Category Archives: Education (K-12)

More “Potential Irregularities” for SOL Testing

George W. Carver Elementary

Students at Richmond’s George W. Carver Elementary School will have to take the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests this year after the discovery of “potential irregularities” with testing procedures, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

Carver, which has the third highest SOL scores in the Richmond school district (and the highest for any school dominated by students from poor households), had been touted as a success story. However, writes the T-D:

In an email to the Richmond Public Schools community, Superintendent Jason Kamras said Tuesday afternoon that division officials consulted with the state Department of Education after learning of possible problems at the Leigh Street school, which earned National Blue Ribbon Award honors in each of the past two years from the U.S. Department of Education.

“Based on their initial exploration, it is clear that, in some instances, standardized procedures for testing were not followed,” Kamras stated. …

School system spokeswoman Kenita Bowers said “this matter is still being investigated” and declined further comment. Bowers did not say how far back the irregularities go, but did say that the issue impacts all SOL tests taken at Carver this school year rather than just some.

Bacon’s bottom line: This news is sad, sad, sad, and profoundly dispiriting. Carver Elementary offered a glimmer of hope for a school district that otherwise has performed dismally. The school seemingly proved that a dedicated administration and teaching staff could achieve success despite the overwhelming challenges of teaching kids from the poorest neighborhoods. In the 2015-16 school year, 98% of Carver students achieved advanced or proficient in their English SOLs. That compared to 59% for Richmond students as a whole and 79% for the state, according to the Virginia Department of Education school quality profile.

The stellar SOL scores tumbled back to earth in the 2016-17 school year, matching statewide averages, but still outperformed other Richmond schools by a wide margin.

Hopefully, we’ll find that our high estimation of the school does not change. Hopefully, students will re-take their SOLs — without “irregularities” — and perform as admirably as they did last year. But given the reputational blow-ups of inner-city school success stories in Petersburg and Alexandria, one is justifying in fearing that the high test scores were the result of cheating and/or manipulation.

Data made available through the Virginia Department of Education school quality profile for Carver does not inspire confidence. First, as alluded to above, test scores fell significantly between the 2015-16 school year and the 2016-17 school year — far too much to be attributable to a sudden decline in teaching quality. One can conjecture that something changed in the way the SOL tests were administered to make manipulation more difficult.

Another reason to question the results is the extraordinary performance of Carver Elementary students with disabilities.

While Carver students as a whole out-performed their peers in Richmond schools and state schools, those classified as disabled out-performed their peers by mind-blowing margins. Either Carver has cracked the code on teaching disabled students or… it has been aggressively manipulating test results.

If irregularity-free SOL tests result in a second round of plummeting student scores, we will have an undeniable scandal on our hands. Someone will have to be held accountable. This will prove to be an acid test for the new school superintendent, Jason Kamras. The new test scores will be public, and we should find out soon enough.

Faculties, Not Donors, Drive University Hires

Steven Pearlstein

Steven Pearlstein, a Washington Post business and economics columnist, teaches economics at George Mason University. While he applauds making visible contractual terms between the libertarian, loathed-by-the-left Koch Brothers and GMU’s Mercatus Center, he doesn’t see a big threat to academic freedom. (Get the background to this controversy here.)

Any time a philanthropist makes a donation to a university, writes Pearlstein, he or she influences the priorities of that institution.

When someone gives $10 million to an engineering school rather than the college of humanities, it changes the university’s priorities. When someone endows a center to study the causes and consequences of climate change, it affects who is hired and what is taught and researched. When someone gives enough to name a school after a public figure, it shapes a school’s ideological profile. It would be great if all donations were unrestricted, but they aren’t. Many donors have agendas; the Kochs are just an extreme example.

In the case of Mason’s economics department, the faculty have driven the donor relationships. In most instances, it was the faculty who approached and solicited Koch and other donors with specific projects in mind, not the other way around. Faculty also recruited and hired for the newly funded professors’ positions, decided which courses would be taught, chose which topics to research and selected the students who would attend its graduate programs. Our economics department is not libertarian and conservative because it is funded by Koch and his friends; they fund our economics department because its faculty is — and always has been — overwhelmingly conservative and libertarian.

