(Would be) Theft from Motor Vehicle

Yesterday afternoon Ms. Penelope looked out the window and saw a young fellow walking up Riverside Drive trying the driver’s side doors of the parked vehicles (warm day; lots of river visitors).  When she and I got out the front door, we saw the fellow with the door of a car open, right in front of our mailbox.

Never mind that some thoughtless fool parked so Mr. Worsham would have to get around the car to deliver our mail.  That thoughtless fool left his car unlocked, helping to chum for criminals in our quiet neighborhood.  Indeed, car breakins (or, more often, theft from unlocked cars) continues the be the #1 crime in our block.

The would-be thief closed the door and went on down the block when he saw us watching him.  Then he worked his way back toward 42d St., got into a shiny, black car, and drove away.  He was gone when the cops got here.

For what it’s worth: thin, tan knit cap over ears, wife-beater shirt, orange underwear showing where the belt was half way down his butt.

There’s not much we can do about the fools who park here and leave stuff in their unlocked vehicles.  But, as always, put your stuff in the trunk or in the house and lock your cars so you won’t contribute to, and suffer from, this problem.

Blarney à la Bedden, II

The Times-Dispatch yesterday reported on the Superintendent’s State of the Schools speech.

Bedden returned to the old excuses for Richmond’s awful performance: poverty, handicapped students, and students whose native language is not English.  I commented earlier on those bogus arguments: In short, those populations in Richmond are underperforming the state averages for the same populations so we should be looking to inferior instruction, not the students, to explain our lousy scores.

Much of the speech seems to have been devoted to explaining the needs of RPS for more money.  Crucially absent was any discussion of what RPS is doing to reduce the $50 million of excess spending that does not seem to be helping our students.

The RT-D also quoted the Superintendent for five specific statements, none of which withstands close examination.


10 out of 28 of elementary schools met the state’s standards for full accreditation; up from 43 percent last year.

Just a week ago, VDOE updated its accreditation data.   Their spreadsheet shows eleven of twenty-seven Richmond elementary schools to be fully accredited if one counts Richmond Career Education and Employment as an elementary school; if we notice that the school is oriented to “employment for Richmond students ages 14-21” and do not count it as an elementary school, the fully accredited count is ten of twenty-six, not twenty-eight.


In any case, ten of twenty-eight is 36% and ten of twenty-six is 38% and eleven of twenty-seven is 41%, none of which is greater than 43%. 


Five out of seven middle schools are partially accredited

Franklin Military, which has both middle and high school classes, is fully accredited.  Hill is “Partially Accredited Improving School – Pass Rate,” i.e., it is not accredited and “[does] not qualify for a rating of Partially Accredited . . . but [is] making acceptable progress toward full accreditation.”  Binford, Henderson, Brown, and Boushall all are “Partially Accredited” only insofar as they are being reconstituted after being denied accreditation.  Elkhardt-Thompson is “new” and gets a pass, erasing the “Denied” ranking for Thompson last year.


The Superintendent gets a “True But Vastly Misleading” rating on this statement, whether we read it as “five of seven” or “five of eight.”

Six out of eight of the comprehensive and specialty high schools met the state’s standards for full accreditation, up from 37 percent last year.

Actually it was 29% last year, 20% if you count Franklin.


This year, it indeed is six of eight (if you count Franklin).



28 out of 45 schools posted gains in English scores for Standards of Learning tests, and 9 schools demonstrated double-digit gains. 

There are two English SOL test classes, Reading and Writing, but a single score for accreditation purposes.  Since the Super speaks of “English” scores, let’s look at the accreditation scores.

Thompson and Elkhardt had awful English scores last year (thirty-eight and forty-two, respectively) but the combined school has no English score reported this year.  That leaves forty-three scores reported, not forty-five.  Of those, twenty-four, not twenty-eight, improved, seven, not nine, by double digits; eighteen schools declined; and one remained unchanged.  


Note that these accreditation scores have been “adjusted” in many  cases to depart significantly from the actual pass rates.


33 out of 45 schools posted gains in math SOLs.

As to math, it’s twenty-eight up, not thirty-three, with twelve by double digits; twelve down; and three with no change.


Just in case the Super is speaking of actual SOL math pass rates, the results are:


That’s thirty-two up, one the same, and twelve down.

Overall, those score increases did not move Richmond from its second-from-lowest place in the state for reading pass rate and improved our math pass rate from fifth worst to sixth.  That’s not much to brag about.



In light of all this, I’d make four suggestions to the Superintendent:

  1. Stop blaming the kids for the awful instruction in your schools;
  2. Recheck the numbers your staff give you;
  3. Try telling the whole truth – good and bad — when you are bragging on your performance; and
  4. Spend more effort improving instruction and finding out where RPS is wasting the money it has (and talking about these!), and spend less time kvetching about the amount of money in the Mayor’s budget.

