Dorothy left the Governor holding their children's backpacks on the evening before Richmond schools began classes, joining Delegate Dave Toscano (D-57th) at Linda Perriello's home and bringing attention to important initiatives and the women running for the Virginia House who support them. Chaos in the mansion?
Delegate Toscano introduced this Virginia First Lady who continues in the footsteps of her Democratic predecessors in the impressive tradition of competent leadership. The Perriello home was crammed with enthusiastic advocates of effective legislation and good government. Linda Perriello's grandchildren pitched in with the hosting even officially welcoming the First Lady with a bouquet as Linda circulated as best she could in a house almost bursting at the seams. There was also at least one caped Wonder Woman apprentice making an appearance.
Here is the thing about DMac: she takes every opportunity to pursue her personally held and informed rather than politically motivated agenda; one that includes improving the lives of every Virginian. Her rifts are not made of red meat mantras that rile and anger a constituency demanding to be pandered. She genuinely strives to guide her audience to consider solutions for 21st century challenges rather than harkening back to an era that no longer exists and trying to wish away contemporary problems that demand innovative approaches.
Toscano's introduction emphasized her efforts to ensure that every child in Virginia gets a nutritious meal each and every day. And he reminded us that Dorothy has been at the lead in the effort to make Virginia the most veteran friendly state in the Union ever since her husband's first run at elected office in 2009.
A new study by researchers at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, finds yet more evidence (as if we needed any more!) that racism is far from dead in the United States of America, and certainly not in the South. Check this out:
Nationally, 1.2 million Black students were suspended from K-12 public schools in a single academic year - 55% of those suspensions occurred in 13 Southern states. Districts in the South also were responsible for 50% of Black student expulsions from public schools in the United States...
In 132 Southern school districts, Blacks were disproportionately suspended at rates five times or higher than their representation in the student population.
Here in Virginia, it's not good either, as "Blacks were 24% of students in school districts across the state, but comprised 51% of suspensions and 41% of expulsions." In terms of "disproportionate impact," the report finds that "Botetourt County Public Schools, Falls Church City Public Schools, Lexington City Public Schools, Maggie L. Walker Governor's School, and Rappahannock County Public Schools are among [Virginia school] districts in which suspensions most disproportionately affected Black students." For instance, Botetourt's "disproportionate impact" score in the 2011-2012 school year was 4.3x, while Falls Church's was 3.8x. Others that jumped out at me were several jurisdictions, such as Fairfax County (3.0x), Loudoun County (3.0x) and Arlington County (2.8x), which trend "blue" politically but still show an unacceptably high ratio of African-American students suspended or expelled relative to their population.
"The findings in our report point to the residual effects of Jim Crow, slavery, and unequal schooling," Harper said. "They are further explained by poverty trends, structural inequities in the education workforce, and a longstanding history of racial injustice that cyclically reproduces itself, especially across these 13 Southern states."
What's particularly unacceptable about this situation is this:
Suspensions and expulsions can carry life-changing consequences for children. They impact academic performance and disrupt pathways to college, but also how a school and community perceive a student.
"It could take years to process through the trauma and stigma of being deemed a problem-that you're not responsible, not serious," Smith said. "Teachers and district leaders are signaling that you're not worthy enough for us to invest in."
The bottom line is that this situation is sadly unsurprising, yet completely unacceptable, and it needs to change ASAP, just as the disproportionate shootings of African Americans by police needs to change ASAP, and just as the disproportionate application of severe punishments (up to and including the death penalty) towards African Americans needs to change ASAP. I'd be very interested to hear a response on this from the "blue" jurisdictions I noted above...
Virginians are at least one or two steps ahead of us North Carolinians. OK, maybe more. We are in no position to make suggestions, I know. But Virginia has a unique chance to at least hold one house in the GA, to "get it left," so to speak. As I explained in a recent diary, Virginia has a Democratic governor, who compared to those I will mention in a moment, causes many Dems across the country to have "governor envy."
Governors from many GOP-held states occupy a "Governor's Hall of Shame." Abbott of Texas, Brownback of Kansas, Walker of Wisconsin, Snyder of Michigan, Scott of Florida, and McCrory of North Carolina are bringing their states down. There are others, of course. Though they lie about their negative "accomplishments," they are not fooling many.