The underlying problem, suggests Pearlstein, is that “the rules and norms of university governance give faculty the power to hire people who think like they do. … There is ample evidence that feminists prefer to hire other feminists, behaviorists like to hire other behaviorists, ‘crit lit’ scholars hire other ‘crit lit’ scholars. Sorting by political or academic ideology is a naturally occurring phenomenon at universities.”

Pearlstein is absolutely right, but he doesn’t quite complete the loop. The phenomenon he describes is overwhelmingly a left-wing one — progressives systematically purging liberals and conservatives from among their ranks. GMU’s economics department and law school are oases of alternative thinking in a vast, desiccated Sahara of the nation’s overwhelmingly left-leaning schools, centers, institutes and academic departments.

The demand for Koch Brothers transparency, while justified at one level (I totally believe that higher ed should be more transparent), is not uniformly applied. At Virginia Commonwealth University a few years ago, Philip Morris USA contracts with university researchers created a huge controversy that ended with the retirement of President Eugene Trani. The controversy was justified. But no one is holding other donors to comparable levels of public scrutiny. When philanthropist Jane Batten donates $10 million to the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, as was announced yesterday, does anyone ask if strings are attached? Does anyone demand to see the contract? No. No one asks because, I’ll wager, there are few high-profile libertarians or conservatives in the faculty to trigger progressives’ ire. (If I’m wrong, please let me know. I’d love to think that there is still some philosophical diversity at UVa.)

This controversy is all about power. Principles such as transparency and academic freedom are employed selectively and tactically to de-legitimize and expunge conservatives, libertarians and other bogeymen of the left like tobacco companies. Progressives never apply the principles against their own. It’s all about enforcing leftist ideological conformity.

(Hat tip: Steve Haner)

How to Degrade the Value of a High School Diploma in a Few Easy Steps

The Richmond Public School System reported an enrollment of 27,221 students this past fall. Of those, 7,234 had seven or more unexcused absences. Earlier this month, as I blogged here, the School Board suspended the absenteeism policy while the administration studied what to do. Now comes John Butcher with background and statistics showing how extraordinarily negligent the school system has been in policing its absenteeism policy.

First, let us pause to consider how endemic the problem is. Look at the chart above, which John compiled with data provided by the Clerk of the School Board. (See his presentation on Cranky’s blog.) The mind-bending statistic is not that more than 26% of the city’s students had seven or more unexcused absences — it’s that 2,125, or almost 8% had 20 or more unexcused absences, and 469 had 50 or more!

Now, let us consider how Code of Virginia requires districts to deal with absences:

  • Any absence: Notify parents; obtain explanation;
  • 5 absences: Attendance plan;
  • 6 absences: Conference with parents; and
  • 7 absences: Prosecute parents or file Child in Need of Services Supervision (CHINS) petition.

According to John’s data, the city undertook only 173 prosecutions and filed only 60 CHINS petitions in 2017. “That’s a 3.22% compliance with the law,” he writes. “Viewed otherwise, it’s a 96.8% rate of violation by our School Board.”

The 2017 data, by the way, is no aberration. It’s consistent with the record of non-compliance since 2012. As far as Butcher can tell, the state Board of Education has done nothing to enforce the law.

Perhaps the reality on the ground — absenteeism is so endemic — that school authorities feel too overwhelmed to grapple with the problem anything. If that’s the case, perhaps we should stop pretending that a Richmond high school degree is worth the paper it’s printed on. Richmond schools purport to graduate 76.6% of its students on time. Educators may think they are helping kids on the margin by keeping them in school, but diploma inflation erodes the value of the degree, thus hurting students who attended classes, completed the work and deserved to graduate. Compassion for one group victimizes the other.

