And Then There Is Carver

Carver Elementary School serves a tough clientele:  91% economically disadvantaged this fall vs. 64% for RPS as a whole.  But the results there under the new Principal have been spectacular.







There are two possibilities here: Either this Principal is a terrific leader or she has brought cheating to a new level.

When I had a chance to chat with our Superintendent in October, I asked him whether they are cheating at Carver.  He responded that I should pose that question to the Principal.

It is our Superintendent’s job to know the answer to that question and to have acted long before now if the answer is any flavor of “yes.”  The answer he gave tells me that either (1) he doesn’t know, or (2) they are cheating and he won’t admit it, or (3) he is being cute.

Wrong answer in any case. 

I’m hoping that our new School Board will ask that question and respond appropriately if they also get a wrong answer.

Starting at the Beginning

In conversation on October 6, our Superintendent remarked that fixing the Richmond public schools will be disruptive and, in the short term, the disruption will look very much like failure.

Said otherwise, things will have to get worse before they can get better.

He shared with me a document that supports his argument.

Superintendent Bedden started here in January, 2014.  That November, at his request, the Council of the Great City Schools sent a “Strategic Support Team” to audit the RPS Human Resources Dep’t. 

(First things first: If you don’t have good people, you can’t have an effective organization.)

The six-member team visited Richmond in November and issued its report in December, 2014. 

The report takes a third of a page to make four “Commendations” (e.g., HR staff are “hard working and dedicated to their assigned tasks”). 

Then it spends just over five pages listing the problems the team found.  The first two items set the tone:

The leadership of the HR Department has not established a vision or direction for the organization and there is a general lack of foresight and planning.

The department appears to suffer from a culture of complacency, stifles new ideas, and protects the status quo, all of which is compounded by a defeatist attitude that suggests that RPS is the “employer of last resort,” as one interviewee put it.

The recommendations then go on for another two+ pages.  Some samples:

1. Re-structure the HR Department to reflect the employment life cycle of on-boarding (recruitment, selection, hiring, and placement), retention (servicing, development, and promotion), and discharging (retirement, termination, and out-placement).

6. Ensure that HR functions have qualified people, with applicable skill sets, in the appropriate positions.  [Ouch!]

7. Require and hold HR leadership accountable for establishing a vision and direction for the organization and changing the departmental culture to one focused on the successful achievement of goals and objectives.

The entire report is a dispassionate and detailed memorial to the awful leadership of the previous superintendent(s). 

To the point here, it also testifies to the Brobdingnagian task facing our current Superintendent.  I’m beginning to think that he’ll need more than the three years he’s had to clean up the mess that is RPS.

It’s Good to Stop Blaming the Victims

Back in 2015, our Superintendent fell into the old Richmond trap of blaming the kids for the lousy performance of our schools.  Well, to be fair, he just talked about the high rates of poverty, the large numbers of handicapped students, and our growing ESL population.  His meaning was clear, however.

To his credit, we haven’t heard much of that from him since then. 

As part of my project to learn (altogether too slowly, I think) to use Excel to examine the performance of our schools, I have revisited data that support such restraint. 

Let’s start with the pass rates of economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students in Richmond and statewide, compared with the non-ED population.  In these graphs, “No” indicates students who are not classified as economically disadvantaged, “Yes,” those who are.



(Notice the score decreases from the new, tougher reading tests in 2013 and the new math tests a year earlier.)

We know that standardized test scores decrease with increasing ED, so it’s no surprise to see the ED scores lower than the non-ED, both in Richmond and statewide. 

To the point here, Richmond’s economically disadvantaged students are underperforming their peers statewide.  Likewise, our students who are not economically disadvantaged also are underperforming the state non-ED students.

(Hint: This suggests that poverty may not be the problem with the low test scores in Richmond.)

Next, the students with disabilities.



Pretty much the same pattern.

Last, the immigrant (search for “limited English proficient”) students.



