoun, about $400 million came to the $1.3 billion budget in the form of state funding. That is 30% of the LCPS budget supported by the state. Mecklenburg County Public Schools down on the NC line received $25 million in state funding for a $55 million school budget. State funding in Mecklenburg was over 50% in state aid. I don’t think the lawmakers on the I-95/I-64 crescent are going to give up their heaping slice of the pie to help poor, urban, rural, and forgotten school boards. Yet we are in the election season already. Candidates such as McClellan and Foy have made education a priority. Would they commit to reworking state funding formulas to help the struggling school districts? If this happens how is a county such as Loudoun going to get along with a significantly reduced amount? $400 million in state aid could be in danger for LCPS. For a place such as Mecklenburg, more money for schools would be welcomed, but it will come with strings attached to the whims of the VDOE and Standards of Quality. Would it still be worth it?

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Yeah, bring popcorn for that show down at the General Assembly. No Governor recently has dared touch that third rail on the composite index. I’ve been waiting for a federal lawsuit, and when that comes the state will either settle fast or put up a weak defense of the status quo. Looks like that report might be entered as evidence.

      1. djrippert Avatar

        From Jim Bacon’s recent post on schools in Southwest Virginia …

        “Students in Southwest Virginia school systems, among the poorest in the state, pass at higher rates than any other region of Virginia. That holds true not just for demographically dominant whites, but African Americans, Hispanics, the economically disadvantaged, English learners and students with disabilities.”

        Why is the current composite index working in Southwest Virginia?

    2. sherlockj Avatar

      You are right if it is a zero sum game.

      The GA needs to appropriate a fixed amount per student like it does now, but put in additional education money for the poorest districts without taking it away from others. The key to that working is accountability for the additional money. The law must require districts that want the bonus money to submit plans for what they will do with the additional money before it can be claimed and then track the spending vs. the plan and take it back if it is misspent. And yes, the state can raise my taxes if this is what they do with the additional money.

      An appropriate plan would have several characteristics:
      – not a dime for additional headquarters administrators or raising administrators pay;
      – better teachers with improved classroom support such as aides
      – better principals and APs;
      – better in-school professional support staff;
      – smaller classes;
      – to support positive parental involvement;
      – to support better discipline in the schools and classrooms so kids can learn including suppressing juvenile gang and gang recruitment activity which, as Virginia law specifies, includes “colors” and tattoos. Under Virginia law gang and gang recruitment activity that is a misdemeanor elsewhere is a felony in or within 1000 ft. of schools.

      The chance of this GA passing a bill like that may be pretty good if anyone takes the trouble to introduce it. The chance that VDOE will administer it well is less so.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Stop teaching racial rate and blame, and using skin color to discriminate. All is lost without that attitude ajustment.

  2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Jim Sherlock post is another fine one.

    I would add to his post the following comments:

    The quality of teachers should never be distributed among public schools on the basis of race. That is racism. Instead, the quality of teachers should be high everywhere as a matter of human rights, as is the case with Success Academy. In public schools the uniform quality of excellent teachers will never be obtained without color blind discipline in all schools, creating safe learning environments for all.

    As to distribution of money among public schools, the same standards of equality hold true. That said, money is not the problem with public schools. Its use and application, and ongoing maintenance of public schools is a huge problem in many public schools, particularly those in disadvantaged neighborhoods. The Success Academy proves this point over and over every day, as it operates so successfully in public schools.

    As regards the obvious systemic racism that infects the Virginia Board of Education, given the chronic race baiting claims made express in its report, the Board is obviously a tool, mouthpiece and puppet of the Northam Administration, following the regime’s party line. The only antidote to this systemic poison is firm, responsible and fearless control of local public schools by local school boards. This can be done, as so recently proven in certain Virginia districts. Charter also support this idea.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      I don’t know but here is my hypothesis – the quality of teachers is heavily impacted by the experience of the teacher. Teachers can, to an extent, select the schools where they want to teach. This is sone by seniority. The most experienced teachers choose to teach in the low minority schools.

      As I said, I may be wrong. If so, set me straight.

      1. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
        Baconator with extra cheese

        Imagine the outrage from the woke teachers unions if they are required to send the best teachers to teach the worst schools….
        I dislike charter schools in places like RVA because the best teachers get poached by the charter schools.
        What teacher doesn’t want to teach to kids who want to be there, surrounded by the best teachers, and have parental involvement?
        Also imagine the outrage if Governor’s schools were given the lowest performing teachers because the kids are already excellent..

      2. sherlockj Avatar

        I’m not going to correct you. By all of the studies, experience helps but is not dispositive, and actually peaks during an individual teacher’s career and drifts back down somewhat.

        The biggest effects of teacher experience were seen in reading, the smallest in math, and the gap between the contributions of teacher experience in those two subjects was significant.

        Operational and technical systems were set up in Tennessee to collect data across the state over about a three year period on the improvements in student learning (as measured by standardized test results) by kids under various teachers. The kids were tracked as well as the teachers.