Chesterfield School Adopts Year-Round Schedule

Bellwood Elementary School in Chesterfield County is switching to a year-round schedule — nine weeks on, three weeks off — for the 2018-19 school year. The new schedule will eliminate the long summer break during which students forget much of what they learned the previous school year.

“Research demonstrates that summer learning loss is a critical issue, especially for economically disadvantaged students,” wrote Superintendent James Lane in addressing the Chesterfield School Board. “One study found that low income students made similar achievement gains … during the school year, but the widening of the achievement gap between the two groups occurred over the summer… One way to combat these issues is year-round schools.”

But the change has gotten some push back from parents, reports WTVR Television.

“I’ve got five students in three different schools in the Chesterfield district and right now 65 of those days are conflicted schedules so it’s going to be very hard,” said Bellwood parent Elizabeth Young. “If it were county-wide it may be a little easier to step into, but doing it with just this one school, it’s going to be hard for a lot of families in this area that depend on their older kids for child care.”

The pilot project will cost $125,000 per year, mainly for staffing and transportation.

Bacon’s bottom line: Wake County, N.C. has a year-round school schedule, and my sister-in-law’s family seemed to like it. I don’t know whether or not the shorter breaks improved my nephews’ academic retention, but they seem no worse for the wear. The key to a worthwhile pilot program, of course, is to set it up as much as possible like a scientific experiment — measuring key attributes before, during, and after the school year to see if the putative benefits meet expectations. Conducting a pilot without putting proper measurements in place is worse than useless, it’s a waste of money.

As long as school districts design their pilot programs to learn from them, they should not be afraid to experiment and should not be afraid to fail. If you never fail, one learns little and never progresses.

No Penalty this Year for Absenteeism at Richmond Schools

One of three Richmond Public Schools students would have had a lower Grade Point Average if school officials had enforced an absenteeism penalty established in 2012, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Punishing the students, said school officials, would put the graduations status for some at risk.

The policy mandates that students with more than six unexcused absences per nine weeks, or 10 per semester, would not get credit for the class. Enforcement of the policy this year would have impacted 1,300 students, including more than 400 seniors.

The School Board voted 6 to 2 to suspend the policy. School officials will review the policy for possible updates and implementation by the next school year.

“These are students who have the grades,” said Linda Owen of the 9th District. “What we’re saying is because they have the six unexcused absences, they don’t get the credit. These are not kids that did not show up at all. … I just don’t see how we can legitimately say to the kids who have the grades to earn the credit that because you have — now — unexcused absences, we’re going to take the credit away.”

“Oftentimes there are situations in our homes that we are not aware of,” said Cheryl Burke of the 7th district. “Of all the procedures that we could use to hold children accountable for coming to school, to take away their grades, I don’t get it. … I hope we can revisit this policy. I think it’s punitive and it’s not in the business of helping students, especially thinking of the population we serve. Some of our children are taking care of their siblings. Some of our children are taking care of their parents. Some of our children have issues beyond the schools piece. To take away somebody’s grades, that’s like taking away their income. That’s terrible.”

At least one school board member saw value in keeping the sanctions. “Richmond Public Schools has systemic accountability problems beginning with a complete disregard for the basics,” said Jonathan Young, of the 4th district. “The disgrace relevant to our attendance deficiencies is only the tip of an iceberg that includes chronic problems including students that wander the halls all day disrupting classes, initiating fights and creating hardships for all of the students trying to do the right thing.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Is the Richmond school system willing to uphold any standards at all? What is more fundamental than attending class? I suppose doing the homework would help — but who knows what the homework policies are? Or passing the tests — but who knows how rigorous the tests are? As an outsider, watching the school board collapse like a Florida university pedestrian bridge, I have no confidence whatsoever in the value of a Richmond high school degree.

I’m sure there are legitimate hard cases in which children do miss multiple classes due to pressing family considerations. But how many are those? What we do know is that truancy and discipline issues are endemic in Richmond high schools. The school board vote strikes me as a flight from accountability — indeed a flight from reality. Enforcing attendance requirements would expose the charade of lax standards, social promotions, and the fraud that has been the increase in high school graduation rates.

