The Governor, General Assembly, VDOE and the Lenin Doctrine

by James C. Sherlock

“J. Out of this appropriation, $120,000 the second year from the general fund is provided for the Department of Education to develop and implement a pilot program to more comprehensively supervise school division compliance with a subset of key standards by requiring (i) the submission of more comprehensive compliance information, (ii) selective independent verification of compliance, (iii) monitoring of corrective action implementation, and (iv) analysis of compliance trends and issues.”

Those words, “selective independent verification of compliance” and “monitoring of corrective action implementation”, from the Governor and the General Assembly of Virginia, 2021 Appropriations Act.

I am reminded of words attributed to V. I. Lenin, the author of State Planning Commission (1922) and How We Should Reorganize the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection (1923).

State control makes it possible to check systematically on the execution of the decrees of the central power, to strengthen state discipline and legality, and to study the validity of motives and feasibility of resolutions made by the central state bodies and help improve the practice of devising and adopting them.”

“Workers and peasants inspection” indeed.

Updated Jul 24 at 12:45 PM

If you ever wondered how heavy are the hands of the Governor, the General Assembly and the Virginia Department of Education on your local school board, I offer here the answer to that question.

As for the costs to the school districts, I don’t know because the state does not, and is not interested.

State administrative requirements are referenced in Questions in the 2020-2021 SOQ Compliance and Other Reporting Data Collection released as an attachment to Superintendents Memo #173-21 to school superintendents on June 21 of this year.

This is not a complaint about the Questions checklist, but rather a challenge to the breadth and depth of the underlying requirements. Parents, grandparents and others interested in K-12 education, meaning all voters, will find the memo very informative.

Questions is 31 pages long. Each question refers to a rule that itself can run to dozens or even hundreds of pages.

The list of questions in Section 1 of this memo have been seen before.

But Virginia’s governor, General Assembly and Board of Education have spent the past year “updating” the requirements referenced in Questions.

To what end? More state command and control of local education.

Changes to law. Many of the rules are complex and may require legal counsel for school boards to interpret, like the new Social-Emotional Learning curricula and the pending Revisions to Model Guidance for Positive and Preventative Code of Student Conduct Policy and Alternatives to Suspension that runs 197 pages long.

It represents a complete overhaul with 1,092 comments and changes of a student conduct policy last published in 2019. Many of the changes were mandated by new laws. Some examples.

Senate Bill 1020

“No principal shall report assault and battery with no injuries to law enforcement if the parties complete the established school disciplinary process”; and

House Bill 837

amends and reenacts § 22.1-276.01 and § 22.1-279.6 of the Code of Virginia.

In amending § 22.1-279.6 the bill permits any school board to include in its code of student conduct a dress or grooming code. For school divisions who do include dress and grooming standards for students, the amendment explicitly outlines parameters of those standards as they relate to religion, gender, equity, and privacy.

The bill also requires the Board of Education to include in its guidelines and model policies for codes of student conduct “(i) standards for reducing bias and harassment in the enforcement of any code of student conduct and (ii) standards for dress or grooming codes.

House Bill 256

amends § 18.2-415 of the Code of Virginia to provide

that an elementary or secondary school student is not guilty (actually in bold in the law) of disorderly conduct in a public place if the disorderly conduct occurred on the property of an elementary or secondary school, on a school bus, or at any activity conducted or sponsored by any elementary or secondary school. The 2019 Model Guidance does not include “disorderly conduct” as a behavior for which students can be disciplined,

House Bill 257

and SB729

“eliminate the requirement that school principals report to law enforcement certain enumerated acts that may constitute a misdemeanor offense as outlined in subsection A of § 22.1-279.3:1.”

That should keep APs up burning the midnight oil.

School personnel cultural competency. Senate Bill 1196 passed in 2021 requires:

“teacher, principal, and division superintendent evaluations to include an evaluation of cultural competency. The bill requires every person seeking initial licensure or renewal of a license from the Board of Education (i) to complete instruction or training in cultural competency and (ii) with an endorsement in history and social sciences to complete instruction in African American history, as prescribed by the Board.”

Cultural competency training must be completed at least every two years.

Section 2 is entirely new courtesy of the Appropriations Act discussed earlier.

Below is a summary of the compliance questions. No fair just resubmitting last year’s answers.

Have a nice summer, school districts.

