Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be MiddleSchoolers

REPOST: Some Fool neglected to include Henderson data in the post earlier today.

The estimable Carol Wolf was amused by my pass rate graphs for Petersburg and asked if I could do the same for Richmond’s appalling middle schools.

Well, I supplied the adjective there.  But, in any case, Excel makes graphs easy.

First, the reading data.  For reference: The accreditation level for the reading tests is 75 and VDOE’s mystery “adjustments” will raise most pass rates by a few points.

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Next, math.  The accreditation level is 70.

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Looks like something good is happening at Boushall.  The numbers still are far from acceptable but the trends are righteous.

It’s hard to parse out the by-grade variation from those graphs but Excel is glad to rearrange the data:

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Pity the middle schoolers (partial exception for Franklin Military) whose parents can’t afford to move to Hanover.

Those Petersburg Elementary Data

We have seen recent improvement in the overall pass rates of the Petersburg elementary schools, with AP Hill and Walnut Hill being accredited this year.

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A deeper dive into the data produces the following:

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Indeed, the Hills (AP and Walnut) have improved nicely.  But twelve years of “help” from the Board of Education have left Stuart and Lee mired in failure.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Doubling Down on Failure

The Times-Dispatch reports the election of the Chairman of Petersburg’s School Board: for a tenth time.

The paper further reveals that our State education bureaucracy calls this Chairman an “indispensible and tireless partner.”  They brag on an improved graduation rate and the recent accreditation of two of the six Petersburg schools.

Indeed, Petersburg’s cohort graduation rate has increased in recent years (as the cohort size his withered).

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Test performance is another matter.  On the reading tests, the elementary school scores have improved but the high school scores continue to slide and the middle school scores have reached even lower lows after being clobbered by the new tests in 2013.

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(“EOC” is “End of Course”).  Given that an increasing fraction of Petersburg’s high school students are flunking the End of Course reading tests, we have to wonder where the improved graduation rates are coming from.

As to the math pass rates, the elementary schools again have improved; this year they are within sight of the state average.  The middle schools, however, continue to marinate in failure while the high schools this year climbed half way out from an eighteen point drop in 2015.

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Hmmm.  You can see that drop in the graduation rate but the 2016 recovery in the graduation rate is contradicted by the only partial recovery of the math pass rate and the continuing decline in the reading rate.  There is something fishy here.

As to the accredited schools, both are elementary schools (no surprise there).

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The poster child for the problems in the Petersburg system is Peabody Middle School.  (Accreditation level is the red line).

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Petersburg has compiled this record of failure while operating under Memoranda of Understanding with VBOE since at least 2004 (video of 9/21/16 at 1:48:30) .

In this context, our Secretary of Education says “we have successfully engaged with local leaders to tackle a variety of serious issues.” 

Notice he can’t say they’ve fixed Petersburg, just that they’ve “successfully engaged.”  Indeed, Board of Education members admit (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48) that they don’t know how to fix bad schools.

In sum: Happy talk; lousy schools; educrats who don’t know how to fix those schools.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Rating the Colleges, III

We’ve been looking at the 6-year graduation rates of the 2011 freshman cohort in Virginia’s four-year colleges.  SCHEV also provides SAT data for those students. 

Here are the median SAT scores for the 2011 entering class, sorted by the schools’ graduation rates.

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The graduation rates correlate strongly with those SAT scores.

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Recall, please, that correlation does not imply causation.

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BTW: This year’s medians at Longwood are 490 in both math and reading; the state averages are 513/516.  The current Richmond scores are in a different league.

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Ranking Virginia Colleges, II

We have seen some of the federal data on Virginia Colleges.  Those data were restricted to “federal financial aid recipients.” 

The SCHEV Web site has data on costs for full time resident undergraduates and cohort graduation rates.  Here are the six-year graduation rates of the 2011 cohort.

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Turned around, those data give us a measure of the error rates of the admission departments of those schools.

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Next, here are the graduation rates plotted against the costs for 2013-14 (school year selected to give a mid-course snapshot of the expenses facing the 2011 cohort).

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The colors are for the same schools as in the previous pair of graphs.

In contrast to the federal data, the SCHEV salary data are difficult to incorporate here (for me, at least), so I’ve calculated a simplified bang per buck ratio from the graduation rate divided by the cost (x100,000 to get results in the 0-10 range).

