The Richmond Free Press on Year-Round Schooling

by James C. Sherlock

I have been a reader of the Richmond Free Press (RFP) for a while now.

I became a fan in 2017 when I came across the story. “Former NASA ‘hidden figure’ advises students to chart own course.” Brilliant stuff.

The RFP provides an irreplaceable window into the Black experience in Richmond. I just read an op-ed in that paper by Julienne Malveaux.  It is titled No vacation from Education.  

As you have surmised, it recommends year-round schooling.

She nails it. And, by extension, the board of Richmond Public Schools.

From the opening of that article:

Students everywhere are anticipating, or already experiencing, their summer vacation. It means freedom from daily classes and the opportunity to break, “chill” and perhaps attend a summer program for many. We know, however, that there is knowledge erosion over the summer, especially for students who don’t continue to read or learn.

Race matters here. Lower-income parents often can’t afford summer programs. In other cases, they count on older children to be caretakers for their younger siblings, which means they may have to forego opportunities for continued learning.

…  we need to reconsider this notion of summer without learning. Some schools assign summer reading lists, but to the extent that learning is interactive, reading in a vacuum may not be optimal for enhancing education. It’s better than nothing, but why such a low bar? Why aren’t school districts more forcefully providing summer opportunities?

Excellent question.

I was motivated to comment:

Ms. Malveaux is correct.

I have dedicated the past 15 years of my writing and political lobbying efforts to attempts to improve both public health and education in Virginia’s poorest communities.

While often a critic of the City of Richmond Public Schools and its superintendent, I have supported him publicly both in his push for year-round schools and his initiative to produce more Black male teachers through partnerships with HBCUs.

Superintendent Kamras’ initiative for year-round schooling in Richmond should not be controversial, but the RPS school board has pushed back.

It should act immediately to support him on this.

Moreover, year-round school in Richmond should not depend upon federal grants.  It should be funded with state and local tax money.

Elected officials representing the state’s poorest performing school districts should present legislation to fund, as example, the ten worst performing of those school districts (out of 132) for year-round schooling. To my knowledge they have not done so. I recommend that their constituents ask them why.

I suspect it may be because teachers unions that control the RPS school board don’t support year-round school. My experience has shown me that RPS is run more for the adults than the children. Thus the instant agreement by that school board to support collective bargaining by their employees.

But why not year-round schools?

Make the elected officials from Richmond and other desperately underperforming school divisions answer the question.

If they respond there is not enough money, ask them where the money will come from to support collective bargaining concessions.

If my Republican friends balk, I will ask them to offer their own alternatives.

Julianne Malveaux, dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at Cal State LA, and I are unlikely to agree on much. OK, very little. But we agree on this.

Year-round school is of life-altering importance to the futures of the children attending Richmond Public Schools and other districts that have been performing terribly for decades.

RPS kids suffered disproportionately from the school-board-thus teacher-driven, longest-in-Virginia COVID shutdowns. They need more help than RPS is offering.

Yet many RPS teachers have fought extended school, even for the 20% of the highest-need students as requested by Superintendent Kamras.

From a November 2021 Richmond Times Dispatch (RTD) article “Richmond School Board revisiting year-round school”

… many of the district’s teachers who wrote into public comment ahead of Monday night’s (school board) meeting don’t agree, most citing concerns about why the intersessions were useful and worries of teacher burnout.

RPS families, students, and teachers are exhausted. The racial academic achievement gap is widening and students of color are being left behind,” said Michael Thompson, a teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School. We are still in the middle of a public health pandemic, we are not yet back to normal, and RPS is struggling to retain and support current teachers. Year round school for RPS is a bad idea and a suggestion of year round school for RPS is out of touch with families and students. (emphasis added)

The RTD did not point out in this article that Kamras requested extended schooling for only the highest-need students.

