Category Archives: Race and race relations

At the Academy Awards, Three Virginia Movies to Cheer For

With the Academy Awards ceremony fast approaching, there is a bumper crop of movies set in Virginia to root for this year.

Normally, the production of three motion pictures based on Virginia history would be the occasion for considerable congratulations and back-slapping. Sadly, all three films dwell on the state’s troubled racial past, not exactly the kind of notoriety we’re looking for. Still, that’s no reason for Virginians not to confront their past and appreciate the stories these films have to tell.

I’ve already plugged “Loving” about the inter-racial marriage of Mildred and Richard Loving set in 1960s-era Virginia. That intensely moving movie culminated with what everyone (well, almost everyone) would consider to be a happy ending: the overthrow of the state’s anti-miscegenation law.

A second movie, “The Birth of a Nation,” stars and was directed by Norfolk native Nate Parker. That production recounts the story of Nat Turner, leader of the most infamous slave rebellion in U.S. history. I haven’t watched it yet (I’m waiting for Amazon Prime to carry it), but I did see Parker speak, and I found it fascinating how he cast Turner as a liberty-seeking rebel along the lines of Virginia’s founding fathers. I’m not sure that view can be reconciled with the bloodiness of the uprising, which the film apparently glosses over, but it is a provocative point worth pondering. (View the trailer here.)

The movie with the best shot at winning an Academy Award is “Hidden Figures,” the story of three black women in segregationist Virginia who worked as “computers” (people who carried out computations by hand) at NASA Langley for the early space program. The film portrayed the indignities of segregation in 1960s Hampton — blacks relegated to the back of the bus, water fountains for whites and blacks, and in what becomes a major plot point, the separation of bathrooms. But the movie focused mainly on the grit and determination of the lead characters in the face of adversity. Like “Loving,” the movie has a feel-good ending as the women win recognition for their accomplishments and the trappings of segregation are dismantled at the NASA facility.

I’m not a big fan of the Academy Awards — too much self-glorification by Hollywood — but if you have occasion to watch the ceremony, heat up the popcorn, ease into your recliner and root for the home team.

Update: How could I have forgotten “Hacksaw Ridge?” The movie who recounted the World War II exploits Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who grew up near Lynchburg and served his country as a medic.

Lefties Confront Stewart. Stewart Wins.

Corey Stewart struggles to be heard.

Corey Stewart struggles to be heard. Photo credit: Washington Post.

Corey Stewart is one of those politicians that you either love or love to hate. He’s a conservative populist who built a state-wide reputation on his pugnacious, in-your-face opposition to illegal immigration. And as the prominent Virginia politician to align himself mostly closely with Donald Trump, he is surely loathed by many.

Whatever you might think about Stewart, though, he’s entitled to speak his views like anyone else.

It’s one thing to denounce him as a bigot and a white supremacist — his enemies are entitled to free speech, too — but quite another to disrupt his campaign appearances. Lefties may think they’re accomplishing something by shutting him down, but it’s probably not what they think — they’re engendering sympathy for a not-very-sympathetic guy.

Stewart visited the Peoples Republic of Charlottesville a couple of days ago to defend the statue of Robert E. Lee, which City Council had previously voted to remove. On social media, he had urged people to “defend Virginia’s heritage,” and likened those who wanted to remove the statue to tyrants and Nazis, according to the Washington Post.

His appearance was met by protesters who drowned out his interviews and conversations with shouts of, “White supremacy has got to go!” Hoisting signs saying, “Ban Bigots,” and “No tolerance for white supremacy,” protesters yelled at him to go back to Prince William County. As he left, they shouted, “Whose town? Our town!”

If anyone has that kind of treatment coming, it’s Stewart: His rhetoric toward illegal immigrants has been harsh and uncompromising. And if Charlottesville lefties want to vent online or hold their own demonstrations, I’m fine with that. But I have to say, Stewart handled the disruption with class.

“Stewart took it in stride, frequently grinning and trying to chat up his detractors,” the Post writes.

