The Epic Fail of Loudoun Schools

by James A. Bacon

Two headlines from today’s news clippings:

From Loudoun Now: Test Data Show COVID-era Learning Loss in Loudoun

From the Washington Times: Teachers to ask court to halt Loudoun County school’s pronoun policy

Could there be a link between the two? I will argue that there is: that the obsession with “social justice” issues has distracted Loudoun school leadership from its primary job of, you know, actually teaching children.

By way of background, Loudoun has the highest median household income ($134,000) in the United States. Its citizens are the 6th best educated in the U.S., as measured by the percentage of adults with a B.A. education level (58.7%). The Loudoun County school budget is about $1.2 billion, or $13,700 per student compared to the state average of $11,600. By traditional metrics of per-pupil spending and socioeconomic status, Loudoun students should be stellar achievers.

But they’re not.

Many school systems use Measures of Academic Progress assessments (or MAPs) to track the progress students in grades 2 through 8 are making. According to Loudoun Now, Ashley Ellis, assistant superintendent of instruction said that MAPs data “shows that COVID-19 and hybrid and distance learning led to a decrease in proficiency, and highlights particularly low growth for English learners and students with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs).”

“We are able to project a student’s path from fourth grade, to see whether they’re on a trajectory to be college-career ready by 11th grade,” Ryan Tyler, director of research, assessment and school improvement, told the School Board in August.

Typically, Loudoun students rank in the 50th-60th percentiles in growth relative to students across the country in math. But data from the 2020-21 MAP testing shows that no category of test takers (broken down by race, ethnicity, English learners, etc.) scored higher than the 45th percentile.

Let that sink in. Nearly 60% of Loudoun adults have a B.A. degree. Only 45% of the students covered by the MAPs math assessment were tracking with the national average for measures of student growth.

One must ask why this might be. Even without the benefit of the latest MAPs data, Jim Sherlock has been asking that very question. I urge you to read his columns on the subject. Meanwhile, I hope here to expand upon his analysis.

My argument is that the School Board has taken its eye off the ball. Clearly, the COVID-19 epidemic has something to do with the abysmal failings of the school system. But every school system in the country dealt with the same COVID challenge. Instead of figuring out how to keep the schools open for in-person learning, as most private schools and many public schools did, the Loudoun school board was intent upon carrying out a social revolution, implementing a social-justice agenda in the areas of race and transgenderism.

Thus, we get stories like the one encapsulated in the Washington Times headline above in which three Loudoun County school teachers are heading to state court to halt the school system’s new mandatory policy on the use of pronouns. Yes, while Loudoun schools were engaged in an epic fail in their core mission of teaching students reading, writing, math, and science, the school leadership was focused on ensuring that transgender students, a tiny minority of the school population, were called by their preferred pronouns.

Of course, that’s just one headline. There have been hundreds of others. The School Board has taken on the task of bringing about racial “equity” — equal group outcomes. Ironically, but predictably, even as learning progress has suffered for all, the gaps between racial/ethnic groups has gotten wider. It seems that parents in the wealthiest and 6th most highly educated county in the country have a perverse desire to see their children acquire the skills they need to get into college, and those with resources are willing to devote time and money to ensuring that their children get what their schools aren’t giving them.

If you query Bing (I often use Bing rather than Google) for “Loudoun County tutors” you will find results for Loudoun Tutors, Mathnasium, the Kumon Math and Reading Center of Landsdowne, tutors specializing in the ACT college-admissions exams, online tutoring, in-person tutoring, homeschool tutoring, and a wide array of private tutors.

You see, when public schools fail to do their job, affluent families have options that poor families don’t. Well-to-do parents can send their children to private school. They can homeschool. They can hire tutors.

Failing public schools make inequality worse. The fixation on turning public schools into engines of social justice actually aggravates the very inequalities that “progressives” seek to redress. The best social-justice program in the country is a public school system that works. Schools should focus on teaching, not transforming society.

