Structural Racism in VDOE Leadership?

Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane:  white male. One of many in senior leadership.

by James A. Bacon

Under the Northam administration, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) has taken the lead in pushing for racial “equity” in public schools: hiring more minority teachers, funneling money to under-performing schools, and rewriting admissions policies for elite governor’s schools to admit more minorities. But it turns out that the senior ranks of the VDOE itself are almost exclusively white.

As the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) reports in its review of VDOE administrative effectiveness (my highlight):

As of July 2020, all 13 staff in senior leadership positions—primarily the assistant superintendent level or higher—were white (seven of them are male). Eight of nine hires for these positions since VDOE’s reorganization in 2018 have been white applicants (one minority applicant was hired but has since left the agency). A member of the superintendent’s cabinet is a person of color, though that person is an office director.

VDOE staff expressed concern to JLARC that the lack of diversity in senior leadership might “hurt perceptions” of the agency and not allow VDOE leadership to “fully understand the challenges facing school divisions with higher proportions of student populations.”

But VDOE has an excuse: Darn it, it’s hard recruiting minority candidates for senior positions. But we’re trying.

States the JLARC report:

According to VDOE leadership, it is difficult to successfully recruit minority candidates for assistant superintendent level positions.

JLARC does not describe why it has been difficult hiring qualified minority candidates, just what VDOE is doing about it.

Agency leadership staff indicate that they have had more success in hiring office directors who are people of color (the level below assistant superintendent), which will better position the agency to fill future senior leadership roles with more diverse internal applicants as those positions become vacant. Eight of 31 (26 percent) VDOE office directors are minorities. Agency leadership and management staff are also addressing diversity through participation in an
equity training series provided by Virginia Commonwealth University that focuses on implicit bias and cultural competency.

Wow. VDOE leadership is admitting that it suffers from implicit bias and insufficient cultural competency, yet it is leading the overhaul of the entire public school system. Is it fair, using the same criteria that VDOE uses to judge others, to call VDOE leaders “racist”? Or, less harshly, do we conclude that VDOE on their watch remains guilty of “structural racism”?

Bacon’s bottom line: In truth, what we’re seeing here is a classic pipeline problem. There are not enough qualified minority candidates applying for senior administrative positions. Why might that be? Because there are not enough minorities graduating with relevant degrees from colleges and universities. Why might that be? One possibility is that Hispanic and African American college grads espy superior career advancement opportunities in fields other than education. Another possibility is that there aren’t enough minorities with the academic credentials to get into college.

The pipeline problem is compounded by the fact that qualified minority candidates are in extremely high demand. VDOE hired one minority applicant for a senior leadership position, but that individual has since left. We don’t know it for a fact, but he or she was likely recruited by some other educational agency trying to solve its pipeline problem.

Attending equity training programs is a useless response. VDOE’s white leaders are already so “woke” that a fistful of sleeping pills couldn’t put them to sleep. The JLARC report offers a plausible remedy: Groom more minority candidates in lower ranks for advancement. In other words, address the real problem!

Meanwhile, VDOE leaders, mend your own fences before you demand that others mend theirs. Show a little empathy for school districts that face the exact same problem you do. Acknowledge that the lack of proportional racial representation in a given occupation does not always constitute discrimination or even “systemic racism.” Either admit that truth, or own up to the fact that you’re racist and have no business running a public school system.

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24 responses to “Structural Racism in VDOE Leadership?

  1. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Waive the licensure requirements needed to apply to upper leadership positions and the problem is solved. At least on paper.

  2. ” …. rewriting admissions policies for elite governor’s schools to admit more minorities.” Not true. At least, not with regard to Thomas Jefferson. TJ is 71.5% Asian-American and 19.48% white (non-Latino). 50.1% of people in Fairfax County are white (non-Latino). By what abortion of probability will a fair lottery of “qualified” students result in the admission of more minorities? The lottery will result in a decrease in the number of minorities admitted. More Whites, more Blacks, more Hispanics and a lot fewer Asians. Overall, fewer minorities. Unless, of course, the woke virtue signalers of the left no longer consider Asian-Americans to be a minority group.

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      Mr. DJ I believe the school board amended their lottery idea last night.

      “Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in the Alexandria area of the county will reserve 100 of the 500 slots for the highest-evaluated students based on a holistic review of their applications. The remaining 400 seats will be filled by merit lottery.”

