The Board of “Education” Wants to Help Richmond the Way It Has Helped Petersburg

For years, the mantra to distract attention from Richmond’s failed schools has been, “We beat Petersburg.”

On the 2018 SOL pass rates, we can say it again as to all five subjects and the five subject average: Petersburg has the worst SOL pass rates in the state.  Richmond is only second worst.

Specifically: Here are the bottom 20 (or more) divisions in each subject.  I’ve highlighted the peer jurisdictions in red and, as a courtesy to my readers there (two is more than none!), I’ve also highlighted Charles City and Lynchburg.

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Petersburg has been operating under Memoranda of Understanding (i.e., edicts of the Board of “Education”) since at least 2004.

As I have pointed out, the Board of “Education” is a paper tiger.  It has the power to sue to compel compliance with the Standards of Quality.  It has never done so.  It has, instead, persisted with a failed Memorandum of Understanding process that it knows does not work.

There is a simple explanation for this counterproductive behavior:

If it were to sue, the Board would have to tell the judge what Petersburg must do to fix the schools.  The Board cannot do this because it does not know (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48) how to fix those schools.  That is, the Board knows it would be futile to sue (and even more embarrassing than its present failure).

So now the Board has brought the same disruptive, expensive, and futile process to Richmond with, in this first year, the inevitable absence of any measurable benefit to the students.

On the evidence of fourteen years of sterile (if not destructive) State supervision of Petersburg and a fruitless year of State supervision of Richmond, RPS would be wise to tell the Board of “Education” to take its Memorandum of Understanding and go away.

Grade 3 Reading (and not)

The RT-D this morning has a piece on declining third grade reading SOL pass rates and the unpleasant implications of that for our students.

The VDOE database has numbers on the subject.  Here, to start, are the Grade 3 reading pass rate changes this year for Richmond, the state, and the individual Richmond elementary schools.

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The 5.36% drop in Richmond certainly has been inflated by institutional cheating, and the end of at least some of it. 

Last year, Carver contributed a (pretty good) 79.75 pass rate to the 74.6 state average; this year, there is no Carver score because of the cheating.  It looks like Fairfield (and perhaps some other schools) got the Word and resumed honest testing this year, resulting in the huge drop at Fairfield (and, probably, some of the smaller drops elsewhere).

We’ll have to wait another year to start to sort that out.

In the meantime, let’s look further into the historical record.  We’ll start with this year’s big gainer (Swansboro) and loser (Fairfield) along with the Richmond and state averages.

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We must hope that the improbable increase at Swansboro reflects a genuine improvement.

Next, Woodville (the fourth worst school in Virginia as measured by the 5-subject average) and Munford (Richmond’s best elementary school, #203 from the top school statewide on the 5-subject average).

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Woodville has a long way to go but the last three years set a hopeful pattern.

Next, Westover Hills, our neighborhood school, and Patrick Henry, a nearby neighbor.

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Finally, our new Superintendent’s neighborhood school, Holton, and a nearby neighbor to it, Ginter Park.

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If you’re interested in the history of some other school, email me, john {at} calaf [dot] org, and I’ll ship you the spreadsheet.

Aside:  Notice that the state average this year is 2.6 points below the old benchmark for accreditation in English, 75%.  Seeing the difficulty in improving the schools’ performance (at least as to the older cities’ performance, they admit they don’t know how (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48)), the Board of “Education” has changed the rules to make it much easer for a school to be accredited.  They can’t improve learning, so they have turned to fudging the numbers.

Petersburg: Paradigm of VBOE Incompetence

The Petersburg schools have been operating under Memoranda of Understanding (“MOUs”) of the Board of “Education” since at least 2004.

The current MOU and associated “Plan” are long on inputs but they fail to measure or demand adequate outputs.  As to the purpose of any school (learning!), there is no plan and no accountability. 

In light of this fecklessness, it cannot be surprising that the fourteen year history of Board of “Education” dealings with Petersburg is a tale of unremitting failure.

Data

I have asked Petersburg for clarification of the recent SOL data but have received no response.  So we’ll have to try to figure things out from the public record.

Note added on 8/26:  I sent the P’Burg inquiry to the wrong email address.  The estimable Leigh Ann McKelway saw the post and today sent the following:

The last year Peabody Middle was open was 2016-17. In 2017-18 we moved the middle school to the building that previously was named Vernon Johns Junior High and we renamed it Vernon Johns Middle.