The board voted 8-1 to abandon the implementation with Jonathan Young, the 4th District representative, “the lone dissenting vote, concerned about poor proficiency levels for the majority Black and Latino district on various state tests.”

That’s one member.

The rest caved.

They didn’t ask any knowledgeable public voice on year-round schooling to testify in support of Mr. Kamras. That is just an objectively bad way to run a board.

It means they already knew how they were going — had been directed — to vote and did not want to listen to a divergent opinion.

They took the trouble to claim there is not enough money for year-round school, even though Mr. Kamras had shown them the way to accomplish it. The budget he submitted included year-round school for 5,000 high-needs students, which was expected to cost about $8 million.

A $381 million budget submission. Eight million dollars of that for extended schooling for the 20% of RPS students he designated as high-needs. Two percent  But teachers opposed it.

Not going to happen.

The same school board then voted one month later to support collective bargaining by their employees. Cost? They do not care.

They have publicly declared their priorities. And they do not include the children.

Updated 11 June at 8 PM

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29 responses to “The Richmond Free Press on Year-Round Schooling”

  1. I see no reason why year round schooling should change the performance gaps, nor is any offered.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Thoughtful and groundbreaking. You may be the first person to ever claim that.

      1. Matt Hurt Avatar
        Matt Hurt

        I think David’s concern is a valid one. What do they plan to do differently during the summer that would yield different results that during the rest of the year? I’m not saying that extra time cannot be helpful. However, more of the same is likely to provide the same results.

        1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          You are pessimistic about the RPS being able to accomplish anything no matter how long they have the kids. Pessimism about the RPS is certainly well founded, but giving up, which they have done in this case, absolutely requires state takeover of the division. Virginia needs a constitution change to make that happen. I am working on a column to propose just that.

          1. Matt Hurt Avatar
            Matt Hurt

            I believe they need to believe that their kids can achieve and that they can make it happen. Without those two beliefs in place, all the time in the world won’t make any difference.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            I think it is easy to bang on RPS. Bacon and Cranky have done it for years – and not without some justification.

            But I’m not convinced a state takeover would fix it and I cite adjacent jurisdictions in Henrico and Chesterfield that also have schools as bad as Richmond but separate administrations – and other schools in their districts that do well.

            In other words, there are seemingly successful school administrations in Henrico and Chesterfield that don’t do much better than Richmond for some of their schools.

            Whatever they’re doing “right” for their successful schools, it’s not working in other schools n the same district.

            And I’d wonder if the common thread for the low performing schools is low income neighborhoods where the kids are economically disadvantaged – i.e. not only low income but also parents with low education attainment levels.

            This idea that the state will “take over’ without a whole lot of detail as to what the state would do different that is a proven and successful strategy – is not known or provided. It’s as if it’s a “magical’ thing the state does.

            At least with Region VII, we do have a documented approach.

            It’s not much better with the tax-credit schools. We are told that they are successful with economically disadvantaged kids.

            And that’s basically it. Just the statement that they are successful.

            If RPS is a dismal failure and we’re gonna bring in the Calvary to put it right – would be nice to know how.

          3. Matt Hurt Avatar
            Matt Hurt

            It all boils down to this. Regardless of what we do, the doctors’ and lawyers’ kids are going to be successful and it doesn’t take a concerted effort from educators to make that happen. On the other hand, it takes a lot of very careful, deliberate effort to make sure our at-risk students are successful, and it has to be systemic. Recently, I read an article about improvement science, and it’s basically about applying the scientific method to anything you’re trying to improve. This idea didn’t start in education, but it pretty well sums up a successful strategy that I have seen employed time and again in successful schools and districts. In a nutshell, it’s kind of how we operate.

          4. LarrytheG Avatar

            Yes. You said it clearly and unambiguously IMHO.

            There’s a feeling sometimes that if you teach at-risk kids the same way you teach the other kids but just “more” and “longer’ they too will get it.

