December 4, 2023


It's Your Education

Recommendations for “Equity” in Virginia Public Schools Will Destroy Them

by James C. Sherlock

I just received my March edition of “EdEquityVA Monthly Newsletter” from Governor Northam’s Department of Education. Here are the opening paragraphs:

The Office of Equity and Community Engagement is pleased to share that the Virginia Board of Education has revised its teacher performance standards and evaluation criteria to add a standard on culturally responsive teaching and equitable practices.

The action during the Board’s March 18th meeting aligns to stated goals outlined in Virginia’s Education Equity Framework, and carries out legislation approved by the 2021 General Assembly (House Bill 1904 and Senate Bill 1196) requiring that teacher evaluations include an evaluation of cultural competency. The following performance standard was added to the Guidelines for Uniform Performance Standards and Evaluation Criteria for Teachers: The teacher demonstrates a commitment to equity and provides instruction and classroom strategies that result in culturally inclusive and responsive learning environments and academic achievement for all students.” (Academic achievement was not defined.)

In September 2020 Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane appointed African American school leaders, teachers, parents and advocates to the African American Superintendent’s Advisory Council (AASAC) to develop recommendations to promote racial equity in the Commonwealth’s public schools. (So there is only one race involved in developing the equity recommendations.)

At the March 17th Board meeting, the council presented a series of recommendations to address systemic inequities in Virginia’s public schools to the state Board of Education’s Special Committee to Review the Standards of Accreditation.

It went on to summarize those recommendations. The newsletter can be seen here. I will provide my own summary directly from the PowerPoint presentation advancing-racial-equity.

The AASAC offered recommendations to the Board of Education for revising Virginia’s Standards of Quality, Standards of Accreditation, Standards of Learning and related school statutes and regulations

The AASAC’s presentation cited four focus areas:

  • Academic Achievement Gaps
  • Teacher Diversity
  • Opportunity Gaps
  • Equity and Culturally Responsive Schools

The first “Academic Achievement Gaps” slide opened with:

Closing opportunity gaps in Virginia schools is required to eliminate the academic achievement gaps that separate many Black and Hispanic students from their white and Asian peers.

The presentation focused about opportunity for gifted education. So Asian kids got mentioned up front to get that out of the way. The only other item on that slide was about disciplinary practices.

We are left to assume the panel considers achievement gaps only a matter of opportunity for advanced classes and that one of the barriers to opportunity is school discipline. They are seeking racial proportionality in disciplinary outcomes relative not to the number and types of offenses but rather to the demographics of the school.

They suggested “open enrollment” in advanced level academic coursework to help “to ensure equitable student assignment in honors/advanced and AP courses.” They want “Model Guidance on equitable enrollment procedures for Governor’s schools and accelerated programs.”

They want “culturally responsive schools” for which they wish to “Establish a single indicator or composite score related to school climate, which also includes indicators of antiracism and Culturally Responsive and Inclusive school climate.”

They suggested incorporating “racism, racial equity, and social justice as part of standards of learning.”

Social justice as part of standards of learning. Social justice itself to be defined later. I’m going to guess they don’t mean a definition of social justice that, say, Justice Thomas would offer.

They recommend that the Board of Education:

“Require Educator Preparation Programs to include programs of study and experiences that prepare teachers to be culturally responsive by revising regulations Governing the Review and Approval of Education Programs in Virginia 8VAC20-543-10 et seq to include guidance on:

  • Diversity, equity, cultural responsiveness and competence
  • Anti-racism
  • Diverse field placements.

More bullets:

  • Requirement for a Culturally Responsive and Inclusive Practices coordinator at every division.
  • Require equitable distribution of teachers to disrupt the disparity of the most experienced teachers being assigned to the lowest poverty schools.
  • Reconfigure division boundaries and zoning to promote better integration
  • Require reporting on student to teacher racial ratios in the form of a single indicator or composite score related to teacher/student demographics. This should be reported on School Quality Profiles as a Teacher Diversity Index.
  • Establish Model Guidance for mentoring and coaching program for the retention of Teachers of Color.
  • Modify licensure regulations to permit alternative pathways, other than the Praxis (such as through micro-credentials) to meet licensure requirements.

Racial Equity

Finally, they offered a definition of racial equity:

“The systematic fair treatment of people of all races, resulting in equitable opportunities and outcomes for all. It is not just the absence of discrimination and inequities, but also the presence of deliberate systems and supports to achieve and sustain racial equity.”

I was utterly struck that there was no mention of either the fact or the reason that half of the Black fourth graders in Richmond City Public Schools when last tested in 2019 could not read.

Again, the whole “opportunity” presentation was about advanced classes and school discipline. What bubble do these superintendents live in that they can have the full attention of the Board of Education and fail to even mention the abject failures of schools at the lower end of Black student achievement? Is that because some of them are the superintendents of districts that feature such schools? See, hear and speak no evil?

They define racial equity to require “equitable” outcomes. The measures for “academic achievement” that can be examined for “equitable” outcomes? The difference between equitable and equal outcomes? None specified.

Teacher equity

They want student and teacher demographics to match. Good to know.

If so, half of the 84% of Virginia public school teachers who are white will need to leave. And presumably no white teachers can be hired until the numbers are “equitable.” Will a nationwide search will be conducted for their replacements?

Because Virginia does not now and there are absolutely no indications that it ever will produce enough minority Ed school graduates to reach the goal set by these superintendents, much less Black Ed school graduates, which is what they clearly meant.

Who among college-bound Black kids wants to go to Ed school with the free market demanding Black college graduates faster than they can be graduated in jobs that pay far more than teaching?

The superintendents thus have recommended creating a problem — fewer white teachers — without a solution. And they know it. That is why they also recommended eliminating PRAXIS testing as a qualification for teaching and the substitution of “micro credentials.”  That is a harbinger of the inevitable next recommendation, elimination of standardized tests for students, which would take the pressure off of superintendents.

The numbers still won’t work even when the qualifications are watered down.  Not even close. But those are just details.

Bottom Line

The African=American superintendents — note well no Hispanic and God knows no Asian superintendents were considered — took issues that need to be addressed seriously and, untethered to seriousness, responded with recommendations guaranteed to produce the absolute destruction of Virginia public schools.

They did that while ignoring the real problems of the failures to teach poor Black kids how to read and multiply for which they are actually responsible.

Those recommendations will be adopted by the DOE. Book it.

I wonder if we still have a General Assembly.