Vernon Johns Junior High’s last year was 2015-16 (I think). During the 2016-17 school year, the Vernon Johns building was empty.

To start, here are the reading pass rates since the deployment of the new tests in 2013:

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The 2017 datum for A.P. Hill is missing because the school was caught cheating that year. 

Peabody Middle data are missing for 2018; Vernon Johns Junior data are missing for 2017 and ‘18; Vernon Johns Middle data start in 2018.  The current directory of Petersburg schools lists only one middle school, Johns Middle.  It looks like Peabody and Johns Junior have been merged into Johns Middle.  No telling about the 2017 data for Johns Junior.

(BTW: The first three elementary schools in this list have now been renamed to deConfederatize them; it looks like Walnut Hill got caught up in the process.  All four elementary school names in these data will be obsolete next year.)

Here are those data on a graph.

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Notice the (temporary) benefits of cheating at Hill (the red line).  And notice the bottom-of-the-barrel pass rate there once they had to test honestly.

And notice that very nearly half of the students tested at Lee, Johns Middle, and Hill failed this year.

Except for the high school in 2013, Walnut Hill in 2016 and ‘17, and Hill before it got caught, none of these data meets the 75% benchmark for English accreditation.  Even more to the point, there’s no indication here of improvement in these ninth through fourteenth years of state oversight.

The math data paint a similar picture.

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The high school enjoyed two years above the 70% accreditation benchmark; Walnut Hill managed four but is headed in the wrong direction.  All the others were, and are, mired in failure with no sign of improvement.

Indeed, more than half of the students tested at Hill, Lee, and Johns Middle flunked the tests.

As to Petersburg, the Board of “Education” has failed, miserably and at length, to discharge its duty of “general supervision of the public school system.”

Discussion

Please visit this page for a discussion of the several reasons that the MOU process is a terrible idea, both as to strategy and tactics.  Those concerns aside, the data above demonstrate that the process has been a wordy and persistent failure as to Petersburg.

The Board of “Education” can sue to compel compliance with the Standards of Quality.  They have not done so.  They have instead persisted with this failed process that they know does not work.

There is a simple explanation for all this counterproductive behavior:

If it were to sue, the Board would have to tell the judge what Petersburg must do to fix the schools.  The Board cannot do this because it does not know (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48) how to fix those schools.  That is, the Board knows it would be futile to sue (and even more embarrassing than its present failure).

So now the Board has brought the same disruptive, expensive, and futile process to Richmond with, in this first year, the inevitable absence of any measurable benefit to the students.

Forty point six million of your tax dollars at “work.”

What’s Up at TJ?

Let’s take a look at the federal graduation rates vs. the SOL pass rates for Richmond’s mainstream high schools.

I have left out the schools with selected clienteles, Community, Open, and Franklin.  Also Alternative, where the other schools dump their troublesome kids.  That leaves the five mainstream schools, Armstrong, Huguenot, Marshall, TJ, and Wythe.

CAVEAT: Throughout the following discussion, please recall that the numbers are, to an unknown extent, bogus.  For example, all these high schools enjoy SOL boosts from the scores of Maggie Walker students who do not attend any of these schools.  As well, the federal graduation rates this year have been jiggered to count most of the Modified Standard diplomas as Standard.  Moreover, the secret retesting boosts the SOLs (my estimate for the Algebra I retests in 2014 was an average of 24.6 points for the retested kids); only VDOE knows how much and they won’t tell.  Then there is “remediation recovery,” which may be another kind of retesting.  As well, these schools have dumped many of their disruptive kids on Alternative and have chased out many of the other low-performers.

Turning to the data we have: If we just consider the data fit (and not the inexcusably low pass rates and graduation rates), the plot of graduation rate vs. pass rate for the writing tests looks reasonable enough.

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We could expect the pass rate on this EOC English test, that must be  passed to graduate, to correlate with the graduation rate.  Indeed, the correlation here is excellent.

The reading data show quite another pattern.

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Here the R-squared drops to 24% – still an R of 0.5 but much reduced from the reading situation.  And here two schools are far out of line: TJ (high) and Wythe (low).

That 69% reading pass rate at TJ is not at all consistent with the 83% graduation rate.