            Some might. A lot do not and especially so in schools whose kids are predominately from low-income neighborhoods.

            Easy to hammer RPS but why does Henrico and Chesterfield also have the same kind of low-performing schools ?

            Those counties DO have the financial and educational resources to recruit and assign top-skilled teachers to the low performing schools and presumably do what RPS has not been able but instead they apparently do not and not working any better than RPS.

            The critics of RPS might also address Henrico and Chesterfield on these issues.

            Should the Gov/VDOE also take over the under-performing schools in Henrico and Chesterfield?

          5. Matt Hurt Avatar
            Matt Hurt

            You are exactly right. This problem needs to be addressed wherever it is found.

            I do not think that VDOE could effectively address this problem. I would bet that the root problem is systemic/cultural, and I don’t think that “we’re here from the government and we’re here to help” can make much of a difference. In fact, VDOE has involved itself neck deep in these places for years under the Office of School Improvement, with no effect.

          6. LarrytheG Avatar

            Matt – do you think the average at-risk kid in Region VII is pretty much like the average at-risk kid in Richmond?

          7. Matt Hurt Avatar
            Matt Hurt

            I’m sure they’re no smarter.

  2. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Absolutely! But, won’t those poor family farms and businesses lose a source of cheap labor? While we’re at it, let’s fix the clocks and time zones.

    Three equal semesters, with seasonal breaks of two weeks. Of course, we’ll have to pay teachers more to give up all that quality time.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    American style year round schooling is typically still 180 days of instruction. There are various models. 45 days of instruction and then 15 days off. Or 60 days of schooling with 20 days of vacation. I don’t like either one. Bump up the number days to 200. Arrange the schedule for trimesters. Slip in the breaks between the 3 semesters. That is how they roll in Japan. Copy Japan’s inclusion of uniforms and moral education.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      back in the day – if you “failed” the grade or even if you passed but barely, they’d encourage “summer school”.

      But I’m told that nowdays “summer school” ain’t so good.

      If not mistaken, VDOE offers some version of all-year school.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        I was fortunate to have a top shelf Geometry teacher for summer school heading into my senior year of high school. He was such a terrific man. I can still remember some of what was taught. Looking back that class helped me develop the spatial reasoning skills that ended up being very useful outside of Geometry. Most summer school programs are on line now. Too costly to have a building full of teachers for 6 additional weeks.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          I had similar good memories about some teachers but being a Marine brat, we’d move every 2-3 yrs it seemed and the different state school curriculums did not mesh well.

    2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I support the 200 day suggestion. But while rearranging the 180 days still yields 180 days, the problem of summer learning loss has always been the duration of the single break. That version of year-round school is better than what we have now.

      This column was meant to highlight the debate within the urban Black community on this and other educational issues, including discipline, that is never written about in the MSM.

      Black people are portrayed as monolithic for no other reason than white progressives view them that way. and want them to stay that way.

      Portraying them as broadly diverse in opinion risks having poor Blacks abandon the Democratic ship.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        Amen Captain. School extension into the summer is always going to face the headwinds of the vacation industry. I remember their lobby was able to keep the old King’s Dominion law in place despite a long cry to open the school year earlier. The school year into the summer needs to be more than going through the motions of teaching, providing day care, and a square meal. The black community debaters need to send some new leaders to the school board. Maybe some new faces will step forward and lead. 200 days Captain. 180 will likely give us the same old results.

      2. Matt Hurt Avatar
        Matt Hurt

        If kids experience “summer learning loss”, they never had it in the first place. Certainly, kids get out of practice over the summer, but a quick refresher prior to each new skill brings them back up to speed quickly. If that is not the case, the student hadn’t mastered the skill in the previous year.

        1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          Absolutely true in the case of RPS. The superintendent has proposed 40 more days of school each year for the 5,000 lowest performing kids in the system. The near-unanimous disapproval of that proposal by the school board shows they have given up on the children. That is the bottom line. It also means they should resign en masse. They won’t, which is why we need to amend Virginia’s constitution to let the state take over management and oversight of the division.

