Plan? What Plan?

We have seen that, having suffered the lowest average reading pass rate and the second lowest math pass rate in Virginia, Richmond this year “requested” a “division-level academic review.”

§ 22.1-253.13:3.A
                                                      * * *
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.

On November 17, 2016, the Board of Education approved the request.  The minute is silent as to the “time specified” for the review.  The agenda item for that meeting provides an expectation (that was not submitted to the Board for approval) but no deadline:

A division-level Memorandum of Understanding and Corrective Action Plan are expected to come before the Virginia Board of Education by June 22, 2017.

Today (May 8, 2017), Richmond replied to my Freedom of Information Act request regarding the Plan:

  • They do not have a suggested model or list of items or format for the Plan from VDOE;
  • They have no schedule for conducting the division level review;
  • They have no plan or schedule for obtaining the required public input; and
  • The do have a draft “template [that] has not been vetted with RPS administration nor has it been presented to the State Board of Ed[ucation].”

One need not suffer beyond the first few elements in the template to see that it is not a Plan.  It is a list of items to go into a Plan. 

For example, the “Essential Action[s]” on the “Academics and Student Success” page include:

  • Create, implement, and monitor a comprehensive plan to ensure alignment between the written, taught, and tested curriculum.
  • Develop and implement a plan for division leadership to conduct instructional walkthroughs at all schools, analyze data collected on walkthroughs, and use the data to make decisions on how to support schools.
  • Develop, implement, and monitor programs for students with limited English proficiency compliant with state requirements.

And on and on.

Thus, we see that, in the 172 days since November 17, Richmond has done nothing but create a laundry list of issues to go into a Plan.  If they somehow manage to “vet [this or some other document] with RPS administration” and subject it to public comment and have it approved by the School Board, all by June 22, they still will have nothing more than a plan to create a Plan.

But, what the heck!  The Board of “Education” that is vested with “supervision of the public school system” does not know how to fix bad schools.  Indeed, they admit it (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48).

It is merely an outrage that we are being taxed to support this sterile (and lethargic) bureaucratic exercise. It is something beyond an abomination that, in the meantime, Richmond continues to victimize many of its schoolchildren.

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):

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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.”

Ignorance or Cowardice?

While starting to look at the Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) and Plans that the Board of Education demands of schools that have been denied accreditation, I was reminded of that Board’s terrible track record. 

The paradigm is Petersburg, which has been operating under MOUs and submitting Plans since at least 2004.  Yet, as of this year two-thirds of the public schools in Petersburg are not fully accredited.

This poses the questions: Does the Board of Education have the authority to end this assault on the children who are stuck in bad schools in Petersburg (and Richmond and . . .)?  If so, why has it not done so?

The answer to the first question is easy: Yes.

§ 22.1-253.13:3. Standard 3. Accreditation, other standards, assessments, and releases from state regulations.
                                           * * *
Each local school board shall maintain schools that are fully accredited pursuant to the standards for accreditation as prescribed by the Board of Education.

§ 22.1-253.13:8. Compliance.
                                           * * *
When the Board of Education determines that a school division has failed or refused, and continues to fail or refuse, to comply with any such Standard, the Board may petition the circuit court having jurisdiction in the school division to mandate or otherwise enforce compliance with such standard, including the development or implementation of any required corrective action plan that a local school board has failed or refused to develop or implement in a timely manner.

§ 22.1-65. Punishment of division superintendents.
A division superintendent may be assessed a reasonable fine, suspended from office for a limited period or removed from office by either the Board of Education, upon recommendation of the Superintendent of Public Instruction or the school board of the division for sufficient cause.

In short, the Board can sue to compel a school or division to meet the requirements for accreditation and it can fire a division superintendent whose incompetence or obstruction interferes with achieving accreditation.

Of course I checked to see how often the Board has used this authority.  Both a search of the VDOE Web site and an inquiry to the always helpful Chuck Pyle of VDOE gave the same answer: The Board of “Education” has never sued under § 22.1-253.13:8 and has never fired a superintendent.

