Richmond Schools: a Social Justice Lab Test

Doubling down on the social justice model of education, the Richmond Public School system is replacing the principals of 11 of the city’s 44 schools with “social justice-minded leaders,” in the words of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The hiring of principals on the basis of social-justice criteria from an applicant pool of more than 200, combined with a commitment to social justice from the school superintendent, the school board, and the Virginia Department of Education, will provide a classic laboratory experiment for the efficacy of social justice principles.

The turnover in school principals, like that of teachers, is a perennial problem in Richmond, one of the most severely under-performing school districts in Virginia, even accounting for the high percentage of disadvantaged and disabled students. Last year saw 10 new principals.

This year, RPS has a new school superintendent, Jason Kamras, who is grappling with the reality that that Standards of Learning test scores among African-American students have eroded in the past two years and fewer than half the city schools meet the state’s full accreditation standards. Kamras is totally committed to the social justice model of education. As the RTD quotes him as saying Monday:

As with everything in life, leadership is critical. Our kids, but also our teachers, need great leaders who can lead with love. Leading with love is having high expectations for kids. Leading with love means you care about the whole child. Leading with love means it’s about social justice and changing lives for kids. … We just want to make sure that every Richmond public school has a leader who leads with love.

The Virginia Department of Education is increasingly dominated by proponents of the social justice approach to education, and the City of Richmond, under prodding from the U.S. Justice Department, was one of the earlier districts in Virginia to adopt a disciplinary policy that relies less upon punishments such as suspensions and more upon therapeutic intervention. Now Richmond is using explicitly social-justice criteria for hiring and firing its school principals.

Liz Doerr, who sits on the Richmond school board, put it this way: “We know teacher retention is a problem for RPS. We need to make sure we have leaders who hold the bar high but do it with love and inspiration.”

However, in their zeal to pursue social-justice remedies, which are predicated on the assumption that the educational system is structurally racist, Richmond educators may be overlooking acute problems such as a dysfunctional organizational culture.

“I am still trying to navigate through a broken school system with a lack of written systems and structure,” said Rose Ferguson, who, in her second year as principal of George Mason Elementary School, is on the way out. “Mason had layers of concerns before I arrived, and I was hired to help improve those concerns. … It is unfortunate that the new administration has not provided clear guidance and support to assist me with the numerous issues.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Richmond will become a pure, unadulterated test case for social justice-inspired education. No half measures here. Richmond is going full social justice warrior. The results should be instructive to all Virginians, particularly as the VDOE continues to push its social justice agenda in other school districts.

Unfortunately, VDOE is changing the rules for Standards of Learning tests this year, allowing students who have who have already earned a verified credit in the subject area to skip the end-of-year standardized tests. The change will render inoperative any comparisons between past year’s SOL pass rates and this year’s. Virginians will have to wait until next year to make valid comparisons, and even then, we are likely to hear that one can’t reach conclusive judgments on a single year’s results.

We’ll see about that. In the meantime, a note to self: Make a point of comparing SOL test scores for next year and this year at the following schools mentioned in the RTD article:

George Mason Elementary
Overby-Sheppard Elementary
Fairfield Court Elementary
Henderson Middle
George Wythe High School
John Marshall High School
Thomas Jefferson High School

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7 responses to “Richmond Schools: a Social Justice Lab Test”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    So now the critics of Richmond schools have lost their ‘weapon’ (SOL scores). tsk tsk

    Gee, how can we claim that private schools can do better if we don’t have those terrible SOL scores ?

    But one quick question. How do you measure ” Social Justice” so you know which principals made the grade and which ones should be fired?

    1. I don’t know how one measures “social justice.” You’ll need to direct that question to the RPS officials hiring the new principals.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    so , if we get rid of SOLs and have no way to measure academic performance or social justice performance – looks like a good way to de-fang the critics! no?

  3. I wondered if there was any correlation between the principals who are being replaced and a decline in SOL pass rates at their schools. There doesn’t seem to be.

  4. I also wondered if there was any correlation between the principles being replaced and the increase/decrease in the number of short- and long-term suspensions. Nope, there doesn’t seem to be.

  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    What a freaking train wreck this city is. Hmmm, 3 p.m. approaches. I can go to the window and see the long line of private cars picking up their private school students next door. Those parents paying astronomical out of pocket costs are convinced the school is better, Larry.

  6. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    “As with everything in life, leadership is critical. Our kids, but also our teachers, need great leaders who can lead with love.”

    All kids need to be taught to read and write, it’s key to social justice.

    A replacement to Mr. Kamras needs to be found.

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