Time for a New Superintendent (And a New School Board)

The SOLs are up today. 

 “Wait a minute,” you say.  “They had those data in time to schedule graduations last May.  Why did they wait until now to publish them?”

Good question.  Their excuse is that the summer testing data are not available until now.  The reason (one suspects; they hide the data so we can’t actually know) is that they manipulate these data extensively and all that futzing takes time.  As well, one can wonder whether the summer scores are so unusual that they would be embarrassed by their disclosure

The Richmond scores are a disaster.

Here are the pass rates of the bottom ten divisions in each subject area as well as the five-subject average:

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You may recall that we were second from the bottom in reading last year and sixth from the bottom in math. 

More details will follow as I find time to process the data.

Can You Spell “Ripoff”?

The annual CPI increase from 2014 to 2015 was 0.12%; the mid-year increase from 2015 to 2016 was 1.07%; extrapolated from the first six months of this year, it will be 1.68% in 2016.  The average increase in mandatory non-educational and general fees at our state colleges and universities for the upcoming year is 4.2%, ranging from zero in the Community College System to 8% at Mary Washington.

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Details are in the SCHEV report here.

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.

Blaming the Kids for Richmond’s Incompetence

Parsing out the distributions of student groups in the RPS population leads me back to Richmond’s excuses.

In an article from March of this year, the RT-D quoted our Superintendent embracing the old party line: The district has an overwhelming number of children living in poverty, with special needs, and who speak English as a second language. 

Like so many official statements, that one is partially true and vastly misleading.

As to the true: Richmond has unusually large populations of poor students and handicapped students.  As to not so true: We are slightly under the state average as to students with native languages other than English.

Here are the fall enrollments (“ADMs” in bureaucrat speak):

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Note on the abbreviated euphemisms: ED = economically disadvantaged; Disab = disabled; LEP = limited English proficiency.

Expressing the group totals as percentages of the total enrollment:

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No telling what those 2007-09 ED numbers mean; probably a reporting issue.

In any case, Richmond’s economically disadvantaged and disabled percentages are almost twice the state average.  However, a glance at the VDOE database suggests that the Super’s implication (that these distressed populations are harming Richmond’s performance) is not at all true.

To begin the analysis, here are the five-subject average pass rates for Richmond’s students not in a subgroup.  These students underperformed their peers statewide:

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Richmond’s disabled students performed at about the level of their peer group until last year.  No telling how much of that was because Richmond was cheating on the VGLA.

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Our poor students consistently have underperformed their peer group.

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And our kids from families where English is not the native language have performed miserably, both on an absolute scale and when compared to other LEP students statewide.

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So, as of 2015, all of these groups (and the kids not in any of the groups) in Richmond have turned in lower scores than their statewide peers. 

We can draw one of two conclusions:

  1. The disabled, ED, and LEP Richmond students, and the students not in one of these groups, all are dumber than their peers in the other divisions; or
  2. Richmond is doing a lousy job (and making lousy excuses).

We don’t even need William of Occam to make that choice.

Welcome Camelot to Richmond

The School Board has just contracted with Camelot Education to run Richmond Alternative School (aka CCP).

The 2013 Budget Document (pdf at 171) contains the $4.8 million CCP budget item and tells us what CCP is:

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The RT-D quotes Michelle Boyd, our Assistant Superintendent of Exceptional Education (in the Mother Tongue: the Assistant for handicapped kids), for admitting that “test scores in several subjects have been stagnant or have decreased.”  Actually it’s much worse than that: Compared to the (already awful) Richmond averages, the CCP scores have collapsed in the last two years.

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The ordinate there is the Richmond Alternative average pass rate minus the Richmond average.

Note that these precipitous drops came after the 2012 and 2013 drops statewide (and plunges in Richmond) caused by the new math and reading tests.

Boyd says “There is no finger-pointing here.”  Maybe so, but there should be.  The drop in 2014 coincides with the termination of the contract to operate CCP:

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If we fit least squares lines to the pre-2014 data, we get an even clearer picture of Richmond’s inability to operate its own school that the contractor had been steadily improving.

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It looks like RPS is a slow learner.  They turned CCP over to the contractor in 2006 because they couldn’t run it successfully themselves.  Now, at a price of who knows how many damaged kids, they’ve again demonstrated that they can’t run it successfully themselves.

Oh, did I mention that RPS steals the SOL scores of the Maggie Walker students and gives those scores to high schools the students are not attending.  But the middle and high schools get to send their troublesome students to CCP, along with their scores?  So, a double lie to improve the scores (not that it has done much good).

Note Added 7/21:  An esteemed reader comments: “Amazing, just amazing. Maybe RPS ought to outsource the teaching of every school!”

Lax Judge Endangering Us All

The Village

When I moved to the Gracious Southside in 2002, I left Bellevue, where I was just a mile from the then-biggest drug nuisance in the City, the Redwood Apts. (2d biggest if you count RRHA).  Here, I found myself a mile and a half from the second largest, the Midlothian Village (3d largest if you count RRHA). 

