Parents Taking Their Children Out of Poor Performing Virginia Public Schools by the Tens of Thousands

by James C. Sherlock

Would you send your kid to this school? No? Someone else’s kid is attending it — or skipping school.

Accreditation data for a middle school in a chronically failing Virginia school division – Level 3 is the worst possible grade

Virginia public sch0ols lost 4% of their fall student memberships, a total of 46,165 students, between the fall of 2019 and the fall of 2021, while their budgets from the state went up.

But the state in those same two years is also estimated to have gained 33,619 persons between the ages of 5-19 eligible to attend those schools.

Statewide statistics mask the stories of individual county and city divisions, and of demographic groups within the school divisions. We will sample some of those across the state.

What we do know, both from the state statistics and the individual school division examples below, is that parents have been absolutely rational.

Those that could took their kids out of poor-performing school divisions and schools in large numbers, but less so or not at all from the best ones.

We need to try something else in the bad ones. Something else entirely.

All data in this article compare student enrollments in the fall of 2019 with fall 2021 unless otherwise stated. All of the spreadsheet figures except the calculated columns are from Virginia School Quality Profiles.

The average performance of Virginia Public Schools on the 2022 SOLs was famously poor. When I characterize below the academic performance of school divisions, it is relative to those depressed state averages.

Public schools student losses.  

We first need to define what constitutes attendance.  Registering in the fall, or attending once registered, or both.

The fall of 2019 was a pre-COVID year.

The fall of 2020 was a COVID year. People signed their kids up in the fall and then were crushed when most of the public schools did not open.

In that year, attendance was a mirage.

Nobody knew who was watching the remote lessons. Kids figured out early-on that they could log in, turn off the camera at their end, and then go play video games.

The fall of 2021 was a post-COVID year.

Not only did attendance drop in 2021-22, but the chronic absentee rate soared to over 20%. 20.2% to be exact.  That amounts to 252,939 kids chronically absent.

252,939 kids in Virginia public schools missed at least 10% of their school days unexcused.  How can a school system be an actual education entity if that many kids don’t show up?  If the left is not embarrassed by that, they are beyond embarrassment.

Both the registration drops and the massive chronic absenteeism numbers represented students voting with their feet.

The ones who shifted from public schools to somewhere else were just more expensively shod.

The biggest loss statewide both numerically and in percentage (-7%) of fall registration was in White students. Black students declined 4%, while Hispanic students increased 2%

English learners dropped 4%. Homeless students -22%. Military-connected students (5.5% of total, 69,129) increased slightly, but their representation in individual divisions changed somewhat.

Statistically, nearly all of the dropouts were economically advantaged. But the economically disadvantaged numbers, while remaining relatively stable, fluctuated a great deal in individual divisions.

Public schools net loss of eligible persons 5-19. The state public school percentage of school age kids dropped from 81.8% in 2019 to 77.2% in 2021. We discussed the increase in the eligible total earlier.

I do not have reliable estimates of 5-19 year old population changes school district to school district, so the rest of this will address only changes in public school division fall membership.

Just know that if the percentages of eligible students attending public school had held steady, their membership would have increased by about 25,000 rather than decreasing by 46,000.

Those 71,000 kids are somewhere else.

Virginia Beach. High performing Virginia Beach Schools, despite a significant drop in crucial military-connected students, came close to matching the statewide fall membership changes. Fall membership in 2021 was 5% lower than in 2019. White student population was down 8%, Black down 4%, and Hispanic up 1%.

Economically disadvantaged down 1%. Non-economically disadvantaged down 9%.

English learners up 16%. Military connected down 6%.

Chronic absenteeism 2021-22 18.4%.  That is over 12,000 kids in my home town school division gone from school unexcused a minimum of 10% of the time.

Fairfax County. Good performing Fairfax County Public Schools student losses were the headline in this state because it had over 10,000 fewer students in 2021 than in 2019. That loss was 5% compared to the statewide 4%. It was driven by losses of English learners.

White school population down 8%; Black down 5%; Hispanic down 3%; Asian down 6%.

Economically disadvantaged down 3%. Non-economically disadvantaged down 9%.

English learners were down 11%, or 5,500 of the total 10,000.  Chronic absenteeism in 2021-22: 15.3%

Wise County. Extremely high performing Wise County Public schools actually gained student population, up 2%.

The most notable changes were that the student population was far less economically disadvantaged in 2021 than in 2019. The number of students in that category dropped 23%, while the non-economically disadvantaged population increased 39%.

The percentage gains in Black, Hispanic and Asian students were large but the numbers were not.

