Tag Archives: James A. Bacon

The Empire Strikes Back

by James A. Bacon

That didn’t take long. Yesterday the Youngkin administration issued its report detailing the perilous condition of Virginia’s public schools. Today the
progressive educational establishment struck back, thoroughly rejecting the administration’s claims that educational performance is heading in the wrong direction.

The most forceful denunciations are found in The Washington Post, which not only quoted numerous critics of the report, but joined in the fray with its own “analysis” suggesting that Team Youngkin’s “use of data is misleading.”

According to the Post (quoting verbatim):

Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said in a statement: “To accuse Virginia’s education system of failure is an outright lie, supported by cherry-picked data and warped perspective.”

The Virginia Education Association, a teachers union, called the report “biased” and designed to “get the public to want school choice measures like vouchers.” The association shared a video of [Secretary of Education Aimee] Guidera speaking at an April panel hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, in which she promised to publish data on students’ poor academic performance to “hopefully … have those conversations about expanding choices outside the public system.” Continue reading

Youngkin’s Principles for Achieving Educational Excellence

Governor Glenn Younkin speeds during a news conference announced his latest education report.

by James A. Bacon

Educational outcomes in Virginia have been trending negative since 2017, says a report issued by the Youngkin administration today, “Our Commitment to Virginians: High Expectations and Excellence for All Students.”

So… how does Team Youngkin plan to get things moving in the right direction?

Broadly speaking, the answer is to raise expectations and raise standards.

In the Youngkin administration narrative, a succession of Republican and Democrat governors built one of the best public education systems in the country by setting ambitious goals and holding schools accountable. Beginning around 2017 concerns over racial disparities in academic performance prompted policies that, though well meaning, had the effect of watering down standards and hiding failure. Youngkin is determined to restore the commitment to excellence.

“The future prosperity of our Commonwealth depends on how well we prepare our students,” the Governor said in a prepared statement today. “Working alongside parents, teachers, and policymakers, we will restore excellence in education and ensure that all students have access to quality education opportunities that prepare them for success in our workplaces, our communities, and our democracy.” Continue reading

The Hard Truth about Virginia Schools

by James A. Bacon

Virginia’s public schools, once among the best in the nation, are slipping badly. Some of the learning loss can be attributed to school closings driven by the COVID-19 epidemic, but the slide began several years before, when education leaders began lowering standards. And despite a relentless focus on “equity,” the racial achievement gap is getting worse.

So concludes a report issued this morning, “Our Commitment to Virginians: High Expectations and Excellence for All Students,” prepared by Jillian Balow, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The bulk of the report is devoted to documenting the seldom-acknowledged reality that educational outcomes in Virginia are deteriorating. “We need a clear understanding of where we are right now,” said Education Secretary Aimee Guidera in a press briefing before the official release. The report, she said, presents “a sobering picture.”

Bacon’s Rebellion will present the data behind that conclusion in this post, and then describe how the Youngkin administration intends to address the challenge in a follow-up post.

Central to the report is a concept called “the honesty gap,” a metric popularized by a nonprofit organization, Achieve Inc., to express the gulf between state and federal measures of student proficiency in math and English. According to Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) tests, 75% of the state’s 4th graders are proficient in reading. But according to the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) — the “gold standard” in educational testing — only 38% are proficient, a gap of 37%. The discrepancy is even wider for Blacks and Hispanics: 45%. Continue reading

Hey, Buddy, What’s Your Friggin’ Problem?

by James A. Bacon

Based on anecdotal evidence, I have long thought that the rudest, most aggressive drivers in the United States resided in the Northeastern states. It turns out, based on insurance data, that Virginia has some of the worst drivers in the country. So much for our self-image as courteous ladies and gentlemen.

Insurify, a website that helps consumers find automobile insurance, collects a massive volume of data on driver history, including accidents and tickets. Virginians stand out in several regards. Ranked by driving offenses including failure to yield or stop, improper backing, passing where prohibited, tailgating, street racing, and hit-and-run, Virginia is the No. 1 state for drivers with a “rude” driving violation on record. The percentage of rude drivers (3.58%) is more than twice that of the national average (1.68%).