This tragic failure of the Board to do its job leads to the second question: Why all this timidity?

The profound and prolonged failure in Petersburg and the admissions of the Board members (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48) in an open session point to the same conclusion:  The Board does not know how to fix badly broken schools.

But wait!  It’s even worse than that. 

Page 22 of the Board’s 2015 Annual Report tells us:

To assist those schools which chronically fall below the achievement levels identified by the Board as fully accredited, the Department of Education continues to provide technical assistance through an academic review process, designed to help schools identify and analyze instructional and organizational factors affecting student achievement. The Department and Board are also continuing collaborative agreements with certain school divisions, detailing essential actions that must occur within affected schools. However, Board members continue to perceive a lack of statutory authority to require the most effective actions by local school systems. That remains the purview, under the Code of Virginia, of the local school board.

You read that correctly:   This Board that is too stupid or too timid to exercise its overwhelming power over local school boards wants more authority. 

Never mind the ridiculous suggestion that the Board thinks a constitutional barrier could be removed by statute.

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

MOU Madness – I

Even under the Board of Education’s flexible, score-boosting “standards,” a public school or division can be denied accreditation.  The Board requires the unfortunates who are so denied to execute a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

The Board’s MOU is a terrible idea, both as to strategy and as to tactics.

Strategy

First, the statutory background: The third Standard of Quality provides for accreditation and requires that schools and divisions be accredited:  “Each local school board shall maintain schools that are fully accredited pursuant to the standards for accreditation as prescribed by the Board of Education.”  The Board can sue to compel compliance with the Standards of Quality.

As a mandatory statement of “understanding,” without any hint of the agreement, consideration, or damages remedy of a contract, the MOU is even less than a contract.

Yet, even contracts to require compliance with the law are a terrible idea.  Contracts are subject to different rules than enforcement suits and orders.  And contracts have some slippery side effects, such as third party beneficiaries

No competent enforcement agency executes a contract with a violator: The agency uses contracts to buy paper and toner; it abates violations by exercising its authority to issue orders or to bring suit.  Use of a contract as an enforcement tool usually signals a reluctance to actually enforce. 

MOUs have their uses; they are particularly useful for dividing turf between agencies.  For example, the State Water Control Board has plenary authority over groundwater while the State Board of Health has authority over septic tanks et al. that inject partially treated sewage into groundwater.  In that kind of situation, MOUs are useful to help the employees of each agency know how to deal with borderline situations.

But here we have the Board of Education requiring an unenforceable MOU of each school and division that suffers a denial of accreditation.

Aside: We might also notice that the regulation requires an MOU but leaves the contents to the Board’s discretion.  Thus, if the resulting MOU actually required anything, it probably would be unlawful.

Tactics

The Board’s boilerplate MOU is ridiculous on its face. 

The foolishness begins in the very first section of the MOU (copy kindly provided by VDOE’s Chuck Pyle):

I. Requirements

BLANK Public Schools will comply with all requirements included in the Regulations Establishing Standards for Accrediting Public Schools in Virginia (SOA).

A copy of the SOA requirements for schools rated Accreditation Denied is located at the following link:  http://www.doe.virginia.gov/boe/accreditation/index.shtml .

Both the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and BLANK Public Schools should ensure that program activities are conducted in compliance with all applicable federal laws, rules, and regulations.

The first requirement of the MOU is that the school or division promise to comply with the law!!!

It’s difficult to discuss this kind of nonsense without resorting to obscenities.  Here we have a school or division that the Board says is violating the law and the Board’s first remedy is that the violator make an unenforceable promise to comply with the law.

But wait!  It gets worse:

The MOU then says that VDOE and the school/division “should ensure that program activities” are lawful. 

Here, in a public record, the Board of Education says that VDOE and the school/division that is the subject of an enforcement action “should” act in compliance with the law.  

