Look What VEA Wants to Hide in Richmond

It’s a strange state we live in.

The meetings of our legislators are open to the public; their work product goes in the newspaper and on the Internet. The public is free to evaluate their positions, express opinions, and hold them accountable by voting them in or out of office.

Virginia’s judges perform in open court. Their work product is public and subject to review by the appellate courts. Judicial Performance Evaluations based on feedback from attorneys and jurors go to the General Assembly, which has the power to fire judges, and to the public, which can fire members of the General Assembly.

In contrast, the evaluations of how much the students of any teacher in our public schools have learned (or not) are confidential.  The Virginia “Education” Association says that the public is too stupid (or biased or something) to properly evaluate those data.  The evaluation is left to the school systems, who are free to ignore bad teaching, and do so with gusto.  So the parents of Virginia are left without the information to evaluate their children’s teachers or to oversee the school divisions’ management of the inadequate teachers.

Brian Davison of Loudoun sued the Department of Education and punched a small hole in this conspiracy against Virginia’s schoolchildren.  So, now, the VEA has threatened to sue VDOE, Brian, and me, seeking court orders to prevent, among other things, Brian’s and my disseminating and commenting upon SGP and, perhaps, other data regarding teacher effectiveness (or lack thereof).

At the outset, this demonstrates that the VEA is too stupid to count to “one”: The First Amendment bars this attempted prior restraint of Brian’s and my truthful speech.  (Could it be that the manifest insecurity of the VEA’s lawyer stems from a recognition, however faint, of that stupidity?)

As well, the information already available provides a window into what VEA is trying to hide. 

For three or four years, VDOE calculated Student Growth Percentiles (“SGPs”).  They calculate the SGP by looking at student progress compared to other students who were similarly situated in the previous year(s).  The score change of each student in the group is then reported as a percentile rank from 1 (worst 1% of the group) to 99 (best 1%).

The 2014 statewide distribution of average reading SGPs by teacher approaches the ideal normal distribution.


The orange curve fitted to the data shows an average of 48.0 with a standard deviation of 9.7

The Richmond distribution that year leans toward the low end (no surprise there).


The fitted curve has a mean of 44.0 and a standard deviation of 11.4.

Indeed, we know that the actual data are worse: Richmond failed to report a bunch of its (awful) middle school data.  VDOE did nothing about that, of course.

The distribution of individual student reading SGPs in Richmond, again for 2014, also leans toward the low end. 


Since we know that students who have shown more progress than their peers get higher SGP scores, this is not good news for Richmond. 

Let’s turn to some specifics.  First some Good News.

The (fifth grade) teacher No. 74414 (anonymized identifier from VDOE) whose students averaged a 78 SGP shows a much different distribution.


That teacher got even more splendid results in math (average = 93).


We could hope this teacher would be in line for a big raise and a task to mentor other teachers.

And we have to wonder why the VEA would want to hide this teacher’s name.

Then we have a large number of teachers near the middle of the pack.  For example, here is No. 76273 with SGPs for 21 fifth grade reading students and a 48 average.


This same teacher did much better in math, with an 81 average.


This is a fine math teacher who might benefit from some work on his/her (average but lesser) skills for the teaching of reading.

The VEA says the adequacy of this teacher should be concealed from the parents of the students in his/her classroom because the information “can be used or misused to make prejudicial judgments about teacher performance.”

Then we have the teachers who are actively harming their students.  As one example, here is Richmond teacher No. 74415, with 25 fourth grade students averaging a reading SGP of 8:


Then we also have No. 75318, averaging 8 for 22 fourth grade reading students:


The parents of the affected students are not allowed to know who these teachers are.  Indeed, the Virginia “Education” Association would prohibit even my revealing that these teachers exist.

OFFER: I’ll bet you a #2 lead pencil that no child of an RPS teacher, principal, administrator, or School Board member was or will be in 74415’s or 75318’s class.  (But, of course, you are not important enough to have the information to avoid that hazard to your kid.)

Without information for the public to oversee the schools, we know nothing will be done about these and other ineffective teachers:  The assessment system is so pitiful that in 2011 Richmond teachers met or exceeded expectations in 99.28% of the measurements.

Yet VEA says, in effect, “Damn the students!  These teachers might be embarrassed if the parents knew enough to demand their retraining or replacement.”