At the time, the Old South Neighborhood Team had the Village on its radar; the then new owners at the Village decided they would rather talk than fight.  We’ve since had monthly breakfasts with the management and the 211 Sector Lieutenant, and we’ve seen some progress.

The current owner (third in my time) has installed a first rate manager, Cheyanne Williams, and is taking serious steps to control the place: Upgraded off-duty security, more cameras and lights, fixing the fences, and more.

The Feds tell us that the key to controlling drug and other disorder on rental property is the management.  It’s true.  Police can only do so much.   Whether as to drug activity or other disorder, the landlord is the only entity that can make the physical changes to the property, evict the troublesome tenants, hire the security, control the access, and enforce the lease terms as necessary to make the property safe.

We also are blessed with a fine Sector Lieutenant in 211, Faith Flippo.  And the Councilman, Parker Agelasto, has been most helpful; he has missed very few breakfasts (in contrast to his predecessor, who missed them all).

The flaw in this pretty picture is our General District Court Judge, David Hicks.  We saw a facet of that this morning.

 

Kyreek Rae Kwon Carter

One persistent, young troublemaker at the Village has been Kyreek Carter.  Cheyanne banned him months ago.  He kept coming back, despite, at last count, twenty-two warrants for criminal trespass.

The criminal trespass statute is one of the most useful tools for managing rental property.  The statute was passed in the bad old days as a tool to prevent sit-ins.  Nowadays, it helps property management keep troublemakers off the property.  Our former General District Judge, Gregory Rupe, was wonderful: First trespass warrant got a warning and suspended sentence.  Second one got jail time.  Most folks, hearing about the judge’s rep,  got the idea after the first visit with him.

Mr. Carter looks to have graduated from trespass to more serious matters.  The docket this morning showed the trespass charges along with grand larceny/property destruction/unlawful entry and, to cap the list, conspiracy to commit the murder at the Village on May 8.

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This morning at Manchester GDC, Josh Boyles, the Sector prosecutor, very kindly invited me out into the hall to explain that, rather than risk a blanket loss on the trespass charges, he had agreed to a plea for a month in jail with some suspended time.  As I heard the outcome in court (I’m old and it’s hard to hear in there), this is how it came down:

  • On the 4/26 trespass, 12 months, 11 suspended with an order to stay off the property.  Time to be served on the weekends, less the eight days already served on the murder charge (how do you suppose this murder suspect got out on bail?);
  • On five other trespasses, 12 months each, suspended;
  • Six other trespass charges dismissed (“Six” is what I heard; no telling what happened to the other ten).

The larceny et al. and murder charges were put off to later.

If you want to understand why the Commonwealth would bargain away so much of Cheyanne’s efforts, you can look at the court records of Carter’s history now that he is an adult:

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There’s no indication whether any of the fines/costs ever was paid.  More to the point, repeated trespass convictions, one with and two following the drug paraphernalia conviction, produced repeated wrist slaps, not jail time.

This judge is NOT on our side.  Through his antisocial generosity, Carter now is on the streets Mondays through Fridays.  And, unfortunately, if Carter shows up again at the Village (I’ll bet you a picture of Judge Hicks that he will), he’ll go back to the same gentle jurist.

Thank Goodness the murder rap will wind up in Circuit Court, where Carter is likely to encounter a judge who is willing to do the job.

 

In the Meantime

We have some issues that are even closer.  The apartments in the 400 and 600 blocks of Westover Hills have been problems for a while.  My ToDo list includes pulling some more current data.  For now, I’ll just notice that Chief Durham conducted a Command Staff walk there on July 12.

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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Further Analysis of Richmond’s Ninth Grade Bump

We have seen that Richmond’s “ninth grade bump” is more than twice the state average. It also follows a long, steep slide in enrollment with steeper drops at the fourth and sixth grades.

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In light of Richmond’s large population of economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students (70% this year), the first place to look for the source of these enrollment changes is the data for that group.  The VDOE database is happy to produce those data.

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Hmmm.  The ED population shows the same elementary and middle school decreases but only half of the Richmond 9th grade bump. 

Back to the database. 

To keep the graph from being too complicated, here are the Virginia and Richmond data on separate charts.

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Here “Disab” is children with disabilities and “LEP” is limited English proficiency (aka ESL) students.

This looks like an influx of LEP students in the lower grades, both statewide and in Richmond, with a large LEP bump statewide and a huge one in Richmond.  Note that the Richmond LEP bump is too large to be explained by students being held back in the 9th grade; apparently we have an influx of 9th grade LEP students this year.

The raw numbers show the contributions of the various groups.

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The raw numbers paint the picture more clearly.

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Richmond’s large ED population contributes 30% to the bump, while the state’s much smaller ED population accounts for 32%.  Richmond’s small disabled and LEP populations produce disproportionate numbers of students held back in the ninth grade, with the LEP students accounting for 41% of Richmond’s entire bump.

Also notable here, the ED, disabled, LEP, and homeless populations together account for 100.7% of Richmond’s bump (doubtless some overlapping populations there) while statewide students who are not ED, disabled, LEP, migrant, or homeless contribute 27% of the state’s ninth grade bump.