2020-2021 SOQ Compliance and Other Reporting Data Collection

Section One: Standards of Quality

  • 46 questions about compliance with Standard 1: Instructional Programs Supporting the Standards of Learning and Other Educational Objectives;
  • 32 questions about compliance with Standard 2: Instructional, Administrative, and Support Personnel;
  • 8 questions about compliance with Standard 3: Accreditation, Other Standards and Evaluation;
  • 10 questions about compliance with Standard 4: Student Achievement and Graduation Requirements;
  • 18 questions about compliance with Standard 5: Quality of Classroom Instruction and Educational Leadership;
  • 14 questions about compliance with Standard 6: Planning and Public Involvement;
  • 13 questions about compliance with Standard 7: School Board Policies;
  • then, wait for it, a question about compliance with Standard 8: Compliance.

Section Two – Other Reporting (We can call it the Lenin Doctrine). 

Section Two is new and is comprised of  questions supporting a General Assembly-directed pilot program related to Standards of Quality Compliance Data Collection.

“The supplemental SOQ questions below are part of the pilot program and designed to provide additional insight as to how divisions comply with certain standards. More detail on the pilot program can be found in Item 143.J of the 2021 Appropriation Act.”

More detail indeed.  I led with it.

Stuffed into the 2021 Appropriations Act was  $120,000 for pilot program design and implementation at VDOE. No estimate of the cost of implementation by 132 school districts.

One question is whether the curriculum of the local district is aligned to the Standards of Learning. Another is related to Prevention, Intervention and Remediation for students who are educationally at risk. A third on Gifted Student Identification. Another on Reading and Mathematics Assistance.

Then one on Data Collection and Analysis. This query may have been written with the City of Richmond Public Schools (RPS) in mind.

Then comes Special Education, Gifted, and CTE Staffing, Instructional Technology Resource Teacher; Special Education Accommodations; and Year-Round School Pre-Labor Day Opening.

Then a lengthy list of questions on School Accountability.  

First on that list is Prerequisite Conditions for Accreditation. Accreditation has been suspended suspended since 2018-19, so this represents perhaps a tune-up.

  1. Promotion/Retention
  2. Course Offerings
  3. Program of instruction and learning objectives and programs for each of elementary, middle and secondary schools.
  4. History/Social Science and English
  5. Roles of the Principal, teaching staff, support staff and staffing requirements for each.
  6. Facilities and safety.
  7. Parental Notification
  8. SOL
  9. Comprehensive school plan

Then sections on:

  1. Corrective actions taken over the past year, 
  2. Comprehensive, Unified, Long-Range Plan,
  3. Application of the School Quality Indicator Performance Levels to Actions, 
  4. Compulsory School Attendance/Truancy,
  5. Teacher Evaluations/Continuing Contract,
  6. Length of School Term,
  7. 140 Clock-Hour Waiver,
  8. Charter Schools – Approval or Denial or revocation,
  9. Textbook adoption,
  10. Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) Programs,
  11. Early Reading Intervention,
  12. Algebra Readiness Payments,
  13. Algebra Readiness Initiative Payments (this is not a repeat – these are separate programs in the Code of Virginia),
  14. Math/Reading Instructional Specialists Initiative,
  15. Early Reading Specialists Initiative,
  16. Tuition Certification for Governor’s Schools and Foreign Language Academies, and, finally,
  17. Acceptable Internet Use Policies.

Questions for candidates. 

All of this may not be necessary for the effective teaching of children, but it is nonetheless mandatory. All of it represents various ropes with which to hang school boards, division superintendents, principals, teachers and special staff .

The massive expansion of the cost and number of administrators in Virginia public schools is directly traceable from the Questions in the 2020-2021 SOQ Compliance and Other Reporting Data Collection and its predecessors.

A 31-page checklist of to-do items. It serves as exhibit A. The related exhibits run to more than a thousand pages.

As per the 2021 Appropriations Act, the school districts can look forward to yet more comprehensive supervision by the state  Which will need more employees.  Likely lots more.

The smallest districts will soon have more administrators than students. Even the biggest ones will have trouble wrestling this snake. More employees yet again.

Keep that in mind when you question gubernatorial and General Assembly candidates about education policy, especially the Lenin Doctrine.

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10 responses to “The Governor, General Assembly, VDOE and the Lenin Doctrine”

  1. Great reporting, Jim. As critical as I have been of VDOE, even I did not realize how bureaucratic, centralized, and top-down it had gotten. I can’t imagine how many administrators are needed to read, digest, and enforce this multitude of rules and regulations. The concept of local control is a sad joke.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      The General Assembly demonstrably thinks some school districts check the “yes” box on the survey and do not really comply. (I actually hope the GA is correct on this one.)