In the other subjects (History & Social Science, Science, and Math), as with the two English subjects, at least one verified crediti.e., passed EOC SOL test – is required for a standard diploma.

Here are the data for those other subjects.

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Here we again see lower correlations, with essentially none for the History & Social Science tests.  TJ is anomalously high in all cases with Wythe and Huguenot trading places for anomalously low.

It’s easy to understand Armstrong: Low pass rates and low graduation rates.  Huguenot, Marshall, and Wythe are the middle ground, with Marshall generally outperforming the fitted lines. 

History & Social Science is the extreme case here: The student needs three standard credits (pass the course) and one verified credit (pass the course and the End of Course SOL) in Hist. & SS to get a standard diploma.  Yet TJ with a 58% EOC pass rate (better only than Armstrong) had an 83% diploma rate (best of the bunch).

The puzzle becomes more puzzling when we look at the diploma types.

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TJ is the only school of the five with more advanced than standard diplomas.  Yet the advanced diploma requires nine verified credits vs. six for the standard diploma.

Looking just at the pass rates, we see TJ leading the pack in writing, the one subject where its graduation rate fits the pattern.

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In science, TJ is in front a bit (albeit below the accreditation level); it the other subjects, especially history & SS, its pass rate is within the pack.  Yet its graduation rate is outstanding (well, outstanding by Richmond standards; still five points below the state average).

Of course, the students get four years to earn the required verified credits.  And, for the most part, our high schools have done better in the past.

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Despite being in the dark about all the retakes and adjustments, we get to wonder, especially about History & Social Science at TJ (where the pass rate never reached even the 70% accreditation level during these four years).

Here, for the record, are the four-year histories in the other four subjects.

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If our Board of “Education” were interested in transparency, we wouldn’t have to wonder whether something funny might be going on here.  And if pigs had wings . . .

Memorandum of Edict

The Board of “Education” (VBOE) met on July 27 and approved a revised version of the “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) with Richmond. 

As a reminder: Twenty-Seven of 44 Richmond public schools (61%) are not fully accredited; sixteen of those schools have been denied accreditation.  The Department of Education (VDOE) this year conducted a “Division-Level Academic Review” of the Richmond system that focused on bureaucratic effluvia and carefully avoided the fundamental question of what Richmond must do to produce students who can read, write, and reckon.  Now, rather than setting out to fix the Richmond system, VBOE has been engaged in writing the MOU.  They say it will be followed by a “plan.”

It took four years of failure for sixteen Richmond schools to be denied accreditation.  We might wonder why this protracted Review/MOU/Plan/??? process could not have been started – and completed – before so many Richmond schoolchildren had been damaged by those inadequate schools.

On the 26th, the Board’s Accountability Committee considered the MOU changes requested by Richmond.  The Committee proposed some revisions, summarized here.  We don’t have minutes yet but it appears from the video (July 27, part 1 video, starting about 1:48) that the Board on the 27th adopted the Committee’s proposed changes.

The major change was to reduce the requirement for the Board’s prior approval of “all” Richmond expenditures of state and federal funds to approval of “selected” expenditures.  The MOU does not tell us how the selection is to be made but, in any case, the State will have a putative chokehold on Richmond’s expenditures.

Aside from the title, the MOU does not pretend that it is an agreement.  Among the unchanged features: VBOE can modify the MOU at will.  As well, the MOU speaks of VBOE dominion over “processes, procedures, and strategies.” 

In short: VBOE thinks it has control of Richmond’s public schools.  The MOU is an edict.

This is Good News and Bad News. 

The Bad News:  VBOE asserts that it has taken control of the Richmond Public Schools. 

This state agency is asserting that it has day-to-day control over schools that, under the Constitution, are to be supervised by our School Board.

The Good News: VBOE asserts that it has taken control of the Richmond Public Schools. 

Richmond has demonstrated that it is incapable of properly educating its schoolchildren. Somebody needs to do something about that scandal.

Possible Good News: If the Richmond schools fail to achieve accreditation, VBOE will be responsible.

Unfortunately for that last point, VBOE has demonstrated (and admitted) that it does not know how to fix failed urban schools.  Perhaps recognizing that, they are in the process of (yet another) dilution of the standards of accreditation. 

Said otherwise:  Too many schools can’t meet the standards and VBOE doesn’t know how to fix those schools, so VBOE is gutting the standards.

