Ignorance or Cowardice?

While starting to look at the Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) and Plans that the Board of Education demands of schools that have been denied accreditation, I was reminded of that Board’s terrible track record. 

The paradigm is Petersburg, which has been operating under MOUs and submitting Plans since at least 2004.  Yet, as of this year two-thirds of the public schools in Petersburg are not fully accredited.

This poses the questions: Does the Board of Education have the authority to end this assault on the children who are stuck in bad schools in Petersburg (and Richmond and . . .)?  If so, why has it not done so?

The answer to the first question is easy: Yes.

§ 22.1-253.13:3. Standard 3. Accreditation, other standards, assessments, and releases from state regulations.
                                           * * *
Each local school board shall maintain schools that are fully accredited pursuant to the standards for accreditation as prescribed by the Board of Education.

§ 22.1-253.13:8. Compliance.
                                           * * *
When the Board of Education determines that a school division has failed or refused, and continues to fail or refuse, to comply with any such Standard, the Board may petition the circuit court having jurisdiction in the school division to mandate or otherwise enforce compliance with such standard, including the development or implementation of any required corrective action plan that a local school board has failed or refused to develop or implement in a timely manner.

§ 22.1-65. Punishment of division superintendents.
A division superintendent may be assessed a reasonable fine, suspended from office for a limited period or removed from office by either the Board of Education, upon recommendation of the Superintendent of Public Instruction or the school board of the division for sufficient cause.

In short, the Board can sue to compel a school or division to meet the requirements for accreditation and it can fire a division superintendent whose incompetence or obstruction interferes with achieving accreditation.

Of course I checked to see how often the Board has used this authority.  Both a search of the VDOE Web site and an inquiry to the always helpful Chuck Pyle of VDOE gave the same answer: The Board of “Education” has never sued under § 22.1-253.13:8 and has never fired a superintendent.

This tragic failure of the Board to do its job leads to the second question: Why all this timidity?

The profound and prolonged failure in Petersburg and the admissions of the Board members (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48) in an open session point to the same conclusion:  The Board does not know how to fix badly broken schools.

But wait!  It’s even worse than that. 

Page 22 of the Board’s 2015 Annual Report tells us:

To assist those schools which chronically fall below the achievement levels identified by the Board as fully accredited, the Department of Education continues to provide technical assistance through an academic review process, designed to help schools identify and analyze instructional and organizational factors affecting student achievement. The Department and Board are also continuing collaborative agreements with certain school divisions, detailing essential actions that must occur within affected schools. However, Board members continue to perceive a lack of statutory authority to require the most effective actions by local school systems. That remains the purview, under the Code of Virginia, of the local school board.

You read that correctly:   This Board that is too stupid or too timid to exercise its overwhelming power over local school boards wants more authority. 

Never mind the ridiculous suggestion that the Board thinks a constitutional barrier could be removed by statute.

Your $22.3 million tax dollars per year at “work.”