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Compass Point
A Collection of Data, Articles and Insights from the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute
A project of the Virginia Commonwealth University's Center for Public Policy
L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs
Recent State and Local Education News
Building a healthier Norfolk, one school garden at a time
The Virginian-Pilot
May 2, 2017

There is a generation of children growing up in America who have no idea where their food comes from — I'm talking real food, not the processed stuff.

Here in Norfolk, Ashley Barnett is hoping to change that, one school garden at a time.

"When you ask these kids where a tomato comes from, they'll say the grocery store," said Barnett, executive director of the Norfolk School Garden Collective. "Or they don't know what most vegetables are. They'll say, 'I don't eat salad.'"

About 30 volunteers gathered at Granby Elementary School on a steamy Saturday to build a fence around what Barnett and her team hopes will be the flagship garden among a series of them at every public school in the city.
Waynesboro vice mayor wants broader discussion on local education
The News Virginian
May 1, 2017

Waynesboro's City Council and School Board are expected to hold a joint meeting soon, and one member of council wants to see a broader discussion of the issues facing the city's education system — one that involves more than just the renovation of Waynesboro High School.

A meeting had been tentatively scheduled May 4, but scheduling conflicts scuttled that date. But the joint meeting is expected to take place soon — probably in the next couple of weeks, according to city officials.

Vice Mayor Terry Short said he would like the two bodies to discuss “what we want in the future for education in the city.”

Short knows the price tag for renovating the high school will be high, more than $40 million. But he questions whether it is responsible to solely increase taxes for the renovation without a deeper vision of the city's education.

“Does that single investment create the sort of school system we want for our community?" Short asked.

Analysis: Virginia's public colleges among least affordable for lower-income students
CBS 19 (Newsplex Now)
May 1, 2017

A study finds Virginia is one of the least affordable states for the lowest-income students at public colleges.

The analysis was conducted by the Institute for College Access and Success, or TICAS, which found financial burdens varied depending on income levels.

According to a release, the neediest families in the country must commit about 77 percent of their total income to cover the costs of a four-year school and 50 percent for a two-year school.

In Virginia, families that earn $30,000 or less have to spend 104 percent of their total income to cover the average net price of a four-year school and 54 percent for a two-year one.

"College prices alone don't tell you whether they're affordable for a given family," said Debbie Cochrane, vice president of TICAS. "The net price of college may be lowest for the lowest-income families, but a family living on $30,000 per year cannot realistically devote more than half of its income to college and still cover basic necessities."

The News Virginian
April 28, 2017

Virginia's principal K-12 education leaders visited two Waynesboro schools on Friday, and saw up close the progress made by teachers and administrators.

Wenonah Elementary was denied accreditation and William Perry Elementary was given partial accreditation/reconstituted status on the most recent state accreditation rankings. But Superintendent Jeff Cassell wanted Virginia Secretary of Education Dietra Trent and State Superintendent of Instruction Steve Staples to see the efforts being made at both schools to raise student achievement. Also visiting the two schools on Friday was Deputy Secretary of Education Holly Coy.

Cassell has maintained that the learning in the Waynesboro Schools is not "one test on one day.'' He believes that the improvements being made at both schools reflect innovative curriculum and strong leadership.

DC, Md., Va. Do Not List Reasons Why Teachers' Licenses Are Revoked
NBC 4 (Washington, DC)
April 27, 2017

Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., lag behind other states in what they release to the public about teachers accused of misconduct.

An investigation by the News4 I-Team revealed almost 70 D.C.-area teachers have had their licenses revoked or canceled since the beginning of 2016, but parents and prospective employers are unable to readily see the reasons why.

The Virginia Department of Education maintains a publicly accessible list of teachers who’ve surrendered their licenses or from whom licenses have been revoked, but the state’s website does not include records detailing why the actions were taken.

Special Education Teachers Are Biggest Need in Virginia
U.S. News & World Report
April 26, 2017

A new report from Virginia Department of Education says the biggest shortage of teachers is in special education.

The department recently released a report to state lawmakers saying the biggest critical shortages include special education teachers, elementary school teachers and middle school teachers.

The report did not say how many teachers were needed fill the shortages.

Recent National Education News

Trump On Education Department: 'Reverse This Federal Power Grab'
WV Public Broadcasting
April 29, 2017

President Trump this week ordered Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to look into whether the federal government has usurped state and local control of education.

The executive order, which gives DeVos' office 10 months to conduct a review of laws and procedures, is short on details. The first question from a reporter to a White House official was, "Can you remind me exactly how this executive order would, I guess, change anything?"