Never mind the meaningless redundancy of the earlier empty promise to comply with the law.  This “should” mandate is too week to even be redundant.  It is hollow, preposterous babble.

There is a simple explanation for all this frivolity:  The Board does not prescribe an actual remedy because it doesn’t know (or is unwilling to say) what the judge should require the unaccredited school to do.  That is, the Board knows it would be futile to sue.

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

——————————

Preview of coming attraction: The second sentence of Part I of the MOU leads, after some thrashing about, to a regulation.  In typical educrat fashion, that regulation says much about inputs (MOUs and plans and reports and management reviews and turnaround specialists) but says nothing about obtaining an output, such as accreditation.  And, for sure, the regulation is silent about accountability for any (the inevitable?) failure.

Stay tuned . . .

The Ignorant Governing the Incompetent

At the Sept. 21 meeting of the accountability committee (a committee of the whole) of the Board of “Education,” Dan Gecker remarked that MOUs (“Memoranda of Understanding,” bureaucratese for unenforceable agreements) don’t do anything: We’ve had thirteen MOUs at Petersburg.

A search of the Board’s agenda [Don’t rag on me about number; “agendum” is the singular] suggests that “thirteen” MOUs is an exaggeration.  But Gecker’s point is well taken: Petersburg has been operating under MOUs with the Board since at least 2004

Petersburg’s pass rate history shows a flirtation with accreditation that ended precipitously with the new tests in 2012 and 2013.

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At present, Petersburg has been rescued from its last-in-the-state position only by Richmond’s malpractice:

The efforts of the Board of “Education” have produced mountains of paper while leaving Petersburg’s (and Richmond’s and too many other divisions’) schools free to damage the children they are paid to educate.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

—————————-

Note added on 10/2:

Some good and some perhaps bad news about Petersburg: The cohort size decreases over time tell us that fewer and fewer kids are being damaged by VBOE’s “help.”

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In light of the appalling SOL pass rates, the increasing graduation rates suggest that P’Burg is giving diplomas to kids who haven’t earned them.

School Improvement Theater–Chapter 3

We’ve already seen the applications for “reconstituted” status of Woodville, the worst performer of the twelve Richmond applicants this year, and Blackwell, the second worst.  Both of those posts set out the background on the reconstitution process.

Next up:  Third worst, Chimborazo

Chimborazo’s already unacceptable performance deteriorated this year in reading and math:

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Notes:

  1. The “All” entries refer to the tests on the selected subject.  In these graphs, it means grades 3-5 for reading and math, grades 3 & 5 for science.
  2. These data are pass rates, not the inflated accreditation rates.

Chimborazo has been a Focus School since 2015.  Fat lot of good that did.

The science data paint a far happier picture:

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The application [Item F] tells us that Chimborazo is a Title I school with no English language learners and 61 of 416 (15%) Special Ed students. 

The application is blank at the “Free/Reduced Lunch Eligible Percentage.”  VDOE tells us that this school’s student population is 83% economically disadvantaged. 

We know that academic performance decreases with increasing poverty.  But 83% ED does not tell the whole story. 

image

Chimborazo, the red circle on this graph, considerably underperforms other Richmond schools with similar or more challenging populations.

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Moreover, notice above that Chimborazo gets nearly state average science pass rates from the same students who suffer miserable pass rates in reading and math.  The difference between science and reading/math can’t be the students; it must be the teaching.

As we saw earlier, the (former) Principal at Chimborazo rated six teachers (15% of 39) as Exemplary, twenty-eight (72%) as Proficient, four (10%) as Needs Improvement, and one (2.6%) as Unacceptable.  Yet, with all those purportedly fine teachers, Chimborazo’s subject average pass rate was the 26th worst (of 1715) in the state.

The Chimborazo application proposes reconstitution in Governance, Instructional Program, and Staff.

Governance:  Chimborazo will have a new Principal and Assistant. 