On its Web site, VEA says:

The mission of the Virginia Education Association is to unite our members and local communities across the Commonwealth in fulfilling the promise of a high quality public education that successfully prepares every single student to realize his or her full potential. We believe this can be accomplished by advocating for students, education professionals, and support professionals.

As to the students who are suffering under inept VEA members and as to the whole notion of “high quality public education,” the threatened VEA suit confesses that this “mission” statement is a shameless lie.  Indeed, the honest name for the organization would be “Virginia Association for the Protection of Incompetent Teachers.”

Why Does VDOE Use Biased Data to Accredit Our Schools?

VDOE has an elaborate scheme to accredit (or not accredit) Virginia’s schools.  The basis is SOL pass rates (plus, for high schools, the graduation rate that depends on passing at least six end-of-course SOL tests).

But we know that the SOL is influenced by economic status.  For example, here are the 2015 reading pass rates by division vs. the percentage of economically disadvantaged students in the division.

We’re not here to discuss whether this correlation suggests that more affluent families live in better school districts, whether their children are better prepared for school, whether their children have higher IQs, or whatever.  The point here is that more affluent kids will show better SOL scores than less affluent students.

That’s only part of the problem with accreditation.  VDOE adjusts (I would say “manipulates”) the accreditation data in secret ways that mostly boost the scores.  In one case, that manipulation converted a 76.3 and a 73.7 into “perfect scores” and embarrassed the Governor.

So it’s no surprise that VDOE has not used, and now is abandoning, a measure of student progress that is insensitive to economic advantage or disadvantage and that might even be resistant to manipulation, the Student Growth Percentile (“SGP”).

VDOE says:

A student growth percentile expresses how much progress a student has made relative to the progress of students whose achievement was similar on previous assessments.
A student growth percentile complements a student’s SOL scaled score and gives his or her teacher, parents and principal a more complete picture of achievement and progress. A high growth percentile is an indicator of effective instruction, regardless of a student’s scaled score.

VDOE calculated SGPs in reading, math, and algebra for at least three years, ending in 2014. Then they abandoned the SGP for a new measure that looks to be coarser than the SGP. 

VDOE says that the new measure might be useful in the accreditation process because it allows “partial point[s] for growth,” i.e. another way to boost the scores.  There is no mention of sensitivity to economic disadvantage.

How about it, VDOE?  Does your dandy new measure of progress cancel the advantage of the more affluent students?  And if it does, will you use it to replace the SOL in the accreditation process?

Kudos to the VaCU

I’ve been a customer at the Virginia Credit Union for some time, especially for the period awhile back when their CD rates were competitive.

From time to time they offer free document shredding at their Boulders location.  We’ve been frustrated there in the past when the line of cars reached out onto Jahnke Rd.

Disdaining the lessons of the past, we drove there about 08:40 this morning, expecting to wait in line until the 09:00 opening.  We were surprised to find them open early, with two lines and four shredding trucks.  We left our bag of old documents and were gone in a few moments.  Indeed, when we drove past an hour or so later there still was no line visible from Boulders Pkwy.

All Glory to the VaCU, especially to the person there who decided to improve this helpful public service.

Now, if they’ll just bump their 60 month CD rate to match, or even come a bit closer to matching, their online competitors . . .

The Insecure Defending the Unspeakable

It looks like I’m being sued.

Yesterday I received by email a “Petition for Injunction” for VEA and others against VDOE, Brian Davison, and me.  The Petition asks the Richmond Circuit Court to enjoin VDOE from releasing SGP and related data and to prohibit Brian and me from using such data.

Well, as to the name of the court I’m being unduly kind: The Petition is addressed to “The Circuit Court for the City of Richmond” (emphasis supplied).  There is no such court.  By statute, our circuit court is “The Circuit Court of the City of Richmond” (emphasis supplied again).  So, the Petition, if it is genuine, demonstrates at the top of the first page the ignorance of the VEA’s lawyer.

The body of the Petition, entirely aside from any legal merit (actually, lack thereof), illuminates the unfortunate truth that VEA is more interested in protecting incompetent teachers than in furthering the educations of Virginia’s schoolchildren.

Then, at the bottom, the Petition carries a signature block that begins:

Dena Rosenkrantz, Esquire (VSB#28667)
Legal Services Director

Of course, “Esquire” is a courtesy title, mostly applied to lawyers.  So we have Ms. Rosenkrantz stroking herself with a courtesy title.  As well, the “Esquire” is redundant: The Virginia State Bar number, required by Supreme Court Rule 1:4(l), tells us she is a lawyer.