It says that DeVos can change or cut any regulations to "ensure strict compliance with statutes that prohibit Federal interference with State and local control over education." This power was already inherent in her office.

DeVos Tours Virginia School to Stress Needs of Military Kids
Associated Press
April 26, 2017

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday highlighted the need to help the children of military families transition into new schools as their parents are moving from one assignment to the next.

DeVos visited Ashland Elementary School in Manassas, Virginia, to mark the Month of the Military Child. During a tour of the school she read a book to children about a mother who serves in the military. She donned a pair of toy bifocals like those invented by Benjamin Franklin and watched students refurbish a computer.

During the election campaign, President Donald Trump criticized the Obama administration for neglecting U.S. veterans and vowed to improve their care and benefits. DeVos' visit to Ashland highlighted the administration's commitment to veterans.

DeVos said military families need extra support when they relocate to a different city or country and their children must enroll in a new school. The school offers video chats with deployed parents, support groups and community resources.



Are Virginia's college graduates workforce ready?

May is commencement season for colleges and universities in Virginia and throughout the United States.  

As thousands of students in Virginia's colleges and universities get ready to graduate this month, we thought you would find useful the results of the 2016-17 Commonwealth Education Poll in this month's Poll Spotlight.  
The results show that members of the public overwhelmingly believe that new graduates are workforce ready.  We share one of the takeaway graphics here. 

But also check out other insights about the public's perception of whether higher education is doing a good job at equipping students with particular skills.

This period of commencements also is a good time for educators to begin looking ahead at issues likely to impact next school year.  Our senior fellow, Dr. Richard Vacca, offers his annual thoughts on legal issues likely to impact educators and administrators in 2017-18.  We excerpt from that newsletter below.  

We hope you have a great start to May!  We'll be back in your inbox in early June with a look at high school graduations.   

Education Law Newsletter


Excerpted from the May 2017 Education Law Newsletter written by Dr. Richard Vacca.  Read the full newsletter on our website.

Each year the final edition of the commentary series is devoted to identifying potential legal and policy issues to watch next school year. Based on my review of court decisions, articles in the professional literature, and stories in the news media, the paragraphs below identify and briefly discuss examples of issues I believe are likely to confront local school boards and school administrators next year. It will be obvious to the reader that many of the issues contained in this commentary are not new.

Special Education
Two March 2017 decisions from the United States Supreme Court involving students with disabilities are likely to have an immediate impact on local school system policy and procedure. In Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools (2017) the Court held that exhaustion of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s (IDEA) administrative procedures is not required before parents go to court. In Endrew F., et al. v. Douglas County School District RE-1 (2017), the Court held that:
  1. the adequacy of a student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) turns on the unique circumstances of the child for whom it was created,
  2. school authorities are expected to be able to offer a cogent and responsive explanation for their IEP decision, and
  3. the IEP is reasonably calculated to enable the child to make progress in light of his circumstances.
In 2017-2018 a national conversation will continue regarding the future of special education as we know it today. While it is too early to predict implications for state and local policy and for professional practice, school officials must stay abreast of what is being suggested in the literature. For a comprehensive treatment of the subject I recommend the April (2017) issue of Educational Leadership (ASCD), entitled “Differences Not Disabilities.”

First Amendment Speech and Expression
Suffice it to say, today’s typical public school students (elementary, middle, and secondary) are most competent in using the latest forms of technology to socially communicate with their peers using cyber language and symbolism. As witnessed in past school years, local public school boards and administrators will continue to see issues spring up involving allegations of student-on-student cyber harassment (e.g., bullying, sexual harassment, threats, and intimidation). While these “hot topics” already have spawned a few First Amendment speech related incidents (e.g., allegations of verbal and physical harassment, bullying) in public school systems, it is too early to predict an increase in such situations next year.

As of this writing, two emerging sources of potential legal and policy issues might also flow from the current national debate regarding (1) immigration, and (2) the rights of transgender students in public schools.

Transgender Student Rights
The fact that the United States Supreme Court vacated and remanded Gloucester County School Board v. G.G (2017) back to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is significant. Subsequently, on remand, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit dissolved its previous injunction. In my opinion, because neither the Supreme Court nor the Fourth Circuit gave local policy makers clear guidance regarding Title IX (Educ. Amend. 1972) and the rights and protections of transgender students in public schools, issues will continue to spring up in 2017-2018.