Likewise, Virginia ranks No. 1 in the country for the percentage of drivers with a reckless driving offense (0.56%). That is more than five times the national rate (.09%) Continue reading

A “Best Universities” Ranking Virginians Can Be Proud Of

by James A. Bacon

There are multiple college rankings these days. Results vary widely based upon the criteria used to rate the institutions: prestige, social justice, affordability, and the like. Money magazine uses 24 factors reflecting upon the quality of the education, the cost of the education (net price after adjusting for financial aid), and outcomes (post-graduate earnings, economic mobility and return on investment).

I could give a flying fig about “prestige” — prestige in the higher-ed world doesn’t translate into anything I value — or “social justice,” as defined by leftists. Money magazine’s ranking comes closest to reflecting my values and priorities, which can be summed up as educational value added.

Of the 671 institutions that met Money’s qualifications (minimum size, reliable data, above-median graduation rate), here is how Virginia institutions fared under Money’s methodology.

University of Virginia — No. 3.
Virginia Military Institute — No. 5
Washington & Lee University — No. 11
Virginia Tech — No. 22
George Mason University — No. 72
James Madison University — No. 86 Continue reading

Once Upon a Time, Schools Didn’t Need Fancy Buildings, Big Bureaucracies and Trauma Counselors to Teach

Gail Smith

by James A. Bacon

When Gail Smith talks about growing up in 1950s-era Goochland County, she calls her time attending the Second Union Rosenwald School as “the best years of my life.” The two-room schoolhouse was lacking in what we refer to today as “amenities.” But it was supported by the local African-American community, and it had spirit.

There were no school buses in her poor farming community — Smith passed through woods on her trek to and from school. There was no indoor plumbing or running water, either. The boys went to a nearby spring with a bucket and dipper to fetch water. Nor were there grocery stores, much less free meals — students brought their farm-raised lunches in brown bags. There wasn’t even central heating. During cold weather, the boys scoured the woods to gather kindling for the fire. School lasted five hours until 2:15, with time off for two 15-minute breaks. When the kids heard the bell, they hurried back to their classroom. Smith and her contemporaries recall a teacher, Fannie Beale, with great fondness for her firmness and her ability to inspire.

“We were poor but we were happy,” Smith says. “We came to school excited to learn.” She and many classmates went on to earn higher-ed degrees and pursue professional careers. Continue reading

Youngkin Announces Violent Crime Task Force

Governor Glenn Youngkin announced yesterday the creation of a task force to combat violent crime in Virginia. Said the Governor in making the announcement: “We will take a comprehensive look at how we can address the rise in violent crime by providing more law enforcement resources, creating alternative and after-school activities for children, and addressing the fear that results in witnesses failing to show up for a criminal hearing.”

The announcement could not have been more poignantly timed. In Hampton Roads, three men were killed and three others injured in a series of shootings on Sunday and Monday, reports The Virginian-Pilot. One incident occurred at a vigil attended by hundreds of people in Norfolk in commemoration of a previous shooting victim.

Hopefully, the task force will identify some useful tweaks to policing, justice, and schools to reverse the upsurge in violence over the past two years. But the problem runs deeper than a lack of resources or a failure of policy. What we’re seeing now is the result of a thorough de-legitimization of the criminal justice system by America’s political, media and cultural elites. Charges of “systemic racism” have inspired contempt for law enforcement in lower-income Black communities. To turn the tide, Youngkin needs to articulate a counter-narrative that restores legitimacy to the justice system, and then enact reforms to back it up.


VCU Circular Firing Squad: Nazis, Terrorists and Racists

Former Governor L. Douglas Wilder. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

There’s a whole lot of crazy going on at Virginia Commonwealth University right now, and, not surprisingly, former Governor L. Douglas Wilder is in the center of it. Between the accusations of racism and alleged threats to physical safety, the controversy is a window into the demented rhetoric inside higher education today — everyone’s a racist or a Nazi — and, insofar as universities are incubators of rhetoric that spills into broader society, it is symptomatic of the fever that afflicts us all.