Their legislatures are even worse. Some are actively trying to tie the hands of their state governments for all time, with the oxymoronically named Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). This clone of the awful Colorado ALEC-driven TABOR is eyed by NC legislative destructos and winding its way into discussions. Such an amendment would cement austerity and relegate public schools, roads and other good things states once did to history. The Tea Party owned GAs package it as a "bill of rights," specifying in part that taxpayers must be treated with respect. It's about so much more than that. But low-information voters won't get it until their public schools shutter.
Another fun night at the Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) Board Thursday night, this time as the Board debated "Family Life Education" (FLE) curriculum changes. As with the May 7 School Board meeting on transgender protections, it appears that many of the same organized, right-wing, anti-LGBT folks came out to (loudly) express their point of view. See video from the meeting to the right, and let your jaw drop as you listen to some of this insanity, bigotry, ignorance, fearmongering, etc. Fortunately, as Josh Israel reports, it all turned out well in the end:
Thrilled to report that the Fairfax County School Board voted 10-2 to add age-appropriate, science-based Family Life Education curriculum changes that include the vital message that there are LGBT people in the world and that that is okay. Thanks to them, LGBT kids, questioning kids, and kids from atraditional families will be safer and our community will be stronger.
As for the video, a few highlights include strong presentations in support of Family Life Education from 43:37 to 52:07 and from 59:19 to 1:05:40); craziness starting at 52:28 (by Laura Hanford, who claims "this vote is not about bullying or hatred," that there's been "outright deceit" on this by the School Board, and that the curriculum presented is "so extreme on gender and sexaulity that it offended families and people of faith all over the county"); continuing at 56:00 (by Thomas Valentine, who complains about "radical policy changes," falsely compares being transgender identity to anorexoia and that it's a mental illness, and claims this is all about "ideologues who want to force their beliefs onto the children of the county"); predictable craziness from long-time anti-LGBT activist Steven Hunt starting at 1:05:55, from a representative from the "Traditional Values Coalition" starting at 1:09:28, and from 1:12:58 (absurdly claims that protecting LGBT students constitutes discrimination against people of faith). Then there are the bat**** crazy videos -- oh my god, the videos (starting at 1:16:34). It's hard to even know what to say about a lot of this stuff, including the 15-year-old boy reciting the Boy Scout's oath; the guy who says "mankind cannot change sex chromosomes," that transgender identity is a dangerous "belief," and then goes all "violate Godwin's Law" on us by managing to mention Sodom and Gomorrah, Nazi Germany and Martin Niemöller's "First they came for..." quote); etc. Craaazy.
Finally there's the debate itself, with the crowd getting more and more upset, and with the Board majority (other than the two right wingnuts on the Board) struggling to figure out some sort of way to move forward. I hear that they were in disarray leading up to the meeting, but finally came together just minutes before the meeting started. Of course, nothing the Board majority could ever do on this topic would have satisfied the anti-LGBT activists in the crowd, even though the fact is that parents can opt their children out of FLE if they feel strongly about it. So what's the problem then? Why do these people want to tell every other parent what to do, when they already have the right to do what they want with their own kids? Hmmmm.
So, what happpened to the hordes of people who showed up (and exhibited such tremendous, er, passion) for the Fairfax County School Board debate the other day over which bathrooms transgender students should use? The Fairfax County School Board budget isn't as interesting, or more to the point as important to their kids' futures? In fact, the latter is infinitely more important to their kids' futures than the former, yet there were probably 200 times the number of people present for the former than the latter. You think people's priorities are a bit skewed, or what?!?
The following post, by Prince William County math teacher (and U.S. Marine Corps veteran) Atif Qarni, lays out some important challenges Virginia faces when it comes to education, as well as what we need to do about it. That includes: 1) reducing overcrowded classrooms; 2) "rethink our curriculum and how we evaluate it"; 3) "put an end to our toxic testing environment"; 4) stop the "attacks on public education in favor of charter schools and school voucher programs"; and 5) "invest on the front end and support a quality education for all." I couldn't agree more with all of this, and would just add that it demonstrates why we badly need a super-smart teacher like Atif Qarni in the Virginia State Senate!