Stewart welcomed the protests and the attention they would bring, believing  they would buttress his pitch as a conservative standing up to an intolerant left and “political correctness.”

I’m calling them out for who they are,” Stewart said. “It’s really a symptom of the left and their unwillingness to listen to alternative points of view.”

Score one for Stewart.

Lefties in Charlottesville and elsewhere make much of their desire for “inclusiveness.” But their version of “inclusiveness” and “tolerance” includes only those groups friendly to their point of view. A truly inclusive viewpoint would say, “Sure, we’ll keep the Robert E. Lee statue because many people still revere him as a hero. We’ll build statues for our own heroes and heroines. Our community can tolerate them all because we embrace the diversity of cultures, sub-cultures and viewpoints.”

But that’s not the Left’s approach. They want to expunge the heroes of their ideological enemies. They want to exclude other points of view from the public realm. Their viewpoint is relentlessly negative. Erecting a statue of a politically correct hero would be a positive action. But if anyone has proposed doing so, the effort hasn’t gained enough steam to be noticed. The Left’s advocacy of diversity applies to race and ethnicity only. It is a pinched and intolerant view that excludes anyone who thinks differently, including dissenting views of blacks, gays and other minorities.

I part ways with Stewart because I think there are ways to justify restrictions on illegal immigration without demonizing millions of people who came to this country not to create mayhem but to better their lives. It is possible to both sympathize with the aspirations of those who want to live here even while saying firmly, sorry, this is a nation of laws, and if you want to live here, you cannot enter and stay in this country illegally. We can deal with the issue in a humane way.

Corey Stewart is not the guy I want to be making the stand against political correctness in Virginia. But he’s the one doing it, and the Left is making him look good by comparison.

Number of High School Grads Leveling Off

Projected number of Virginia high school graduates through 2034

Yearly number of Virginia high school graduates. Source: “Knocking at the College Door.

Virginia should experience a surge in the number of high school graduates through 2025 before dropping off by 2030, bucking a national trend in which the number declines by 4%. The projections made by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education are designed to help state systems of higher education conduct their long-term planning.

Trends differ sharply by region, notes the report, “Knocking at the College Door.” The proportion of high school graduates in the South actually is expected to increase: from about 33% of all graduates nationally in the early 2000s to 47% by 2025. That increase will be more than offset by declining numbers of graduates in the Northeastern and Midwestern states.

Nationally, the decline will be driven primarily by a shrinking number (and percentage) of white high school graduates, while the percentage of Asians and Hispanics increase and the percentage of blacks remain roughly the same.


Virginia high school graduates by race/ethnicity.

Private schools: The number of private school graduates from Virginia is projected to decrease sharply: 31% by 2031-32. That translates into 2,000 fewer per year. As a percentage of all Virginia high school grads, private schoolers should decline from 7.2% of the total in 2010-11 to 5.1% by 2031-32.

The report provided no explanation for Virginia’s precipitous drop in the number of private schoolers, but atributed the slide nationally to large declines in the number of Catholic schools

Virginians Should Watch “Loving”

If you haven’t seen “Loving” yet, you need to. The movie tells the story of Mildred and Richard Loving, a white man and “colored” woman living in Caroline County in the 1950s, who married in violation of the law against mixed-race wedlock. Their case famously went to the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in the dismemberment of anti-miscegenation laws across the country.

While the movie touches upon the legal issues stemming from their predicament, it is first and foremost a love story of two people who build a life and family together. Refraining from overt moralizing, “Loving” is all the more powerful for its understatement. In the most moving scene in the movie, the ACLU attorney asks the laconic Loving if he has any words he wishes to convey to the justices of the Supreme Court. Replies the bricklayer: “Just tell the judges that I love my wife.”

Although the movie portrays a dark page from the Old Dominion’s history, Virginians will appreciate the beautiful photography of the Tidewater countryside and the evocation of a rural community in which whites, blacks and (unmentioned in the movie) Indians mixed socially despite the strictures of segregation.