The estimable Carol Wolf makes two further suggestions:

  1. Take some credit for cleaning your administrative house, making the budget more transparent, and the money you have saved; and
  2. Think about other metrics, e.g., scholarships earned by seniors, student and staff accomplishments that don’t fit into the bureaucratic categories, Franklin students who have served with distinction in the military..

Dollars But Not Scholars, 2015

Jim Weigand emails to say that VDOE has just reported the 2015 excess Required Local Effort (RLE).  The RLE is the local expenditure required by the Standards of Quality

The 2014 data are here.

I have juxtaposed the excess local effort, i.e., the expenditure above the requirement expressed as a percentage of the RLE, with the SOL pass rates

Notes: There are no RLE data for Lee County.  VDOE reports RLE data separately for Greensville County and Emporia and for both James City County and Williamsburg, but SOLs for the combined systems; I have omitted those data.  VDOE also reports RLE data separately for Fairfax County and City but SOLs for the combined system; because the county is so much larger, I have used the county RLE datum.

With those caveats, here are the reading data.


Richmond is the gold square.

The least squares fit suggests that doubling the RLE is associated with a 2.4% increase in the pass rate but the R2 tells us that the pass rates and excess RLEs are essentially uncorrelated.

The math data present essentially the same picture.


The high price, high score jurisdiction is West Point.  The second highest price, not quite as well scoring, jurisdiction is Falls Church.

SAT Update

RPS has just posted the 2015 SAT data.  Here are the reading scores by school back to 2010, along with the division averages and the Virginia averages.


And here are the math scores.


I’ve included the available data points for Maggie Walker (the 2010 data are from an RPS post; 2014, from Jeff McGee at MLW); of course, MLW is not a Richmond public school, albeit VDOE reports the SOL scores of MLW students at the high schools (that those students do not attend) in those students home districts.

To provide some context, here are the 2014 (presumably; they were posted on 12/20/14) 25th and 75th percentile scores of the students admitted to Virginia public colleges, along with the 2014 Virginia and Richmond averages. 



Here is (part of) what the Web page has to say about what the percentiles mean:

Understanding these numbers is important when you plan how many colleges to apply to, and when you figure out which schools are a reach, a match, or a safety. If your scores are below the 25th percentile numbers, you should consider the school a reach. Note that this does not mean you won’t get in — remember that 25% of students who enroll have a score that is at or below that lower number.

For sure, averages v. percentiles is an apples and pomegranates comparison.  That said, the Virginia reading average is between to the 25th percentiles at VMI and Christopher Newport; Richmond is 95 points lower than that state average; for math, the Virginia average is between the 25th percentiles at VCU and VMI while Richmond is 102 points lower.

Where Have All the Data Gone?

Is Richmond Hiding Its Egregious Truancy Problem?

Richmond has a longstanding and ugly problem with truancy.



Virginia law is perfectly clear as to what Richmond must do about truancy: Schools are required to notify the parents of any unexcused absence.  After the fifth such absence, “[t]he school principal or his designee or the attendance officer, the pupil, and the pupil’s parent shall jointly develop a plan to resolve the pupil’s nonattendance.  Such plan shall include documentation of the reasons for the pupil’s nonattendance.”  After a further (sixth) absence, the school must schedule an attendance conference with the parents.  After a further (seventh) absence, the school division must either prosecute the parents or file a Child in Need of Services/Supervision petition.

For years, Richmond largely ignored these requirements.  Indeed, Richmond only counted ten-absence truancies (three beyond the required filing of a court action) and publicly stated that, upon the tenth absence, it sent a letter to the parents. 

Following some publicity regarding its lawless behavior, Richmond began to schedule more of the required conferences but the number of court actions remained pitifully (and unlawfully) small.


Note those numbers, please: In 2014, Richmond was required by law to file somewhere between 2,254 and 3,864 court actions to deal with truant students; they filed only 291 (13% of 2,254, <13% of the required number).

VDOE reports that Richmond held 6,946 conferences (!) in 2015.

On Feb. 24, I emailed our Superintendent and my district School Board member to inquire about the disappearance of the SAT and dropout data from the RPS Web site.  They have not favored me with a reply.  Today I noticed that the truancy data also are missing in action.  Looks like it’s time for a FOIA demand.


P.S.: To its credit, Richmond has at least published some truancy data.  The State Board of Education deliberately abides by its failure to even collect data by which it might perform its statutory duty to “see that the [mandatory attendance laws] are properly enforced throughout the Commonwealth.”

Where Have All the Students Gone?

Following up on the Binford post and the graph there showing Richmond’s enrollment pattern: Here are the raw enrollment counts for the State and Richmond for the fall of 2015.