Without dwelling on the data on the pre-2012 tests (and Richmond’s wholesale cheating there), we can extract a clear message: Economically disadvantaged or not, disabled or not, immigrant or not, Richmond’s students are underperforming their Virginia peers. 

You can choose your explanation: Either there is a stupidity virus that infects children’s brains inside the city limits or Richmond’s children are being afflicted by a lousy school system.  Actually, there’s only one explanation: That stupidity virus is the Richmond Public Schools.

Where Have All the Students Gone?

The VDOE database provides fall enrollments by year for Virginia and for its school divisions and individual schools.  The Richmond data tell a sad story.

To start, here are the 2016 data by grade, expressed as percentages of the 9th grade “membership” (that’s educratese for enrollment).


The ninth grade bump in enrollment is a national phenomenon, brought on by schools that hand out social promotions until the kids hit high school and start flunking courses that are required for graduation.  Virginia has a modest ninth grade bump; Richmond, a huge one.

We can tease out the grade-on-grade changes from these data.


The statewide enrollment is close to flat until the ninth grade bump.  Then the dropouts reduce the numbers in the higher grades.

In Richmond, the enrollment decreases in every grade except the 9th and 12th.

We see an 11% drop after the first round of SOL testing in the third grade.  Then the parents who recognize the quality of or middle schools and can do something to avoid those schools produce a 12% drop after the fifth grade. 

The 5% per year enrollment erosion then continues through middle school.

In Richmond, the ninth grade bump produces an enrollment increase of 23% over the 8th grade number.  Then the dropouts reduce the (already inflated) enrollment by 21% in the tenth grade and 11% in the eleventh.

In Richmond, the 12th grade enrollment increases slightly, probably representing students who hang on past twelve years to pursue a diploma.

What does it take to improve the Richmond numbers?  Easy:

  • Improve the elementary schools so the onset of SOL testing in the third grade does not drive out ill-prepared students;
  • Improve the (awful) middle schools so the parents of rising sixth graders can stay in Richmond and students entering high school can do the ninth grade work; and
  • Improve the high schools, with an emphasis on reducing dropouts and helping our students graduate.

Well, easy to say.  Impossible to do, at least for our current school board.

For more details, see this.

Accountability for Thee . . .

But Not for Me!

The proposed 2016 Annual Report of the Board of Education uses the word “accountability” twenty-two times.

Two of those are in reproduced statutes; the other twenty are in the draft report. 

The report has the Board modifying its view of accountability (at p.6, repeated at p.14):


This talk of “interventions aligned to need” and “encourage[ment]” of improvement is all about inputs, not effectiveness.  Even the “indicators of school quality” are meaningless if nobody is accountable for the improvement, or lack of improvement, of the quality of education.

As well, the draft report is silent as to the Board’s authority to compel compliance with the Standards of Quality.  Indeed, the Board has never exercised that authority.

As with the two instances quoted above, none of the twenty-two instances speaks of “accountability” of the Board for the effectiveness of its $105 million budget (not counting the $7.46 billion for direct aid to public education)

All this silence is understandable in light of the Board’s record of failure: This Board has been exercising its “accountability” regime in Petersburg since at least 2004, with the result that four of the six Petersburg school remain unaccredited.  As a paradigm of the Board’s ineptitude in this respect, here is the history of Petersburg’s Peabody Middle School:

Indeed, this is the Board whose members admit (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48) that they don’t know how to fix bad schools.

But, by golly, they do know how to talk and talk and talk about “accountability.”

Huguenot: Mixed Messages

The western end of our neighborhood lies in the zone for Huguenot High School.  Remembering that the nearer and eastern neighbors are in the zone for Wythe, let’s look at Huguenot’s performance in the context of the Wythe data and the Richmond and State averages.

Caveat: As was the case at Wythe, the Huguenot pass rates reported below are boosted by the performances of students enrolled in Governor’s schools (54 this year, 3.6% of the Huguenot enrollment) whose (excellent) SOL results are falsely reported at Huguenot.

Turning, then, to the reading pass rates, we see that Huguenot took the hit from the new tests in 2013 but recovered to above the 75% accreditation benchmark the next year.


