It has been fascinating to observe the reaction to the disappointing news that Standards of Learning (SOL) test scores for reading and writing for Virginia’s major racial/ethnic groups declined in the 2018-19 school year, and that, despite strenuous efforts of school administrators to address racial inequities, the gap between blacks and whites grew wider.
The Washington Post, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and the (Charlottesville) Daily Progress all duly noted the erosion of black and Hispanic educational attainment. In none of the articles, however, did state education officials proffer an explanation for the regression. Certainly no one suggested that Virginia Department of Education’s relentless implementation of “restorative justice” disciplinary policies, designed to reduce the disparity in suspensions between black and white students, might have had unintended consequences.
I have warned that the emphasis on therapeutic interventions over suspensions and other traditional disciplinary policies was contributing to the erosion of classroom discipline, particularly in predominantly black schools. As far as I know, I am the only member of Virginia’s chattering class to stick out his neck and predict that black students, whose educations were disproportionately disrupted by this social engineering, would suffer the most. The proof, I suggested, would be seen in lower SOL scores for black students.
Well, the results are in. While all racial/ethic groups lost ground in reading and writing — the two disciplines in which apples-to-apples comparisons are possible this year — blacks and Hispanics backtracked the most.
The aggregate numbers seem to confirm my hypothesis. But I’m not patting myself on the back yet. Many different variables may have come into play, and I just might have been “lucky” in my prediction. In other words, I might have been right, but for the wrong reasons.
My hypothesis suggested that the decline in SOL scores (1) would have been greatest in schools where classroom disorder deteriorated the most, (2) that policies aimed at reducing the rate of suspensions of black students would have the greatest impact on schools with predominantly black student bodies, (3) that the victims of increased disorder would be disproportionately black, and (4) that black SOL scores would decline in comparison to white scores. I have not had time to conduct an analysis that demonstrates those linkages, so I am reluctant at this time to draw hard-and-fast conclusions.
There is no indication, however, that Virginia Department of Education officials gives any credence whatsoever to the possibility that their policies might be backfiring. Insofar as anyone is willing to acknowledge the existence of a problem, the likely explanation of racial-equity enthusiasts is that the new disciplinary policies need more time to work.
In commenting upon the continued “inequity” in the suspension rate of black students, a recent Virginia Commonwealth University report, “Understanding Racial Inequity in School Discipline Across the Richmond Region,” stated the following:
Implementation of discipline models such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Restorative Practices was complicated by a lack of communication between education stakeholders, inadequate staff training, and misconceptions about implementation for students with disabilities. As a result of these challenges, discipline practices varied from educator to educator, which led to inconsistencies in discipline referrals.
Discipline policies and practices lacked an explicit focus on addressing racial disparities, compromising their ability to address issues of racial disproportionality.
In other words, we’re in a messy transition phase. Things should get better.
Undeterred by such complications, Governor Ralph Northam continues to pay penance for his blackface indiscretion 35 years ago by pushing “racial equity” in the Virginia public school system. Currently, the Virginia Department of Education is hosting a series of webinars for local “instructional leaders and administrators” to hear experts on “equity and related issues.” Topics include:
- Applying an Equity Lens to Data you Already Collect
- Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy
- Strategies to Support Hispanic and Dual Language Learners
- Communication Is not Engagement: Advancing Equity Through Family Efficacy
- Equity in STEM Education
If the “racial inequity” theory is right, and racial bias is the root cause of black academic underachievement, then one would expect to see the SOL scores of black students to start nudging higher. Reforming public school systems is like turning a battleship — it takes a long time. It would be unreasonable to expect the Northam administration to close the black-white achievement gap in just a few years. But it is reasonable to expect the numbers to move in the right direction!
If the “racial inequity” theory is wrong, Northam’s acolytes in VDOE may be doing incalculable harm to the very people they purportedly want to help. One would hope they would be open-minded enough to acknowledge that given this year’s SOL results, maybe, just maybe, their policies aren’t working out like they hoped.There are currently no comments highlighted.