      I suppose this was done in response to the criticism from many parents. I don’t think it gets to the root of the issue. Enhancing readiness for underrepresented groups.

      • The “readiness” of the underrepresented groups involved money.

        Great gobs of it are spent by parents who have it to get their kids academically equipped to compete effectively for TJ.

        There is no way for parents of modest or low wealth to compete against this.

        The first step in all of this is to recognize this reality.

        As long as we refuse to deal with the reality, we’re never going to reach some collective understanding much less agreement on what to do about it.

        • Okay. Let’s face the reality.

          What do you propose we do about parents who spend “great gobs” of money on supplementing their child’s education?

        • James Wyatt Whitehead V

          Fairfax school system has the bread to enhance readiness. They could do it. But they won’t. It’s hard, authentic, and honest work to do it this way. Much better to press the easy button.

          • Well, as I said. The first thing that needs to be recognized is that almost all – 98% of those who get into TJ are NOT economically disadvantaged.

            And it’s reported that parents who want their kids to go to the better colleges will spend money on tutors, and special classes to get their kids “pre-qualified” to get into TJ – based on TJ’s current methodology of prioritizing the kids who have the best academic credentials.

            Now , does everyone understand it – admit it?

            Because if people do not agree that this is what is happening – coming up with responses to it is futile if people don’t agree on the problem to start with.

            The problem is BR – is that these issues are portrayed in ways that are inherently disengenuous so that the argument at the front is not about the disparities that are part fo the problem. The debate never actually gets much past the “woke” idea.

          • Larry,

            You have once again changed the subject, launching a completely groundless attack based on your assumptions about what other people think.

            I asked you a simple questions: What do you propose we do about parents who spend “great gobs” of money on supplementing their child’s education?

            Do you have any ideas or are you content to simply complain about it again and again and again and again and again and again and again? (…and I probably still have not included enough “agains”).

            PS – For the record, “great gobs” is your description, not mine.

        • You don’t know that. You don’t know a damn bit of that. You made up the “spend great gobs of money” to get their kids prepared for TJ out of whole cloth. My personal experience with parents of kids at TJ isn’t that they spend great gobs of money getting their kids ready. It’s that they spend great gobs of time making sure their kids are ready. It’s that they spend great gobs of willpower insisting that their kids study morning, noon and night.

          Where are your facts Larry? What evidence do you have that the parents of Thomas Jefferson students spend great gobs of money getting them ready?

          I strongly suspect that you have no evidence or facts to back up your “reality”.

      • It does nothing to enhance readiness for underrepresented groups. It dumbs down the school. 37.8% of the students in Fairfax County Public Schools are white. 19.4% of the students at TJ are white (non-hispanic). Only in Larryworld is the under-representation of white students (by a factor of half) attributable to a lack of tutoring because their parents are too poor to afford tutors.

        The right answer would be to leave TJ as it is and establish another high school for science and technology where “qualified” students attend by lotto.

        • If Fairfax schools/taxpayers PAID for tutoring and special classes for promising students who are econmoically disadvantaged – from 1st grade on – what would happen?

          SHOULD taxpayers pay to provide the same types of tutoring and extras classes for economically disadvantaged kids so they can effctively compete against kids whose parents could afford the tutoring and extra classes?

          • I’m pretty sure many schools still have “gifted” programs, separate from governors schools, which are open to promising students of all backgrounds. Perhaps some changes/tweaks/expansion could be made to these “gifted” programs, and an effort made to recruit and nurture promising students from lower economic strata.

    • Didn’t they tell you? For purposes of this exercise, Asian = White.


  3. The shortage of qualified minority is endemic across the spectrum no matter whether it’s education, NGOs, and even Corporations.

    And really, it walks and talks like the proverbial glass ceiling for women.

    And the organizations that are trying to honestl deal with the issues are called “woke” by those who basically wash their hands of it.

    no surprise there.

    • There is no shortage of minorities at Thomas Jefferson High School. There is no shortage of minorities in high technology companies. Only a shortage of “minorities” where “minority” does not include Asian-Americans. Typical libtwittery.

      Why don’t you just admit it Larry … Asian-Americans have tossed your “white privilege” stupidity on its head so you are now just going to ignore Asian-Americans as a minority.