It’s hard to imagine a lawyer with an ego so shrunken that she feels a need to be courteous to herself and to tell us she is a lawyer lawyer.  But it seems the VEA has found one.

Indeed, it looks like there’s an epidemic of insecurity over there.  The signature block of the purported law clerk who sent the email starts: “Catherine A. Lee, JD.” Really!  A law clerk who feels the need to tell us she has a law degree.  Remarkably, she didn’t attach a law school transcript to show how smart she is or a picture to show how pretty.

Let’s hope this Petition is not a prank and that it will be filed at the courthouse and served on Brian and me.  Dealing with a lawyer at that level of ignorance and with that defect of ego, who is attempting to keep Virginia’s parents from knowing whether their kid is being damaged by an incompetent teacher, should be good fun.

Moreover, VDOE’s lawyer is a competent and affable fellow.  To the extent he is on Brian’s and my side, or even to the extent he isn’t, those qualities will enhance the enjoyment.


P.S.: I have created a new email account for this litigation: 4students_unlikeVEA@outlook.com.  If you know where and what the Richmond plaintiff, Bradley Mock, teaches or whether he is the same “Bradley Mock” who studied “Hip Hop Culture” at VCU, please do use it to send me an email.

Board of “Education” Ongoing Malfeasance

As I pointed out two days ago, the Board of Education has the duty and authority “to see that the [mandatory attendance laws] are properly enforced throughout the Commonwealth.”  Yet the Board does not even collect information to allow it to assess school or division compliance with the law.

The Board first announced a truancy rulemaking on July 22, 2010; it still is without a regulation.

The most recent proposal was on the April 28 agenda but, come the meeting, the matter was “withdrawn” [see the video at 3:17:38].

Of course, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the paperwork undergirding the withdrawal.  Melissa Luchau, the Director of Board Relations for VDOE, responded:

There are no records responsive to your request.

The item was withdrawn from the agenda because the staff with expertise in this area were unable to attend the Board meeting due to health reasons.

That raises more questions than it answers:

  • Is the VDOE bureaucracy so siloed that only the directly involved “staff” (no telling how many) knows/know about the proposed regulation?
  • In particular, does a regulation go to the Board without the Director of Board Relations and her boss not knowing all about it?
  • Still more particularly, are the Director of Board Relations and her boss too busy to get briefed when it appears that the affected “staff” may not be available?
  • Even more particularly, why is the Board extending, yet again, its tolerance of Richmond’s (and doubtless other divisions’) wholesale violations of the mandatory attendance laws?

Your tax dollars “at work.”

Maggie What?

The Times-Dispatch this morning reports that Open and Community high schools have been rated among the top ten schools in Virginia.

That’s no surprise.  Except perhaps as to math and science, both schools do an outstanding job.



The surprise is that Maggie Walker did not make the list.

The MW Web site [School Profile page] tells us that the Daily Beast ranked Walker 12th best public high school in the nation on August 27, 2014.  Yet, if you go to the VDOE Web site you won’t even find SOL scores for Walker.

Ask VDOE about this and they’ll tell you something like what they told me:

Governor’s Schools are regional centers or programs and do not report membership [what you and I would call enrollment] to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). Students who attend these programs are included in the average daily membership (ADM) of the schools they otherwise would have attended in their home division. Only schools that report membership to VDOE are assigned a school number.

The assessments of students attending regional centers and programs are coded with the school numbers of the schools where these students are included in membership. This is a long-standing practice that pre-dates the Standards of Learning (SOL) program.

Note, however, that is not true for Fairfax County’s Thomas Jefferson, the Governor’s School for Science and Technology in Northern Virginia.  



In short, Maggie Walker, a four-year, full day, public high school that issues diplomas to its graduates, is not a “school.”  The SOL (and other) scores of the MW students are falsely reported at the high schools in those students’ home districts.  So, of course, if you look to the official SOL data, MW does not exist.

Do you wonder why I call VDOE the “State Department of Data Suppression and Manipulation”?

Big Budgets Don’t Teach

There is an unfortunate tendency to measure school quality in terms of inputs, particularly money, albeit the important measure should be the output, how much the kids learn.  The SOL provides a ready, but rough, measure of output.

We have seen that neither division expenditure nor nor excess local financial effort nor average division teacher salary correlates with SOL pass rates.