      Authoritarianism has a long and bloody history.

      Thus the “pilot program to more comprehensively supervise school division compliance with a subset of key standards by requiring (i) the submission of more comprehensive compliance information, (ii) selective independent verification of compliance, (iii) monitoring of corrective action implementation, and (iv) analysis of compliance trends and issues.”

      That could be from “The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979).
      “The foundation of the entire organization and activity of the socialist state control bodies is the theoretical principles formulated by V. I. Lenin and enriched by the experience of building a socialist state. Lenin ascribed great importance to control, which is necessary and important at all stages of building a socialist state. …
      “Struggle against the mire of bureaucracy and red tape by checking up on people and on the actual work done, merciless expulsion of unnecessary officials, reduction of staff, replacement of Communists who don’t study the art of management seriously—such must be the line …” declared Lenin (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 44, p. 370).
      “State control makes it possible to check systematically on the execution of the decrees of the central power, to strengthen state discipline and legality, and to study the validity of motives and feasibility of resolutions made by the central state bodies and help improve the practice of devising and adopting them.”

      The left in America is exactly what it appears to be.

  2. As someone who has been following the issue of school discipline for several years, I am particularly interested in the new laws and guidelines effecting discipline. I will be watching closely what happens in the public schools this fall.

    I fear for the worst. If Black kids from dysfunctional social environments are being told that the system is racist, they are victims, and “whiteness” is oppressive; and if “whiteness” is associated with self control and orderly behavior; and if administrators are increasingly deprived of any means to discipline misbehavior, some schools easily could become anarchic and ungovernable.

    If that does, in fact, happen, it will be hard for the public to know because the administrative incentives are to cover up incidents and report feel-good numbers. Given the political pressure from above, we will not get honest reporting — Virginia’s school bureaucrats will behave exactly like Russian or Chinese bureaucrats reporting numbers showing that they are meeting the goals of the 5-year plan.

    The key metric to watch because it is impossible to fudge is teacher and staff turnover — especially teacher turnover. If schools become ungovernable, teacher morale will plummet, and teachers will leave. Churn is already high. It will likely get worse.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    In just 2 to 3 weeks Virginia’s teachers will be returning to prepare for school. I can only imagine what that first faculty meetings is going to be like. The list of things that must be addressed this year will make your head spin. God Bless those school teachers. There are 61 teaching jobs available in Fauquier. Seems way to high. Countless postings for bus drivers, cafe workers, custodians, and coaches.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      61 out of 963 this late in the summer is quite high. That represents the vacancies they know about. They won’t have an accurate account until the first week of school.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        Talked to a local elementary principal this morning. They have 4 vacancies and have not been able to fill the positions after many recruiting efforts. Even the retired teachers will not come back. I see a large number of provisional endorsements on the teaching license.

    2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock is the VDOE’s job board for school positions across the state, but some of the postings are more than two years old. Apparently VDOE, in its striving to oversee the minute details of school division management, lacks the personnel or inclination to keep its own job board up to date.

    3. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      For an actual point of comparison, on the last run of the VDOE’s 2019-2020 Unfilled Positions by Regional Group and Teaching Assignment Area before COVID struck, Fauquier had only 13 unfilled teaching positions.

  4. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    On the one hand, you complain, and rightly so, about the poor job some school divisions are doing and want the State Board of Education, the General Assembly, or somebody at the state level to do something about it.

    But, on the other hand, you complain about the “heavy hand” of Richmond and compare it to Lenin.

    You can’t have it both ways–state control sometimes and little state control at others.

    Now, it is perfectly legitimate to complain about the types of things for which the General Assembly wishes to hold the local school divisions to account. I agree with you that the list emphasizes the current policy focus of the majority. I would much rather that the General Assembly provide mechanisms for the state to intercede with school divisions that were failing, for whatever reason, to educate their children adequately. But, in either case, the state needs to exercise control.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      The heavy hand is in enforcement, not assistance. Doubling down on more reporting is not assistance. The SOLs tell the biggest part of the story.

      No one in Virginia government needs more data from Richmond Public Schools or Loudoun County Schools to know where the problems lie.

      Take action or don’t.

      The rest is a paperwork drill for a power trip in support of dogma. Like Lenin. He didn’t want results, he wanted obedience.

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