  4. re: ” By what abortion of probability will a fair lottery of “qualified” students result in the admission of more minorities? The lottery will result in a decrease in the number of minorities admitted. More Whites, more Blacks, more Hispanics and a lot fewer Asians. Overall, fewer minorities. Unless, of course, the woke virtue signalers of the left no longer consider Asian-Americans to be a minority group.”

    and I agree – this will not help the kids whose parents cannot afford to have their kids tutored or attend advanced classes to build the stepping stone pre-requisites that lead to a competitive application to TJ.

    an article well worth reading that further discusses the dilema:

    but called the VDOE leadership as ‘racist’ is a cynical diversion from the real issues… typical… but designed to deflect from the real issues.

    • Either provide some facts to demonstrate that Thomas Jefferson parents spend lots of money on tutoring their children or drop that BS. The fact that 98% are not underprivileged does not demonstrate in any way shape or form that their parents spend gobs of money on tutoring. Given that the kids who go there are smarter than the tutors their parents could hire I’d be very surprised if there was a lot of tutoring going on.

      You are making things up.

      • Well, you’re totally wrong about the numbers of disadvantaged. Less than 2% of the disadvantaged are represented at TJ.

        Race Disadvantaged Count
        Asian N 1,266
        Asian Y 27
        Black, not of Hispanic origin N 29
        Black, not of Hispanic origin Y <
        Hispanic N 47
        Hispanic Y <
        White, not of Hispanic origin N 349
        White, not of Hispanic origin Y <

        So how would you explain the numbers above (from VDOE build-a-table).

        And there are numerous articles about what parents do to get their kids into TJ:

        " McLaughlin, like other board members, still worries about Washington’s booming test-prep industry. Modeled on Korean “cram” schools, classes meet after school, on weekends, and throughout the summer. “They’ve become professionals at that process of getting into TJ,” says Josh Silverman, a private tutor in the area.

        Silverman graduated from TJ in 1994, during the school’s multicultural heyday, and his less intensive 20-hour TJ prep class ran parents $600. “I did feel like I was becoming part of the problem,” he says."

        tutoring and extra classes for kids to get into TJ is a real cottage industry in Fairfax.

        So you just don't believe it right?

        • You need a tutor. Prove that the majority of students who get into TJ do so through test prep. There are thousands of test prep tutors for the SAT but I don’t see the results.

          Kids who take SAT test prep courses see trivial increases in actual scores vs those who don’t. Why do you think it’s different for the TJ entrance exam. You are fooling yourself.

          I have a better idea than ruining one of America’s best high schools – offer test prep courses to any student who wants to take it. Taxpayer funded test prep scholarships for any economically disadvantage student who wants one. Nothing would make me happier than seeing kids from poor homes taking those test prep classes.

          • so you agree that a lack of test prep hurts the economically disadvantaged? Did a tutor tell you that or you just thought it up yourself? You’d suggest that to TJ as a “solution”?

            We’re not talking about SAT. We’re talkng about the standards that TJ uses to determine who can qualify and apparently it must work and you think so also?

          • One of the other questions, we could ask is this: Are the questions on the TJ tests the types of answers than a kid in a standard curriculum will be able to answer?

            If it is not -then the question becomes how would he/she receive education such that he/she could score well on those tests?

            Are those stepping-stone courses offered in the schools so that kids that have promise have complete access to them so that when the time comes to take the TJ tests, they have the level of knowledge needed to pass those tests and get into TJ?

  5. It is interesting to watch Republicans, who have shown absolutely no interest in addressing such issues as systemic racism or race relations in general (except for the poor, down-trodden white male, of course), launch a campaign critical of those trying to address the issue for not doing a good enough job.

    • 1) The word “republican” appears nowhere in the article.
      2) Nothing in the article indicates or implies that there is any kind of “campaign” going on.
      3) There is no criticism in the article of anyone for “not doing a good enough job” at anything.

      Did you intend to post this this as a comment to some other article?

      • Eric the Half a Troll

        1. James A. Bacon (a well known Republican) writes:

        “Under the Northam administration, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE)…” Immediately making this a Republicans vs. Democrats hit piece. Please don’t play coy with me.

        2. Fair enough replace it with “volley” although it is clearly part of a campaign by those on the oh so racially blind Right.

        3. Really…? “Meanwhile, VDOE leaders, mend your own fences before you demand that others mend theirs.” The classic “you must be perfect before you can expect others to improve”. Again, that is rich coming from those who can’t even muster enough courage or even interest to acknowledge the problem.

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