The story, as best I can reconstruct it from the account provided by Eric Kolenich at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, began when James M. Burke, a faculty member at VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, sent an email Jan. 30 to Wilder, after whom the school is named, decrying his advisory role in Governor Glenn Younkin’s 2021 transition team.

Burke, judging by the contents of this email, does not think highly of Republicans. Indeed, he likens them to Nazis. He wrote:

Wow. What a shit show. It will be four years of disaster…. I am beyond disgusted and disappointed in anyone who could have missed the obvious. Welcome the Nazis. I have no respect for anyone who supported [Youngkin]…. Is this what you wanted, Doug? I can’t believe you fell for it. You fucked up badly…. Trust me these jerks will come after me for teaching history. They will come after my Black colleagues for saying what is true. I will not capitulate to these people. Someone has to stand up. Will you stand up with me? Continue reading

The Boeing Announcement Is a Vote of Confidence in Virginia

Boeing Advanced F-15 jet fighter

by James A. Bacon

The Boeing Company’s decision to transfer its official headquarters location from Chicago, Ill., to Arlington gives Virginia significant bragging rights. The move will have little detectable short-term economic impact. The more consequential news is a promise to “develop a research & technology hub” in the area “to harness and attract engineering and technical capabilities.”

Plans at this point are vague. I’m guessing a big winner will be Virginia Tech, which last year unveiled a $248 million project to replace Randolph Hall, which houses the aerospace engineering department. Randolph Hall is connected to one of the largest university-owned stability wind tunnels in the United States. Mitchell Hall, which will replace it, will accommodate the wind tunnel and partially enclose it. Tech also is developing a major campus in Arlington in collaboration with the Amazon project there.

With $66.2 billion in annual revenue in 2021, Boeing will rank as the second largest Fortune 500 company headquartered in Virginia. The first is Freddie Mac, which had $80.6 billion in revenue and logged in at No. 47 nationally. If Boeing recovers to the $100 billion-plus level of a few years ago, it would be the largest company based in Virginia. Continue reading

Home Again

A double arch seen in Arches National Park.

by James A. Bacon

Ahh. It’s great to be back in Virginia. The wife and I had a fabulous time visiting state and national parks in Utah — a trip I recommend to everyone — but I’m glad to be back home. The Old Dominion may not have arches, hoodoos, mesas or other astonishing geological sights, but we’re not running out of water. We can take long, hot showers without feeling guilty about it.

Before I continue, I want to give a shout-out to Jim Sherlock and Dick Hall-Sizemore for keeping Bacon’s Rebellion lively and informative during my absence. For the first time in, like, forever, I spent a vacation without a laptop. It was refreshing not to be thinking incessantly about politics and policy, but I did check on the blog with my tablet, and I do confess that it was frustrating at times being unable to participate in the back-and-forth. Great job, guys! 

There’s nothing like a visit to the desert to appreciate something we East Coasters take totally for granted — an abundance of water. Annual rainfall in Virginia averages 40 to 50 inches per year. That’s two to three times the moistest locations in Utah, and four to six times that of Utah’s southern deserts. Despite our meteorological blessings, some parts of the state still find their water resources to be limited. Imagine supporting Virginia’s population on nine inches a year (the precipitation at Moab, population 5,000+, where we spent three nights). Continue reading

Utah Bound!

I’m leaving Wednesday on a much-needed vacation, in which my wife, traveling companions and I expect to do a lot of hiking with spectacular views such as this one. I’ll be gone about 10 days — without a laptop, unable to blog! (Is there a blogging-withdrawal antidote comparable to Oxycodone? Oh, maybe it’s spending time with friends and the great outdoors.) I will take a tablet, so I hope to keep up with email, but that’s about it. I’m counting on the BR crew to keep the blog lively in my absence. They’ve done it before, and I’m sure they’ll do just fine. Who knows — maybe they’ll do better! Everybody please behave while I’m gone! — JAB

Youngkin’s Education Agenda — Raise Standards, Pursue Excellence, Help Those Who Need It

by James A. Bacon

Former Governor George Allen likes to say that the best social program is a job. One might suggest that a corollary to this proposition is that the best way for Virginia’s public school system to advance “social justice” is giving students the skills they need to get quality jobs in the 21st century knowledge economy.

