VDOE Spikes Public School Collaboration with Dream Academy

Joann Henry, program director of the Dream Academy

The Dream Academy, a Richmond nonprofit, is an adult education center that has worked in a collaborative relationship with the Richmond Public Schools. The academy provides the instruction and pays the school system to review student transcripts and authorize the diplomas. The program has helped more than 250 grown-ups, mostly African-Americans, earn their diplomas.

That relationship now is on the rocks. Virginia Department of Education officials have nixed the agreement on the grounds that the Dream Academy is a private organization. Now the nonprofit has no choice but to pursue private accreditation.

The incident raises issues regarding the legality of of public/private collaboration for adult education anywhere in Virginia. 

“Students enrolled in private entities, such as the Dream Academy, are not permitted to take the [Standards of Learning] tests so it is not clear how students would have earned the required verified credit,” wrote Donald Fairheart, VDOE chief of staff, in a Feb. 19 letter to the school district, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch and WRICThe letter went on to urge RPS to stop issuing diplomas to Dream Academy students.

It’s not clear from the articles whether the VDOE interpretation is a new one or the department is just getting around to enforcing a law or policy that has long been on the books. The issue surfaced March 4 when Superintendent Jason Kamras informed the School Board that he had asked VDOE if the school district, under heightened scrutiny due to the city’s own issues with transcripts, could enter into the Dream Academy agreement as it had in past years.

Bacon’s bottom line: So, this is the Northam administration’s policy — it is forbidden for the students of private schools to take SOL exams even if the schools pay for the cost of administering the test? It is forbidden for public schools to collaborate with nonprofits to promote adult education? Does this rule apply to private schools focusing on kids with disabilities, too?

How does this make any sense whatsoever? Why wouldn’t the Commonwealth want to encourage closer public-private collaboration — not just for adult students but for disadvantaged students, disabled students or, for that matter, any kind of student? Why wouldn’t the state want to encourage accountability in private education? Whom does it hurt to allow private-school students and home-school students to take the SOLs so parents can evaluate whether their children are meeting basic educational standards?

The ruling is so antithetical to common sense that I find it baffling. Perhaps there is a logic that I cannot discern. I will endeavor to find out more.

Update: I find VDOE’s logic somewhat less baffling thanks to a chat with Charles Pyle, VDOE director of media relations. “It’s not a policy matter,” he says. “It’s a matter of law.”

Under the Code of Virginia, the State Board of Education sets diploma standards that apply to all school systems as well as a system (the SOLs) to assess student progress. The SOLs are geared to the curriculum taught in public schools. Private schools don’t necessarily have the same curricula or the same diploma standards. Adult education programs in public schools adhere to those curricula and standards. Adult students wanting to earn a high school diploma must earn “verified credits” that meet those standards.

As for allowing private school students take the SOLs, says Pyle, the state and public school systems have invested a lot of money in creating a secure online testing system designed to protect the integrity of the tests. Teachers administering the tests must undergo specific training. Furthermore, the state Constitution prohibits public schools from supporting religious schools, which would rule out many private schools from participating in SOLs on separation-of-church-and-state grounds.

Finally, notes Pyle, private schools have their own accrediting board, the Virginia Council for Private Education. You can find his citations from the Code of Virginia here.

OK, I get all that. But I still don’t understand, if private entities meet the standards set by the Virginia Board of Education, and if they are willing to pay their fair share of costs to administer the SOLs, why they can’t.

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33 responses to “VDOE Spikes Public School Collaboration with Dream Academy

  1. This example is horrendous. But so much of the relationship between public and private secondary education is fraught with job-protectionism and insulation-from-criticism on the public side and leave-us-alone-to-do-the-job-our-way on the private side that it does not come as a surprise. LarryG has raised repeatedly the absence of SOL testing in private schools as an example of deficient accountability, but now we learn that private schools are not allowed to administer SOL tests even voluntarily, even to satisfy otherwise reasonable public school criteria for the delegation of educational tasks.