Huguenot did not start to recover from the new writing tests until this year; it remains eleven points below the benchmark.


After averaging the English rates and applying the “adjustments,” VDOE reports that Huguenot scored a 90 for English accreditation. 


It takes some doing to average a 64 and a 76 to come up with a 90.  But, then, this is the arcane process that awhile back converted a 76 and a 74 into “perfect scores” and  embarrassed a governor.

The history & social science pass rate remains (barely) above the 70% accreditation threshold.


The math data show the hit from the new tests in 2012 with a recovery three years later leading to a flirtation with the state average.


The science scores show the effect of the new tests in 2013, with a recovery into accreditation range the next year and with a drop similar to the citywide decrease this year.


Huguenot turned in a one-year Graduation & Completion Index of 82, three points short of the benchmark.  The three-year average, 84, also fell short, leaving Huguenot “warned” on the accreditation list.

All in all, Huguenot is a better place than Wythe but, except for math, distinctly below the state average.

Were They Cheating @ MLK?

Here is a puzzle for you.

The General Assembly in 2010, effective in the 2011 school year, started a crackdown on use of the VGLA (tests for handicapped students) to cheat.  The State introduced new math tests in 2012 and new English and science tests in 2013; the new tests eliminated the VGLA except for “Limited English Proficient” students

Let’s juxtapose those dates with these data for Richmond’s best and worst middle schools:

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The pattern is evident at MLK:

  • Reading and writing scores drop in 2011 and 2012, before the drop with the new tests in 2013;
  • Math scores drop in 2011, before the drop with the new tests in 2012;
  • Science scores drop in 2011 and 2012, before the drop with the new tests in 2012;
  • MLK scores were often better than the Richmond average (flirting with the state average in a few cases) until 2011; since the new tests they have been below the (awful) Richmond average; and
  • For the most part, and in contrast to the state average, the scores have not improved since the advent of the new tests.

At the same time, the state average and the AP Hill data show pass rate decreases that coincide with the introduction of the new, tougher tests and general recovery afterward.

Looks to me like they were cheating, wholesale, at MLK and they still haven’t recovered from the damage that did.

Do you have a better explanation for these data?

Grading the Board of Education

Item H on the agenda for the Nov. 17 meeting of the Board of Education is titled “Final Review of Request for Division-Level Review for Richmond City Public Schools.”  It recites a request from the Richmond School Board for a division-level review of the Richmond system.

The agenda item concludes:

Superintendent’s Recommendation:
The Superintendent of Public Instruction recommends that the Virginia Board of Education approve the Request for Division-Level Review for Richmond City Public Schools.

Rationale for Action:
The request for Division-Level Review for Richmond City Public Schools supports accountability for student learning. Results of the review will be used to develop a division-level Memorandum of Understanding and Corrective Action Plan which will support improvement in the academic performance of students in Richmond City Public Schools.

The Board is operating here under an enabling statute:

§ 22.1-253.13:3. Standard 3. Accreditation, other standards, assessments, and releases from state regulations.
                           * * *
When the Board of Education determines through the school academic review process that the failure of schools within a division to achieve full accreditation status is related to division-level failure to implement the Standards of Quality or other division-level action or inaction, the Board may require a division-level academic review.  After the conduct of such review and within the time specified by the Board of Education, each school board shall submit to the Board for approval a corrective action plan, consistent with criteria established by the Board setting forth specific actions and a schedule designed to ensure that schools within its school division achieve full accreditation status.

That’s clear enough: The prerequisite to a division-level academic review is a “determin[ation].”  No determination, no authority to conduct a division-level review.

The agenda item, notably the recommendation, is silent as to the required determination of “division-level failure to implement the Standards of Quality or other division-level action or inaction” leading to failure to receive full accreditation.  The Board thus is proposing to strike out into ultra vires (that’s Latin for “lawsuit bait”) territory.