During my time in the Marines, I was taught about how important it is to set high standards for yourself. We should be taking that lesson to heart when it comes to our education standards in the Commonwealth. We need some significant reforms so that we can live up to the promise teachers at my school make to our students: if you work hard enough, you can accomplish anything you want. It's time to lower classroom sizes, update our curriculum, and stop the emphasis on testing.
Our classrooms are too crowded. It's bad for students to try and learn in classrooms of 35 and 36, which is what middle school math class sizes are in my school. If we want kids to learn topics well and to think and solve problems for themselves, not just do well on tests, we need to give them a chance in classes that are smaller.
We also need to rethink our curriculum and how we evaluate it. Current Standards of Learning are not updated enough to test what a student should know as they move on with their education. We should be focusing heavily on increasing our students' ability to compete in a global economy. That starts with updated standards of math, science, and technology.
We need put and end to our toxic testing environment. We test our kids on these outdated standards too aggressively. This excessive testing drives our kids to physical illness on testing days. Kids face anxiety and symptoms of depression during testing season. Is this the way to show them the importance of education? Or are we instead driving them out of the classroom and away from wanting to learn. As a parent as well as a teacher, seeing the impact of these tests is heartbreaking. Some kids just don't learn the same way others do, and that's ok. Testing should not punish them for that.
Attacks on public education in favor of charter schools and school voucher programs are to blame for these problems, but it's not too late. For those that want or need it, public schools should be there to provide them a high quality education. A first class education should be the right of all, not the privilege of a select few, and that is what we face if we don't fix our system. Virginia consistently ranks well below the US average in state spending for public education, but above the US average for corrections spending. I think it's time we invest on the front end and support a quality education for all.
This is amazing, I strongly recommend that everyone watch the entire speech. Fortunately, there are a LOT of people out here, myself included, who greatly respect honest, hard-working public servants like Mr. McElveen, not to mention some of the most valuable members of our society - people who work to educate the next generation. All of these people - the school board members, the teachers, the bus drivers, the cafeteria workers - deserve to be paid, and respected, commensurate, with the great value they provide. Here are excerpts:
Tonight's discussion is our own localized version of a vibrant, ongoing, global, philosphical debate, to which noone around the world really has found a definitive answer...how much should citizens pay their leaders...A vast majority of studies by economists...show that higher public official salaries will bring better and more talented candidates into politics, just like higher salaries would do for all education professionals...As everyone knows, our decision tonight unfortunately combines two of the things most demonized in American public discourse today. Number one elected officials. And more importantly for our purposes, public education...
Put simply, there's a lack of respect for what we do as educators, and an even greater lack of respect for what we do as education public officials. The fact that we have had more people sign up to testify to protest potential school board raises tonight than showed up to testify before the Board of Supervisors to support our school system budget is emblematic of this critical American paradox...What you're witnessing tonight is not just disrespect of school board members, it is disrespect of public education and all of us who engage in that work...It is important to remember that respect starts at the top...
The current climate of disrespect of our school system and of public education is not cool with me. If we continue to be viewed as second-class citizens by society, and more importantly by the Board of Supervisors that supposedly is there to support us, that's to noone's advantage...That lack of respect is consistently transferred to our employees in the form of inadequate funding to use for their compensation increases...We should all be in this together to fight for the respect of public education...
There's actually been a Democrat campaigning for Delegate Joe Morrissey's seat in the 74th District since July. Meet Kevin Sullivan from James City County, a proud union man and former Political Coordinator for Teamsters Joint Council 83, Labor Liaison for Attorney-General Mark Herring, and President of the Charles City Ruritan.
This is Kevin at the annual Mathews Democratic Crab Steam last August, so that's the pounding in the background. He has been pounding the pavement because he wants to represent the interests of blue collar workers in Richmond.
There are not enough people in government who have punched a time clock or carried their lunch in a bag or lived paycheck to paycheck. That's what I want becoming a legislator. I want to represent regular people.
His platform emphasizes Medicaid expansion, education, worker protection, and legislative ethics. He has pledged not to accept the state health coverage provided to Delegates until the Medicaid coverage gap is closed. Educational innovation, technical training opportunities, the cost of higher education, and student loan debt concern him. As a worker's voice in the legislature, he wants to focus on Workman's Compensation and worker misclassification. Saying there is too much "big money" in politics, he is trying to fund his campaign with small donations. In the legislature he would work to limit contributions and gifts to state officials.