Both curves show the “ninth grade bump” that the federales attribute particularly to students who have underperformed in the lower grades.  ( Sadly, the feds’ prescription is to improve ninth grade instruction, after the damage has been done, rather than avoid the damage by improving instruction in the lower grades.)

In order to allow a direct comparison of the two curves, l’ve normalized the numbers to the ninth grade enrollments.


Here we see that Richmond suffers an exaggerated ninth grade bump (i.e., failure rate in the ninth grade), almost certainly reflecting inferior preparation in our middle schools.  The falloff beginning in the tenth grade reflects Richmond’s appalling dropout rate

To the point here, Richmond’s enrollment drops throughout the elementary grades, and the drop continues through middle school.  We can measure the magnitudes by looking at enrollment change by grade.


The State enrollment in the sixth grade is nearly unchanged from the first grade while Richmond is down by twenty-seven percent.  As of the eighth grade, the Statewide numbers are down by 1.2%, Richmond by 35.9%.

Perhaps some of those Richmond students dropped out; I’ll suggest that a lot more escaped to the Counties.  In either case, the decrease is an indictment of our schools, particularly the middle schools.

If you think, as I do, that these data reflect badly on the Richmond schools (or even if you don’t), please see this report of the 2014 valedictorian at John Marshall who said she was a “math genius” in high school but could earn only a B and a C in her math courses at JMU.

Binford (and Other Middle Schools): Big Bucks, Taxpayer Schmucks

We have seen that, among the Richmond middle schools, tiny Binford is costing the taxpayers an inordinate amount of money per student.


Yet, looking at the 2017 budget, the Binford expenditures by category appear to be in line with the other middle schools.


As we would expect, the major expense is personnel costs; salaries are 55% at Binford, 57% as the middle school average.  If we expand the abscissa, we don’t see anything unusual in the lesser categories either.


As best I can discover, neither RPS nor VDOE provides data on faculty size by school.  But, since the budget is dominated by personnel costs (> 75% of the total), it is clear that Binford must have an inordinate number of teachers and administrators.  Based on total budget, it looks like about a 50% excess(!), compared to the other Richmond middle schools.  

The 2015 SOL pass rates, when combined with the budget data, give a measure of the productivity of that excess staff (Note: Elkhardt/Thompson not included here).


Given that none of the Richmond middle schools is producing an acceptable pass rate,



the bang per buck analysis tells that Binford is battling with Henderson and King for the most expensive awful performance, but it is King, our worst-performing middle school, that is providing the least return on our tax dollars.


For sure, more money does NOT produce better performance, either in Richmond or statewide.



It would be refreshing, for a change, to hear our School Board and Superintendent talk about the real issues – poor teaching, lousy leadership – instead of making excuses and whining about money.  But it seems that, in Richmond, “educational leadership” is just another adynaton.

– – – – –

Note: The ineffable Carol Wolf reminds me to show why the interest in middle schools.  It’s because the Richmond middle schools are terrible, even by Richmond standards:


One result of that is the astronomical rate at which elementary school students leave the Richmond system and unprepared high school students drop out.


Bail for the Bad Guys?

We’ve been spoiled by having Judge Gregory Rupe in the Manchester General District Court.  He was scrupulously fair but he was Big Trouble for anybody who made trouble here on the Gracious Southside.

A few years ago Judge Rupe died and went to heaven moved up to Circuit Court.  These days his old customers are being served by the newly-appointed David Hicks.

Hicks served three terms as Richmond’s Commonwealth’s Attorney before becoming a senior bureaucrat in Mayor Jones’ administration.  Notwithstanding his law enforcement background, I’m hearing grumblings that he is turning loose — especially by granting bail to — people that should be in jail.

I thought I’d go see for myself.  So today, Louise McQueen and I sat through Judge Hicks’ morning docket.

This is General District Court so the docket is huge.  Much of it, however, is short matters such as setting trial dates or appointing counsel.  There were four cases of interest.

Steal That Plywood

According to the witness, Mr. X (didn’t catch the name; it’s hard to hear in there; see below) and another person stopped their pickup in the alley at 1:57 AM, looked around, and loaded up the plywood that was stacked in the back yard of the witness’ neighbor. 

The purpose of this preliminary hearing was to determine whether there was probable cause to send the case to the grand jury.  Judge Hicks dismissed the case because there was no evidence that Mr. X (or the other person in the truck) did not own or otherwise have a right to to plywood.  That strikes me as strange on two counts:

  • Nobody stops in the alley, looks about, and picks up his own plywood at 01:57; and
  • The standard of proof here is “some evidence to support a charge,” not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. 

Absent the finding of probable cause, the Commonwealth said they will indict, so Mr. X will get his case heard by the grand jury anyhow. 

No harm, no foul.