To compound the misfeasance, the deadline in the MOU is eight years from now, a time when all of the Board members will have been replaced.  So this VBOE cannot be held responsible if Richmond continues to fail.  Never mind the kids who will suffer from Richmond’s malpractice in the meantime.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

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As a side note: Former VBOE President Cannaday in the Committee meeting argued that the state bureaucrat sitting ex officio on the School Board in 2025 would provide an important channel to give the Board the Straight Word in cases where the Superintendent might hesitate to so confront the Board that employs him/her.  If that is important, we can continue to wonder why it becomes so only after another eight years of failure.

Second side note: The MOU is not an administrative order authorized by law.  It does not pretend to be a contract.  It does not even recite VBOE’s authority to sue a division that fails to develop or implement a plan to meet the Standards of Quality.  It is a naked assertion of authority to meddle – authority that, under the Constitution, VBOE probably does not have.

While VBOE fiddles with this meaningless piece of paper, Richmond’s schoolchildren are subjected to the school system with the lowest reading and second-lowest math pass rates in the state last year.

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
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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.

Mr. Federal Fixit(?)

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included $3 billion for School Improvement Grants.  Of course there’s an acronym, “SIG.”

The program awarded grants to states that agreed to implement one of four intervention models in their lowest-performing schools: transformation, turnaround, restart, or closure.

We now have a report (pdf) from the Federales that evaluates the effect of those funds.  In short:

  • Overall, across all grades, we found that implementing any SIG-funded model had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.
  • When we compared student achievement gains from different models in elementary grades (2nd through 5th), we found no evidence that one model was associated with larger gains than another. For higher grades (6th through 12th), the turnaround model was associated with larger student achievement gains in math than the transformation model. However, factors other than the SIG model implemented, such as baseline differences between schools implementing different models, may explain these differences in achievement gains.

Is it any wonder, then, that our Board of “Education” does not know how to fix Richmond’s awful schools?

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.”

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.
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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.

MOU Madness – III

When the Board of Education denies accreditation to a school, it requires that the local school board enter a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

We have seen that the MOU is feckless nonsense from a sovereign entity charged to enforce a law.  In particular, the standard MOU reduces a legal requirement to an unenforceable agreement that the affected school board comply with the law it is violating.  It further maunders that VDOE and the affected division “should” comply with all applicable laws and regulations.

Today we examine the second sentence of Section I of the boilerplate MOU:

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

In fact, that link leads not to the requirements but to the VDOE Web page titled “Standards of Accreditation.”  That Web page, in turn, has a link to an unofficial copy of the Board’s regulation.  The official copy is here.

This regulation that has the force of law provides in part:

8VAC20-131-315. Action Requirements for Schools That Are Denied Accreditation.

*.*.*.

B. Any school rated Accreditation Denied in accordance with 8VAC20-131-300 shall be subject to actions prescribed by the Board of Education and affirmed through a memorandum of understanding between the Board of Education and the local school board. The local school board shall submit a corrective action plan to the Board of Education for its consideration in prescribing actions in the memorandum of understanding within 45 days of the notification of the rating. The memorandum of understanding shall be entered into no later than November 1 of the academic year in which the rating is awarded.

The local board shall submit status reports detailing implementation of actions prescribed by the memorandum of understanding to the Board of Education. The status reports shall be signed by the school principal, division superintendent, and the chair of the local school board. The school principal, division superintendent, and the chair of the local school board may be required to appear before the Board of Education to present status reports.

The memorandum of understanding may also include but not be limited to:

1. Undergoing an educational service delivery and management review. The Board of Education shall prescribe the content of such review and approve the reviewing authority retained by the school division.

2. Employing a turnaround specialist credentialed by the state to address those conditions at the school that may impede educational progress and effectiveness and academic success.

If you’ll parse this carefully, you’ll see that it is a redundant accumulation of feckless nonsense:

  • What constitutes an acceptable Plan?  Where is the list of minimum requirements?
  • What happens if VBOE rejects the Plan?  Does this lead to an endless loop of Plan submission and rejection?
  • What happens to a School Board that does not submit an acceptable Plan or any Plan at all?  That division already is violating Virginia law.
  • What happens to a School Board that does not execute the Plan? 
  • What happens if the Plan fails?

The MOU adds a layer of paperwork but does not answer these basic questions.  Neither does it create any enforceable requirements.  It is a bureaucratic excrescence. 

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