As well, the Superintendent’s rationale is silent as to facts that would support a determination of such division-level failure or action or inaction.  It mentions only that the Richmond request “supports accountability for student learning” (whatever that means) and will lead to a “Plan.”  So the Board’s paperwork also fails to state the factual prerequisite for the required finding.  In this respect, the rationale ignores the attachments that show only a third of the Richmond schools fully accredited).

Finally, and most important to the schoolchildren of Richmond, the Board’s paperwork asserts only that the resulting Plan will “support” academic improvement but not that it will produce improvement or lead to accreditation.  This Board of “Education” is so unsure of its own capability that it is unable to assert that its intervention will do any good.

Unfortunately, that timidity is well founded.  The Board has been conducting futile “academic reviews” of the Petersburg system since at least 2004 with the result that only two of six Petersburg schools are fully accredited.  Indeed, the Board members admit (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48) that they don’t know how to fix bad schools.

For observance of the requirement of § 22.1-253.13:3 and for clarity and completeness of its paperwork and for the effectiveness of its academic review process, the Board of Education gets an F.

Wythe: Failing at a High Level

The high school for most of our neighborhood is George Wythe

Caveat: The Wythe pass rates reported below are boosted by those of 38 students enrolled in Governor’s schools (4.3% of the Wythe enrollment) whose (excellent) SOL results are falsely reported at Wythe.

We’ll start with the Good News: Here are the End of Course pass rates on the reading tests for the state, the division, and Wythe by year.


You may recall that our former Superintendent did not align the curricula to the new English and science tests in 2013.  The pass rates dropped statewide; they plummeted in Richmond and at Wythe.  Wythe recovered in 2014 and continued to perform near the state average.

The writing tests are the first chapter in the Rest of the Story. 


Someone with a detailed knowledge of the school may be able to explain the excellent but anomalous 2014 score.  Otherwise, Wythe joined the Richmond plunge in 2013 and this year languishes at 56%, below even Richmond’s unacceptable 66% average. 

Overall, Wythe’s English numbers, after the boost from the VDOE “adjustments,” landed on the 75% benchmark this year.


The results for the other subject areas are more problematic.

In history & social science, Wythe has been following, and now is leading, Richmond’s decline to well below the 70% accreditation benchmark.


As with the English tests in 2013, the new math tests in 2012 clobbered the Richmond and Wythe pass rates.  Both Wythe and the division looked to be recovering until this year.


The science data paint a similar picture of overreaction to the new tests followed by some recovery until this year.


Wythe just reached the 85% threshold for the Graduation and Completion Index.

This year Wythe underperformed the Richmond average on four of five subjects.  Aside from the reading scores, the only good thing to say about this is that Wythe is nowhere near as bad as our middle school.

Elkhardt-Thompson: A Place to Send Your Enemy’s Kids

The middle school for our neighborhood was Thompson, now Elkhardt-Thompson.  This is a “new” school, produced by combining two awful middle schools.  In 2014, Elkhardt was warned and Thompson was denied accreditation.  In 2015, the combined school was conditionally accredited as a “new” school.   This year, it was warned in English, math, and science.  Data are here.

The VDOE database no longer reports pass rates for Elkhardt and Thompson; there only are data for the combined school and only for this year.  Those few data do not paint a pretty picture:  In reading, writing, math, and science, the high pass rate was 50% in 7th grade reading; in every other case more than half the kids flunked.  The low note was 7th grade math, with a 31% pass rate, i.e., a 69% failure rate.

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Recall that the benchmark for accreditation in English is 75%; for the other subjects it is 70%.

VDOE does not report a pass rate for history at this school.  But they found one somewhere to produce an accreditation score:


Elkhardt-Thompson gets three years of warning before it can lose accreditation.  That is, it gets four years to deny a decent education to children from South Richmond before the State steps in. 

Unfortunately, both history and admissions of the Board members (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48) tell us that the Board of Education Fecklessness does not know how to fix such awful schools, so it’s hard to see an end to this assault on our children.

Your $22.3 million tax dollars per year at “work.”