Chronic absenteeism in 2021-22: 18.6%.

Richmond. As usual, Richmond, with utterly dismal performance, is an outlier. I can seldom explain that city’s statistics, and the fall membership statistics report is not one of those times.

Richmond is the only school district for which I computed changes both from 2019 to 2020 and from 2019 – 2021. Because the changes year-to-year were so radical.

That school division reported a loss of 25% of its students, over 7,000 kids, from 2020-2021. Down 4,000 from 2019-2021. It’s Richmond.

The rest of this reports 2019-2021 changes. That division’s students are net poorer, less White, and more Hispanic.

Total student fall membership was down 16%. White students down 37%. Black students down 16%. Hispanic students numbers flat. Asian students down 44%. Multiple races down 8%.

Economically disadvantaged down 11%. Non-economically disadvantaged down 21%. English learners flat.

Chronic absenteeism in 2021-22 reported at 14.8%.

Newport News. Poor performing Newport News Public Schools reported all students membership down 7%.

But there was a huge shift to a poorer student population. Economically disadvantaged students were up 24% and non-economically disadvantaged down 30%.

White students down 13%; Black down 7%; Hispanic up 2%; Asian down 17%; Military connected down 11%.

Chronic absenteeism in 2021-22: 28.5%

Chesterfield. Average performing Chesterfield Public Schools saw its all student membership remain flat from 2019- 2021 after a slight dip in 2020.

Within those totals, Chesterfield recorded a significant decrease (-13%) in economically disadvantaged and an increase (8%) in economically advantaged students.

White student membership down 6%; Asian students down 1%; Multiple races down 5%; Black down 3%; and Hispanic (10%) memberships were all up.

Military connected was up 651 students, 113%.

Chronic absenteeism in 2021-22:19.6%.

Southhampton County. Below average performing Southampton County Public Schools fall membership dropped 7% from 2019 to 2021.

White fall membership -8%. Black -8%. Once again, as elsewhere, the number of economically disadvantaged kids showed a large drop at -21%. Not economically disadvantaged up 5%. Students with disabilities down 13%.

Chronic absenteeism: 19.8%.

Roanoke County. High performing Roanoke County Public Schools lost 2% of its student membership over the two years. White student population dropped 5%. Black (+6%), Hispanic (+13%) and multiple races (+8%) all increased.

Economically disadvantaged increased 7%. Not economically disadvantaged decreased 6%.

Chronic absenteeism in 2021-22: 13.6%.

Teacher requirements. We know how many fewer students the public schools are teaching, but we don’t know if the school divisions have reduced their number of required teachers to match the losses in student populations. Probably not yet.

I do not expect the state public education budget to be adjusted to reflect this flight from the public schools until the data stabilize, but after this fall’s membership numbers are in hand, it will be time to take a hard look at that.

It is a very reasonable question whether Richmond, which reported a 25% drop in student population from the fall of 2020 to the fall of 2021, has decreased its teacher positions for this coming year by the same amount. Or any amount.

I sincerely doubt it, or all hell would have broken loose.

State education budget and public policy. But we already know why they left.

Virtually no one of any race or heritage reading this would leave their kids in some of Virginia’s divisions and schools. Who is kidding whom? Those who are not poor actively seek to rent or buy a home in locations that avoid them. Some of that has happened in addition to the overall state losses.

Poor-performing school divisions annually declare they are turning a corner to better performance. New teaching methods. New curricula. New programs. New money. New words for old concepts. New pronouns. Social justice. Restorative discipline. New concepts of (there is a long list).

Most don’t turn a corner into anything but oncoming traffic. And most of those divisions don’t have the system cultures to make successful changes. The kids are innocent bystanders until they get it. Then they and their parents turn hostile. They leave if they can. And if they can’t the kids cut school or disrupt it or both.

There is no one who can read who does not know that it is minority children who are getting screwed here.

The left can’t deal with insisting on effective changes and keep the teachers unions, so they go with the unions, forcing them to ignore the plights of the kids. Except to call for more money and to call schools, many run by minority leaders, systemically racist, and drive White and Asian teachers and kids away with their tactics.

The only way to reliably provide good public education in Virginia’s worst performing school divisions is with charter management organizations proven to educate poor minority children to the highest standards. Organizations of which Virginia has none.

Because Virginia actively drives them away with the Commonwealth’s charter law. At the insistence of the school divisions from which parents are fleeing with their kids.

BR readers can avoid the problem with our own kids and grandkids.

But we can’t avoid the stench of it.

Updated Oct 13 at 14:26