They do not tell us whether the departures of the incumbents were forced or adventitious.  As to what these new bureaucrats will actually do, they say only:  “New principal and new assistant principal to present new ideas and relationship building activities to assist teachers and students with bonding.”  There’s no mention there of rigor, or evaluation, or accountability.

There will be two teachers, one an eleven month employee, acting as IB coordinators and providing “intense” teacher training.  There is no discussion of the place of the IB program at a school that can’t teach its students to read.

Instructional Program:  Currently the teachers handle all subjects, K-5.  The school will “departmentalize[]” teams in grades 3-5 “to allow teachers to focus on specific subject matter.”  Nice jargon; wonder what it means.

Collaborative planning will be doubled from one to two days per week at all grade levels.

“All grade levels will move toward co-taught classrooms and away from the self-contained model for students with special education needs.”  Whatever that means.

Staff:  All new teachers will be mentored.

Family Engagement:  The application contains a page and a half of family activities but no information as to how the families will be enticed to participate.

Peroration:  Quote without comment:

image

Then, without any further explanation, the Trajectory of Progress shows English and History scores improving to the accreditation minima by 2019 but the math score increasing only to 61, which is nine points short.

image

So, entirely aside from the jargon, the occasional statement that does not make sense, the lack of any explanation as to how the proposed changes will produce the trajectory of increasing scores, and the absence of any kind of accountability, Chimborazo proposes to “reconstitute” in order to remain unaccredited.

This reminds us of Woodville’s plan to not be accredited and Blackwell’s better but wholly nonspecific plan.  And this “plan” is the twin of those plans in its failure to hold anybody accountable for anything.

Nonetheless,

  • The Chairman of our School Board signed this application [item F];
  • VDOE collaborated [9/22 video at 1:48:56] in its creation; and
  • A subcommittee, presumably of the Board of Education, reviewed it [9/22 video at 1:53].  (See below)

The level of fecklessness in this application (as with the astounding level in the Woodville application and the lesser but still unacceptable level in the Blackwell document) is troublesome, of course.  But the involvement of VDOE and the Board of Education in this school improvement theater raises an ugly question: Does the state education bureaucracy not care about the awful performance of these schools or does it not know how to improve that performance?

————

The always helpful Chuck Pyle points out that the Board of Education’s Accountability Committee (a committee of the whole)  met on these applications the day before the 9/22 Board meeting.  Perhaps that is the “subcommittee” mentioned at the Board meeting.

The committee minutes are not yet up but the video of the meeting [click the 9/21 video link] is instructive.

  • 56:20: Intro to the discussion.
  • 1:08: Intro to discussion of schools that did not demonstrate progress.
  • 1:30:40 to 1:32:58: “Discussion” of Blackwell, Chimborazo, Mason, Overby, Westover Hills, Woodville, and TJ.
  • 1:42:35: What is the recourse for the awful decline at Woodville?  Following discussion suggests that they will demand an MOU (incorporating a “corrective action plan”) at Woodville; beyond that they do not have an answer. 
  • One happy moment at 1:48:18: Dan Gecker makes the only sensible statement: Another MOU won’t change anything; we’ve had thirteen MOUs at Petersburg; we need a systemic approach.

Bottom line:

  • Much talk;
  • Gecker knows that what they’re doing doesn’t work;
  • THEY DO NOT KNOW HOW TO FIX THESE AWFUL SCHOOLS.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Lake Woebegone of Teachers II

We have seen that the evaluation scheme in effect in 2011 held that Richmond’s teachers failed in some respect to meet expectations in only 0.72% of the items in the evaluations.

Richmond’s application for “reconstituted” status gives us a picture of the current situation:   The Accreditation process this year left sixteen Richmond schools unaccredited and in TBD status.  The Board of “Education” minutes (Hat Tip: Jim Weigand) contain the applications of twelve of the sixteen for “reconstituted” status.  Presumably the other four will go to some other form of unaccredited. 

