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.

Spending More But Not Teaching More, II

If at first you don’t succeed, hope for some help.  In this case, after I posted the 2014 data thinking they were 2015, Steve Fuhrman emailed to say that VEA has the 2015 Required Local Effort (“RLE”) data posted.  Indeed, they do.  Indeed, so does VDOE.  Somehow I pulled up the previous year’s data last time I tried.

Turning to the data, we again have some caveats: The RLE data again include both Emporia and Greensville County, Fairfax City and County, Williamsburg and James City County but the SOL data combine each of those pairs.  I’ve deleted Emporia, Greensville, Williamsburg, and James City.  The Fairfax RLE data are close (116 for the County, 103 for the City) and the County is so large that it should swamp any difference in pass rates so I’ve included the County RLE excess and the County+City pass rates.

As well, the VEA data show Lee County with no numbers and as “Resubmission Pending” so I’ve deleted Lee County.

To the good, we have Accomack County this time.

With those changes, here are the 2015 division reading pass rates plotted vs. the 2015 Expenditure for Operations excess over the Required Local Effort.


As a thank you to Steve, the green diamond is Charles City County. 

The gold square is Richmond.  The red diamonds are the Richmond peers, from the left Norfolk, Newport News, and Hampton. 

The median excess RLE is 77%.  The two high-spending, high-scoring divisions are West Point (284% excess RLE) and Falls Church (196%).

The least squares fitted line suggests that doubling the RLE increases the pass rate by about 2% but the 1.7% R2 tells us that the pass rate and excess RLE are essentially uncorrelated.

Here are the data for the remaining subjects and the five subject average:






Finally, with the omissions noted above, here are the five subject data.  I made the upper case entries in the RLE list (e.g., Roanoke CO) to force it to sort the same way as the  SOL list.


Spending More But Not Teaching More

As we have seen, some Virginia school divisions spend a lot more than others but the spending does not correlate with SOL performance.  On the 2014 data, an analysis of the excess “expenditures and appropriations designated to meet [the] required local effort in support of the Standards of Quality” produced the same result.

VDOE now has published the 2015 RLE data.  The estimable Jim Bacon yesterday posted an initial look at those data, which prompted me to take a more detailed look.

Note: Jim Weigand points out that these are 2014 RLE data, NOT 2015.  Sigh.  If I hadn’t screwed this up, I’d be wondering at length why it takes VDOE over a year and a half to post the ‘14 data.

Details: Accomack is missing from the RLE report and is omitted here.  The RLE report shows separate data for Emporia and Greensville County, Fairfax City and County, and Williamsburg and James City County; the SOL data, however, combine those three pairs.  I have omitted Emporia, Greensville, Williamsburg, and JCC; Fairfax City and County have nearly the same RLE (about 129% excess each) and the County is large enough to swamp the City data in any case so I used the County RLE and City+County SOL pass rate. 

With those adjustments, here are the 2015 division reading pass rates vs. the 2015 local expenditures for operations above the RLE.


The fitted line suggests that tripling the RLE increases the pass rate by about 4% but the 1.8% R2 tells us that the pass rate and excess expenditure are essentially uncorrelated.

Richmond is the gold square; from the left, the red diamonds are Hampton, Norfolk, and Newport News.

The Big Spenders out there are Sussex (221% excess, 72% pass rate) and West Point (218%, 94%).

And here are the data for the other four tests and the five subject average:






Here, with the omissions noted above, are the five subject data.  I made the lower case entries in the RLE list to force it to sort the same as the SOL list.

