SCOTT DREYER: I Couldn’t Believe What I Saw In Those Manila Folders… (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1.

As a high school teacher, I was shocked to see how many of our students at Roanoke City’s Patrick Henry had reading levels at a middle school or even elementary school level.

Since that day, that revelation has been stapled to my brain. A few observations:

  • The first iPhone was released in 2007, and social media was still in its infancy, so we can’t blame those scourges of distraction for those low reading scores back then.
  • Almost one generation has come along since then, and with more “smart” phones, social media, and Covid lockdowns, I can only imagine language skills are worse. Just now I saw a Covid-related learning loss map, and Virginia was among the worst.
  • As I recall, the new PH campus cost around $70 million. Spending huge amounts of money does not guarantee students will learn.
  • While I was at PH, we were told the government (local, state, federal) spent about $12,000 per child per year. So, that was a total of about $144,000 per student by senior year, not counting kindergarten. How was it possible to burn through sums of money like that for 12th graders to still only be able to read on a third or fourth grade level?
  • Why were such students passed on to higher grades if their skills were so weak? Isn’t that setting kids up for failure?
  • On a national level, in 2019–20, some calculate the annual cost per student was $17,013.
  • The US far out-spends nearly every other nation on education, but why are the outcomes so uneven? Some say, “You can’t spend too much on schools.” I think the data shows, yes, you can possibly spend too much, if the outcomes are lousy.
  • As explained in this commentary by Lt. Governor Winsome Sears (R), “School Choice Week” was last week.  Unless a family can afford private school or has the means to home school, why are children assigned to their school by their zip code? We don’t do that for grocery stores or most anything else. Imagine a cashier at Cave Spring Kroger asking a mom from Melrose, “May I see your driver’s license please? [checking address…] Oh, I’m sorry, you can’t shop here. You have to buy your groceries in Northwest Roanoke City.” Imagine some writers at The Roanoke Times, Cardinal News, WVTF or elsewhere blowing a gasket if any business tried that. I can just see the banner headline now, can’t you?  CAVE SPRING GROCERY STORE DENIES SERVICE TO BLACK MOTHER FROM NORTHWEST CITY. However, for government-run schools, it’s normal!
  • After that eye-opener seeing the lists in the folders, I felt cognitive dissonance each time I attended a faculty meeting where the principal was boasting about how many Advanced Placement (AP) classes PH was offering. Walking my bike across the parking lot for my ride home after work, I saw the light poles festooned with banners declaring “PH is a US News and World Report School of Excellence” etc. and I could not square that in my mind with the hundreds of students who were barely literate. It was like something out of 1984. To be clear: God bless the many wonderful staff members at PH then and now, and at all schools. They have an important job and do amazing work in difficult circumstances. Kudos to them. I mean no disparagement to them. But for me, with the passage of time, I thought much of the system was a fraud and that I was denying myself and living a lie, so for my integrity, sanity and health, I chose to leave.
  • Those in high school around 2008 are now in their mid-30s. So, many probably have children attending middle and high school now. While reading about Roanoke City’s growing murder crisis with record-breaking killings in recent year after year including 2023, I wonder: “How many of those who committed murder left school without necessary skills for work and life?”
  • Much has been made of the death of print media and mass layoffs of journalists. I’ve never heard anyone discuss this, but to what degree do people today not read newspapers because they can’t?
  • Also, is there a connection between a large bloc of the City’s population lacking adequate reading and thinking skills, and the City’s tolerance for inept charlatans like Joe “Let Them Eat Steak” Cobb (D) and their overall failed leadership?
  • More nefarious, do some people want to keep standards low in schools, because uneducated people are easier to manipulate and control?

I understand that may sound like a “right-wing conspiracy theory” to some, but as I read recently, “I need some new right-wing conspiracy theories, because all my old ones have been proven true.”

Alarmed by what I had seen in those reading level lists and realizing it was a crisis, I wrote a letter to the superintendent and principal, (now both retired), imploring them to implement a robust school-wide or better yet division-wide vocabulary program, and even suggested one, to help students with their verbal, reading, and writing skills and give them stronger foundations for future success.

No action was taken.

Shortly after I left PH in 2010, the Center for the Humanities honors program was dissolved.

–Scott Dreyer

Scott Dreyer at Bryce Canyon
Scott Dreyer M.A. of Roanoke has been a licensed teacher since 1987 and now leads a team of educators teaching English and ESL to a global audience. Photo at Utah’s iconic Bryce Canyon. Learn more at

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