“Loving” is a beautiful expression of natural libertarianism, the philosophy expressed by the phrase “live and let live.” The Lovings were not social crusaders. Like many Americans, they just wanted to be left alone. It was their misfortune to run afoul of laws designed to maintain the “purity” of the white race. Thankfully, legally enforced segregation is a thing of the past. But, sadly, there is no shortage of social engineers who would harness the power of the state in other ways to impose their values and obsessions upon others.

Joe Morrissey as Post-Racial Candidate

Joe Morrissey at press conference

Joe Morrissey, with his wife Myrna in the background, during a recent press conference. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

One of the benefits of living in the Richmond region is having front row seats on the never-ending saga that is Joe Morrissey — Richmond’s very own answer to Anthony Weiner. We Richmonders can avail ourselves of near-daily newspaper and TV exposes while the rest of the state must settle for truncated Associated Press copy.

As the poll-leading candidate in the race for Richmond mayor, Morrissey landed in hot water again last week when a former client, Kanika Morris, accused him of texting her messages of a sexually explicit nature and exposing himself to her in his office. When she spurned his advances, she charged, other attorneys in his law firm pressured her into a plea deal.

No, you can’t make this stuff up.

But, as it turns out, it appears that Ms. Morris very likely did. At least she made up part of the story. Morrissey produced statements from a fellow attorney stating that she was in the room at the same time as Morrissey and Ms. Morris, and that Morrissey most emphatically did not expose himself. Furthermore, Morrissey’s camp has cited information that, in the words of his attorney, “clearly shows that Ms. Morris lied about being coerced by some kind of financial, legal and sexual pressure.”

Indeed, the big news in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch is a statement from Ms. Morris’s jail mate declaring that Ms. Morris told her that she would “do whatever it takes” to get home so her baby would not be born in jail.

What Morrissey conspicuously has not contested is that he texted messages of a sexual nature to Ms. Morris. As summarized by the T-D:

Morrissey has not denied that he sent explicit text messages to Morris while his law firm was representing her this year and while he was engaged to his now wife, who was then pregnant with their second child. In one of the messages provided by Morris to the Times-Dispatch, he instructed the woman about how he wanted her to groom her pubic hair prior to their meeting.

While texting Wieneresque messages is grotesque to middle-class sensibilities, it is not illegal. Nor in the minds of Morrissey supporters is it necessarily even disqualifying.

Morrissey, who is white, has a strong base of support in Richmond’s African-American community. He has spent much of his legal career representing the poor, many of whom find themselves in and out of the courts, and he has positioned himself as their political champion. Further, after spending a stint in jail for having sex with his 17-year-old office receptionist, an African-American, he married her.

Insofar as his chaotic personal life resembles that of many of his poor constituents, many African-Americans in Richmond apparently identify with him. While his escapades might disqualify him in the minds of middle-class voters, they reinforce his appeal to the downtrodden and demoralized. In that sense, one might truly say that Joe Morrissey is Richmond’s first true post-racial candidate.

Digging Deeper on the Link Between Spending and Educational Achievement


A few days ago I posted data showing that K-12 spending in Virginia was 10.2% lower in 2014 than it was in 2008, yet National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores for Virginia students had climbed over the same period. Given the evidence that Virginia schools showed they could do more with less, I asked, is it possible that money is not the main constraint holding back educational achievement?

In a blog post yesterday, the Commonwealth Institute argues that the cuts have hurt academic performance, particularly in poor school districts where budget cuts have hit the hardest. While overall performance has improved since the recession, it has suffered for low-income students, black students and English-as-a-second-language students.

For example, since 2007, 4th grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have gone up for all Virginians on average by 2 points, increasing 4 points for White students and 9 points for students that do not qualify for free or reduced lunch. Yet, they have fallen by 5 points for Black students, 2 points for students that receive free or reduced lunch, and an astounding 21 points for English language learners. Average eighth grade math scores show a similar divergence.