At the time we met, Sullivan wanted the opportunity to face Morrissey in a primary. We'll see if that comes to pass.
The publication of the Rolling Stone article, and the passionate reaction of our students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, and community members, have caused many sleepless nights for those of us who care about UVA. The passionate reaction tells me this: the behavior depicted is not something we will accept as normal, and the actions by seven men as described in the story have betrayed us. We have a problem, and we are going to get after it.
The story has raised a number of questions in my mind, and I will make it my highest priority in the coming months to learn the answers. My team is going to spare no effort between now and the time classes reopen for the spring semester. We're going to address these questions.
And let me say emphatically that how we answer these questions is not about protecting the university's reputation, it's about doing the right thing. The reputation I care most about is the reputation for following the truth wherever it may lead. We will not be doing business as usual in the spring of 2015. We will fearlessly examine ourselves and our culture...and cooperate fully with the independent investigation that's underway....
UVA students and alumni are speaking up, loudly, and saying this will never be tolerated on our grounds. And yet at the same time it's been tough to hear from many alumni, some of them from decades ago, who recounted their own negative experience and wondered sadly if nothing has changed. If there is a subculture that hurts any UVA students or exploits any of our fellow Wahoos, we must find out where it hides out and root it out...UVA is too good a place to allow this evil to reside. We must make this school a safe and welcoming place for everyone.
Read the rest of President Sullivan's speech here.
This morning, Chief Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Hudson sent a letter to University of Virginia Board of Visitors Rector George Martin informing him that the firm of O'Melveny & Myers will serve as independent counsel to the Board regarding issues of sexual violence at the University of Virginia. The team is expected to include highly qualified and experienced attorneys including Walter Dellinger, Danielle Gray, and Apalla Chopra.
Below is a statement from Attorney General Mark Herring regarding the appointment of independent counsel:
"The University of Virginia community and all Virginians have been stunned by the horrific storyRolling Stonebrought to light, as well as the apparent inadequacy of the University's response to this and other past reports of sexual violence. Charlottesville Police have been asked to handle any criminal investigations into this specific attack, but all other aspects of campus sexual violence, including how school officials handled this case, will be thoroughly and independently scrutinized. I have made it clear this will be an aggressive and consequential investigation and review. The safety of our students is too important to accept anything less than a full accounting of what happened and bold ideas to ensure that no student suffers the unimaginable trauma of sexual violence or the injustice of an inadequate institutional response."
This morning the Governor will visit a farm just south of the James Madison University (JMU) campus. While farming best practices are admirable, the safety of students on campus, neglected by the JMU administration in Sarah Butters' sexual assault case, screams for immediate attention. President Alger deserves a wakeup call.
On Alger's campus a student may participate in a gang sexual assault of a fellow student, videotape it, publish it on the internet, be accused by the victim then escape any substantive punishment. Following the revelations about JMU's bumbling enforcement of its own sexual assault policies, the University President, Jonathan R. Alger, withdrew to his comfort zone: acting as his own lawyer rather than campus leader. What was his reaction to McAuliffe's formation of a task force to combat sexual violence at Virginia colleges?
"For all of us, this is a time to come together, to share best practices, to make clear that we all take this issue very seriously," said Jonathan R. Alger, president of James Madison University. He said the freshmen now gathering at the school in Harrisonburg are getting the message that they must not be bystanders to sexual assault. - Washington Post
I join every other Arlington Democrat in wishing Arlington County School Board member Noah Simon all the best as he does what he needs to do for his family, and thanking him for his service to Arlington.
Here's some video of last night's School Board debate at the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) meeting. The candidates are Barbara Kanninen, Nancy Van Doren and Greg Greeley, all of whom I've interviewed extensive and all of whom I find highly impressive (including at last night's debate, where all three did an excellent job). As far as I can determine, no matter which one of these candidates wins next Saturday, Arlington will be in good hands. This is, frankly, the kind of problem we want to have!
With that, check out the video below in which the candidates respond to a question on bullying, and in the comments section for opening and closing statements plus responses to more questions.