Reinventing Education from the Ground Up

Slow news day here at the Bacon’s Rebellion bunker and command center, so I thought I would indulge in a little outside-the-box thinking. I have extracted the following post from an unpublished (and probably unpublishable) novel, “Dust Mites,” which is set on the Moon in the year 2075. American colonies on the moon are getting restive under the oppressive rule of a distant, corrupt and out-of-touch United States. The novel is mainly an action thriller but each chapter is prefaced by a vignette describing various aspects of life and political economy on the moon.

Writing the novel gave me the opportunity to ask: If lunar colonies had the opportunity to reinvent core institutions from fresh, what might they look like? How would they organize their systems of governance, education, health care, and public safety, etc.? In the following vignette, fashioned as a policy paper drafted by a future American Enterprise Institute, I explore how educational institutions might evolve in Galileo Station, a libertarian lunar colony.

American Enterprise Institute
Policy Paper

Executive Summary: As President Chou intensifies her campaign to bring the lunar territories to heel, supporters of the administration have made an issue of the colonies’ meager investment in public education. Galileo Station, in particular, has been depicted as a free rider that soaks up human capital developed on Earth, benefiting from the investments that the United States makes in schools while expending few resources of its own.

This view is based upon a profound misunderstanding of the nature of education in Galileo Station. It assumes that without government schools, there is no education. In truth, Galiletians have reinvented education as a private-sector system that is far more responsive to consumer demand, delivers higher levels of student achievement and is less expensive than Earth-bound systems where the interests of politicians, teachers unions and educational bureaucrats prevail over those of students. As such, it stands as a rebuke — and an ideological threat — to government-dominated education.

The early settlers of Galileo Station had few children to be educated and the primitive colonial government saw no need to erect a school system. Pioneer parents borrowed from the home schooling movement on Earth, which they supplemented with online course instruction. In time, as the population grew and the number of school-aged children increased, free-lance instructors began offering their services. Since then, the educational marketplace has evolved to a point where parents can choose between a wide selection of private tutors, home schooling collectives, free-lance teachers running single classrooms, teachers cooperatives and private academies organized much like earthside private schools. Educators compete for market share by providing the best educational value based on price and quality.

There is no one-size-fits-all education in Galileo Station. Galiletians have dispensed with the assumption that children must move in lock-step through twelve grades with their chronological peers, learning the same material at the same time. Children master bodies of knowledge when they are ready to, and advance at the pace at which they are capable. Galiletians also have disproved the assumption that education must take place in institutions called “schools” or that education necessarily entails vast expenditures on elaborate facilities, school administrations and redundant municipal, state and federal bureaucracies. Although some traditionally organized schools do exist, 72 percent of all parents hire teachers directly, cutting out the middlemen.

Galiletian teachers teach 17.4 students on average, a teacher-pupil ratio comparable to that of earthside schools. Charging an average tuition of $6,200 per student, teachers net $84,000 a year on average after expenses — comparable to the salary and benefits earned by United States teachers with seniority. Yet Galiletians spend less than half per student that Americans do, and students score significantly higher on international standardized tests. Educational testing and teacher performance measures are administered by the Galileo Station Educators’ Association. Government plays no meaningful role in what is widely considered to be a consumer decision.

NAEP Results Are In. No Answers to Important Questions.

Source: National Assessment of Educational Progress

There is some mildly good news for Virginia from the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, commonly called the Nation’s Report Card. Virginia 4th graders improved their performance in mathematics, while 8th graders made incremental gains in both math and reading. Virginia students also maintained a significant edge over their peers nationally in math and reading in both grades.

“For the first time, 50 percent of Virginia fourth graders achieved at or above the proficient level in mathematics, with 12 percent earning advanced scores,” states the Virginia Department of Education press release. “Students in no other state performed at a statistically higher level.”