Back to the Drug Market

Mr. Jackson was picked up walking away from a rental vehicle with the keys; he was not the renter.  There were sixteen packages of heroin and several rocks of crack in the car.  His record includes two counts of distribution, one of contempt, one of possession w intent.  The defense argued that one of those was as a juvenile; to me that just argues that he broke bad young.  He has no history of violent crime.

This guy is a dealer.  He started young and this time he got caught with his inventory.  Yet Judge Hicks turned him loose on a mere $5,000 bond.  I don’t know what kind of pressure our full jail is putting on the judges; unless it is intense, I say: Leave this guy in the slammer where it will be much harder to ply his trade.

Maybe Criminal, Vastly Unwise

Mr. Lewis has a steady job, friends, and relatives.  He is charged with attempted murder and reckless handling of a firearm for shooting toward(?) a person he says was slashing his tires.  (Wish we knew more about that!)

There were no injuries but he didn’t tell the cops about the knife.

$10K bond, no contact with the shootee, home electronic monitoring.  Looks like a good call by the judge.

Note added on Sunday after rereading this: Notice, please, that the judge stuck this otherwise upstanding citizen for a $10K bond and let the dealer off for $5K.  Something wrong here.


Mr. Y (sounded like “Chapelle”) has a drug problem.  He completed a supervised probation but stopped the methadone treatment when his mom could no longer pay the $15/day. 

Perhaps he lacked employment that would let him pay for the methadone.  In any case, he was an inept dealer: He sold drugs to a “cooperator.” 

Judge Hicks ordered a $5K bond, referral to pretrial services, and electronic monitoring.  With the monitoring, it will be very hard for him to get back into the market so I can’t criticize the judge.

This guy is in the thrall of his addiction.  Aside from the damage to him, his mother, grandmother, and uncle were in court and probably will have to find the $500 or whatever it costs these days to fund the $5K bond; if they are more wise than loving, they’ll leave him in jail.  He is breaking Louise’s and my hearts; it hurts to imagine what he is doing to his relatives.


Insufficient data.  I’ll have to invite Louise (and anybody else who might be interested) for another visit or two or three.

In General

The new Manchester courthouse is palatial.  The huge courtroom was nearly full. 

The acoustics aren’t great.  The judge, clerk,  and lawyers all speak softly so, despite the microphones,  it is VERY hard to follow the proceedings. 

After the “all rise,” Judge Hicks gave a nice talk about this courtroom being a place to see democracy in action; it’s too bad we couldn’t hear it in action.

Budgeting to Waste Money

The 2016 RPS Budget is up.  It’s time to start trying to understand where our money is going.

For a first effort, let’s look at the budget by school compared to the September, 2015 enrollment, or “membership” as they call it.

Here is the budgeted expense per student for the Richmond elementary schools. 


The data come remarkably close to fitting a straight line (R2 = 66%), which suggests that there are important economies of scale.  Said otherwise, our little schools are more expensive per student than the larger ones.

All of the three smallest schools (from the left, Swansboro, Cary, and Bellevue) look to be anomalously pricey.  The slope of –$6.36 per student further tells us that if those three schools were combined, it would save about $3.6 million per year.

Here are the data:


We can examine the academic benefit of the smaller schools by looking at the 2015 SOL pass rates


And plotting the pass rates vs. the budgeted expenditures per student tells us about the educational return on the money.


That’s clear enough: Neither smaller schools nor more money per student correlates significantly with better performance in the Richmond elementary schools.  Looks to me like any new schools should be quite large.

Turning to the middle schools, Binford is anomalously pricey.


As to the pass rates, there’s one wrinkle: The 2015 SOL data predate the Elkhardt/Thompson merger.  Rather than fiddle with the data (e.g., use the 2015 enrollments) I’ve left Elkhardt/Thompson off the following graphs.


Here, it looks like the smaller schools have some advantage, but a 9% correlation on the reading tests is nothing to bet money on and, as to math, 4% is even less so.

And, as to budget, we’re spending lots of money per student at little Binford, with precious little return.


Finally, the high schools.


Those expensive, little schools are doing very well.


But if we take selective Open and Community out of the mix, we see that decreasing size doesn’t improve the pass rate in our mainstream high schools.


As to cost, the expensive, selective, little schools do better as to reading, but not so much as to math.


If we again take Community and Open out of the mix, we (yet again) see that more money per student is not buying better performance.


Indeed, to a 20% correlation, more money is buying less math performance.  That’s driven by the large, inexpensive high school, Huguenot.

We’ve heard that Richmond purposely invests in “small schools.”  For sure, this year Norfolk has, on the average, 44% more students per school (and, dare I say it, vastly better SOL pass rates).


What we are getting for those small schools is high costs but no better teaching. 

As the estimable Carol Wolf keeps pointing out, we have too many old, decrepit, little schools.  When we replace them, it would be a mistake to build new, shiny, little schools.