Our Superintendent has emphasized the challenges posed by Richmond’s LEP students.  These data tell us that challenge, already remarkably large, is about to explode.

Student Demographics and the Ninth Grade Bump

To follow up on the data showing Richmond’s steep enrollment (in educratese, “Average Daily Membership,” aka “ADM” ) drop from grade to grade

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and the Richmond system’s general failure to retain students in grade until the ninth grade, I pulled some more detailed Fall enrollment data.

The state data by year show that the ninth grade bump and the population drops in the 10th through 12th grades (can you spell “dropouts”?) have been with us for the period of the database.

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That bump, expressed as a percentage of the eighth grade enrollment, has dropped some in recent years.

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Note, however, that the drop halted after VDOE installed new math tests in ‘12 and reading tests in ‘13.

The recent Richmond data show a different picture.

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The large elementary and middle school populations in the middle and late ‘noughties led to large 9th grade bumps.  When those students worked through the system, Richmond settled down to about the state average until the new tests, along with the former Superintendent’s failure to prepare for those tests, reinflated the 9th grade population.

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The database also breaks out data for five student groups: disabled, economically disadvantaged (“ED”), limited English proficiency (“LEP”), homeless, and migrant.

The migrant numbers are quite small statewide and zero in Richmond, except for a 23 count in 2010.  The statewide variation of the other counts by year looks like this:

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The statewide ED population increased from 28% in 2004 to 39% this year.  Over the same period, the LEP population doubled to 10%.

The violet line is the difference between 100% and the sum of the groups.  Note: there will be some students in more than one group — e.g., both homeless and economically disadvantaged — so the “other” number is probably low; indeed, as we’ll see below, it goes negative in Richmond.

There’s no telling how much of the increase in the ED count is driven by the ardor of local divisions to qualify for Title I funds.

The Richmond data paint a different picture.

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The drop in the ED population in 2007-09 is bound to be a data problem.  The very large ED populations in 2013-14 lead to negative values for the calculated “other” category.

The Richmond data show year-to-year increases in the elementary grades but not after the ninth grade.

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Notice that the drop from grade 5 to grade 6 has been with us since at least 2008, suggesting escapes to the Counties to avoid our awful middle schools, not overall population changes.

The Richmond LEP population increased 5.3 fold over the period of these data, from 1.6% in 2004 to 8.5% in 2016.  That doubtless contributed to the increases in the LEP populations in the lower elementary grades in recent years.

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I shudder to think what will happen when those elementary and middle school populations hit the ninth grade.

Note that the 8th grade LEP population has been approximately constant in the past four years (58, 48, 63, 52, respectively), but the ninth grade population has exploded.

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That increase is too large to be explained solely by 9th grade retention.

Whatever the underlying reasons, these numbers surely illuminate the challenge posed by the increasing LEP population.

The data also tell us that Richmond is dealing with a tougher clientele (i.e., more students classified in one of these groups) than the statewide average.  Stay tuned for the data showing how well we deal with that challenge.

Richmond’s Awful Middle Schools and the Ninth Grade Bump

Returning to the Feds’ “Civil Rights Data Collection,” we find 2014 data (the latest there) on students retained (i.e., not promoted to the next grade). 

Here, for a start, are the elementary school data. 

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“M” is male enrollment, “F” is female; 1M is number of first grade males retained in grade, 1F is first grade females retained; etc.  The blanks are reported by the Feds as “Not applicable value for CRDC item. This element is considered not applicable due to the skip logic in the data collection system.”  Whatever that might mean.

As you see, the numbers of students retained in grade are quite small.  For some reason, not apparent here, the third grade totals are even smaller: zeros.

The middle schools show much the same picture, despite the remarkably lower SOL pass rates.

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Indeed, to an excellent approximation, the rule in elementary and middle schools is “everybody passes.”

The high schools are another story.

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With the numbers expressed as percentages of the relevant classes, a couple of graphs will help put those data in context.

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You read that rightly: 36% of the Armstrong males and 22% of the females were retained in the ninth grade.

Those are 2014 data.  Unfortunately, the numbers look to be even worse this year.

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The “ninth grade bump” looks to be a national phenomenon.  The Feds have this to say:

We know that more students fail ninth grade than any other grade, creating what has been called the “ninth-grade bump”—struggling, off-track students are held back by negative self-beliefs, a lack of credits, and an inability to recover from past failures, and the freshman class swells to become the largest in the high school. We also know that many students enter high school performing two or even three years below grade level, and that these students are most at risk of continued failure or dropping out.

Unfortunately, in Richmond the ninth grade bump looks more like a small mountain.

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That ninth grade mountain follows a long, steep enrollment slide, with a drop-off at the beginning of middle school.

And, of course, the steep far side of that ninth grade mountain is created by the dropouts.

We can argue endlessly about whether retaining failed students in the lower grades is wise.  (You name the place; I’ll buy every second beer.)  It may or may not be a good idea to retain in grade the many, many students who fail to perform (actually, fail to be taught) in Richmond’s middle schools (after performing almost well in elementary school).  For sure, however, it’s past time to do something about this appalling failure of our school system.