Those applications contain some interesting data.  Here is a summary of some of it.  The first five columns report teacher evaluation totals.

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*”Developing/Needs Improvement”

Of the 444 teachers in these twelve failed schools, only 0.9% were evaluated as “Unacceptable” this year and another 7.2% as needing improvement. 

Yet all of these schools underperformed, some grossly.  Here are the details:

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Reid (Multiple entries because the name changed):

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And, finally, TJ, all grades:

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So, scores ranging from poor to awful, but very few teachers performing below average?

Then we have the principals: From the paperwork here, it’s not clear but as many as ten of the twelve could have kept their jobs.  Clearly, any principal who evaluates failing performance as “Proficient” needs to find work more suited to his/her talents.

And then we have the “Priority” status schools: Four since 2014, one since 2015.  Except, perhaps, for Ginter Park and Reid, this looks like squandered money.

And last, if you have a strong stomach, you can read the “plans” of these twelve schools.  There’s lot of feel-good bureaucratese there but only a few faint hints of the necessary measures: Fire all principals (and a bunch of the teachers); replace them with proven performers; hold the new principals responsible for improving performance.  Oh, and fire the Superintendent who oversaw this disaster.

It’s not as if we can’t afford to do this right.  On the 2015 data (the latest available until this Spring), we have the tenth most expensive division in the state.  (On the current data, we have the worst 2016 5-subject pass rate):

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On the 2013 data (that I need to update), we were wasting 50+ million dollars per year.

We have LOTS of money.  We just need to direct it to hiring first rate people instead of wasting it.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

State Department of Cheating Protection

We have seen that a former Latin teacher in the Roanoke County school system alleged wholesale cheating on non-SOL high school tests in the system.  And we have seen that the President of the Board of Education responded, in essence, that RCPS is doing something about the cheating and, besides, the State can’t do anything.

So, of course, I filed a Freedom of information Act request with VDOE for the underlying public records.  The response: A collection of emails and drafts of the Cannaday letter but no report of an investigation.

If you’ve ever dealt with the bureaucracy you know that they don’t make a trip to the water cooler without writing a memo to file.  So this means that they intentionally did everything by word of mouth.  Even so, they created a paper trail.

Elizabeth – I am going to review the draft letter with Dr. Cannaday over the next two days while he is here for the Board meetings. Can you give me some notes (either written or verbal) that provide more specifics about who you talked with, what they are doing about the concerns, etc. so that I can share those informally with Dr. Cannaday?

  • Morris replied the same day:

Just in case you need it, here is the contact info for the person I spoke with from Roanoke County Public Schools:

Ben Williams
Associate Director of Testing & Remediation
540-562-3900

  • The June 22 Luchau email chain includes a June 20 from Eric Von Steigleder, the Special Assistant for Communications in the office of our Secretary of Education.  He wrote:

    FYI ‐ Mr. Maronic wrote a similar letter to our office as well. With input from DOE and our office, I mailed the attached letter to the constituent encouraging him to work with his local Superintendent as well as his school board to address his concerns.

They didn’t produce the “attached letter” but another email tells us what it said: “I encourage you to share your concerns with your local superintendent’s office as well as your local school board.”

Note: After I posted this, Bob Maronic sent along a copy of the Secretary’s letter.  As the emails predicted:

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So there you have it: A concerted effort to NOT create any records, but the records they nonetheless created show that their information base – none dares call it an “investigation” — amounted to a phone call.  Or maybe several phone calls.  And the Party Line, running up to the Secretary: “Nothing we can do about it.”

Well,  let’s look more carefully at their authority.