Yesterday, I had the chance to interview Greg Greeley, one of three Democratic candidates for Arlington County School Board. The race is to succeed current School Board member Sally Baird, who is stepping down after two terms. Here's a summary of my hour-long talk with Greg Greeley.
1. Why did you decide to run for Arlington County School Board, and why now? Greeley: This run is the culmination of several years of increasing involvement in the Arlington County public schools, as a single father of two boys and a foster parent to other kids in recent years. This involvement opened his eyes to broader issues in the Arlington County public schools, including overcrowding and inadequate long-term planning for how much capacity will be needed in 5, 10 years. In Greeley's view, we know the "tide won't be going out for many years" in terms of enrollment - we're likely to grow from 23,000 students to 30,000 students in coming years - and we have to have a "multi-decade" "master plan" to deal with that. Greeley believes that having a seat on the board will allow him to work on "making sure that we do a good job of addressing school facilities." Why now? Part of it is that there's an opening, and part of it is that he's in a better position personally to do this right now. A year ago, he had three kids as a foster parent, and "there is no way I would have had the time to do this," but "my youngest foster boy is off to an adoptive family...exactly the kind of family he needs." In part because of that, Greeley says he's now in a position to run for School Board. In addition, Greeley's full-time job allows a lot of flexibility and stresses work/life balance. Later in the interview, Greeley responded to a question from me by stressing that he is really NOT a politician ("I'm a parent"), and that he's NOT running for School Board as any kind of stepping stone to other office.
2. How important is diversity on the Arlington County School Board? Some have said you're running as the "gay candidate" to replace Sally Baird, who is the only LGBT School Board member now and we'll be losing her. Any thoughts on that? Greeley: "I don't see that as a big issue. Certainly, I would proud to be the first gay man on the Board; that would be great. That's not why I'm running. There are so many other reasons to be running, so many other things important to the schools." Also, Greeley stressed that diverse experience - for instance, having a child who's gone through a Title 1 school - is more important than having another member of the LGBT community on the School Board.
3. What are some of the major issues facing the school system right now? Greeley: One big issue is how we work with our kids with special needs. For instance, Greeley's oldest son is an English language learner who wants to be an engineer. "I was really disappointed when I got his first class schedule...They really didn't discuss his plans with him, because they had him in remedial math and they had him in auto shop," which he didn't want to take. It took Greeley to come in and sit down with the counselors to get that changed, and more broadly to get the level of attention that should be automatic in the school system. That's not the way it should be.
On the "achievement gap," Greeley said it's a mixed bag right now in Arlington County. At some schools, there are good programs in place to address that. For instance, at Randolph Elementary School, the school system took used school computers, refurbished them, got them in the hands of kids who didn't have computers at home, and help the families get discounted internet access. That helped address the "digital divide," which contributes to the achievement gap, and is particularly important at Title 1 schools. Another example was a program to train parents who are new to the country and unfamiliar with how the school system works to teach them how to be a good, engaged parent in the Arlington County school system. There was also a club for Latino mothers that encouraged them to get involved - and made them feel welcome - in their kids' schools.
I last interviewed Barbara Kanninen in 2013 when she ran against James Lander for Arlington School Board. Instead of re-interviewing her, I asked Kanninen's campaign if they could send me a statement about her 2014 campaign (note that the election is May 15 and 17). I'm posting that below; also see the full 2013 interview on the "flip." Thanks.
P.S. I interviewed one of the other two candidates, Greg Greeley, earlier today, and will be posting that soon. I would be happy to talk to the third Democratic candidate, Nancy Van Doren, as well.
I am Barbara Kanninen and I am running for Arlington County School Board because I believe that together we can make Arlington Public Schools the best that they can be. I would be honored to have your vote.
Our schools are important to all of us, whether we are parents, teachers, homeowners, or simply citizens who want to live in a community that values education. I have long been engaged in local Democratic activism, so I have made "pounding the pavement" a centerpiece of my campaign. As I've canvassed all of Arlington's 52 precincts these last few months, I have met many of you, as well as your neighbors. It has been invaluable to hear your thoughts and concerns about Arlington's schools.
