by James A. Bacon

The full dimensions of the COVID-related school closing disaster are coming into sharper view as Virginia school districts compile and report data from the 2020-21 school year.

Failing grades are up nearly 500% from last year at some schools in the Lynchburg area, The News & Advance has found through the Freedom of Information Act. Meanwhile, neighboring Campbell County Public Schools saw a 283% increase in Fs in the first quarter compared to the same quarter the previous school year. Amherst County Public Schools experienced a 72% increase in Fs.

Comparable numbers are being reported from Northern Virginia. Sixth-graders in Arlington County schools have shown an average GPA decline of 6%. The number of students failing at least one class increased 118%, according to ARL Now.

What the newspaper articles don’t report is that failing grades are soaring despite the fact that teachers are under unprecedented pressure to not fail students. Many school districts have issued directives to give students second and third chances to hand in late homework assignments. If a student receives an F, it may be an indication that they haven’t done any of the work and that they have interacted minimally with the teacher. Many students turn off their video and audio, there is no sanction for doing so, and teachers frequently don’t know if they are following the class or not.

COVID operational status, Virginia school districts, as of March 1. Source: Virginia Department of Education

Typically, students who were struggling before the COVID epidemic hit are struggling even more. Ann Pugh, deputy superintendent for the Lynchburg schools said the division is not seeing A students slip to Fs — it’s seeing C and D students dropping to Ds and Fs. Many students are receiving failing grades due to incomplete work, she said, not because they complete an assignment and get the answers wrong.

The plague of incomplete work has occurred despite the fact that Lynchburg schools have been operating on a hybrid schedule in which students attend school in-person two days a week and learn remotely three days a week. Also, the school system has recruited college students from Randolph College and Longwood University to help failing students in virtual tutoring sessions.

The situation was similar in Campbell County. Clayton Stanley, assistant superintendent for instruction, attributed much of the decline in grades to a failure to complete the work. The division is planning an extended summer school to help students complete coursework and address learning loss.

In all likelihood, the learning shortfalls are even worse in the 15 school divisions that are operating fully remote classes. These include districts where students are largely urban, poor, and minority, such as the cities of Richmond, Petersburg, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Alexandria.

Bacon’s bottom line: Managing schools during the COVID epidemic is challenging. However, most private schools have figured out how to do it, and 26 public school districts in Virginia have figured out how to do it. Yet Virginians are now experiencing the most catastrophic failure of the public school system since Massive Resistance. It goes without saying that when the dust settles, we will find that lower-income and minority students have suffered the most.

Let’s put the blame squarely where it belongs: on the media, for fanning the flames of COVID hysteria, on teacher unions for putting the interests of their members before those of students, on panicky parents, on weak-kneed school boards, and on the Northam administration for putting its primary focus on its highly ideological Diversity, Equity & Inclusion agenda and providing weak COVID leadership. 

Let’s be clear: “COVID” did not cause school children to fail. “Structural racism” did not cause school children to fail. The response to COVID — switching children to online learning practices for which they were unprepared — caused children to fail.

Never have Virginia’s educational leaders been so woke. And, mark my words, the evidence will show that never has the achievement gap between blacks and Hispanics on the one hand and whites and Asians on the other been so pronounced. “Social justice” is no substitute for competence.

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8 responses to “The Great Unlearning”

  1. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Well, look at it this way, finally you can’t complain about grade inflation.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Might be interesting to see the academic results of the public schools that have been in-person.

    I think there is confusion on what “virtual” or “online” and “remote” mean.

    Remote learning does NOT need to be virtual or online except at intervals to upload/download lessons, test results, etc.

    “Virtual” lecturing with a teacher lecturing on video is NOT the same as remote learning which can occur with just ordinary software and does right now.

    “Lecutring” in-person does not “work” either.. and that’s essentially what some of the in-person is right now… it’s not normal classroom instruction because teachers are tasked to teach BOTH in-person and virtual – at the same time rather than classroom instruction in-person and virtual because classroom virtual needs MORE than a video feed.

  3. DJRippert Avatar

    Where do all those counties in Southwest Virginia conducting in-person classes plan to bury the mountains of dead bodies that must certainly be piling up inside the schools?

    Oh, they’re not piling up? Even though the classes were being taught in-person before anybody got a vaccine?

    Where are all the fear porn liberals from last fall with their warnings of death and destruction in any schools that teach in-class?

    How does the Fairfax County Teachers’ Association explain all those counties in purple on the map? Oh, right … it was never about “the science” after all. It was about liking the work from home lifestyle.

  4. Publius Avatar

    And to address this performance drop, teacher and administrator pay was cut accordingly…

  5. Matt Hurt Avatar
    Matt Hurt

    In many of the teachers’ meetings we held this year, we asked teachers to start off with some good news. The most consistent good news I heard was “My kids got to return to school”. Out of the hundreds of teachers with whom I had interacted with, all of them told me that they wish they could have all of their kids back in school.

    Concerning those kids who aren’t working this year, the only thing that caused them to get their work done pre-Covid was their teachers providing them with the structure, the nurturing, and the encouragement in the classroom. Without that physical proximity in the classroom, those kids now have many other, less productive but more entertaining, things to occupy their time.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Matt – could you (would you?) list the CIP schools and their status of in-person and hybrid, etc?

      Are the in-person schools doing ANY virtual at all and that is not an option , i.e. all kids have to attend school and classrooms are pretty much normal and like they were before the pandemic?

      I note this for Stafford County (which is a near suburb of NoVa):

      Stafford schools mulls more face-to-face instruction time for elementary students
      Staff presented data to the School Board on Tuesday showing there was a “statistically significant” decline in mean student scores on standardized math and reading assessments between fall 2019 and fall 2020.

      The division compared individual student scores on the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening, which is given to grades K–3; the Star Reading Universal Screener, which is given to grades 2–12; and the Measures of Academic Progress, which is given to grades 3–12.

      Mean student scores declined according to all three assessments.”

      1. Matt Hurt Avatar
        Matt Hurt

        Comparing the status of school divisions is almost like comparing apples to Volkswagens. It seems that every division that offers in-person instruction implements it with a different spin, from how many days per week, how many hours per day, and etc. On top of that, we have experienced periodic full time virtual before and after Christmas for some divisions, and then virtual days for inclement weather and school staff vaccinations. If I tried to keep up with who was doing what, that would be a full time job, so unfortunately, I don’t have any good info on that.

        Yes sir, all divisions that I am aware of offer a virtual option to all students. On average, it appears that with which we work, approximately 30%-40% percent of the students opt for virtual instruction. This is a moving number that has fluctuated because of various factors. When the infection rate went up in their community, some parents transitioned their kids to virtual. Our school folks are working really hard to encourage all of the kids who are not doing their work to come to school, so they welcome them back in when they’ll come.

        Any aggregate data that we look at this year will not be worth the paper onto which it is printed. For example, I don’t believe for a minute that there is any division that has the same participate rate this year as before Covid. Many of those kids who are not participating are likely those kids who have traditionally struggled in school. We also have a bumper crop of kids who have discovered and invented new an innovative ways to cheat. Besides all of that, we have many parents who have learned that it is easier to go ahead and do the work for their kids rather than fight with them to do it. I won’t trust any data until those kids are sitting in the room with our teachers.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          thanks and it sounds like not even the “in-person” schools are going to show good SOLs results either, necessarily.

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