Next school year we also might see an increase in parental allegations of in-person (face-to-face, taunting, bullying, intimidation, harassment) of students with disabilities—especially students where the IEP requires that she/he be mainstreamed into general education academic programs and extra-curricular activities.
Possible legal and policy issues also might spring up involving conflicts between faculty, staff, and student dress and attire and the existing school system dress codes for both employees and students. Issues also might spring up regarding required and proper attire in interscholastic athletics. As a general rule, in such situations the person involved more often than not will claim that his/her mode of dress is tied directly to the requirements of their particular religious faith—i.e., First Amendment Free Exercise.

English Language Learners
In 2017-2018, it is likely that the population of English Language Learner students entering public schools will continue to grow. Coupled with a move to establish and maintain more welcoming, friendly, inclusive, and accommodating school environments, students from many different countries, where native languages and regional dialects often merge, the impact on school system policies (e.g., parent involvement, student attendance, academic requirements, class placements, staff training, support services, discipline procedures) likely will require constant monitoring, accommodation, and possible change.

Read the rest of the newsletter on our website
Poll Spotlight - Are Virginia college graduates workforce ready?

Workforce readiness is a key area for policymakers because of its connection to attracting business to the commonwealth and long-term economic growth. Workforce development, though often thought of in terms of higher education, is also a topic in K-12 discussions both in terms of immediate readiness to join the workforce and preparation to pursue further training in college. This year we again gauged public perception on whether graduates of high school, community college and four-year colleges are ready to move into the next potential phases.

College graduates, whether from a community college or a four-year institution, are perceived as ready for the working world. Additionally, community college graduates are almost unanimously perceived as being ready to continue their studies at a four-year college.

The Virginia public continues to see community colleges as preparing their graduates for both the workforce and a four-year school. Based on the responses to the poll, almost three in four members of the public (74 percent) see community college graduates as ready to join the workforce, a percentage statistically no different than the 73 percent who said the same about graduates from a four-year college.

In addition to seeing community college graduates as workforce ready, the public overwhelmingly sees them as being “ready for a four-year college or university.” Eighty-seven percent agreed strongly or somewhat with that statement, with 38 percent agreeing strongly. The rate of agreement was 27 percentage points higher than what was registered for high school graduates in terms of college readiness, suggesting that community college is seen as a useful stepping stone to a four-year degree. Those with college experience or a degree (at 41 percent) were more likely to strongly agree than were those with a high school degree or less of formal education (32 percent).

As noted above, graduates of four-year colleges and universities were deemed ready for the workforce at essentially the same rate as community college graduates (73 percent to 74 percent, respectively). The rate of those who strongly agreed with the statement that graduates of a four-year college or university are ready for the world of work is slightly higher for four-year college graduates than for community college graduates (23 percent and 21 percent, respectively). That minor difference is mitigated, however, by the fact that a slightly higher portion of respondents disagreed that four-year graduates were ready for the workforce (26 percent) compared to the same about community college graduates (24 percent).
For four-year college graduates, women (77 percent) were again more likely to strongly or somewhat agree that graduates were ready for the workforce than were men (68 percent). Those with a college degree or more (78 percent) were more likely to judge four-year graduates workforce ready than were those who have a high school degree or less of formal education (68 percent). Likewise, Democrats (at 80 percent) were more likely to see four-year graduates as ready for the world of work than were Republicans (68 percent) or Independents (64 percent).

Higher education plays a key role in developing a competitive workforce and equipping students for success in a career. But society also looks to higher education to develop its students’ broad general skills, such as writing and communication, as well as attitudes such as civic engagement. When it comes to specific outcomes across these areas, strong majorities say Virginia colleges and universities are doing a good job in five important areas. 

Seventy-five percent of Virginians say colleges and universities are doing a good job in producing graduates in scientific fields and 64 percent said the same about preparing students for the workforce needs for the future. Sixty-seven percent say the state schools do a good job providing the skills that will be useful in obtaining a job. A slightly smaller majority (63 percent) thinks they are doing a good job developing students’ writing and communication skills while 61 percent feel that they are doing a good job of preparing students to be engaged citizens.  

Public opinion on these factors is largely steady (all variation is within the poll’s margin of error). One possible exception is the category of producing graduates in scientific fields, which grew by 8 percentage points over the past five years and is right at the edge of the poll’s margin of error. This may indicate that a sustained emphasis from political leaders and higher education administrators on producing graduates in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields is having an impact on public perceptions.

A copy of the full results of the 2016-17 Commonwealth Education Poll is available at