Ending Modern Day School Segregation, Part 2 w/ McAuliffe & Youngkin

Glenn Youngkin was in the news a lot last week. It wasn’t great. And, while this post won’t attempt a summary of what he knew and didn’t know, said and didn’t say about the prayerful salute to a Jan 6 flag at one of his rallies, it did feel like a good reason to revisit this series on the Virginia Governor’s race. I posted part 1 in late July, and had every intention on following up with part 2 much sooner, but you know how it goes these days. With 2 weeks until the election and Youngkin getting national attention, it felt like a good time to come back. 

Quick refresher on part 1: A coalition led by the Thomas Jefferson Alumni Action Group hosted a series of conversations with VA Governor and Lieutenant Governor hopefuls called Ending Modern Day School Segregation, where they asked primary candidates about how they’d do just that. The first post outlines a fascinating list of policy solutions (good and meh) that we could have if we elected different candidates for various levels of state office. In this post, TJAAG staff summarize the EMDSS conversations on the topics that we didn’t have space for in part 1, including a detailed list of strategies for increasing teacher diversity and a refreshingly clear call to invest in #CounselorsNotCops and #PoliceFreeSchools (see also: recent fantastic NCSD webinar on this topic).

The two primary winners – Terry McAuliffe and yeah, Glenn Youngkin – didn’t participate in the series, so I conclude looking towards the education policy proposals likely to be enacted by the winner of the upcoming election. 

School Choice and Private Education

All four interviewees alluded to the role “school choice” and private schools have played in Virginia’s history of segregation:

Jennifer McClellan (Democrat): “We [do need to] encourage parents to stay in public schools. [After Brown we] ended up with de facto segregation by private academies and white flight.”

Princess Blanding (Independent): “We have to look at access to education through a lens different from [just] income. Move funds away from private schools and invest in our public schools. Our legislators have the power to do so and have not.”

Xavier Warren (Democrat): “[We] have to allocate money where value is. [I want] public dollars to go to public schools … that are for everyone.”  

Sean Perryman (Democrat): “[Voucher systems] really use public dollars to supplement rich people’s income in some ways … leaving behind impoverished schools. So ‘school choice’ undermines our public school system and would be inequitable by definition.”

Teacher Diversity

Blanding, McClellan, and Perryman all spoke to the need for a more diverse teaching workforce.

Blanding: “[We] need equity in bringing in highly qualified teachers to ensure we have diversity of school teachers. Reassess teacher licensure requirements. Look at career switcher programs. I didn’t go through a formal program but started out premed/in the medical field and had an opportunity to substitute teach and was able to build off an undergraduate degree in biology to take the teacher certification test. The test … could be discouraging to some. [I] want to encourage people to get into community college, HBCUs, other colleges and recruit them to teaching. 

There’s not enough teacher diversity across the board – Black, Asian American, Native American, etc. We need to make sure people are aware of opportunities that will allow them to flourish in education and also need to make sure the compensation is attractive. Nurses make more money with less education than highly educated teachers and that is a concern. We need to increase compensation and also support collective bargaining for teachers so they can be backed by unions and fight for what is equitable to them. There is also high turnover in education. What they learned in the classroom is different than what they face in the classroom so we need more internships and shadowing opportunities to help prepare new teachers and recruit a more diverse workforce.”

McClellan: “There was a study done at the state level trying to identify some of the barriers [and possible solutions]: PRAXIS exam, focus on teacher prep at HBCUs, build relationships between HBCUs and school districts, G3 program that the General Assembly just passed provides free community college for teachers who will commit to high need programs including early learning.”

Perryman: “We have to take on the fact that some of [the lack of diversity in teachers] is not unintentional: per a GMU study, this is not a supply problem, it’s a demand problem. When teachers were hired by Fairfax County Public Schools, which is the largest school district here in VA, the Black teachers were often put in the same schools, essentially segregating them through administration. So this is an issue where we have to understand what’s causing it–some of it is the lack of policies around hiring. In FCPS, until two years ago when we had our advocacy effort, there was no hiring criteria/framework, that principals had a mini fiefdom, they could essentially go out and hire anyone they wanted, so as a result we saw a very segregated and very homogenous workforce. 

“In terms of how we can attract teachers, we’ve got to deal with the teacher pay issue. VA trails the rest of the country in teacher pay, and also there is the issue of where we are recruiting teachers and what we’re doing to retain them. During this pandemic we’ve been especially cruel to our educators, so that’s part of the problem, but it’s a multifaceted problem we have to address.”

School Discipline and Policing

Perryman and Blanding made sure to point out changes needed in school culture:

Perryman: “School-aged children who may not know how to deal appropriately with anger, suddenly that immaturity puts them at risk of going to jail – Fairfax NAACP saw kids as young as middle school being arrested, and these kids were mostly Black and Latino, because they were not given a second chance, not given escape hatches, for disorderly conduct, which could be anything from running in the halls to not listening and yelling, essentially childlike behavior, which led to an arrest and having a record, all of these contribute to students being less likely to succeed, less likely to graduate. Just like adults of color in the criminal justice system, they are not given the benefit of the doubt, they’re more likely to be policed, arrested, and given harsher consequences, and we’re introducing that younger and younger into people’s lives. 

