Does More Money for Schools Help Disadvantaged Students?

We earlier saw that larger expenditures per student did not correlate with better division average SOL pass rates.  The 2016 data for all students support the same conclusion.  For example, reading:


The data here are 2016 division pass rates and per student expenditures for operations.  Richmond is the gold square; from the left the red diamonds are Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk; the green diamond is Charles City; the blue diamond is Lynchburg.

Let’s drill down to see how the division scores of disabled students vary with expenditures.


Here the fitted line shows the pass rate increasing with expenditure (0.7% per $1,000) but the 1.8% R-squared is only a hint at a correlation.

Let’s produce the same plot for the economically disadvantaged students and students with limited English proficiency.



The LEP analysis is complicated by the several divisions (Charles City among them) with fewer then ten LEP students, which leaves their data concealed from us by VDOE’s suppression rules.  Those divisions are absent from this graph.

Last, we come to those students who are not disabled, ED. or LEP, and not members of the much smaller groups not portrayed above, migrant or homeless.  Those students perform quite well, for the most part.


The nearest approach to a correlation here is the 1.8% R-squared for the disabled group.  This lack of correlation tells us that, absent some unrecognized and perverse other factor, division average performance for each of these groups is unrelated to the division expenditure per student.

The math data tell much the same story.






Here the R-squared rises to 5% for the LEP group and 2% for the ED but the correlation, such as it is, is negative:  More money associated with worse performance.

Data are posted here.

And here in Richmond:  As we saw earlier, by each measure RPS is spending a lot of money and getting poor results.

2016 Richmond Teacher Pay

Table 19 is up in the Superintendent’s Annual Report with the 2016 salary averages.

The statewide distribution graphs, below, show the count of divisions paying each salary, in $1,000 increments.  The Richmond average salary is marked in yellow on each graph; the state average is blue.

For elementary principals, Richmond’s $90,531 average was 0.40 standard deviation above the division average of $84,581. 


(To read the graph, look across the bottom for average salary, rounded to the nearest $1,000 and up and down for number of schools.  Thus, one school paid $44,000.  Six schools, one of which was Richmond, paid $91,000.  Four schools paid the state average, $85,000.)

For secondary principals, Richmond’s $91,266 average was 0.10 standard deviation below the division average of $93,129.


For Elementary Assistant Principals, Richmond’s $69,786 average was 0.17 standard deviation above the division average of 67,813.


For secondary Assistant Principals, Richmond’s $71,342 average was 0.20 standard deviation below the division average of 73,734.


For elementary teachers, Richmond’s $49,100 average was 0.19 standard deviation above the division average of $47,816.


For secondary teachers, Richmond’s $51,201 average was 0.08 standard deviation above the division average of $50,563.


Looks like we’re underpaying the leaders in our secondary schools.

Some details from the VDOE spreadsheet:

The average annual salaries for elementary and secondary teachers include supplemental salaries and wages (expenditure object 1620) as reported on the Annual School Report.

Teaching positions include classroom teachers, guidance counselors, librarians and technology instructors.

Jointly-operated school divisions (Fairfax City and Fairfax County; Emporia and Greensville County; and Williamsburg and James City County) report positions and average salaries on the annual school report of the fiscal agent division only. Fairfax County, Greensville County and Williamsburg are the fiscal agent divisions.

And a further note: The “division averages” reported above are the averages of the division averages in the VDOE spreadsheet.  VDOE reports the statewide averages; those generally are larger than the division averages, doubtless propelled by the large and very expensive NoVa divisions.

Underperformance by Group

We have seen that Richmond’s underperformance reaches the disabled, economically disadvantaged, and limited English proficiency subgroups.  The VDOE Web site provides data that allow a more fine-grained look at that problem.

To start, here is the distribution of 2016 SOL pass rates by division on the reading tests.  Here, and below, I’ve yellowed the bar at Richmond’s pass rate.


The disabled population shows a much different distribution, with Richmond again underperforming, but not so dramatically.


The economically disadvantaged group also shows lowered overall performance but not so much as the disabled group.  Richmond does not shine.


Next, the LEP group.


Note: Twenty-nine divisions have fewer than ten LEP students taking the reading tests.  VDOE does not report pass rates in those cases so those divisions are not included in this graph; similarly, twenty-six divisions are not reported in the LEP math graph below.  VDOE reports seven divisions with LEP averages of zero on both the reading and math tests; those also do not show on the graphs.

Finally, we have the students who are not in any VDOE group: Not disabled, not ED, not LEP, and not in the very small migrant and homeless groups not analyzed above.  Those no-group students test well on average.


But even this high-performing group performs badly in Richmond.   

(This despite RPS taking credit for the Maggie Walker students who do not attend any Richmond Public School.)