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25 responses to “The Epic Fail of Loudoun Schools”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    I suspect in Loudoun where education levels and incomes are high – that they have tended to be folks that supported the measures that the school system took in response to Covid and probably are not the ones raising hell at the board meetings.

    I won’t call them the silent majority, but I suspect they are much more supportive of public school policies for diversity, inclusion and equity and have some faith that the schools will address the shortfalls and get back on track.

    Conservatives have exploited the divide, successfully, no question, but I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as some Conservatives might think.

    And Loudoun was not the only school that went to distance learning, by a long shot, it was pretty widespread in fact – and how many schools that did stay open have actually reported that they maintained SOL scores? Certainly not the private ones… more than a few of which also took similar measures including remote instruction, social distancing, and masks.

    I say the fat lady ain’t sung yet.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      “Data from the 2020-2021 MAP testing shows that no category of test takers scored higher than the 45th percentile”

      Isn’t that in comparison to the nation?

      If so, the most affluent, 6th best educated county in the US is below average in math … vs the rest of the country.

      If the residents of Loudoun County really are lazy enough, stupid enough or uncaring enough to find that acceptable … I guess their poor kids will pay the price.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        One presumes, perhaps wrongly that a very high percentage of Loudoun kids are headed to college and the parents are involved in it AND they intend for their kids to get what they need from LCPS to get into college.

        I do wonder how many kids of parents raising hell at the board meetings are headed to college, but I was bad in saying that.

        We’re about to see how many parents are truly outraged and how many are staying the course.

      2. I think Loudoun County parents have pretty well demonstrated that they do care. Judged by the mob scenes at school board meetings, they are in a virtual state of rebellion. Let’s see what happens next time there are school board elections.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          One has to wonder if the “mobs” represented much of Loudoun or was a pseudo grass-roots effort.

          I have my doubts and wonder if these are the usual tea party suspects who are organized that even Loudoun County has a few of, but they don’t really represent a majority of Loudoun parents.

          I will say in Spotsylvania further south that conservatives HAVE been elected to the school board…and there have been raucous meetings also.

          1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
            Eric the half a troll

            EVEN Loudoun… we are rightwing crazy central!!

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            Pretty good article:

            A GOP PAC and paid GOP operatives were involved in the Loudoun issue:

            How a School District Got Caught in Virginia’s Political Maelstrom

            Loudoun County tried to address racism and promote diversity within its schools. Then it found itself on Fox News.


          3. Matt Adams Avatar

            “Eric the half a troll LarrytheG • a day ago
            EVEN Loudoun… we are rightwing crazy central!!”

            The partisan hack form lily white Hamilton has spoken.

      3. LarrytheG Avatar

        RE: data from – give me a reference or a link or admit this is bogus…”MAPP” is a generic term. So give me some specifics especially if the claim is other school systems in Va and outside of VA.

        A lot of complaints in BR about MSM “bias” but it can’t hold a candle to the disinformation that gets promoted in BR sometimes.

        The basic premise seems to be is the MSM can be biased, other media can do even worse.!

        Show how Loundoun is actually worse off that the rest of Va or the rest of the US.

        Or admit this is just bogus to the bone blather.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      in terms of threats yes.. but how about in terms of numbers?

      I know there are conservative activists in Loudoun but do they really represent a majority of Loudoun parents?

      when ordinary people who become school board members start receiving threats to themselves and their families – to confuse that with leaving because they think they’re wrong or will be voted out is a mistake.

      We have elected people being threatened now and their families, not only school board members, but other elected officials and election officials and Congressmen.

      To confuse this with politics is a mistake.

      We cannot have a real governance if the elected are receiving physical threats…for their positions and especially so if the threats are coming from a clear minority who use intimidation instead of voting.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        I hear you Mr. Larry. The 1850s had the same problem.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          what happened then?

          How is the new job working? Any insights?

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Has Matt Hurt or Sherlock addressed ” Measures of Academic Progress assessments (or MAPs) ” for years in between the SOL testing?

    re: “Only 45% of the students covered by the MAPs math assessment were tracking with the national average for measures of student growth.”

    where is the national average coming from?