    There’s a lot I don’t know about SOL testing, but why shouldn’t it apply uniformly to every student in every kind of secondary school in every jurisdiction of the State without exemptions or exceptions? Wasn’t, and isn’t, the whole point of the SOLs to enable a transparent, apples-to-apples comparison to see what works and what doesn’t in the education of our children? Why do we even need accreditation of private schools if their students do well on the SOLs — and conversely?

  2. So, Governor Ralph “Coonman” Northam is off on his racial healing tour while his administration deep sixes a program that helps African American adults get their high school diplomas? Who knew there was someone in the commonwealth who could make even Republicans wish Terry McAuliffe were still governor?

    Hint to Governor Ralph “Blackface” Northaam … if your administration stops a program that seems to be helping African-Americans improve their education and employment prospects you might want to get ahead of the issue by making a statement explaining why you decided to do this. Otherwise people might think you’re just another racist asshat.

    • Blacks are important to the Democratic Party but they can be easily tossed under the bus for labor unions, which are strong only in the public sector. FDR was right; labor unions have no place in the public sector.

  3. VDOE Spokesman Charles Pyle provides the following citations in the State Code that back the VDOE’s position on accreditation, the setting of diploma standards, and the SOLs (Pyle’s emphasis):

    The state Board of Education and private schools:

    § 22.1-19. Accreditation of elementary, middle, and high schools; nursery schools; recognition of certain organizations; child day center regulation.

    The Board shall provide for the accreditation of public elementary, middle, and high schools in accordance with standards prescribed by it. The Board may provide for the accreditation of private elementary, middle, and high schools in accordance with standards prescribed by it, taking reasonably into account the special circumstances and factors affecting such private schools. The Board in its discretion may recommend provisions for standards for private nursery schools. Any such accreditation shall be at the request of the private school only.

    For the purposes of facilitating the transfer of academic credits for students who have attended private schools and are enrolling in public schools, and to meet the requirements of § 63.2-1717, the Board of Education shall authorize, in a manner it deems appropriate, the Virginia Council for Private Education to accredit private nursery, preschool, elementary, and secondary schools.

    Authority of the Board of Education for setting diploma standards:

    § 22.1-253.13:4. Standard 4. Student achievement and graduation requirements.

    A. Each local school board shall award diplomas to all secondary school students, including students who transfer from nonpublic schools or from home instruction, who meet the requirements prescribed by the Board of Education and meet such other requirements as may be prescribed by the local school board and approved by the Board of Education. Provisions shall be made to facilitate the transfer and appropriate grade placement of students from other public secondary schools, from nonpublic schools, or from home instruction as outlined in the standards for accreditation. The standards for accreditation shall include provisions relating to the completion of graduation requirements through Virtual Virginia. Further, reasonable accommodation to meet the requirements for diplomas shall be provided for otherwise qualified students with disabilities as needed.

    • “As for allowing private school students take the SOLs, says Pyle, the state and public school systems have invested a lot of money in creating a secure online testing system designed to protect the integrity of the tests.”

      Was he laughing when he told you that? Year after year Virginia public schools get caught cheating on the SOLs. Less than a year ago it was Carver Elementary School in Richmond that got caught cheating. The year before it was A.P. Hill in Petersburg.

      This is just more special interests bull****. Another effort to restrict school choice to state run entities that are staffed with unionized educrats. Our government can securely issue drivers’ licenses (including the requisite testing), securely manage elections and voting, securely license doctors and lawyers but it can’t securely administer SOL tests to adults trying to better themselves? What a croc.

      You know what else the Dream Academy does? They offer courses that allow adults to get their state license as a certified nursing assistant. They offer courses that allow adults to get their state license as pharmacy technicians. You know what they don’t do? Anything to do with religion – at least there’s no reference to religion I can find in any of their material.

      I get that Pyle is just a mouthpiece rather than a decision maker. Fine. But wasn’t Northam’s Secretary of Education just bloviating about the level of racism in Virginia a few days ago? How does stopping a program that has helped 250 mostly African American adults get their high school diplomas help that?