NAEP results are based on representative samples of students in each state. The 2017 NAEP sampling of Virginia students included approximately 2,300 fourth-grade students and 2,200 eighth graders.

As is their wont, state officials took note of “achievement gaps between white students and their black and Hispanic peers.” The press release elaborates: “The percentage of black eighth graders achieving proficient or advanced math scores increased by eight points, to 20 percent in 2017, compared with 12 percent in 2015. While this represented a significant gain for black students, the improvement did not translate into a statistically significant narrowing of the achievement gap with white students.”

No mention of Asian students who comprise 8% of Virginia’s population. Why would that be? Perhaps the answer can be seen in the charts atop this page. There we can see that Asian/Pacific Islanders (which in Virginia means Asians because there aren’t many Pacific Islanders here) achieved the top scores. Thus, the “achievement” gap can also be seen as an Asian-white achievement gap, an Asian-black achievement gap, and an Asian-Hispanic achievement gap.

Why do state officials make whites the standard against which blacks and Hispanics measured? In order to advance the dominant narrative about race, of course. Setting Asians as the standard for comparison would confound the conventional wisdom. Perhaps Virginians would be compelled to ask why Asians out-perform other ethnic groups, including “privileged” whites. We would have to ask ourselves, do Asians attend better schools… or do they tend to out-perform in all schools? Don’t they face discrimination? If not, why not? Why are they disciplined at lower rates than other groups, including whites? Are they less likely to be disruptive in class? Do they study harder?

Setting Asians as the standard against which others are measured would force us to consider the role of intact families, personal behavior, and cultural norms and expectations rather than view racial/ethnic disparities through the lens of white privilege and minority oppression.

The focus on the white-black/Hispanic gap also conveniently ignores the English-fluent/English-as-a-second-language gap. For example, according to NAEP data, the score gap between 4th grade whites and Hispanics is 23 points. But the gap between English-fluent and English-as-a-second-language students is 36 points. Given the fact that Hispanics are more likely to not be English fluent, facility with the English language likely explains much of the white-Hispanic gap.

How much of the gap disappears when you compare whites with English-fluent Hispanics? How much of the broader white-Hispanic gap should be attributed to white privilege and how much should be attributed to the influx of poor, ill-educated immigrants from Mexico and Central America who have an immense amount of catching up to do? That question never gets asked.

Unfortunately, the searchable NAEP database does not allow us to make that comparison. What a surprise. I guess it never occurred to NAEP officials that such a comparison would be worthwhile. It would be nice if state educators would get over their black/white obsession and begin asking a wider range of questions.

Want Proof of the Decline of Western Civilization?

A white rap artist who goes by the name of Lil Dicky joined a black rap artist, Chris Brown (born in Tappahannock, Va., and best known for slapping around songstress superstar Rihanna) to produce a song, “Freaky Friday.” The conceit of the song and video is that Lil Dicky and Chris Brown find themselves occupying each others bodies, which gives rise to such witticisms as

I’m in Chris Brown’s body
I look at my soft dick with delight, it’s my dream dick…
My dick is trending on Twitter, fuck

and toward the end of the video when contributing “artist” Kendall Jenner says…

Huh, I’m Kendall Jenner
I got a vagina, I’m gonna explore that right now (woo)
Holy shit, I got a vagina (uh), I’m gonna learn
I’m gonna understand the inner workings of a woman

Then  there was this, in which Chris Brown (occupying white Lil Dicky’s body) croons the following:

Wonder if I can say the n-word (wait for real?)
Wait, can I really say the n-word?
What up, my nigga? (woo)
What up, my nigga? Big ups, my nigga
We up, my nigga, you pussy ass nigga
Man, fuck y’all niggas, ’cause I’m that nigga
Nigga, nigga, nigga, I’m that nigga

Apparently, that’s what passes for art — or maybe it’s humor — in the Millennial generation. We’ve come a long way from Rogers and Hammerstein, baby!  Released in March, this foul little ditty soared to number one in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, and reached number eight on the US Hot 100. As of today, the YouTube video has received more than 90 million views. The mind-dumbing vulgarity didn’t seem to offend anyone….