We're facing complicated issues that span many dimensions-from budgeting and capacity planning to optimizing classroom instruction-and I bring an equally expansive set of experiences to the table. I have volunteered in schools and worked with children in Arlington and DC for over 20 years. I have served on School Board and County Board advisory committees, and I'm a professional economist, children's book author, and long-time Democratic activist. These experiences have given me hundreds of hours with kids and teachers in classrooms, a deep familiarity with budgets and data analysis, and a history of working at the community level on grassroots organizing and engagement.
It is certainly clear that we, collectively, have the energy, the brains, and the will to do great things for our kids and our community. I'm excited about the possibilities.
(I am promoting this because I think it's an intriguing idea. I welcome op-eds by other 8th CD Democratic candidates on important issues facing our district (and America) today, and will promote those that I think deserve to be shared more widely. This is one of those. Thanks. - promoted by lowkell)
The millennials may be the first generation in American history to be worse off than their parents. Despite ever-growing improvements in technology and worker productivity, increasing numbers of college graduates in their 20's and 30's are returning home to live with mom and dad. They are drowning in a sea of red ink. The problem, of course, is college affordability.
Although the surest ticket out of poverty remains higher education, higher education itself is placing too many Americans back in poverty. In the last 30 years, the cost of a college education has astoundingly almost tripled even after taking account of inflation. Meanwhile the public subsidy to students has remained stagnant. That means, after taking account of inflation, subsidies to students have been cut in half. Do the math. When I went to college, the Government subsidized almost six times as much of college costs. No wonder today's generation is feeling the pain.
And it's not just tuition. Room and board are skyrocketing, as colleges use these items, plus fees, to pad their payments to administrators. And we have to be clear that's where the money is going. Why a college with the same number of students as 30 years ago needs twice the number of administrators to handle them now is beyond me.
To add insult to injury, the Federal Government profits off the backs of students by charging them an additional 3% to 6% more for student loans than we charge banks. That's a hiked rate of interest on an overcharged principal, amounting to an astonishing $21 billion a year the Government makes off of strapped and vulnerable individuals struggling to live the American Dream. Private industry charges even more.
The Virginia legislature is, once again, in session. Here is my take on various education-related bills.
1. SOL (Standards of Learning) Testing Reform Bill: Unfortunately, I can't locate the legislation for this bill (or bills--there are 11), but I couldn't be happier that this legislation is in the works and that it has such wide and bi-partisan support. It's not the end of what should be done to fix Virginia's accountability structure but it's a start. Among other changes, the bill would reduce the number of SOL tests from 34 to 26 and call for more authentic and higher quality assessments. Two caveats:
a. The Virginia Board of Education and some folks at Virginia's Department of Education are claiming that Virginia's newer SOL tests, for example the math ones, are already of higher quality:
Virginia's Board of Education has revised its tests so they are more reflective of what students need to know to attend college or begin an entry-level job, said Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the Virginia Education Department.
Many of the state's new online tests include "technology-enhanced items" that require students to think critically and solve problems. The more rigorous tests caused scores to drop around the state.
Greason applauded the work the state has been doing and said the legislature would build on those reforms and codify them.
From what I can tell, the new tests are the same old stuff with some added bells and whistles. The reading test is still a disaster, "technology-enhanced" test items does not a critical thinker make, and these tests are not more rigorous, but are rather more tricky. Merely having twenty-six SOL tests akin to the newer ones is not progress in my book.
Gov.-elect McAuliffe has really hit it out of the ballpark with this pick.
Virginia Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe has chosen Anne Holton to be Virginia's next Secretary of Education.
Holton is listed as Director of Great Expectations, a program that "helps Virginia's foster youth complete high school, gain access to a community college education and transition successfully from the foster care system to living independently," according to its website.
I've had the chance to chat with Holton, who is married to U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, and to hear her speak. I've always found her to be extremely impressive - brilliant (Holton "earned an undergraduate degree in economics graduating magna cum laude from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University in 1980. Three years later, she earned a law degree graduating cum laude from Harvard Law School."), personable, well-qualified for the job, you name it. Superb pick - congratulations to Anne Holton and best of luck in your new job! :)
UPDATE: I agree 100% with Mark Warner, who tweets, "Congrats to my good friend Anne Holton on her appt as Va Education Secretary! Excellent choice, top public servant."
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