But we know that SOL scores are sensitive to at least one other variable, the economic status of the students: Economically disadvantaged students score lower, on average.

For about four years, until last year, VDOE produced student growth percentile (“SGP”) data that are not dependent upon economic advantage or disadvantage.  VDOE attempted to hide those data but Brian Davison of Loudoun pried loose some of the data by division.

I’ve taken the latest of those data, for 2014, and juxtaposed them with the teacher salary data for that year to see if there’s anything to learn there.

To start, here are the division reading SGPs plotted vs. the division average teaching salary (regular K-12 education teachers, art, music, physical education, technology, remedial, gifted, mathematics, reading, special education, and ESL teachers; not included in the calculation are: teacher aides, guidance counselors or librarians).


The 7.1% R2 tells us there is only a faint correlation between how much the teachers are paid and how much the students learn.

Even so, there is some interesting information in these numbers.

For a start, we see that Richmond (the gold square) and the peer jurisdictions (red circles, from the top Hampton, Norfolk, and Newport News) all are getting better results than the raw SOL pass rates suggest.  Richmond still underperforms, but the peer jurisdictions are close to the middle of the pack, with Hampton just above the 46.6% division median.

The Big Spenders here are the NoVa divisions: the divisions above $60,000 are, from the left, Loudoun, Prince William, Manassas City, Fairfax, Falls Church, Alexandria, and Arlington.  The outstanding performers, all but one with modest salaries, are Poquoson, Bland, Botetourt, Wise, and Falls Church.

The eye opener is the surrounding counties (the green circles, from the top Charles City, Chesterfield, Henrico, and Hanover): Charles City is outperforming the others; the others are not obtaining student growth at any level to brag about.  Of course, all are beating Richmond, but by much less than the raw pass rates would suggest.

The math data are less flattering to Richmond but similarly interesting.  Caveat: These data do not include algebra (for reasons of the maximum number of rows that would fit into Excel).


The 3% R2 again indicates no significant correlation between the SGPs and the salaries.

Here we see Richmond, again the gold square, 5.5 percentiles below the math median of 48.4, compared to the 3.1 points below the reading median.  In blue, Newport News and Hampton are above the median; Norfolk is 1.8 points below (and should be dropping unless they are cheating).

The Counties (green circles, from the left Charles City, Hanover, Chesterfield, and Henrico) are in the middle of the pack, except for Henrico, which is 1.8 points below Richmond.

The Big Spenders are getting less for their money here than with reading.

The outstanding performers are, from the top, Bristol, Buckingham, Bland (again), Botetourt (again), and Surry.  We probably should reserve judgment about Botetourt; they were caught cheating wholesale with the VGLA.

The dataset is posted here.

The bottom line: Spending more money on teacher salaries does not correlate with better student learning of reading or math.

But, then, we knew all along that the key to student performance is management, not money.

Categories SGP

Still Absent on Truancy

The Board of Education has the duty and authority “to see that the [mandatory attendance laws] are properly enforced throughout the Commonwealth.”  Notwithstanding that requirement, the Board does not even collect information to allow it to assess school or division compliance with the law.

The Board started a regulatory process on July 22, 2010 with a Notice of Intended Regulatory Action.  They got around to adopting (a vastly unlawful) regulation in 2012, but withdrew it when some fellow sued them over their statutory and procedural errors.  In a reproposed regulation of January 10, 2013, the Board set out to emasculate the (already weak) regulation by defining “truancy” to include only full-day absences, notwithstanding the state law the requires attendance “for the same number of days and hours per day as the public schools.”

The Board approved its newly weakened regulation on January 10, 2013.  They got around to publishing the regulation for public comment on Oct. 23, 2015.

The public comment period closed on December 2, 2015 but the Board did not manage to schedule the matter for action until the April 28, 2016 [Item G.] meeting.  Somewhere between the posting of the agenda and the meeting, someone had a change of heart:  Without discussion or even mention, consideration of the regulation was “withdrawn” [at 3:17:38].

In the meantime, Richmond (doubtless among many other divisions) is violating the truancy laws wholesale.

And the Board of Education wallows along in its own disinclination to lawfully serve the students, parents, and taxpayers of Virginia.

Bless You, Brian Davison!

[For background, see this.]