    Other schools nationally in the same COVID year scored higher? What are we comparing to?

  3. Bob X from Texas Avatar
    Bob X from Texas

    When schools spend valuable classroom time on intersectional gender studies and transsexual logistics, math ,science, history, and reading don’t get the classroom time needed to help the students become successful.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Speed reading is an imperative when the book is afire.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        The book-burning in Spotsylvania is being reconsidered after it was pointed out that the Bible also has references to all the bad sexual stuff found in other “sexually explicit” books. Lordy.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Remember Tipper Gore? She thought she was going to clean up the music industry and get all those naughty cop-killer lyrics out of rap, and all of the drug and sex references out of heavy metal and acid rock.

          She had a plan. She called witnesses. She made speeches. It went *pfft* when John Denver, someone she was sure was on her side, told her in his wonderfully disarming way that she was being a book burner.

          The publishing industry ain’t what it used to be, and it’s a damned sight less powerful than was the music industry when Tipper swung her axe, but the last time I checked they still buy ink by the barrels, and W. R. Herst’s warning is surely as valid today as when he said it.

          These Republicans have picked a flat hill on which to die.

          As Flounder said, “Oh Boy! This is gonna be fun!”

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            It seems to always go back to this and probably because much of the GOP is fire-brewed evangelicals.. and they gotta get their due…

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            To give the Devil his due, Republicans have always tried to ban mention of. sex, while Democrats tried to ban racism, e.g., Lolita, and Huck Finn, respectively.

            It’s just this whole thing where Republicans are now trying to ban the entire black population’s history is new.

            George Washington Carver, and Crispus Attucks,… well, I guess we can tell you about them.

            Sally Hemmings? Not so much. It conjures up the possibility of a seduction that involved a “sleep in cotton sheets or pick the cotton to make ’em; your choice” ultimatum.

          3. LarrytheG Avatar

            racism is a very bad thing that happened long ago and is no longer…and those that bring it up are clinging to the past….

          4. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            US History — White written. White approved.

  4. Matt Hurt Avatar

    I certainly don’t know the details of what’s going on in Loudoun, but there are a few things that folks need to consider.

    The Covid Pandemic (or more specifically our response to it) is still actively affecting our instructional programs. If a student is diagnosed with Covid, or was near someone who was, they are out of school from 10-14 days. Many students have been quarantined more than once this year. Our data from 2021 demonstrated that for many kids, virtual instruction was a poor substitute for a teacher standing over them making them do their work.

    Similarly, many teachers have been quarantined, and most divisions have had a very difficult time finding anyone with a pulse to serve as a substitute. In fact, in many divisions teachers have to cover classes during their planning periods to cover for others due to lack of subs.

    The NWEA MAP tests are nationally normed, and that norming process doesn’t update in real time. The link below describes how they do that every 3-5 years, and it was last done in July 2020, so it is likely that Pandemic era data was not included in that process. Therefore, I would bet the farm that all divisions who use that assessment platform are realizing similar results, i.e. that their students are loosing ground relative to the norms. If they ever update their norms with Covid era data (and they may have- not for sure), then all of that would be different.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Some conventional wisdom seems to be that the school need to stop all virtual instruction, and not use or follow any covid protocols – i.e. just get back to teaching like it was before….

      thanks for the NWEA MAP info – now I know that the “norms” are before COVID not comparing schools in the current timeframe where some claim that some schools that did not go to virtual instruction nor COVID protocols – stayed open and taught as usual with typical results.

      Likely NOT TRUE but one would never know that reading some of the commentary here in BR that seems to imply that some schools ignored COVID and did just fine.

      1. Matt Hurt Avatar

        We’re all hoping for a return to normalcy. Back in July, we thought we’d have that this year, then the Delta variant hit hard. It seems like the virus mutating has some benefits in that while it becomes more contagious, it seems to be less deadly. It seems to be on track to becoming the next flu.

        All of this is way above my paygrade, but we’re probably close to a tipping point where the risks associated with keeping students out of school for any amount of time outweigh the risks of the virus itself.

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