The math data paint much the same picture.






There you have it:  On average, Richmond can’t teach reading or math to any disadvantaged group or even to the high-performing, not-disadvantaged group.

But notice that Carver Elementary School, with a student population drawn from a part of the inner city that includes an RRHA project, breaks the pattern by turning in outstanding and division-leading results.

It’s not the students that are the problem here, folks.  It’s the schools.

Moreover, we get to wonder whether Richmond’s relatively better scores from its disabled population suggest that Richmond’s past abuse of its students to cheat on the SOLs continues in some measure.

More on Bang per Buck

To follow up on the previous post, I’ve calculated a five-subject bang/buck value for each division: (pass rate)*100,000/(expenditure per student). 


The green bar is West Point; the red bars from the left are Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk; the blue is Lynchburg (thanks, James); and the yellow is Richmond.

From those data, here are the top ten, bottom ten, average, and selected division values.


The ten at the bottom are the eight Big Spenders


and the two low scorers, Petersburg and Richmond.

Teaching, Not Treasure

Jim Weigand writes to say that Table 15 is up for the 2016 school year.

That table provides, inter alia, the divisions’ expenditures for operations per student.

The footnotes to the Table tell us:

Operations include regular day school, school food services, summer school, adult education, and other education, but do not include pre-kindergarten, non-regular day school programs, non-local education agency (LEA) programs, debt service, or capital outlay additions. Non-LEA programs include expenditures made by a school division for state-operated education programs (in hospitals, clinics, and detention homes) that are located within the school division and reimbursed with state funds.

State revenues for regional Alternative Education programs and Academic Governor’s Schools are allocated to divisions according to participation, rather than as paid to the fiscal agents for these programs.

The Average Daily Membership (ADM) calculated at the end of the school year includes the ADM of pupils served in the school division and the ADM of resident pupils for whom tuition is paid to another school division, regional special education program, or private school. It excludes Head Start, pre-kindergarten, junior kindergarten students, and students for whom the division receives tuition payments from another division or entity (i.e., out-of-state school division, Comprehensive Services Act, Interstate Compact Agreement).

At the same time, the helpful front end to the SOL database gives us the division average pass rates.

Uniting these two datasets gives a Bang per Buck picture. 

Let’s start with the reading data.


Richmond is the gold square.  The red diamonds are, from the left, the peer cities, Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk.  The outperforming division, there at 94% and only $11,893, is West Point.  The state averages are $11,745 and 77%.

The Big Spenders are:


Excel is glad to provide a linear fit to the data and to announce that there is no correlation between the division pass rate and the expenditure per student.

Here are the graphs for the other subjects and the five subject average.  Notice that the scale of the ordinate changes from graph to graph.






Note: In a couple of cases, the Newport News point was hiding behind the datum for another division; in those cases I colored the covering point.

Looking at just the four peer cities (Hampton, N.News, and Norfolk in red from the left and Richmond in yellow) and the state average (in blue), we get:







Two obvious conclusions:

  • By division, more money does not correlate with better SOL performance.
  • Richmond is spending a lot and teaching very little.


I attempted to post the data table; the software choked (sigh!).  If you’d like a copy, email john [at] crankytaxpayer [dot] org.

Truancy Postscript

One last look at the truancy data:

Last year’s 6-absence conference data from RPS for the elementary and middle schools don’t look to be useful; they contain too many reports that are obviously bogus.  The high school numbers, in contrast, are so large that they might even be accurate.

So, let’s look for a relationship between the high schools’ SOL performance and those conference numbers. 

Below, I’ve plotted the pass rates vs. the number of conferences expressed as a percentage of the fall enrollment (“ADM” or “Average Daily Membership”).  I’ve omitted the selective schools, Community, Franklin, and Open.


It’s reasonable to expect the SOL performance to decrease with increasing unexcused absences and both datasets meet that expectation.  Indeed, the correlation is nontrivial for the math tests and fairly robust for the reading.

Of course, correlation does not imply causation.  But these data (1) make sense, and (2) suggest that the 6-absence conference counts from these schools might be believable.

Here are the data:


One further inference:  Armstrong has only one attendance officer assigned to it and reports 602 conferences, i.e., 3.34 for each of the 180 days in a nominal school year.  If that attendance officer actually scheduled 602 conferences and had the parents and student show up for some number of them, and also prepared at least 602 of the prerequisite 5-absence attendance plans, we’ll have to wonder about the level of preparation.  As well, it it makes sense that he wouldn’t have had time to take more than a few of the 7-absence cases to court.

But, then, the shortage of truancy officers, and the decreasing truancy budget, make it clear that Richmond’s gross violations of the truancy statute are deliberate.