  • Va. Const. art. VIII, § 4:  “The general supervision of the public school system shall be vested in a Board of Education . . . “
  • 8VAC20-131-50: Graduation requirements for a standard diploma include twenty-two “Standard Units of Credit.”
  • 8VAC20-131-110.A: “The standard unit of credit for graduation shall be based on a minimum of 140 clock hours of instruction and successful completion of the requirements of the course” (emphasis supplied).
  • Va. Code § 22.1-65:  “A division superintendent may be assessed a reasonable fine, suspended from office for a limited period or removed from office by either the Board of Education, upon recommendation of the Superintendent of Public Instruction or the school board of the division for sufficient cause.”

In short, the Board has “general supervision” of the public school system.  In the exercise of that authority, it has specified graduation requirements that include “successful completion” of course requirements.  They can fire the local Superintendent.

Never mind the natural supposition that cheating undercuts the system and should be anathema at every level.  The Board’s regulation says, with the force of law, that “successful completion” of the coursework is prerequisite to graduation.  And, by the President’s own letter, we know that some students in Roanoke County have cheated to complete their coursework.  Even in Richmond, cheating to pass a course cannot lead to “successful completion.”

So we have the Secretary of “Education,” the President of the Board of “Education,” and the Department of “Education” resolutely refusing to deal with cheating and lying about their ability to do so.

Unfortunately, this nonfeasance is part of a pattern:  In 2009 VDOE conducted an investigation of misuse of the VGLA to boost pass rates in Buchanan County.  The County that year had the largest VGLA participation rate in the state, ahead only of Richmond.  The VDOE report said: “The Superintendent stated the he had encouraged the use of VGLA as a mechanism to assist schools in obtaining accreditation and in meeting AYP targets.”  Instead of firing the Superintendent for deliberately cheating (on SOL-equivalent testing!), VDOE required that he prepare a corrective action plan.

The folks in Roanoke County can vote out their School Board for allowing (and, probably, covering up) this cheating.   We cannot vote out our mendacious bureaucrats or our term-limited Governor; at most we can hope the Governor will do his job to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”  For sure, there is lots of room for him to do that in our “education” establishment.

State Department of Superintendent Protection

On June 7, I posted a letter to the President of the State Board of Education from a former Latin teacher in the Roanoke County system alleging cheating at one or more schools in that system.  That teacher, Robert Maronic, averred “widespread” cheating and claimed to have informed the administration of the problem in November, 2012, the Board of Supervisors in October, 2015, and the School Board in November, 2015.

On June 24, Maronic received a reply (reproduced below) from the President of the Board of Education.  Let’s analyze that letter.

Thank you for your letter detailing concerns with the Roanoke County Public School system.  I appreciate you [sic] taking the time to contact the Virginia Board of Education.

Just from the first sentence we know this letter is Bad News: President Cannaday characterizes allegations of wholesale cheating as “concerns.”

The [Roanoke County Public School] division informed the Department that it is taking measures to address this issue and is working with outside support to combat this challenge.

So, the Roanoke County division admits to some or all of the allegations: 

  • It is taking unspecified “measures.”
  • Those measures will “address,” but perhaps not eliminate the cheating.
  • The division is “working” with outsiders to “combat this challenge.”

What this does not say is that the Roanoke County School Superintendent has eliminated the cheating and fired the people responsible for it.

Pursuant to the Constitution of Virginia, the Board of Education determines and prescribes the Standards of Quality for school divisions, and the supervision of schools in each school division is vested in the local school board. 

Hmmm.  Let’s look at authority:

  • Va. Const. art. VIII, § 4:  The general supervision of the public school system shall be vested in a Board of Education . . .
  • Va. Code § 22.1-65:  A division superintendent may be assessed a reasonable fine, suspended from office for a limited period or removed from office by either the Board of Education, upon recommendation of the Superintendent of Public Instruction or the school board of the division for sufficient cause.

We need not parse the scope of “general supervision” to understand that the Roanoke County Superintendent is responsible for what happens in his system.  Either he knew of the cheating and needs to be fired for not dealing with it, or he did not know of the cheating so he needs to be fired for incompetence. 

And Cannaday is President of one of the two Boards that can do the firing.

