Priority for Wasting Money

We have seen that Richmond has 36% of the “Priority Schools” in the state.  Those schools “must engage a state-approved turnaround partner to help implement a school-improvement model meeting state and federal requirements.”

You can stop right there and expect this to be a boondoggle.  Sort through all that jargon (“turnaround partner,” “help implement,” “school-improvement model,” “meet[] state and federal requirements”)  and you won’t find a word about helping the kids learn better.

To take a look at the results of this designation and process, I’ve pulled the pass rates by subject area for the ten schools in Richmond that have been in Priority status for two years or more.

Here, for a start, are the results for Richmond Alternative, which has been in Priority status since 2013.

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Whatever is going on there (and it can’t be good), Priority status doesn’t look to have helped any.

The only high school in Priority status, John Marshall, has been there since 2013.  Here, for a start, are the Marshall reading pass rate by year and the average of the mainstream high schools.

Note: The “High Schools” average here excludes the selective high schools Open and Community.  Also excluded is Franklin Military, which is selective and which includes middle school grades.  Also note that the high school pass rates are inflated to some extent by inclusion of the Maggie Walker students that live in the relevant districts, albeit those students do not attend these high schools.

BTW: The nominal cut levels for accreditation in reading and writing are 75%; for all the others, 70%.

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The green points indicate the years of Priority status.  It does not seem to have helped any here.

Next, writing, where Priority status looks to have been more associated with failure than success.

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History & Social Science data: More of the same, after an encouraging start.

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Mathematics, ditto, again after a nice start.

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And last, science, where the Priority process again looks to have done more harm than good, dropping Marshall below the accreditation cut line.

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After those pictures of failure, the middle schools at least show some mixed outcomes.  First reading.

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The “Middle Schools” numbers are Richmond averages with Franklin Military excluded.  Again, the green points indicate Priority status: Henderson and King since 2013, Binford since 2014.

The middle school average is an appalling 51% this year but Binford has improved to a merely bad 64%, and Henderson to an unconscionable, 39%.  King, in contrast, has declined slightly to 24%.  It’s hard to find a adjective ugly enough to describe King’s condition.

As bad as these numbers are, at least we see some progress.  The writing scores, however, are uniformly appalling.

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In contrast, history & social science data show a middle school average at the border of accreditation, with Binford improving nicely, Henderson improving overall.  MLK again languishes in unspeakable failure.

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The math scores again are disasters, albeit Binford again shows improvement.  Henderson improves a little and King again declines, with both schools far into Principal firing territory.

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Finally, science.  Binford again shines, here approaching accreditation level.  Henderson again shows some improvement and King again is a disaster.

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Last, the elementary schools.  The “Elem. Schools” data are averages of Richmond elementary schools.

On the reading tests, Ginter Park and Reid show some nice progress; Woodville and Oak Grove hint at progress; Blackwell sags. 

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Note that all of these performances are subpar, with Blackwell, Oak Grove, and Woodville all more than 25% below the accreditation cut line and Reid nearly that far down.

The writing data are a much happier picture, with Ginter Park, Oak Grove, Reid, and Woodville all outpacing the average and with GP, Oak Grove, and Reid now within accreditation territory.

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Note that the data end in 2015, when the test apparently was dropped.

In contrast, the history & social science scores are flat, with Ginter Park and Woodville declining.  All are below the Richmond average, albeit Blackwell, Ginter Park, and Oak Grove are very close to the 70% accreditation level.

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In math, Ginter Park and, especially, Reid showed nice gains; Woodville hinted at progress but remained in the dismal basement; Oak Grove showed early improvement; Blackwell rose and then sank farther.  Ginter Park has been well within the accreditation range for two years.

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In science, we again see good numbers from Ginter Park; Reid shows big gains; Oak Grove gains after a drop; Woodville drops and remains in the basement; and Blackwell again declines.  Only Ginter Park is above the accreditation cut level.

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What can we say in summary?

  • Priority Status has been a waste of money and effort at Alternative and Marshall.
  • In the middle schools, Binford has been a win; Henderson, a wash; King, a dismal failure.  .500 would be an exceptional batting average in the National League; here it is an earmark of failure and bureaucratic wheelspinning.
  • Among the elementary schools,
    • Blackwell was flat or down slightly, except for a gain in writing;
    • Reid was up nicely except flat in history & social science;
    • Ginter Park was up nicely except slightly down in history & social science;
    • Oak Grove was up in writing, flat elsewhere; and
    • Woodville was up in writing, down in history & social science and in science, with hints of gain in reading and math.

Is Priority Status a success? In places.

Is it a failure? In places.

Has it been worth the money and fanfare?  Probably not. 

If there is a way to fix our failing schools, especially the middle schools, VDOE either doesn’t know it or hasn’t deployed it.