That’s a fair point worth closer examination. I’d like to dig deeper — are there other variables that could explain the divergent performance between racial/ethnic groups? The Commonwealth Institute divides the school districts into quintiles ranked by the size of the state budget cuts. How directly do those budget cuts correlate with declining test scores for poor, black and ESL students? We can’t conduct that kind of analysis with NAEP scores, but we can with SOL scores. I’d love to see that analysis.


Virginia SAT Scores Inch Higher, National Scores Decline


Apparent good news from the Virginia Department of Education: Virginia public school graduates in 2016 continued to buck a multi-year national trend of lower achievement on the SAT college-admissions test.

According to a VDOE press release (no link), the commonwealth’s public school graduates outscored their nationwide peers on all three subsections of the college-admissions test:
• Virginia’s public school mean score in reading of 516 was 29 points higher.
• Virginia’s public school mean score in mathematics of 513 was 19 points higher.
• Virginia’s public school mean score in writing of 493 was 21 points higher.

“With the redesign of the SAT this year, the performance of Virginia’s 2016 graduating seniors caps a decade-long trend of increased achievement,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples said. “The challenge now as the commonwealth revises its diploma standards is to maintain strong academic performance while expanding the high school experience to include the 21st-century skills demanded by today’s employers.”

Why would Virginia college-bound students out-perform their national peers by an ever-growing margin? Are Virginia public schools really doing a better job of teaching? It would be comforting to think so.

There is so much gamesmanship in educational achievement numbers, however, one would be forgiven for wanting to take a closer look.

One variable that affects median SAT scores is the percentage of the student body that takes the test. A higher percentage suggests that a school system is dipping deeper into the pool of academic talent; students with poorer academic performance are likely to drag down the scores. Inside Higher Ed notes that more students are taking the test nationally than ever before. That could explain some of the national decline. The VDOE press release noted that 65% of Virginia public school graduates took the exam, but did not note whether that was higher or lower than the previous year. So, the question remains open.


SAT scores broken down by race/ethnicity give the same old story. Asians out-perform all other groups. Whites follow fairly close behind, Hispanics lag, and blacks do the worst. “Outcomes are not improving for far too many students of color,” said Board of Education President Billy K. Cannaday Jr.  “Narrowing and ultimately closing these gaps is the state board’s top priority.”


Fighting Joe Takes on Jefferson Davis


by James A. Bacon

As long as Joe Morrissey is in the public eye, politics in Richmond will never be dull. Yesterday, with his young wife at his side, Morrissey stood in front of the Jefferson Davis statue on Monument Ave. and declared that it was time to remove the sculpture. “The Jefferson Davis statue is a political statue that glorified a failed political organization and championed a cause — slavery — that all Americans now find abhorrent,” he said. See the Richmond Times-Dispatch report here.

A candidate for mayor, Morrissey led a wide field of contenders in the only publicly released poll conducted so far. He has been involved in scandals and controversies since his tenure as commonwealth attorney, but remains popular among African-Americans, many of whom he has represented as a plaintiff’s attorney. “Fighting Joe” has positioned himself as a tribune of the little guy.

The Davis statue gambit is sure to keep Morrissey in the public eye. Twenty years ago, Richmond was embroiled in a controversy over whether to locate a statue of African-American, Richmond-born tennis great Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue, notable for its statues of Civil War-era figures. Times and attitudes have changed, but the proposal to remove the Davis statue could well reignite racial passions. For certain, it will distract from more substantive issues.

Among other challenges…

Spike in murders. There have been 40 homicides in Richmond so far this year, compared to 41 for the entire year in 2015. Only 17 of the murders have been cleared; police are investigating the others.

Poor schools. Seven schools in the Richmond Public School system were denied accreditation this year; the status of another 14 has yet to be determined. School officials noted that chronic absenteeism and behavior are major challenges.

Poverty. About 39 percent of the city’s children were living in poverty, according to 2014 data, more than twice the poverty rate for children across the state.