      If Ralph Northam had any guts he’d tell his Secretary of Education to find a way to keep organizations like the Dream Academy working. There’s nothing in the highlighed code that prohibits Virginia from administering the SOLs to adults educated by private organizations. In fact, the code seems to clearly allow for such certification.

      But Ralph Northam doesn’t have any guts. Or any apparent competence either. Even by the incredibly low bar of state political standards the Northam Administration is proving to be the biggest clown show in decades.

  4. More citations from Charles Pyle (his emphases):

    § 22.1-253.13:1. Standard 1. Instructional programs supporting the Standards of Learning and other educational objectives.

    A. The General Assembly and the Board of Education believe that the fundamental goal of the public schools of the Commonwealth must be to enable each student to develop the skills that are necessary for success in school, preparation for life, and reaching their full potential. The General Assembly and the Board of Education find that the quality of education is dependent upon the provision of (i) the appropriate working environment, benefits, and salaries necessary to ensure the availability of high-quality instructional personnel; (ii) the appropriate learning environment designed to promote student achievement; (iii) quality instruction that enables each student to become a productive and educated citizen of Virginia and the United States of America; and (iv) the adequate commitment of other resources. In keeping with this goal, the General Assembly shall provide for the support of public education as set forth in Article VIII, Section 1 of the Constitution of Virginia.

    B. The Board of Education shall establish educational objectives known as the Standards of Learning, which shall form the core of Virginia’s educational program, and other educational objectives, which together are designed to ensure the development of the skills that are necessary for success in school and for preparation for life in the years beyond. At a minimum, the Board shall establish Standards of Learning for English, mathematics, science, and history and social science. The Standards of Learning shall not be construed to be regulations as defined in § 2.2-4001.

    School boards shall implement the Standards of Learning or objectives specifically designed for their school divisions that are equivalent to or exceed the Board’s requirements. Students shall be expected to achieve the educational objectives established by the school division at appropriate age or grade levels. The curriculum adopted by the local school division shall be aligned to the Standards of Learning.

    C. Local school boards shall develop and implement a program of instruction for grades K through 12 that is aligned to the Standards of Learning and meets or exceeds the requirements of the Board of Education.

    § 22.1-253.13:3. Standard 3. Accreditation, other standards, assessments, and releases from state regulations.

    A. The Board of Education shall promulgate regulations establishing standards for accreditation pursuant to the Administrative Process Act (§ 2.2-4000 et seq.), which shall include student outcome measures, requirements and guidelines for instructional programs and for the integration of educational technology into such instructional programs, administrative and instructional staffing levels and positions, including staff positions for supporting educational technology, student services, auxiliary education programs such as library and media services, requirements for graduation from high school, community relations, and the philosophy, goals, and objectives of public education in Virginia.

    • Great. So you need to pass the damn SOLs to get a Virginia public high school diploma. If an adult who dropped out of high school 10 years ago can pass the requisite SOLs – why not give them a public high school diploma. Call it the School of Hard Knocks diploma.

      DOE seems to be saying that they can’t securely administer these SOL tests to adults. Why the hell not?

      Are they going to recall or cancel the 250 diplomas that have already been awarded?

  5. Whatever you might think about this idea, the real story here may be that RPS jumped in with both feet a while back and was allowing this “partner” to issue diplomas in its name, but once a serious question was posed to the state, the answer came back – you can’t do that. The traps were not run at the start, and should have been. If these diplomas are stamped “from Richmond Public Schools” they have to meet state standards. The other choice for this provider is the private accreditation route.

    I’m not sure this is a clear cut case of turf protection. The nose is itching, the whole story has not been told….

    • I hope there is more to the story. If somebody thinks the Dream Academy has been handing out high school diplomas that haven’t been earned then that’s what they should say. One easy way to find out – let the potential graduates take the SOLs. The idea that the state can’t securely run the SOLs for private enterprises is a complete croc. The state mandates all kinds of certification testing for various regulated professions.

