by James C. Sherlock
Peter Drucker’s famous five questions should always be asked by and of government.
What is the mission? Who is the customer? What does the customer consider valuable? What are the results sought and how are they to be measured? What is the plan, to include both abandonment and innovation?
So, in reviewing the 119-page JLARC report Pandemic Impact on Public K–12 Education 2022, we must inquire first what JLARC was asked to do by the General Assembly.
Then examine what they did with that charter.
Both were well intentioned but incomplete.
The study resolution is found on page 83.
Impact of COVID-19 on Virginia’s public schools, students, and school employees
SJ308 of the 2021 General Assembly
It detailed the shortfalls in resources that had been exposed by COVID. It presciently dreaded the results when students came back to school in 2021-22. It also anticipated the negative consequences for teacher satisfaction and retention.
In conducting its study, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission shall:
- Examine and determine reasons for barriers to student success in virtual and hybrid models as well as the overall impact of COVID-19 face-to-face learning restrictions on previously existing student achievement gaps, student achievement, and student well-being, including any disproportionate impact on at-risk populations;
- Determine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on staffing levels, including the impact of teacher and school employee retirements and resignations on delivery of instruction and the ability of local school boards to fully staff their needs, employment levels, and local budgets;
- Determine the short-term and projected long-term changes in student enrollment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of such changes on funding levels;
- Determine the impact of implementing COVID-19 health and safety measures in public schools;
- Evaluate public schools’ level of emergency preparedness to face another pandemic or statewide crisis and make recommendations to help guide planning for such events; and
- Examine programs that can address learning loss and identify barriers to implementing those programs, including resource gaps.
Some of those questions could be interpreted as cracking open the door to asking Drucker’s 5 questions of public education in Virginia. To enquire whether laws, policies, education school curricula, public school programs or public school curricula could be part of the problems that COVID exposed.
But those questions were not specifically posed. And those cracks were not exploited. Indeed the title of the study suggested to look only at the effects of COVID, not examine the broader system of public education.
The General Assembly focus was clearly on identifying resource shortages in the implementation of current ways of running the public schools. They were looking for budget amendment targets.
So that is what they got.
JLARC findings and recommendations. No law or policy or management issues were targeted for action.
Recommendations were centered on providing more resources:
- more counselors;
- more psychologists;
- more agreements with community health providers;
- a temporary math improvement program executed by tutors;
- more instructional assistants;
- teacher retention bonuses;
- teacher tuition assistance; and
- inclusion of virtual education as part of professional development.
Policy Options suggested for consideration were:
- more training and tech assistance for VTSS/PBIS (rather than an assessment of whether it was too complicated and burdensome for the value demonstrated);
- two different options for identifying and paying for partnerships with mental health providers;
- teacher signing bonuses;
- teacher licensure.
Schools of Education. One finding I find some mix of amusing, disgraceful and inevitable:
According to the National Virtual Teacher Association, fewer than 5 percent of teacher training programs include a virtual learning component. Further, experienced teachers may never have received formal education or training on providing remote learning.
I find it entirely unsurprising that the schools of education ignored a massive 20-year boom in virtual education. It was something of which they were aware, but most did not support.
Remember the basis of the disagreement that led to the firing of Teresa Sullivan at UVa and then her rehiring?
The Board fired her based on her reluctance to engage the University in developing on-line education.
The faculty senate, which abhorred the concept as a threat to jobs, led the charge to bring her back.
Conduct of the assessment. I do have some issue with the way the JLARC report process was conducted, however.
First, inviting lobbyists into the study tent when the charter called for identifying more spending is at least a bad look. JLARC interviewed representatives — inevitably the lobbyists — from:
- Virginia Education Association;
- Virginia Association of School Superintendents;
- Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals;
- Virginia State Special Education Advisory Committee;
- Virginia Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages;
- Virginia School Counselor Association;
- Virginia Academy of School Psychologists;
- Virginia Association of School Social Workers;
- Virginia Association of School Nurses;
- Virginia Association of Colleges and Teacher Educators;
- Virginia Parent Teacher Association;
- Virginia Council of Private Education; and
- National Virtual Teacher Association.
You may note that if asked Drucker’s question “Who is the customer?” of public education, many of these organizations would not make the cut.