As the Roanoke County Public School division is working to comply with all Standards of Quality, further intervention by the Board of Education is not necessary or authorized.

“Working to comply” has a nice, bureaucratic ring to it.  Unfortunately it is content neutral as to the real issues: What, exactly, was the extent of the cheating?  Who was responsible for allowing it?  Have all those people been fired?  What steps has the Superintendent taken to assure the public that the cheating is stopped and will not be restarted?

As to further intervention (Huh?  Where was the first intervention?) not being authorized, we have the President of the Board of Education that can fire the local Superintendent uttering a bald lie.

Dr. Billy K. Cannaday, Jr.
President

Did you get that, peasant?  You’re dealing with DOCTOR Cannaday, not some uncredentialed bureaucrat. 

More to the point, DOCTOR Cannaday’s degree is in educational administration.  If DOCTOR Cannaday had paid attention while acquiring that degree, Va. Tech would have taught him that hiding behind a misstatement of the law, in preference to doing his job, is not something a competent educational administrator would do.

If I may step back from the snark for a moment: This letter is written in what Peggy Noonan calls the “horrible bureaucratic nonlanguage people in government revert to when they don’t want to be understood.”  Entirely aside from the shocking misstatement of the law and the appalling refusal to deal with a cheating scandal, the letter sends the message that our education establishment cannot (or will not) write clearly and in good English (I trust you caught the absence of the plural with the gerund in the second sentence). 

For sure, Cannaday did not draft this awful document; some bureaucrat in VDOE wrote it in the Mother Tongue of the bureaucracy.  But Cannaday signed the thing and, thus, is stained by it. 

I used to hold VDOE and VBOE in high regard.  Looks like I am a slow learner.

 

PS: I have asked VBOE for the documents that underlie this scandal.  Stay tuned.

 

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Board of Education Still Ignoring State Law

July 1, 2016

Governor Terence R. McAuliffe
Patrick Henry Building, Third Floor
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, Virginia  23219

RE: Education Board’s Ongoing Nonfeasance

Your Excellency,

I write to ask that you require the Virginia Board of Education to end its abiding neglect of its duty to enforce the mandatory attendance laws.

 

Background

Va. Const. art. V, § 7 provides: “The Governor shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

Code § 2.2-4013.D authorizes you to object to a regulation during the thirty day period following adoption.

Code § 22.1-254.A contains the compulsory school attendance provision of Virginia law:

[E]very parent, guardian, or other person in the Commonwealth having control or charge of any child who will have reached the fifth birthday on or before September 30 of any school year and who has not passed the eighteenth birthday shall, during the period of each year the public schools are in session and for the same number of days and hours per day as the public schools, send such child to a public school . . . (emphasis supplied).

Code § 22.1-98.B.1 provides: “The length of every school’s term in every school division shall be at least 180 teaching days or 990 teaching hours in any school year.” The statute sets out exceptions (e.g., severe weather); those exceptions do not authorize part day absences for any reason not available for full day absences.

In short, the law requires attendance for the full school year and the full school day.

Code § 22.1-258 requires a school division to investigate every unexcused absence and to take specified actions, culminating with a Child in Need of Services/Supervision petition or misdemeanor complaint against the parent upon a seventh absence.

Code § 22.1-269 provides:

The Board of Education shall have the authority and it shall be its duty to see that the provisions of [§§ 22.1-254 through -269.1] are properly enforced throughout the Commonwealth.

Notwithstanding this clear mandate, the Board has been remarkably uninterested in enforcing § 22.1-258.  Indeed, the Board does not even collect information that would allow it to assess whether a school division is in compliance with that statute.  In this enforcement vacuum, Richmond has been free to define “truancy” as ten unexcused absences and, instead of filing a petition for judicial action at seven absences, as § 22.1-258 requires, sending a letter after ten absences:

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In 2010, after I had pointed out that Richmond had been and was in wholesale violation of § 22.1-258, the Board proposed a truancy regulation.  Following a series of delays, the Board voted to adopt the regulation on September 27, 2012.  I sued over the glaring defects in the regulation and in the procedures for its adoption.  Butcher v. Board of Education, No. CL12005348-00 (Cir. Ct. City of Richmond, Petition for Appeal, December 14, 2012).