That seems to be the philosophy adopted by the Youngkin administration.

“We are reorienting everything to how education is geared towards preparing people for the jobs of today and of tomorrow,” said Education Secretary Aimee Rogstad Guidera in a forum hosted by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) last month. “Virginia needs to be the best place to learn…. So, everything we do in the next four years in the Youngkin administration will be guided by our North Star: to prepare every single learner for success in life, in our economy, our democracy, and our communities.” 

The Youngkin administration’s benchmarks of success will be graduates stepping into jobs that earn family-supporting wages, companies investing in Virginia due to the quality of its labor force, and a growing state economy. Continue reading

What on Earth Is Going On in Richmond Public School Bathrooms?

by James A. Bacon

How dysfunctional are Richmond City public schools?

Consider the case of River City Middle School, which serves a population that is 59% economically disadvantaged. While many of the city’s schools have enrollments beneath capacity, due to a declining student population in the city, River City is bulging at the seams. Built to hold 1,500 students, the school opened in September with 1,626 students.

The city School Board has been debating whether to transfer some of those students to other schools. In a hearing Monday night, Principal Jacquelyn Murphy-Braxton told of the problems created for bathroom access. Reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

With a limited number of bathrooms and not enough staff to supervise them, teachers have to use instruction time to take their entire class to the bathroom. “No one wants to see us continue the way we have. No one. Not me, and you shouldn’t either,” Murphy-Braxton said.

Teachers using instruction time to take the entire class to the bathroom? Have you ever heard of such a thing? Ever? Anywhere?

What is going on over there? Continue reading

How Partisan Bias Affects Law School Rankings

U.S. News & World-Report 2022 rankings

by James A. Bacon

Virginia is known for the number and quality of its law schools. Eight law schools are located in the state, making almost one for every 1.1. million residents. Nationally, there are 192 law schools for 330 million people, or roughly one for every 1.6 million. Woohoo, we have lawyers out the wazoo!

The University of Virginia is widely held to be the most prestigious of the Virginia law schools, holding an 8th place ranking in the latest U.S. News & World-Report survey. The George Mason University and William & Mary law schools are highly regarded as well, tying for No. 30 on the list. Washington & Lee and University of Richmond (almost) also place in the Top quartile.

One can argue whether college and university rankings are worthwhile or pernicious, but there’s no question that they confer bragging rights and drive applications. Sadly, Michael Conklin, a professor of business law at Angelo State University, has found that the rankings are influenced by the political leanings of the law school deans and select faculty whose views are incorporated into the “peer rankings” of law school reputation. Continue reading

Peay’s Service at VMI Honored

by James A. Bacon

A  year and a half after he was forced into resigning amidst allegations of “relentless racism” at the institution he ran for 17 years, J.H. Binford Peay III, has been honored by the VMI Board of Visitors.

The board bestowed upon him the title of superintendent emeritus and ordered that a planned leadership building be named Peay Hall in his honor, and its dining room be named for his wife Pamela Peay. Further, General and Mrs. Peay will be honored at VMI’s Founders Day celebration Nov. 11. Superintendent Cedric T. Wins announced the recognitions at a class-of-1962 alumni reunion dinner April 26.

Stated the press release: “The Institute celebrated many successes during Peay’s 17 years as superintendent, including improved academic and co-curricular programs, major renovations of many buildings, and the construction of Third Barracks, Marshall Hall, and the Corps Physical Training Facility. During his tenure, the former superintendent was dedicated to an environment of excellence where cadets were provided countless opportunities to develop traits of successful leadership—honor, respect, civility, self-discipline, and professionalism.” Continue reading