  6. We need to clear something up about the SOLs. There is no “magic” with the states SOLs. The standards are known and can (and ARE) replicated by 3rd party providers. So no, the state is not going to collaborate with private schools for SOLs but that does not keep the private schools from doing their own SOL-type standards and testing to VOLUNTARILY DEMONSTRATE their academic performance on an equivalent apple-to-apple basis which I contend would then put the onus on the public school system to consider closer collaboration including some state funding and perhaps give them juice in the GA on the issue – perhaps a veto-proof juice. Are we serious about it?

    The Private schools, however, do NOT want to have to accept EVERY kid like the public schools MUST. The Private schools want the ability to say “no” to any given would-be student enrollee and that’s a bridge the State cannot cross.

    So the State does not want competition from private schools but the private schools don’t want to be forced to take “at-risk” kids and be held accountable for their performance.

    All the other “stuff” that we hear – from both sides – is not entirely honest about it – each side has their preferred narrative excuse.

    I’m not a no-matter-what defender of the public school system. They do a terrible job with at-risk kids but at the same time, most private schools don’t want that job AND be held accountable the same way – and only in LA LA Land does anyone think you can teach at-risk kids on the cheap.. WHO wants “teachers” with questionable credentials working for cheap wages or does anyone with half a brain think this is a reasonable idea?

  7. A bit of apples and oranges, Larry. These are adults long out of school, who want something with more heft than that GED certificate. They want real diplomas. They apparently were getting them without jumping through the same hoops as the students in the regular program. From the stories I’m not sure if they were passing the SOLs or not even taking them….but that’s the rule in place and it should apply. The catch 22 is that they are not allowed to take them even if they want to….

    What option to they have? Is there a public program offering full diplomas to students who have been dropped out that long? Or only GED’s.

  8. Well the GED issue is directly related to the public school role of providing SOL testing and graduate “diplomas”.

    Nothing keeps the private sector from – being accredited and following a similar process of providing the testing and certification of an “equivalent” diploma.

    The public school process is not the only process.

    Here’s an example:

    ” Istation, a Dallas-based leading provider of educational technology, reports that a study conducted by a Southern Methodist University professor shows that Istation assessments can reliably predict student performance on the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) English Reading tests”


    You’ll find that Virginia alternative schools use software like this – as well as home schoolers.

    Any non-public education institution can use this software and use it to certify the performance of any student.

    • Does our stupid assed state want adults to get their high school diplomas or not? Once the SOLs are designed and the tests written … how much could it possibly cost to test one more student? Pennies? Charge $50 – $100 to take the SOL and it’s “found money”. Adults who can pass the SOLs will have demonstrated that they have learned what is expected to be learned by a high school graduate in Virginia. Why the hell shouldn’t they get a diploma? These are people who are trying to better themselves and the Northam Administration is blocking them from doing so.

      • re: ” and the Northam Administration is blocking them from doing so”

        Nope. This has been the DOE policy for all governors…

        Now – you COULD blame Northam for not showing more leadership than his predecessors… I suppose but, no, this is not his policy – he did not overturn DOE policy – he just went along with a long-standing DOE policy like all prior governors.

        • I’m sorry … how many diplomas were awarded? 250? Doesn’t sound like policy to me. A program got started that cut out the educrats. Adults could earn public high school diplomas without needing more union represented teachers and administrators. Oh, the horror! What are Governor Coonman’s options?

          a) let the adults pay to take the SOLs so they can prove they deserve the degrees or ..
          b) shut down the program

          We’ve got a governor with a picture of people in blackface and wearing klan outfits on his medical school yearbook page who had the nickname of Coonman. We’ve got a program in one city that has awarded 250 high school diplomas to (presumably) qualified mostly African American adults who dropped out of high school before graduating. The DOE says they might not be qualified because they never took the SOLs. Ok. Let them take the SOLs.