Administrative ineptitude. Each Virginia locality is required to file its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) in the November following the end of the fiscal year ending June 30. Nine months later, Richmond still has not filed its CAFR.

Those are just recent highlights. I could go on. It’s hard to defend the public display of a statue to Jefferson Davis — no one would propose erecting one today — so Morrissey really can’t lose. Anyone who would advocate keeping the statue on the grounds that it is part of the city’s history would not be inclined to vote for him anyway.

Is this a controversy that Richmond really needs? Morrissey says the statue is “painful” for a lot of people. But, then, so was the murder of three-year-old Latrice Walden and 39 other city residents so far this year. So is the failure of city schools to provide a decent education. It’s a shame that “Fighting Joe” doesn’t harness his intelligence, intensity and flair for showmanship to tackle problems that truly affect peoples’ lives.

The Tricky Issue of Bad Debt and For-Profit Colleges


Source: College Scoreboard

by James A. Bacon

State higher education officials are scrambling to deal with the fallout if a federal agency votes to terminate the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), an accrediting agency for for-profit colleges. ACICS-accredited institutions, which include Stratford University and the Bon Secours and Sentara nursing schools, among others, enroll 9,000 students in Virginia.

A loss of accreditation would drop a guillotine blade on most of these institutions, whose students overwhelmingly depend upon federal grants and loans to pay their tuition. In a separate regulatory action, the recent shuttering of ITT Technical Institute stranded thousands of students around the country.  ITT had five locations in Virginia.


Source: College Scoreboard

In a meeting yesterday, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) approved a contingency plan that would give an 18-month grace period to ACICS-accredited colleges, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The measure is designed to let the colleges time to find new accreditation.

The Obama administration has cracked down on for-profit colleges, many of which report low graduation rates and low earnings upon graduation, while saddling students with high debts. For-profit institutions have contributed disproportionately to the mounting problem of borrowers unable to repay their student loans.

Bacon’s bottom line: The Obama administration is right to address the problem…. which it helped create in the first place by declaring a goal of helping every American who wanted to attend college to do so. The U.S. Department of Education undertook a massive expansion of federal grants and loans. Some of the “colleges” responding to the new opportunity, I suspect, were founded by quick-buck artists to capture student aid dollars with little regard to the quality of education they were providing. Indisputably, many educational institutions have shamefully low graduation rates and offer poor job prospects even when students do graduate. But in moving to correct the abuses, the administration is moving ham-handedly.


Source: College Scoreboard

For-profit colleges are a mixed bag. Some do a commendable job. For instance, the Advanced Technology Institute in Virginia Beach, which has 717 undergraduates, has a graduation rate of 70%, and an average salary of $38,000 ten years after attending. That is comparable to, say, Longwood University, with a graduation rate of 65% and $39,600 average salary, according to the U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard.

ECPI University, also in Virginia Beach, has graduation and earnings metrics roughly comparable to Virginia State University, while American National University in Salem shows results similar to those of Mountain Empire Community College in far Southwest Virginia.

At the bottom of the heap, there are ten for-profits that can’t even report complete information to the College Scorecard. Among those that do report graduation rates, Stratford University in Fairfax and the University of Phoenix in Henrico matriculate only 12% of their students. But any comparison gets tricky. The graduation rate for John Tyler and J Sargeant Reynolds community colleges in the Richmond region is only 13%. Are the for-profits really any worse? It’s impossible to say from a superficial review of the data.

The fact is, some for-profit colleges provide an educational option geared to people working full time, and programs that provide specific job-related skills such as criminal justice, dental assistance, auto mechanics, message therapy, HVACs, and the like. Moreover, career colleges cater disproportionately to blacks and Hispanics. Shutting down legitimate for-profit colleges destroys a potential avenue of upward mobility for minorities.