Until the words were sung by members of the Virginia Tech women’s lacrosse team. Someone posted a Snapchat of exuberant young women after a win over Elon University dancing in the aisle of their bus and singing the song. Including Chris Brown’s grotesque nigga-nigga-nigga sequence.

Social media went ballistic. Charges of racism were hurled. Next thing you know, Coach John Sung was apologizing for the use of the epithet, although he insisted that there was no malice involved. “They had just won,” he said. “They’re singing songs. The first couple songs were Disney songs… They were celebrating and they were dancing and they were excited.” (From “Let it Go” to “Freaky Friday” — quite the transition.)

Then came the crowning blow, the condemnation of their peers. The Virginia Tech Student Government adopted a resolution condemning the use of the racial slur, describing it as “one of many episodes of discrimination and animosity toward marginalized groups that have occurred on the campus of Virginia Tech in recent months.”

According to the Campus Reform website, the resolution stated:

Examples of such discriminatory incidents include… a guest lecture by Dr. Charles Murray, a white-nationalist known for inaccurate theories linking race and intelligence; a Steven Crowder speaking event in which promotional materials contained homophobic language; and the invitation of Charlie Kirk, a controversial right-wing speaker whose rallies have attracted the support of white nationalists and ended in violence such as the February 2nd event at Colorado State University, to speak on campus April 30th.

Asserting that “such discriminatory incidents contribute to members of marginalized communities feeling unsafe on the campus of Virginia Tech,” the resolution goes on to “completely and wholeheartedly” condemn the Women’s Lacrosse team out of a desire to “stand in solidarity with our fellow students.

Basically, anyone to the right of Mother Jones is deemed a racist, a homophobe, or a borderline Nazi worthy only of condemnation and exile. This is concocted outrage. It is selective indignation. It is bullying. It is totalitarian intimidation. It is all about silencing opposing views and silencing anyone who even has a stray thought resembling an opposing view.

Look, the song is total trash. It is offensive from start to finish — not least the mindless repetition of “nigga nigga nigga” — and if I were the parent of one of the girls who had learned the lyrics by heart, I’d be mortified that she’d wasted her time listening to such garbage. But in the minds of the Virginia Tech student council members, there’s no problem with Chris Brown using that language. There’s no problem with putting that language on a YouTube video. There’s no problem with 90 million people listening to that language. The problem is that the wrong people used the language. When a bunch of white girls used the N word while singing the song — not in in a way meant to denigrate anyone — they were singled out for condemnation and humiliation.

I reject the N word, I never use it, I don’t defend anyone using it, and I suppose you could say the lacrosse team girls had it coming for being so vapid as to use it. But the double standards applied here are just appalling. It’s all about the power. It’s all about defining who can say what and who can’t.

But this bullying will backfire. If you want more Donald Trump, this is how you get more Donald Trump. If you want more Alt-Right, this is how you get more Alt-Right. That may be fine with the far Left because anything that engenders hate and polarizes the nation is fine with them, but it’s not the kind of country I want to live in.

We have a choice. We can succumb to the narrative of aggrievement or we can build a narrative of achievement. We can surrender to envy, resentment, nihilism, and destruction, or we can embrace hope, collaboration, improvement and uplift. Pick one or the other. That’s what it’s come down to.

Does Anybody Notice the $300 Million Tax Increase Baked into Medicaid Expansion?

Governor Ralph Northam (left), Richmond School Superintendent Jason Kamras, and Senator Mark Warner met yesterday to discuss Medicaid expansion and school funding. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

Governor Raph Northam and U.S. Senator Mark Warner hit the road yesterday with the media in tow, making the case that Medicaid expansion will free up $421 million over two years for other priorities such as K-12 schools.

“When we talk about education, we have to talk about health care,” Warner said during a roundtable discussion at Albert H. Hill Middle School in Richmond, as reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “We’ve got to do this.”

