Editorial: Boundary Busting II

A few weeks ago in this space we urged the School Board to question whether its policy of scattering students from Leesburg’s poorest neighborhoods to elementary schools all around town was in their best academic interest.

Since then, scores of speakers have lined up at public hearings to defend the policy or, conversely, to advocate the return of the children to a neighborhood-school setting. School Board members, too, appear split, although by Monday night a move to abandon the policy appeared to gain momentum.

A final vote is expected before month’s end, with no more meetings planned on the topic.

This is no small decision. The outcome of the debate will result in anywhere between 200 and 2,000 students being transferred to new schools next year.

Yet, the School Board still lacks the two most critical pieces of information.

First, they don’t have empirical data from which they can determine whether students from low-income families—many coming from homes where English is not the principal language—reach greater academic heights when served in a neighborhood school equipped with extra resources to address their special needs or when they are blended with a significantly different student population. This week, the administrators began circulating information that appeared to show students in eastern Loudoun schools with similar demographic backgrounds to those in the targeted Leesburg neighborhoods performed well in their neighborhood schools when supplied adequate support resources. A deeper examination is needed.

Also, School Board members have not heard from the families that would be most affected by a policy change. The collection of speakers appearing during four nights of public hearings—while divided on which course was best—certainly lacked the diversity that is at the heart of the debate. They were white, articulate English speakers. Some effort has been made to reach out to a broader audience—letters announcing the dates and places of the public hearings were sent home in backpacks, for example—but without tangible success. School Board members should not interpret that silence as indifference when dealing with members of the county’s most disenfranchised populations. If those families won’t or can’t travel to Ashburn or the County Government Center for weeknight hearings, School Board members should at least offer to meet with parents in the apartment and townhouse neighborhoods that are in the bullseye of this exercise. Having those conversations is the only way school leaders can sort through the increasingly heated rhetoric and determine how to best meet the students’ needs.

It may take more than two weeks—perhaps far longer—for School Board members to get those answers, but it serves no good purpose to pursue a “paradigm shift” without having them.

3 thoughts on “Editorial: Boundary Busting II

  • 2016-03-17 at 10:15 pm

    Yes, we need some facts.

    1. FRL students are estimated to cost an additional 40% to educate. That’s what Title 1 funding is based on. The feds have failed to fully fund Title 1 which also always depended on state and local funding sources. If the school board were truly in interested in providing “differentiated instruction”, they would more equitably distribute funding to these high-poverty schools. That means an extra $4-5K per FRL student or approximately $1.5-2.5M per year for each concentrated school. Currently they give the schools about an extra $100K. That’s a joke not a sincere effort to target the funding. Hornberger, Rose, Turgeon and DeKenipp’s promises of providing adequate funding is simply not credible.

    2. Some board members have claimed that services can be “better” provided to FRL students by concentrating them in specific schools. That’s even more ludicrous than #1. First, the Title 1 formulas distribute funds to districts based on the number AND concentration of FRL students. In other words, if you only have 10% FRL, each of your FRL students are counted as a single point. If a district has higher levels of poverty, say 50% (many districts have levels this high), each FRL student counts much more in the funding formula (2 pts+). This formula is weighted toward districts with higher concentrations of FRL because research over the last 50 years demonstrates it costs more to effectively educate such FRL students when schools are overloaded with such high needs. The feds figure only idiots (like Hornberger, Turgeon, Rose and DeKenipp) would INTENTIONALLY concentrate FRL students when such a district could easily keep FRL concentrations low.

    3. As many know, I am a big fan of value-added (VAM) scores. In Virginia, these are known as SGPs. Value added metrics attempt to determine how effective a given policy, school, teacher, etc. is in educating their students. To do this objectively, they must remove all other factors that affect academic growth. The primary factor is student aptitude and family poverty. VAMs remove this bias by comparing similar students based on their score history. But more sophisticated VAMs remove so much more. They look at how a student’s peers scored, how the school scored overall, class size, etc. The reason VAMs discount these factors is because school poverty levels have been PROVEN to affect student growth. It is a scientific fact. Professor Friedman of the CFR study testified against Loudoun County School Board in Richmond Court on July 31, 2015. None of the Loudoun school board members could be bothered to show up and hear his testimony. His research was only mentioned in President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address and will likely result in a Nobel Price for Professor Chetty. But Jill Turgeon, Eric Hornberger and Debbie Rose would have you believe that they know better than these professors from Brown, Harvard and Stanford. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. We are talking about kids’ lives here.