From a high-altitude perspective, however, helicoptering easy money to students has led to a misallocation of hundreds of billions of dollars — encouraging millions of students to pursue educational programs that either they were academically unprepared for or, for reasons of personal circumstance, were unable to complete. The result has been the rise of an indebted class, whose obligations many politicians now want to transfer to the taxpayer.

As a nation, we need to bring the student-debt bubble under control. The question is, what is the best way to accomplish that goal? Do we target the worst-performing for-profit institutions, even while some community colleges show comparable graduation and earnings metrics? Or do we focus on the individuals taking out the loans, recognizing that some have academic backgrounds and life circumstances putting them at higher risk of failure and eventual default? In the old days, lenders evaluated applicants on the odds of getting their money repaid. The federal government appears to be unwilling to take that step. Instead, it sets no standards of credit-worthiness, lends money to anyone, and puts for-profit colleges out of business when the results get ugly.

Highlighting the Higher Ed Dropout Factories


Click for larger, more legible image.

by James A. Bacon

The affordability crisis for American four-year colleges and universities is in part a problem of high tuition and fees, but it’s also a problem of low graduation rates, contends a new study by Third Way, a centrist think tank.

“A typical four-year public college graduates only 48.3% of first-time, full-time students within six years of enrollment,” states the report, “What Free Won’t Fix: Too Many Public Colleges Are Dropout Factories.” “That means first-time, full-time students that enter the average public institution are more likely to NOT graduate than they are to graduate from the school where they first enrolled.”

Among other key findings, based upon the Department of Education’s College Scorecard data:

  • At the average four-year public college, nearly four in ten loan-holding students are unable to earn more than $25,000 (the expected earnings of a high school graduate) six years after enrollment.
  • At the average four-year public college, 22.2% of students who had taken out loans were unable to begin paying down their loans three years after leaving school. By comparison, the mortgage delinquency rate peaked around 10% during the height of the 2010 housing crisis.
  • Price has little relationship to outcomes. Low-performing schools actually charged higher net tuition than schools with superior outcomes.
  • The worst-performing schools tend to have higher concentration of Pell grant recipients.

Third Way compiled a “mobility metric” for 535 public, four-year institutions incorporating a variety of factors: net price (the amount paid after financial aid has been factored in) for students from families making less than $48,000 a year; the percentage of students who receive Pell grants (typically from families earning less than $50,000 a year); completion rates within six years; percentage of students receiving financial aid earning $25,000 annually six years after enrollment; and the repayment rate on federal loans three years after students leave school.

“With outcomes like these,” concludes the report, “it is clear that simply addressing the rising cost of college isn’t sufficient to ensure students are being equipped with the degrees and skills they need to succeed.”

Bacon’s bottom line: I highlighted the Virginia public institutions in the table above. Overall, Virginia’s public college system fares well by this set of metrics, with the University of Virginia the No. 3 performer in the country. Eight of 15 institutions rank in the top quintile. However, two rank near the bottom, and several others have nothing to brag about.

I have criticized the University of Virginia for its aggressive tuition increases, but Mr. Jefferson’s university does deserve credit for making tuition more affordable for poor students and ensuring that its students graduate on time.

By contrast, the track record for Norfolk State University and Virginia State University, two historically black universities, is abysmal. The completion rate is low, post-graduation salaries are low, and the loan repayment rate is low. On the one hand, NSU and VSU provide an educational option for students from poor black families seeking to better their condition through higher education. On the other hand these institutions are hobbling thousands of students who fail to graduate, or fail to earn good jobs even if they do graduate, with thousands of dollars in debt that will haunt them for years.

We should ask whether these two institutions, as well as some for-profit “career schools” not listed here, do more harm than good. We should ask whether the federal government should be encouraging students to borrow heavily to attend four-year colleges when many would be better off earning community college degrees or not attending college at all. We should ask whether handing out lots of free money (Pell grants) and easy money (college loans) is alleviating poverty or making it worse. Finally, we should ask whose interests are being served — the higher ed establishment’s or the student’s — by perpetuating this massive wealth transfer.