I admire lobbyists. Always have. They know their subject matter cold. You just have to be able to assess what they are not bringing up while listening to what they do present.
They are absolutely necessary to a General Assembly composed of part-time legislators that meets for such a short time period as ours and is so under-resourced with professional staff.
But I suggest it is a bad look to include them in a process for recommending new resources when government professionals are available for consultation. Especially when the report recommends allocation of significant additional funding to many of the people the lobbyists’ organizations represent.
Parents vs. PTA members.
To quote the report:
JLARC staff conducted two focus groups with parents and guardians of students in Virginia’s K–12 schools. Each participant was a member of the Virginia Parent Teacher Association (Virginia PTA).
I find that very odd. You should as well. The PTA is present in less than half of Virginia’s schools. There is a reason for that.
Virginia PTA has a loyalty test.
Membership is open to anyone who believes in and supports the mission and purposes of National PTA.
And the National PTA, while most of us were not watching, has been captured by the left.
See: Reopening of Public PreK-12 Schools. They have the mental health effects exactly backwards. See also that organization’s position on gun control laws. Read the last paragraph in that resolution. A majority of Virginians would reject going that far.
JLARC not only chose to talk to PTA members exclusively, it was proud of it.
Consultants to JLARC were listed extensively in Appendix B.
It should have included employees of the Department of Health, the Department of Health Professions and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS). DBHCS should have been recommended as the lead agency for any actions on mental health support to the schools.
Ninety-three out of 133 localities in Virginia are federally-designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas. Thirty-seven percent of Virginia’s population lives in these localities.
The report focuses on in-school mental health services, which may not be available in those localities. DBHCS could have advised on the use of telemedicine and group psychology, neither of which is brought up in the report.
Private Sector Experts.
The JLARC team from their listing of study assets apparently failed to include experts from Virginia’s nationally prominent Multi-Divisional Online Providers (MOPs) such as national leader Herndon-based Stride K-12.
When assessing virtual education, it would have been wise to talk with the best. No need to talk to them about resources, but certainly best practices.
Continuity of Operations Plans.
Finally, JLARC deplored COVID preparedness in the schools and recommended developing continuity of operations plans. It did not mention a program to exercise them regularly, even though it interviewed the Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) and teachers had recommended more “proactive preparation.”
The original sin of Virginia’s time-late and initially failed reactions to COVID was the failure to exercise that quite prescient operations plan. Which had actions for VDOE and the schools at every step. JLARC researchers clearly were unaware of it.
Perhaps because VDEM removed the plan from public view when I pointed it out. VDEM and VDOE may wish to resurrect that excellent plan before drafting a new one.
Bottom line. Given the charter for the study, JLARC gave the General Assembly what it clearly wanted, just not all that it needed.
I return to what was not tasked.
One lesson of the COVID years is that Drucker’s five questions need to be asked about Virginia’s education training programs and our public schools system in general. About laws and regulations as well as policies, programs and their execution and maintenance.
Evidence indicates that the system, even before COVID, has been:
- trying to do too much, as shown in the list of training requirements that I quoted yesterday;
- trying to do some things that are not working; and
- not doing some things well that might work if given space to succeed in work days that are too long, too crowded and perhaps too segmented.
Those add up to major considerations in both the low morale reported by teachers and low achievement by students.
I will recommend a new Policy Option 6 to those listed by in the draft report, using the language from JLARC Option 5.
To ensure that the public schools system and publicly-funded institutions of higher education are operating efficiently and effectively with the resources assigned, the General Assembly could include language in the Appropriation Act directing the Virginia Department of Education and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia to review: 1. the laws and regulations governing Virginia public schools and the schools of education of Virginia’s publicly funded institutions of higher education (IHEs), 2. the curricula of the educator training programs of Virginia IHEs, 3. the research and policy recommendations of those IHE’s, and 4. the policies and programs of Virginia’s public school system including training, supervision, teaching and the maintenance of a supportive working environment that itself includes classroom discipline and safety; and propose updates, improvements, simplifications and abandonment as appropriate.
Peter Drucker’s five questions could form the basis for the review. Management consultants experienced in such reviews could be engaged to support the work.
A summary of proposed changes could be submitted to the Virginia Board of Education and House Education and Senate Education and Health committees by November 1, 2023.