From: John Butcher
Sent: 4/29/2016 5:46 PM
To: Pyle, Charles (DOE)
Subject: FOIA Request

Mr. Pyle,

I am a Citizen of the Commonwealth and a resident of the City of Richmond at the address set out below.  Under the authority of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, I request an opportunity to inspect and copy the following public records, as that term is defined at Va. Code § 2.2-3701, that are prepared, owned, or in the possession of the Department of Education:

•    All records that establish or comment upon any reason why it might not be practically possible to provide the records I requested on April 21 within the five work days provided by the Act.

If any record responsive to this request exists in electronic form, I request that you provide it by posting it to the Department’s web site or emailing it to me at the return address above.

In the event the Department elects to withhold any public record responsive to this request, for each such record please:

•    Identify the record withheld by date, author, title, and summary or purpose of the record;

•    Identify all persons outside your Department to whom the record has been shown or to whom copies have been furnished; and

•    State specifically the statutory exemption under which the Department elects to withhold the record.

If you elect to charge me part or all of the actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records, please estimate the total charges beforehand.  If those total charges exceed $100, please notify me before you incur the costs.

Please contact me by telephone at the number below or by email at the address above if I can answer any question about this request.

I look forward to hearing from you as promptly as possible and in any event within the five work days provided by the Act.

P.S.: Notwithstanding your email of today, my request was made at 1:31 PM on April 21, not on April 19.  Today being the sixth work day since the request (although I rather like the April 19 date, which would make today the eighth day), the Department is in violation of the Act and has waived any objection to providing the requested records.  Please just send along the records.


On 4/29/2016 4:51 PM, Pyle, Charles (DOE) wrote:
> Dear Mr. Butcher:
> The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) is in receipt of your request for records dated April 19, 2016, and made in accordance with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (§ 2.2-3700 et seq.).
> Please be advised that it is not practically possible to provide the requested records or determine their availability within the five working days required by FOIA due to the unavailability of staff and the complexity of your request.  Therefore, VDOE is invoking subsection B 4 of § 2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia to provide the agency with seven additional working days to respond to your request.
> Best regards,
> Charles B. Pyle
> Director of Communications
> Virginia Department of Education
> (804) 371-2420
> Charles.Pyle@doe.Virginia.gov

Dollars But Not Scholars, Yet Again

We have seen (here and here and here) that division expenditure does not correlate with division SOL pass rate.

Today we explore the relationship (if any) between average teacher salary and pass rate.

VDOE posts an annual report that includes the average classroom teacher salaries (regular K-12 education teachers, art, music, physical education, technology, remedial, gifted, mathematics, reading, special education, and ESL teachers; not included in the calculation are: teacher aides, guidance counselors or librarians) by division and school.

Here, for a start, are the 2016 average teacher salaries of the highest and lowest and several selected divisions.


Richmond, it seems, is outspending both its peer, older city divisions and the neighboring counties. 

Maggie Walker (despite not being a “school”), looks like a real bargain.

VDOE will have the 2016 SOL scores in time for graduations this month but they won’t post them until August or September.  So we’ll have to be satisfied with the 2015 pass rates.  Here are the averages of the division pass rates on the reading, writing, math, science, and history & social science tests.


Richmond is the gold square.  The red diamonds are, from the left, Hampton, Norfolk, and Newport News.  The green diamonds are, from the top, Hanover, Chesterfield, Henrico, and Charles City (partially obscured, just above Hampton).  Lynchburg is the blue diamond.

You can decide for yourself what kind of return Richmond is getting on our money.

As you see, the computer is glad to fit a curve to these data but the correlation is nil (R2 = 1.3%).

Turning to the Richmond elementary schools, we see:


That 18% correlation looks to be driven in large part by expensive Munford (over at the right) and inexpensive, lousy scoring Woodville (bottom, left).  Note that the high scorer, Carver, is not all that expensive.

The state data still have not caught up with the Elkhardt/Thompson situation.  Here are the other middle schools


R2 is only 3.2%.  The low point there is MLK.

As to the high schools, it looks like we have a 34% correlation with salary


until we take out Community and Open, which restricts the analysis to the general population high schools + Franklin Military.


The low score there is Armstrong.  The expensive school is Huguenot.

Here are the data.


Of course, SOL scores depend on the economic status of the students as well as upon the quality of the teaching.  VDOE has student growth percentile (“SGP”) data that are not dependent on economic status but they have been sequestering those results.  Brian Davison has pried loose some of the data by division.  We’ll see if his recent victory court will make the SGP data available by school and by teacher.