  XS RLE 5 Subject Average
ALBEMARLE 140.25% 81.3%
ALEXANDRIA 183.58% 70.9%
ALLEGHANY 180.40% 76.9%
AMELIA 44.58% 77.8%
AMHERST 94.26% 79.2%
APPOMATTOX 15.34% 81.6%
ARLINGTON 193.87% 86.4%
AUGUSTA 77.48% 80.6%
BATH 118.81% 79.0%
BEDFORD 87.24% 79.8%
BLAND 38.08% 77.6%
BOTETOURT 132.86% 89.4%
BRISTOL 44.94% 80.5%
BRUNSWICK 17.81% 68.1%
BUCHANAN 73.69% 75.1%
BUCKINGHAM 37.03% 76.5%
BUENA VISTA 63.02% 68.7%
CAMPBELL 112.60% 80.9%
CAROLINE 36.65% 73.7%
CARROLL 102.29% 79.3%
CHARLES CITY 95.38% 75.8%
CHARLOTTE 34.84% 84.1%
CHESAPEAKE 114.57% 85.5%
CHESTERFIELD 82.30% 82.7%
CLARKE 101.54% 81.3%
COLONIAL BEACH 64.95% 77.1%
COLONIAL HEIGHTS 171.97% 83.2%
COVINGTON 152.31% 75.7%
CRAIG 39.00% 82.4%
CULPEPER 60.11% 78.9%
CUMBERLAND 69.99% 68.8%
DANVILLE 88.81% 67.7%
DICKENSON 63.43% 77.6%
DINWIDDIE 70.52% 74.0%
ESSEX 49.29% 66.4%
FAIRFAX 127.86% 85.5%
FALLS CHURCH 170.65% 92.0%
FAUQUIER 112.23% 83.1%
FLOYD 45.87% 79.7%
FLUVANNA 65.86% 81.6%
FRANKLIN CITY 102.95% 75.1%
FRANKLIN co 64.35% 82.2%
FREDERICK 124.29% 78.9%
FREDERICKSBURG 134.11% 76.8%
GALAX 70.74% 77.9%
GILES 43.03% 80.5%
GLOUCESTER 98.21% 81.9%
GOOCHLAND 59.77% 85.4%
GRAYSON 38.09% 78.1%
GREENE 73.40% 77.7%
HALIFAX 34.36% 72.4%
HAMPTON 88.31% 74.3%
HANOVER 58.92% 86.6%
HARRISONBURG 102.25% 74.2%
HENRICO 69.50% 79.7%
HENRY 39.17% 78.4%
HIGHLAND 23.29% 78.3%
HOPEWELL 73.16% 69.4%
ISLE OF WIGHT 68.85% 84.5%
KING and QUEEN 73.63% 77.6%
KING GEORGE 53.80% 81.2%
KING WILLIAM 100.45% 83.6%
LANCASTER 77.00% 66.9%
LEE 9.93% 77.8%
LEXINGTON 52.26% 88.2%
LOUDOUN 138.33% 88.0%
LOUISA 69.69% 83.3%
LUNENBURG 24.07% 75.2%
LYNCHBURG 103.34% 68.9%
MADISON 136.20% 77.7%
MANASSAS 172.35% 75.1%
MANASSAS PARK 102.57% 74.3%
MARTINSVILLE 111.14% 62.2%
MATHEWS 58.44% 80.2%
MECKLENBURG 29.19% 75.9%
MIDDLESEX 35.60% 82.8%
MONTGOMERY 79.77% 83.1%
NELSON 101.51% 78.1%
NEW KENT 81.64% 85.2%
NEWPORT NEWS 110.30% 72.6%
NORFOLK 90.52% 72.3%
NORTHAMPTON 31.46% 69.4%
NORTON 47.40% 81.0%
NOTTOWAY 27.39% 74.1%
ORANGE 63.27% 80.3%
PAGE 64.59% 76.5%
PATRICK 11.02% 79.7%
PETERSBURG 44.37% 60.4%
PITTSYLVANIA 22.77% 82.9%
POQUOSON 97.70% 89.5%
PORTSMOUTH 85.72% 74.3%
POWHATAN 107.65% 84.6%
PRINCE EDWARD 95.62% 71.2%
PRINCE GEORGE 45.02% 81.2%
PRINCE WILLIAM 98.56% 82.3%
PULASKI 65.25% 77.5%
RADFORD 83.96% 76.6%
RAPPAHANNOCK 76.17% 80.6%
RICHMOND CITY 90.30% 61.2%
RICHMOND co 76.54% 80.3%
ROANOKE CITY 132.74% 75.9%
ROANOKE co 103.62% 87.7%
ROCKBRIDGE 82.02% 80.9%
ROCKINGHAM 138.87% 83.8%
RUSSELL 29.03% 80.9%
SALEM 142.76% 87.5%
SCOTT 13.33% 86.0%
SHENANDOAH 84.78% 77.4%
SMYTH 44.66% 77.2%
SOUTHAMPTON 68.22% 82.5%
SPOTSYLVANIA 120.89% 80.6%
STAFFORD 123.97% 84.8%
STAUNTON 88.40% 75.3%
SUFFOLK 66.41% 76.3%
SURRY 136.52% 77.5%
SUSSEX 221.04% 76.1%
TAZEWELL 8.84% 84.0%
VIRGINIA BEACH 120.91% 84.0%
WARREN 83.74% 78.1%
WASHINGTON 108.98% 83.6%
WAYNESBORO 120.38% 71.0%
WEST POINT 217.53% 94.5%
WESTMORELAND 54.40% 75.1%
WINCHESTER 134.37% 75.0%
WISE 101.67% 88.9%
WYTHE 64.87% 80.2%
YORK 80.51% 88.0%