Belatedly recognizing its fatal procedural errors, the Board, on January 10, 2013, voted to rescind and repropose the regulation.  Disdaining my comment that the law requires full-day attendance, the Board continued to define “truancy” and “unexcused absence” to include only full-day absences:

“Truancy” means the act of accruing one or more unexcused absences.

“Unexcused absence” means an absence where (i) [either] the student misses his scheduled instructional school day in its entirety [or misses part of the scheduled instructional school day without permission from an administrator]

The Board filed the regulation with the Regulatory Town Hall on January 30, 2013 and voted to adopt it on June 23 of this year. The new regulation has not yet appeared in the Virginia Register so the thirty-day adoption period established by Code § 2.2-4013.D has not started.

 

Discussion

The Board’s records contain its justification (pdf at p.6) for enfeebling the regulation:

To avoid potential complicating of division data reporting systems and overloading of court cases required by the Code after seven unexcused absences, the proposed definition [of “unexcused absence”] has been amended to missing a full day only. . . .

Thus, the Board seeks to evade its duty and the plain intent of the General Assembly in order to simplify data reporting and (in the spirit of ultra vires but compassionate overreach) to avoid overloading the courts.

The Board’s reluctance to overload the courts tells us the Board knows that § 22.1-258 is being grossly violated.  Thus, it is clear that the Board is deliberately sabotaging the statute it is required to enforce.

As reproposed, the regulation would allow a student to attend school long enough to be present at the first roll call and then to skip out for the remainder of the day.  Not only is this perversion of the mandatory attendance requirement unlawful, our experience in Richmond shows it to be dangerously unwise.

On January 5, 2005, Phillip Hicks stabbed Justin Creech to death near the intersection of Staples Mill Road and West Broad Street.  Both Hicks and Creech were students at Thomas Jefferson High School; both had reported for school that morning and then had, as was their custom, left school.  As is usual in Richmond, the school was doing nothing to deal with Hicks’ and Creech’s truancy.

On June 7, 2012, Antonio Shands was observed by City truancy officers at the Pony Pasture during a morning truancy sweep. Shands and others fled in a vehicle. Shands was killed when that vehicle ran a stop sign and was hit by a pickup truck.

More generally, much of our juvenile crime comes from students who are truant.  Yet the Board now seeks to license truancy that is forbidden by Virginia law. Indeed, the regulation does not even provide for the collection of data concerning part-day absences.

Governor, I ask that you object to this regulation as authorized by § 2.2-4013 and demand that the Board meet its obligation to enforce the mandatory attendance laws.  If the Board then fails to promptly discharge its duty, please remove all the Board members and replace them with people who are willing to obey the law.

My appeal of the regulation still is pending under an order that allows amendment of the Petition once the Board has completed the readoption. I am not anxious to further delay this regulation but, in light of the Board’s manifest inability to act promptly, I am unwilling to forego my opportunity to demand that they do their job and do it right the first time. Accordingly, if you do not require the Board to repair this regulation I will ask the Richmond Circuit Court to do so.

With kindest regards, I am

Sincerely,

John Butcher

Copy:      Secretary Holton (education1@governor.virginia.gov)
Sen. Newman (district23@senate.virginia.gov)
Del Landes (bcottrell@house.virginia.gov)
Del. O’Bannon (DelJOBannon@house.virginia.gov)
Superintendent Staples (STEVEN.STAPLES@DOE.VIRGINIA.GOV)
President Cannaday (BOE@doe.virginia.gov)
Deputy Attorney General Bailey (CBAILEY@OAG.STATE.VA.US)