          These aren’t rich kids burning through Daddy’s money at Episcopal High School. These are adults who dropped out of high school and are trying to better themselves. Why don’t we let them?

          Northam wants a dialog on race relations in Virginia. You what’s better than dialogs? Diplomas.

  9. re: ” a) let the adults pay to take the SOLs so they can prove they deserve the degrees or ..
    b) shut down the program”

    Gov Coonface aside – that’s not the premise.

    The premise is for the STATE to CERTIFY/award a STATE diploma WITHOUT any way to assure that the SOLs were indeed passed and not some bogus process that if done inside the public school system – would rightly be characterized as “cheating”.

    So the state does not award diplomas to people they cannot assure have actually passed SOLs but instead someone claims they have.

    If the state allows this for this one group – does that mean others can do it also? How about for students in K-12?

    I’m not defending the so-called “unions”… this actually has NOTHING TO DO with “unions” – it way up above teachers – it has to do with who is responsible for guaranteeing there is no cheating on SOLs – a problem already within K-12 in some existing K-12 schools. Please note – no one in VDOE belongs to the Virginia Education Association – they are state-level employees and administrators – none are employed by school systems.

    IF we could come up with a way to administer SOLs tests to ANY student no matter where they got an education – I’d strongly favor it – for K-12 as well as post K-12 but I’m not in favor of letting SOLs be administered by folks who are not accountable for doing it without cheating.

  10. The best thing that could happen to Virginia would be if Northam’s wife put a pillow over her husband’s face while he’s sleeping and smothered him. Here’s a guy who weeks before he received a professional degree posed in blackface and called his election opponent a racist. First he confesses. Next day, like an asshat (to use a DRJism) burglary suspect, he denies he did the deed.

    I bet that if I had posed in blackface (something that would never cross my mind) weeks before I got my J.D., I wouldn’t be practicing law today.

    Northam is a waste of DNA.

  11. Geeze – TMT – how would it be if we all talked that way about people we detested? Good Lord guy!

    • Reread Dante’s Inferno. I think Northam’s future is down deep. How can he look himself in the mirror when he called Gillespie a racist, knowing he (Northam) appeared in blackface in southern state and thought it was just fine? This was not the act of an immature school boy. It was the act of a grown man who was just about to graduate from medical school to enter a profession where his actions could mean life and death to the public.

      Any person who appeared in blackface as a adult during the Post Civil Rights Act era should never ever call anyone racist. That action is beyond the Pale.

      • I don’t think Northam is a racist. He made a bad mistake when he was younger and should have known better but the rest of his political life – he supported black folks from advocating the Confederate statues coming down to doing something about evictions, fines for drivers licenses, prison reform, etc.

        Gillespie has no such record of working for and with black folks.

        • He was 26 not 16. He had a picture of a man in klan robes on his medical school yearbook page Larry. He wore blackface. His nickname was Coonman. C’mon, Larry. The man certainly was a racist as an adult. Maybe he’s gotten over it, maybe not. But he certainly was an adult racist at one point.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            Northam is far worse than a simple racist. He is the worse sort of Chameleon. A lizard who in a nanosecond will change his spots to take advantage of whatever environment he is then in, so as to gain power over others and prestige for himself. No matter what he has to do, or whatever action he needs to take, Northam will do it. So he is the worse sort of hypocrite.

            Thus, Northam will go back to wearing blackface, and/or a robe and pointed hat, do it in a nanosecond today, if he thinks it will bring him personal advantage over others. In fact, most of all, he delights in pandering to and/or attacking other people, ripping them up, to gain advantage for himself over them. That is what he did with glee to Gillespie, and what he tried to do a few months back to get himself free of the blackface and KKK scandal. Incredibly then, after admitting to the act, he denied it, and he said he investigate racism in Virginia and stamp it out. Study the film of his two despicable public appearances to escape the scandal, and you will see all I just said, all of it in vivid living color, without shame.