That’s about as far as these data can take us.  It surely would be fine if RPS were more forthcoming (and if VBOE were actually doing its job of enforcing the attendance laws).


Notes for the interested reader:

  • Jim Bacon points out the UVa study that reports a 19.7% chronic absenteeism rate (defined in the report as ≥ 10% of school days) in Richmond in 2015.  Their data show the rate decreasing from first to fifth grade and then rising steeply through the later grades.  Their data also show chronically absent students underperforming their (chronically present?) peers considerably on the SOLs.
  • A VDOE Web page headlines the requirements of the new truancy regulation adopted by VBOE last June, albeit they won’t collect the (badly needed) data until next year.

RPS Shooting Itself in the Truancy Foot

The ever helpful Ms. Lewis of RPS sent me the list of attendance officers and their assignments from 2016.

It turns out RPS had only eighteen of them to serve 47 schools and to deal with the 7,288 cases that state law required be taken to court.

For a more specific look at the problem, let’s look at the top of the list:


The assignments appear to be designed to spread the worst parts of the load.  In each case here, for example, the attendance officer had one easier assignment and one absolute horror.  Thus, Ms. Ponton had Fairfield Court, which reported 6-absence conferences for 21%  of its students last year, and Woodville, which reported 43%.  Mr. Barnes, poor soul, had Bellevue, with too few to report, and Armstrong, with 72% (!).

These eighteen attendance officers managed to take only 226 cases to court (of the 7,288 required by law).  That’s only 12.6 cases per attendance officer (of the 405 required). 

But  it could well be those folks were focused on the 5-absence attendance plans and 6-absence conferences that are prerequisite to the 7-absence court filing.  RPS data show 10,381 students with five unexcused absences that year, which comes to 577 plans required per attendance officer, and 8,502 students with six absences, which requires 472 conferences per officer. 

On these data, we can’t tell what kind of job these attendance officers are doing.  We can tell, however, that that there are far too few of them.

The 2017 budget (pdf)  (the latest on the RPS Web page) exudes indifference to the truancy problem and to the state law on the subject.  Here, from that document, are three years’ allocations for “attendance services,” in millions of dollars:


Notice the decrease after 2016’s lawless debacle, outlined above and earlier.

For 2017, the budget shows 43 employees in the attendance services category; the attendance officers were to be paid $17.11 per hour. 

The statute provides that “[w]here no attendance officer is appointed by the school board, the division superintendent or his designee shall act as attendance officer.”  I read that to say that the Superintendent is individually responsible for Richmond’s gross violations of the truancy law.

Perhaps RPS could spend some of the $27 million they were wasting in the instructional program in 2015 to hire many more attendance officers.

Rampant, Lawless Truancy

The always helpful Clerk of the School Board, Angela Lewis, sent me a spreadsheet with the number of unexcused absences for each of 26,067 students in 2016.

5,166 of those students had no unexcused absences.  After that, the distribution looks like this:


The Big Loser here is the student with 143 unexcused absences.  (The runner-up had only 136).  That 143 days is 79% of a nominal 180 day school year.

If we truncate the axes to get a better look at the larger numbers, we get this:


And a further cut gives this:


Here is a summary of those and some other counts:


All told, the spreadsheet shows 182,100 unexcused absences, an average of 6.99 per student.

That 6.99 average rounds to seven, which is a magic number:  Va. Code § 22.1-258 requires that the Superintendent (or one of his anointed “Attendance Officers”) create an attendance plan after the fifth such absence, schedule a conference with the parents after the sixth, and go to court to either prosecute the parents or file a CHINS petition after the seventh.

RPS, responding to an earlier information request, reported 19,742 5-absence plans in ‘16.  I have no way to reconcile that number with the 10,381 datum from this spreadsheet, albeit they say their count included some (looks like many) “duplicated students.”  In any case, both numbers are obscenely large.

RPS also reported 4008 ten (or more) absence truancies in ‘16, which is a closer match to the 5,066 from their spreadsheet.  Either number, of course, is inexcusably large.

Here is the earlier summary of their data, insofar as I was able to obtain them:

On the subject, of “inexcusable,” they report 201 prosecutions and 25 CHINS petitions in 2016, for a total of 226, which is 3.1% of the 7,288 required by state law.

In his State of the Schools address earlier this week, our Superintendent mentioned the out of school suspensions that “contribute[] to a higher rate of chronic absenteeism.”  He also mentioned the “social issues that stem from the community” and lead to, inter alia, chronic absenteeism.  Nowhere in that litany of excuses did he mention the state law on the subject of “chronic absenteeism” or Richmond’s gross and ongoing violations of that law.