        2. LarrytheG Avatar

          My teacher friend(s) tell me that summer break is problematical for some kids, usually the ones who were behind already. They get back and they’ve lost much more than the others.

          But when I was in school – summer school was “normal” if you were behind in a subject.

          Does Region VII “do” real summer school?

          1. Matt Hurt Avatar
            Matt Hurt

            Yes sir.

            The kids that lost it never really had it to begin with. There is a continuum of skill attainment that begins at ground zero and ends with mastery. If a kid leaves for summer not having mastered the skill, that puts them at a deficit beginning the next grade. Think of it as building a foundation, and each row of blocks is expected to be complete in a year. If the last row of block wasn’t completed the previous year, you can’t successfully add the next row without finishing the previous row.

            This is why it is critical to get as many kids proficient each year. If you don’t, you’re just causing problems for the next year’s teachers. And when you think about it, when everything is aligned from Pre-K on up, you don’t have too much of a problem with that. For example, the only prerequisite for Kindergarten is being a certain age at a certain time- there are no academic prerequisites. When you look at the Standards of Learning for Kindergarten, there’s not a lot in there that would lead one to believe that most kids shouldn’t be able to master those skills. Then when you look at the first grade skills, it’s not that big of a stretch to imagine that most kids who come with intact prerequisites to that grade shouldn’t be able to master those skills. And so on…

            That is not to say that we don’t have some kids who enroll in Kindergarten that will struggle. Some kids will come with significant, yet unidentified disabilities, and some will come that are so feral that they don’t know how to behave in public. However, Kindergarten teachers can still help those kids to be successful.

    3. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I was able to find the budget that Kamras had submitted and the proposed duration and cost of the year round schooling. I updated the article to include this:

      “They took the trouble to claim there is not enough money for year-round school, even though Mr. Kamras had shown them the way to accomplish it. The budget he submitted included year-round school for 5,000 high-needs students, which was expected to cost about $8 million.”

      “A $381 million budget submission. Eight million dollars of that for extended schooling for high-needs students. Two percent. But teachers opposed it.”

      “Not going to happen.”

      That provides additional perspective on the control of the school board by the teachers

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        Too bad. I went looking for the budget. It must be buried deep in the RCPS website that I found difficult to navigate. It seems the school board is focused on the new George Wythe school for now.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    This could be a role for the Lab Schools. Don’t need local funding. Separate pool of teachers and target the kids that are behind – during the summer so they might catch up and be on grade level when they start back to local schools.

    Oh, and yes, they need to be transparent and accountable also.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      this could actually be a role for the tax credit schools who would offer summer school for the kids who are behind. I might even support that …. if they had similar transparency standards.

  5. Deborah Sensabaugh Avatar
    Deborah Sensabaugh

    Well, there goes the family vacations, summer camps, tourism, the opportunity to learn unfettered whatever is your golden interest. I learned so much more on my own than I ever learned in school. Every summer my grandson and I would dig into a topic we knew little about: lichens and algae, moss, mushrooms, all while we rode horses and explored to our heart’s content. Of course, my parents and my daughter always encouraged and helped this kind of lifelong learning. I guess today’s parents who are truly invested in their children’s learning will keep them in private school where they can have their summers for enrichment, work experiences, and fun character building.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Deborah, Everything you mentioned is wonderful, but those things might as well be on Mars for many kids from Richmond’s projects. For many of them the only structure in their lives is school.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    This is seemingly a wide-open opportunity for Youngkin IMHO. He can easily assert the state and DOE to intervene in the interests of the economically disadvantaged kids who are behind and whose school systems have failed to educate.

    I have no idea how the so-called “Lab” schools are to operate (does someone know?) but one path for them is to actually target the kids that are behind without need for local funding or approval.

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