        • The other thing that I find repulsive in Northam is his efforts to have others atone for his racist behavior. I’m not troubled by moving non-battlefield-located monuments from public property to museums that may also be public property. But a lot of other people are severely troubled. So Northam steps on them and their feelings to say “Sure I am a racist sob. I even appeared in blackface next to another racist in a KKK uniform. But don’t hold me accountable for my adult behavior. Don’t expect me to pay a personal price. I’ll usurp my lawful authority as Governor and say ‘Let’s get rid of Confederate statutes. Hell that doesn’t cost me anything and I can also sh(t on people who didn’t vote for me.”

          Question for the group. If you knew your doctor, dentist, accountant, lawyer had appeared in blackface, standing next to another person in a KKK hood and that this was done as an adult and published in a yearbook for permanent memorialization, would you use that person’s professional services? Would you think he (or she??) was a racist?

          I would not use that person’s services and believe I escaped dealing with a racist. This is not the actions of a teenager.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            And, of course, Northam’s expressed morals as a physician are a whole other subject, and just as reprehensible and despicable, in my view.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            One of the great downsides of the democratic system of governance is that it attracts more than its share of these awful Northam type personalities. Democracies always have since ancient times, Alcibiades being the classic example of these Chameleon types. Virginia of late seems particularly prone to this plague of ruined characters.

  12. It is difficult to conjure up a more dysfunctional, incompetent, counter productive, disoriented, craven and silly state government than Virginia’s today. Even more remarkable is the likelihood that today’s crew of pirates will likely win again and again into the foreseeable future. That is how dysfunctional and ill informed Virginia’s electorate has become, in the state that founded a nation. And Virginia claims to have one of the nation’s best educational systems, a notion whose claim might be true. God help America.

    • It is difficult — but some aspects of Maryland’s fine government pass even that high bar you describe. And that’s before we consider together that vale of humility to the south, North Carolina.

  13. I think DJR has it in a nutshell: “Adults who can pass the SOLs will have demonstrated that they have learned what is expected to be learned by a high school graduate in Virginia. Why the hell shouldn’t they get a diploma?” And that goes for whatever source they had for their education, be it public, private, prison, or the streets! I still think the universality of the SOLs is their strongest selling point, and there is no rational reason why private schools should not administer the SOLs themselves. The separate private accreditation process is simply turf protection on both sides, as well as a way of obfuscating the poor education provided in some of those flaky academies out there in politically-well-connected church basements.

    Larry, the idea that private schools would spontaneously adopt an “SOL-like” set of tests is not realistic, and it would defeat the purpose of apples to apples comparison in any event; what is needed is to give the SAME SOL tests at the SAME time to all students in Virginia (including home schooled and adult ed. students). What are the SOLs: a test of what it means to say “I am a high school graduate” in Virginia, or a test of the public-school-bureaucracy-led process that some students endure to get there?

  14. Okay. So why is it the State’s responsibility to award the diploma? People who graduate from private schools – what kind of diploma do they get? Home School? How does that work?

    Second – who administers the SOL is important especially since we’ve already seen instances of cheating even within public schools; letting others who are not public school employees – administer the test is problematical.

    • Because the state has a vested interest in helping under-educated adults help themselves. Virginia administers all kinds of tests in order to grant certifications. Driving tests for example. If public school administrators need to be present to administer the tests – fine. Let the adults pay a reasonable fee for the administration of the test and let the public school employees administer the test.

      The truth is that the Democrats in Virginia (and especially in Governor Coonman’s administration) don’t want people to help themselves. They want people dependent on handouts from the state.

  15. FYI – ” Public or Private School Diplomas

    In most cases, a public school will not issue a diploma to a homeschooled student even if the homeschool worked under the oversight of the local school district. Students who schooled at home using an online public school option, such as K12, will receive a state-issued high school diploma.

    Homeschooled students who worked closely with a private school may be issued a diploma by that school.”

    • These are not homeschooled students. These are not students in some fancy private high school in Henrico County. These are adults who have dropped out of school but are now trying to get back on track. It seems to me that the state should do everything in its power to help them do just that.

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