Meanwhile Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne is making the case that enacting Medicaid expansion is necessary to preserve Virginia’s coveted AAA bond rating, which is teetering on the edge of a downgrade.

That’s quite the rhetorical jiu jitsu move. For years, Republicans have opposed expanding Medicaid under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act on the grounds that it would be fiscally irresponsible, running up state Medicaid expenditures even after accounting for a 90% federal contribution, and competing with other priorities such as K-12 schools, higher education, and pay raises for state employees.

How is it possible for the Commonwealth to simultaneously expand Medicaid at an estimated cost of $300 million over the next two years and free up $421 million for other programs, as the Washington Post quotes Northam as saying? Two things. First the state cost of Medicaid expansion would be offset by means of an “assessment” — in other words, a tax — on the net patient revenue of Virginia’s acute care hospitals. Surprised to hear about that? Yeah, so am I.

Second, Medicaid expansion will allow the state to reduce spending by $380 million on indigent care funding, state spending on mental health, prison inmates and various programs for the poor, according to the House version of the budget. (I can’t figure out where Northam gets his $421 million estimate.)

Voila! That’s $380 million (or $421 million if you use Northam’s figure) that can be spent on other things, such as directing money into the state’s cash reserves and/or K-12 schools. Regarding those reserves, the state has only $281 million set aside in the event of a several revenue downturn, with $154 million scheduled to be injected this year. The budget submitted by former Governor Terry McAuliffe would have added $281 million, but the proposed budget adopted by the House would add only $91 million over the next two-year budget, and the proposed budget adopted by the Senate would add only $180 million.

Bacon’s bottom line: Does the public realize that there is a $300 million tax increase embedded in this plan? I did not understand that to be the case until I read the news accounts with a fine-tooth comb. The Times-Dispatch and Washington Post coverage mentioned the tax only in passing deep in their stories. Of course it’s in the interest of Democrats to downplay the tax increase, but, remarkably, I’ve seen nothing to suggest that Senate Republicans, who oppose expansion, have made an issue of it.

Let’s imagine an alternate universe in which Virginians said, (a) we want Medicaid expansion, and (b) we want to fund it without a tax increase on hospital revenues, which likely would be passed on to patients in the form of higher hospital charges. If the state is generating savings in the realm of $400 million a year from Medicaid expansion, why not just apply those savings to the 10% state share of the program? Why the necessity of adding a roughly $300 million “assessment?”

According to the numbers we’ve been given, paying for Medicaid expansion with savings to state programs would leave about $100 million left over to plunk into the state’s cash reserve. Of course, that approach wouldn’t allow Northam and Warner to tell people that “Medicaid expansion” will help Virginia schools, and it wouldn’t put as much money into the state’s cash reserves as Layne would like.

I find it astonishing that the hospital assessment has not become a hot-button issue. Health care costs are out of control as it is, and a $300 million tax on patient revenues can only make the problem worse (unless you believe that hospitals will settle for lower profits, in which case I’ve got some great swamp land in Florida I’d like to sell you.)

You’ve got to give Northam political credit. He and House Republicans are very close to pulling off the trick of expanding Medicaid and “freeing up” hundreds of millions of dollars for new spending without Virginians even noticing that they’d be indirectly paying for a $300 million tax increase on hospitals. This guy is good.

The Battleground of Race and Public Memory

The University of Virginia and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello have just wrapped up an international symposium, “Universities, Slavery, Public Memory & the Built Landscape.” The conference, a great success according to the symposium website, provided a forum for “a free-ranging conversation about researching the enslaved past, disseminating findings to a broader public, and breaking down disciplinary boundaries as we collectively work to tell a fuller story about our own pasts.”

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the subject of reparations came up more than once.

Said Ana Lucia Araujo, a Howard University professor of history:

This very city and campus are living examples of how such public battles over public memory can unfold. But where reparations for slavery are increasingly accepted and embraced by governments and other institutions, there is usually a great silence surrounding the idea of financial reparations for slavery.