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Finally, here is the data table, sorted by graduation rate.

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Bedden Takes Out an Insurance Policy

Richmond’s public schools have a spectacular record of failure. 

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Before the new math tests in 2012 and the new English and science tests in 2013, the Richmond pass rates were merely awful.  Since then, the rates have been perfectly appalling.  Indeed, since the advent of the new tests, only Richmond’s reading scores have improved vs. the state average but even the reading pass rates remain behind by 19.9%.

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The history & social science scores have dropped, both before and after the new tests in the other subjects.

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Our new Superintendent had a chance to shine in 2015: His predecessor had failed to align the curricula to the new tests.  Simply by doing his basic job, Superintendent Dana Bedden had a chance for a bounce in the scores. 

Bedden started here in January 2014, so we can look for the Bedden Bounce in the ‘14-15 numbers.  The data above perhaps show a bounce in math that year, undone by a drop in 2016; otherwise no bounce.  More details here.

Bedden points out that change is disruptive and, in the short term, the disruption will look like failure.  For sure, the current numbers look like failure. 

This year, Bedden suggested and our (soon to be former) School Board requested a “division-level review” by the Board of Education.  That Board granted the request.

To place that request in context, we should notice that our Board of Education has a spectacular record of failure in achieving compliance with the Standards of Quality

The paradigm is Peabody Middle School in Petersburg.  Peabody has been failing since at least 2002; Petersburg has been operating under Memoranda of Understanding with the State Board since at least 2004 (video of 9/21/16 at 1:48:30).  Peabody still is unaccredited. 


The Board of Education has the authority to fire a superintendent for cause and to sue a school district for failure to meet the Standards of Quality.  It has never done either, even in Petersburg.

We now know why.  Consistent with their record of failure, they don’t know how to fix broken schools (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48).  If they were to sue, they would have to tell the judge what the school division must do to meet the standards.  Since they don’t know, they wisely don’t sue.

Thus, Bedden’s brilliant ploy.  There are two possibilities here:

  • I.  Richmond’s schools improve and the division achieves accreditation.  Bedden takes credit for getting needed help and fixing our broken schools.  He demands a raise.
  • II. More likely, Richmond’s schools continue to fail.  Bedden points out that even the State can’t fix our awful schools and he’s done everything humanly possible.  He demands a raise.

That’s a win-win situation. 

Good move, Dana!

Ranking Virginia Colleges

The USDOE has a Web page, it’s “College Scorecard,” with data on colleges and universities.

Here are the data for Virginia’s public colleges and universities, sorted by Bang/Buck:

  Avg. Cost Grad’n Rate Salary Bang/Buck
UVA  $  17,863 94%  $  60,100 3.2
W&M  $  17,194 90%  $  55,000 2.9
VMI  $  17,296 73%  $  59,200 2.5
VPI  $  19,691 83%  $  59,000 2.5
JMU  $  18,412 82%  $  52,600 2.3
GMU  $  18,738 67%  $  57,300 2.0
Mary Washington  $  20,595 73%  $  48,500 1.7
ODU  $  13,067 51%  $  42,500 1.7
Radford  $  16,560 59%  $  42,200 1.5
Longwood  $  18,457 65%  $  39,600 1.4
Chris. Newport  $  21,532 66%  $  42,500 1.3
VCU  $  20,723 58%  $  41,400 1.2
VSU  $  14,337 41%  $  33,800 1.0
Norfolk State  $  11,920 33%  $  33,100 0.9

Notes on the table:

  • Average Cost is “The average annual net price for federal financial aid recipients, after aid from the school, state, or federal government. For public schools, this is only the average cost for in-state students.”
  • Graduation Rate is “The graduation rate after six years for schools that award predominantly four-year degrees and after four years for all other schools. These rates are only for full-time students enrolled for the first time.”
  • Salary is “The median earnings of former students who received federal financial aid, at 10 years after entering the school.”
  • Bang per Buck value is calculated as (Salary*Graduation Rate)/(Avg. Cost).
  • The Web page does not tell us the year(s) of the data.  For sure, the salary data are for folks who graduated more than ten years ago.

Of course, Excel is glad to plot these data.  On the graphs below, UVA is the red diamond and W&M is the green.

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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.

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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.