Joining RPS in this noisome swamp of lawlessness is the State Board of “Education,” which is required by law to enforce § 22.1-258.  That Board has neither fired the Richmond Superintendent nor sued the Richmond School Board.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

State of the (Bogus) Excuses

Our Superintendent gave his third annual State of the Schools speech the other night.  He again trotted out the old excuses: poor kids (the euphemism is “Economically Disadvantaged), handicapped kids (“Special Needs” or “Exceptional Education”), and immigrants (“Limited English Proficiency” or “English as a Second Language”).

Our challenges include poverty, neighborhood crime that spills over into our schools, language barriers and limited resources to deal with very special circumstances, like the fact that:

1) A large percentage of students ages 0-17 live in poverty,
2) More than 3 out of 4 students qualify for free/reduced lunch,
3) 19% or put another way, over 4000 students receiving special education services, and
4) The growing ESL population, which has risen from 5% in the early 2000s to approximately 12% today.

For sure, our overall performance has been, and remains, awful.  Here it is in terms of reading and math SOL pass rates, along with those of Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk.



Next, let’s look at the “over 4,000 students receiving special education services,” as the Super. put it.



Here we see our disabled students performing at about the same (dismal) level as their peers in the peer cities in reading but underperforming in math.  And falling farther behind.

Next, the performance of the “Economically Disadvantaged” students.



The problem there is not the large population of ED students, it’s Richmond’s inability to teach those students (with whom our peers are doing a much better job).

Finally, the non-English speaking students.



Again, we see Richmond underperforming and, especially as to the reading tests, losing ground vis-à-vis the peer cities.

In every respect except reading by disabled students, Richmond’s reading and math pass rates are being dragged down, not by the large or growing populations of challenging students but by Richmond’s failure (worsening in some cases) to educate those students.

PS: Thanks to the estimable Carol Wolf for getting a copy of the speech.  The text has not (yet?) been posted to the RPS Web site.

Truancy by School

The Freedom of Information Act is a wonderful thing.  For example, it’s beginning to pry loose some of the data that underlie Richmond’s appalling truancy rate.

Let’s start with the numbers of six-absence conferences (required by Va. Code § 22.1-258) by school for 2016.

Note: The statute also requires an attendance plan after the fifth absence and either a prosecution of the parents or a CHINS petition after the seventh, but RPS doesn’t keep records of those, they say.


  • These are RPS counts.  I have no way to verify the accuracy of these numbers.
  • RPS withheld the data in a number of cases, presumably following the VDOE practice of suppressing the information when fewer than ten students fall into a category.  In the graphs below, I’ve reported those cases as “5” but you should understand that the actual number in each case could be anywhere from one to nine.
  • Richmond’s relationship with § 22.1-258 has been more marked by violation of the statute than by compliance.  In line with that, many of these data (especially, most of the 5’s) are obviously bogus.

First the elementary schools.


I could believe the Broad Rock and Woodville numbers.  Perhaps Munford (Remember, the number there could be anything from 1 to 9).  Many of the others, no.

These schools come in different sizes so even the believable data need to be read in light of the enrollments.  Here, then, are the same numbers (with the 5’s omitted), expressed as percentages of the Fall enrollments.


You may have thought that our truancy problem mostly started in middle school.  I know I did.  Even if we overlook the gross statutory violations implied in these data, it’s clear that I was wrong.

Turning to those middle schools, the people at AP Hill and, probably, Brown have to be violating § 22.1-258 wholesale:


We have enough data here to look at the variation by grade for the four schools that might actually be trying to obey the law.


These data won’t tell us whether the folks at Boushall have a more serious truancy problem or whether they’re doing a better job of meeting the statutory mandate.  In any case, and assuming for a moment that these remaining numbers are somewhere near valid, the best rate of six absence (or more) truancies is the 18% in the 7th grade at Henderson and the worst is the 51% rate in the 8th grade at Boushall.

We also have high schools.


I’m almost ready to believe those numbers.  Here they are as percentages by grade (Open and Community numbers are suppressed for some grades so I’ve left both of those schools off).


You read that correctly: The twelfth grade rates range from 50% at Huguenot to 72% at Armstrong.


I’m waiting on some further data that may give a measure of truancies in excess of six days.  The list I now have is a 705 page pdf that cannot be read into the computer.  A quick look at <10% of that list shows half a dozen kids with more than 100 unexcused absences(!!), with the “leader” at 117.  

In a school year with the nominal 180 days, 117 days is 65% of the of the year. 

The statute required that RPS haul the kid and/or the parents to court at the seventh absence.  That leaves 110 truancy days unaccounted for.  Either the school ignored the statute in that case or our courts are as feckless as our schools.  Or both.

The totals at the end of page 705 of the list give an average of 6.99 unexcused absences per student, citywide.

Stay tuned . . .