So I’ve advocated for getting the SROs out of schools, because it’s the presence of police officers that lead to those arrests. Statistically they don’t make us any safer from school shootings, and we know that if you introduce a cop into a school, that will lead to a spike of arrests of Black, brown, and students with disabilities, that’s pretty much true nationally. That’s why we need to have counselors, not cops. And if you can’t avoid having cops in schools, you have to make sure your MOU pretty much strips them of any ability to arrest kids and question kids for these misbehaviors, and definitely no disorderly conduct charges. Instead of funding police officers, we should be putting that money into hiring counselors, connecting areas that may not have enough counselors to areas that do through virtual appointments. And also teaching students how to deal with conflict management.”

“[Renaming of schools currently named after confederate generals] is important for a lot of reasons. At first I thought we at the NAACP could take on more important things. But I saw that allowing the denial of the racist history of school names meant schools could deny all sorts of things–they could act like racism had no effect on our school system or on the unequal outcomes in schools. Also we have to think about what is the role of schools? We are trying to socialize folks in some way. If we socialize them that Robert E. Lee and those folks are acceptable, then we’re ingraining them with certain values. A black athlete told me she had to work out in front of a mural of JEB Stuart everyday, this guy that thought she should be chattel. So what were we saying to those students, what were we saying their value was? What were we saying the history of the Civil War was? Really we are making a statement about those students everyday we send them to those schools. It’s perverse and sick to me that school board members would defend this and not want to change these names. So it says something about the values not of just the school but of the community, and that’s why I wanted it to change.”

Blanding: “Schools have community circles. Administrators tend to complain about having one more thing to do but how these conversations are integrated in the curriculum are very important. Each day we start with community circles to have these conversations about self esteem or racism so it’s something we continually talk about, it’s not a one-time thing. When staff have these conversations, there are some people who are just there because they have to be and not engaging in the conversation. It’s important to lift up the people who are passionate about this and leading on these issues. Give those people resources to continually facilitate these conversations. [We] need to make sure faculty have the facts; sometimes implicit biases can come across in these conversations. 

“[We must] ensure we are incorporating Black history as well as indigenous community members into our curriculum, that should be mandatory, not optional. We are doing a disservice to our students by depriving them of this information. We can’t move forward unless we know where we came from.

“Due to the lack of diversity of teachers, we see an increase of disciplinary infractions because of a lack of relationships or inability to understand cultural differences. Teachers would send me students they were ready to suspend because they shrugged their shoulders. That should be a learning opportunity rather than disciplinary action. I’ve also seen issues come up around eye contact that speak to misunderstanding between teachers and students. It is so important for students to see people they can relate to as teachers.”

Signs outside the Loudoun County School Board meeting in Ashburn on Sept. 28. (Paul Schwartzman/The Washington Post)

McAuliffe & Youngkin

None of the eventual Democratic and Republican nominees for governor, lieutenant governor, or attorney general chose to participate in the series. And, wow- the McAuliffe and Youngkin plans couldn’t be more different.  

Although he didn’t speak to TJAAG for this series, Terry McAuliffe’s education plan does have explicit language about ending modern day school segregation. His plan cites a 2020 report which found that the percentage of Black students attending intensely segregated VA schools has increased from 13% in 2003-2004 to nearly 17% in 2018-2019. He then calls for: 

  • Creating a school integration officer within the Virginia Department of Education,
  • Reviewing how diversity factors into school accreditation standards
  • Incentivizing localities to implement integration strategies
  • Working with developers to drastically improve access to affordable housing 

His plan also includes big investments (in this case $2 billion) in public schools including a boost for teacher pay and universal pre-k for 3- and 4-year olds. 

Meanwhile, Glenn Youngkin’s plan is exactly what you’d expect from Trump’s GOP: 

  • Reinstituting standardized tests that were eliminated under McAuliffe’s administration
  • What Youngkin describes as including parents in the school decision-making process, but is really part of the contemporary movement to ban books that celebrate (or even acknowledge) America’s racial diversity (as seen in Laura Murphy’s viral Youngkin ad and Garrett Bucks’ thorough critique thereof).
  • An executive order banning Critical Race Theory and a call to “remove politics” from schools. He’s promised to put this in place “on day one.”
  • Opposing certain transgender rights policies, like allowing transgender girls to participate in girls’ sports.

So, for the first time in decades, there’s momentum building for concrete strategies for addressing contemporary school segregation, extending from candidates (often Dems, unsurprisingly) for various levels of state office, with varying degrees of national attention. It’s significant, of course, that McAuliffe has proposed solutions to this problem, yet it might not get attention. (I had to do some digging and got a huge assist from an email conversation- h/t to Genevieve Siegel-Hawley.) So, one thing we can do is shift the spotlight from Youngkin by talking more about the positives in McAuliffe’s plan. 

People say this a lot, but in a closely watched Gubernatorial election 1 year before midterms, the stakes couldn’t be higher for school segregation. At the same time that the policy conversation is shifting towards solutions, the backlash on the other side of the ticket is strident and ugly. This is all happening in a state that has long reflected the highs and lows of our national struggle for school integration. It’s also obviously a fitting illustration of contemporary American politics in general. After all, with less than two weeks until the election, polls have McAuliffe basically even with Youngkin.

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