Symbolic reparations touted by government and universities — renaming buildings, adding memorials and plaques, creating commissions, may not be enough.

Then there was this from Craig Wilder, author of “Ebony and Ivory”:

A lot of the universities have launched reports, but they have launched reports and studies somewhat reluctantly. The question of reparations was, in part, a reflection of how a lot of colleges and universities got to the point of studying their histories … which was often driven by students.

It’s impossible for us to know whether comments about reparations were typical of the sentiments expressed during the conference or cherry-picked by the Times-Dispatch reporter because they were controversial. And one can only conjecture whether the dialogue at the international symposium will reflect the tenor of the upcoming “Teaching Race at UVa” seminar, the purpose of which is to inspire UVa faculty to revise their course syllabi to “present reality of race and racism both locally and nationally.”

My fear, however, is that the sentiments expressed are widely shared by the “subject matter experts” who will be teaching the “Teaching Race at UVa” sessions. If I am correct, the Leftist views espoused at the “Universities, Slavery, Public Memory & the Built Landscape” conference will inform the perspectives propagated by the “Teaching Race at UVa” seminar, which will alter the syllabi of a wide range of courses taught at UVa, which in turn will shape the worldviews of a new generation of students. Leftist thought might be diluted in the process, but the flow of influence will be entirely one way.

The study of slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow, racial prejudice and desegregation are entirely appropriate subjects for a university to undertake. Indeed, as a former student at UVa and the Johns Hopkins University of slavery, the Atlantic slave trade, and African history, I find myself intrigued by much of the symposium’s subject matter. Furthermore, I agree that it is appropriate to use history as a tool to illuminate contemporary society. We are, after all, products of the past.

What worries me is the narrow range of intellectual perspectives that are considered. The historic focus on past racial injustices is part and parcel of the larger obsession with racial and ethnic disparities today. The underlying assumption is that disparities in income, education and other outcomes are the result of America’s grievously flawed institutions and continued white privilege. The modern academy gives very little attention to the possibility that over the past 50 or so years the modern welfare state, social engineering projects and social justice initiatives have backfired badly, harming those whom the Left purports to help.

The obsessive focus on race represents a form of intellectual doubling down on the bad bet that once Civil Rights were affirmed for all, government then needed to intervene proactively to address equality. African-Americans especially have been the subjects of one botched policy experiment after another. Thus we have witnessed the devastation of intact neighborhoods by urban renewal, the concentration of the poor into housing projects, the undermining of the family structure by the welfare state, the denigration of “bourgeois virtues” that facilitate upward mobility, the assault on disciplined behavior in public schools, the push for lower-income households into home ownership and the subsequent obliteration of wealth after the housing crash, and most recently the credo that everyone is entitled to a college education despite overwhelming evidence that low-income Americans are disproportionately likely to drop out before earning a degree and accumulate debt they can never discharge.

While these policy disasters have afflicted low-income Americans of all races and ethnicities, they have devastated African-Americans most of all. The Left, fixated on race, identity politics, and the sinfulness of America, is unwilling to acknowledge its grotesque failures. Instead, it has adapted to the persistence of poverty and social breakdown among African-Americans (replicated to various degrees among Indians, Hispanics and whites) by finding racism in micro-aggressions and blaming poverty on ever-more-subtle forces of institutional racism.

That’s the problem I have with these academic seminars and symposia. Far from fostering “free-ranging conversations,” they tolerate only a limited spectrum of views. They ignore strains of thought that would threaten their sinful-America paradigm. Instead of embracing a positive approach — how can individuals and communities lift themselves up from poverty — they pursue a divisive, zero-sum game. Reparations in the United States is a non-starter. The idea of collectively punishing one race for the sins of committed by members of that race more than 100 years ago in order to repay the descendants of the victims is intellectually incoherent. Not only does the idea stir great resentment, it distracts us from the proper task at hand — identifying policies that actually work.