    We have a school board who will not conduct an honest debate. They will not address the points that I or others in the community, including Fellows from think tanks who study these topics, highlight in an open, public debate. Instead, they censor their official forums and ignore all counterpoints. It’s as if the Catholic Church of Galileo’s time has invaded Loudoun County with their “faith is king” mantras. It’s very likely these school board members have pushed their luck too far this time. It appears they have riled up far too many folks with far too many resources. Time will tell.

  • 2016-03-18 at 9:23 am

    Ok, there are lots of discussions going on within the board member’s Facebook pages (here and here). Because of Debbie Rose, Eric Hornberger and Jill Turgeon’s unconstitutional censorship, I am not allowed to participate in these discussions on their official pages (to be resolved in a federal court very soon). However, let me explain the debate that is currently going on. I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.

    A. There are discussions of “segregation” and “integration”. Brown v Board of Education outlawed “separate but equal” in which boards intentionally sent certain races to separate schools. That is unconstitutional. Because of their history, many school districts were forced to use busing to integrate schools. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg ruling (about 25 miles away from my childhood home) was the landmark case. However, recent cases have cast doubt on whether other school districts without a history of forced segregation have to comply with such busing policies. In Community Schools vs Seattle School District #1, the court ruled that districts could not use race as the sole reason for distributing kids. In other words, even if a district wants to integrate (like the Leesburg community), it must find a narrowly tailored solution that doesn’t treat students as racial quotas.

    B. So why do Debbie Rose, Eric Hornberger, Jill Turgeon and Eric DeKenipp fight so hard to claim some of Sterling’s schools are “ourperforming” because of concentrating FRL/ESL kids? Because if they can claim that as the basis for their plan (helping all kids), then they can avoid getting overruled on a disparate impact decision. Disparate impact is a concept that you cannot enact any policy that negatively affects a protected group such as race. What does this mean? If you give an employment examination in which one group scores consistently lower than another and it affects hiring/promotion decisions, you had better be able to show the test measured skills absolutely necessary for the job. Otherwise, the courts will force you to implement a more narrowly tailored solution that doesn’t generate disparate impact.

    Many are surprised to hear Rose/Turgeon/Hornberger/DeKenipp argue positions that fly in the fact of common sense or 50 years of research. There are multiple ways to scientifically prove these claims on concentrating poverty helping students is patently false. The public is NOT going to change the minds of these 4 board members. Their arguments are not a rational conclusion based on the data. It’s a strategy to avoid being overturned in court. Their real intent is to concentrate FRL/ESL kids in pockets and allow the non-poverty communities to “unlock” their true housing value. When schools such as Evergreen or Tolbert are allowed to keep just 4-7% FRL/ESL populations, those home values can necessarily increase. This is why DeKenipp ran for the board.

    Thus, it is foolish to argue to those 4 board members. Your only hope is to convince Huck and Morse not to go down this foolish path. There is a good legal case to get Plan 12 overturned in federal court. There are also other means to get a vote overturned. But the 4 henchmen have made a decision to go “All In”. They don’t back down simply because something is against the law or the constitution. Look at what they’ve done to me. They’ve guaranteed a loss in federal court. They simply don’t care. Let’s hope Morse and Huck do the right thing.

  • 2016-03-18 at 9:27 am

    Oops, forgot the links to Debbie Rose’s and Eric Hornberger’s discussion on their official Facebook pages.

    Some of you need to wake up. Most of this board doesn’t engage in honest debate. Trying to reason with them is pointless. That’s why I simply go after their illegal conduct. The only way to fight the raw exercise of power for ulterior motives is to use the court system. They have many constituents who are openly supporting their segregation plans. This is about as bad as it gets.

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