        With all of that data plus some subjective inputs from principals, that system was able to predict with some fidelity how kids were going to fare with the rated teachers going forward.

        That was my meaning when I wrote in my essay:

        “(the report) reported the need to put more effective teachers in poor schools, but it cited studies on teacher effectiveness data that it does not have the systems, organizational or technical, to gather and process. That need is not acknowledged in the report. They need to get started with the participation of teachers, principals and parents to set out the goals and standards of teacher effectiveness and create the systems to capture the data. When they do, it is a multi-year process to gain enough data to make such judgements.”

        As for choices of where to teach, as I understand it any tenured teacher whose contract with a school/school district is ending can apply to transfer to any school in or out of the district that has an opening for which she qualifies. (They can get blackballed if they resign or try to transfer mid-contract.) Of course where the teacher chooses to live affects her willingness to apply. One of the teachers on here can clarify if I misstated anything.

        1. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
          Baconator with extra cheese

          I know a RVA teacher who discussed leaving a school after she had a bad go- elementary school kids threatening violence and sexual violence on her and classmates plus parents telling her the kids were her problem during the day… she was told by the administration she would be blackballed if she left during her contract.

          1. idiocracy Avatar

            Many parents do, in fact, view school as free babysitting or child care.

          2. Nancy_Naive Avatar

            Maybe free on-demand timely abortions would have solved the problem?

            Indifference toward their progeny may be as genetic as with a salmon to its spawn. If society is going to force the bearing and rearing of these children by limiting the mother’s right then salmon farming is society’s duty.

          3. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
            Baconator with extra cheese

            Nancy I am beginning to think abortion clinics should be in every Walmart…. and federally sponsored “free”.. hell include a coupon with every abortion too… $5 off a minimum $10 purchase…

          4. Nancy_Naive Avatar

            No you don’t. But look at our rotten history of socially and legally coercing the obviously evident unnatural state of monogamy on our species. Now re-evaluate your sarcasm.

          5. sherlockj Avatar

            And I am left to wonder how my column about education segued in the comments into the unnatural state of monogamy. Freedom of expression. May it live, at least online, if not in real life or on university campuses, which are separate worlds.

  3. sherlockj Avatar

    Steve and Dick, you are the two veterans of state politics. Have you ever seen a state agency directly and provably lie to the GA in a formal report like this?

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      I doubt the agency people would accept that characterization. You cite instances where they selectively edited texts, which is deep intellectual dishonesty, but in other cases they are expressing opinions. You and I might disagree, but hard to call that lying. I have low expectations of honesty when dealing with the Woke.

      1. sherlockj Avatar

        It is not relevant whether the agency would accept the characterization. They took a single sentence from one citation, surgically removed the phrase that designated it as speculation and presented it as fact to buttress their view. That is a lie.

        1. idiocracy Avatar

          It depends on what the definition of is is.

          1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

            And that, of course, all depended on the idiot lawyer phrasing a question stupidly.

            BTW, the word “is” occupies nearly a full column of the OED, so yes, it does.

        2. Steve Haner Avatar
          Steve Haner

          Well, I don’t disagree that was dishonest and should call the rest of the report into question. I wasn’t being flippant. The last two administrations have lowered my expectations from state agencies, etc. Facts and honesty are only useful if they support the narrative, and expendable if they do not.

    2. Perhaps not a state agency, but I have seen Federal agencies “directly and provably lie” to Congress in a formal report. In one instance a singular report and a whopper of a lie led to the Justice Dept. affording an undersecretary the choice between resigning and being criminally prosecuted for perjury before Congress. A similar option, retirement, was given to one of his SES agency heads.

      1. idiocracy Avatar

        That’s about what I expect of the crooks in DC.

    3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      I am not prepared to consider the phrase “if the effects were to accumulate” as speculation. It could be a statement of what would happen in the future if certain effects continued to accrue. In that light, the statement in the BOE report is a valid statement of research in this area.

      1. sherlockj Avatar

        Bridge too far Dick. Why do you think the BOE report consciously omitted that phrase?

        In the study cited, you will see they not only had no evidence to back up the speculation, since they did not have five years of data, but the “10%” gain referenced was the one-time change in outcomes that specifically came from switching kids from a lowest quartile teacher one year to a highest quartile teacher the next.

        That percentage gain over the five year period can only be experienced once in the speculative scenario, because in that scenario the kids had nothing but top quartile teachers the rest of the time. That is certainly a good thing for that group of kids if not for others, but the gain cannot be characterized as replicable annually under the specified circumstances.

        The authors of the cited study were unprofessional in making the speculation. The authors of the BOE report were dishonest in changing the sentence to change identified speculation into un-caveated fact.

  4. […] for the Board of Education and VDOE, yesterday I demonstrated that the Board lied to make their point in their December 1 report to the Governor and General […]

  5. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Unbelievably conversation. No wonder we can’t find solutions, much less act.

  6. […] poor academic outcomes for some black children to systemic racism in the school system? 9-0 […]

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