State of the (Bogus) Excuses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, the non-English speaking students.

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

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

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

Truancy by School

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

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

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

Caveats:

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

First the elementary schools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We also have high schools.

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

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

Preview:

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned . . .

Where Has All the Money Gone

The ongoing expenditure of over $4 million per year on substitute teachers (in support of a 22% rate of teacher absences of 15 days or more in 2015) along with the annual kerfuffle over the RPS budget reminded me to look again at the vanishing money in the RPS budget.

The current and recent Richmond budgets are on the RPS Web page.  To get the statewide expenditure data, however, we have to wait for VDOE.  They have had the 2016 data (pdf at item 6) since September, 2016 but won’t publish them until sometime near the end of the 2017 school year, so we ‘re stuck with the 2015 numbers.

Here, for a start, are the 2015 disbursements (for everything but facilities, debt service, and contingency reserve) per student (end of year enrollment) for Richmond, a neighbor, three peer jurisdictions, and the state division average.

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And here are the same data expressed as differences from the division average.

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Hmm.  The peer cities cluster around the state average but Richmond is high by over three thousand bucks per kid (26%).  Where is all that money going?

Well, it’s going to almost every budget category.

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In dollar terms, the major item is the instruction budget, with a $37.8 million excess.

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Richmond that year had 10.0 students per instructional position while the state average was 11.8.  That is, Richmond had 18% more teachers per kid, a total of 390 extra instructional positions.  At the average salary of $51,962 per instructional position, we spent an extra $20.3 million.

At the same time, our average instructional salary was (a shameful) $3,927 below the state average of $55,888.  So we saved $8.58 million on those salaries vs. the average.

Combining those numbers, we see $27 million gone missing in the instruction budget vs. the state average:

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No telling where all that money went.  And no telling why we had (and still have) all those extra teachers.  For sure, the extra money and staff are not improving SOL scores or reducing truancy.

But you might hope RPS would figure that out before demanding more public funds.

And while you were hoping, you could hope they might tell us what they’re spending that $27 million on and what those extra teachers are doing, and what we’re getting for it.

Adult Delinquents

You may recall that in 2016 we had the 30th worst elementary attendance and the very worst secondary attendance in the state.  So, of course, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with RPS.

Here is a summary of the (incomplete) historical data I have, along with the (incomplete) data in their response.

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As a reminder, Va. Code § 22.1-258 requires an attendance plan after five unexcused absences, a conference with the parents after six, and either a prosecution or a CHINS petition after seven.

To the good, the number of six-absence conferences has been increasing, at least up through 2015. 

To the illegal and unacceptably bad, we see the count of ten absence truancies increasing to 4008 in 2016.  The count of seven absence cases must be a larger number.  Yet the numbers of prosecutions and CHINS petitions decreased from 2014.   The sum, 226, was merely 5.6% of the ten absence truancies and surely less than that fraction of the seven absence cases. 

So, by their own numbers, RPS violated § 22.1-258 more than 3,782 times last year, i.e., in more than 94.4% of the cases.

RPS also violated FOIA by failing to provide most of the data I requested last week.  I will follow up with them once I finish this post.

As icing on this egregious cake, the State Board of “Education,” which is required by law to enforce § 22.1-258, has neither fired the Richmond Superintendent nor sued the Richmond School Board.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Question for VDOE

I’ve been looking at enrollment patterns (posts will follow) and have emerged with questions about the problems that underlie the “ninth grade bump,” the larger enrollment in the ninth grade compared to both the the later grades and the eighth grade.  So today I sent an email to the estimable Chuck Pyle at VDOE:

3/1/17

Via Email

Chuck,

The “ninth grade bump” looks to be a statewide phenomenon.

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VDOE examines the far side of that bump with data on dropouts and graduation rates. The graduation rate now is part of the accreditation process.

The near side of the ninth grade bump looks to reflect students who are not prepared to do high school work or who otherwise have problems adapting to high school. What is VDOE doing to measure the influences that lead to this problem and to counter those influences?

John

Middle School Mess, II

We have seen that Middle School and the onset of puberty have been marked by a slight drop in math pass rates statewide but not in reading.  In contrast,  the sixth grade brought plummeting pass rates in both subjects in the Richmond schools.

Those data mostly looked at the period before the new math tests in 2012 and the new reading tests in 2013.

Today let’s look at the third-graders of 2011 and the progress of their group up to the past school year.  To that end, here are the pass rates of the third graders in 2011, the fourth graders in 2012, and so on. 

Let’s start with the reading pass rates.

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The new tests dropped Richmond’s fifth graders to 23 points below the state average, while the same group scored six points below the average in 2012 (under the old tests).

The same group dropped another ten points when they entered middle school in 2014; in the eighth grade that group remained 31 points below the state average.

The math scores are even more dramatic.

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The group went from six to fourteen points below the state under the new tests in 2012, and dropped another three points in the fifth grade (2013).  Then came middle school: In the sixth grade the (mostly) same students fell to 43 points below the average.  In 2016 (eighth grade) the group remained 30 points down.

As before, we see two effects here: The new tests whacked the Richmond scores in both elementary and middle grades, especially in math.  The middle schools took students who had been performing below average in elementary school and devastated their performances, especially in math.

These data don’t tell us what is wrong with our middle schools; they do tell is that, whatever it is, it is horrible.

Gone. Forgotten. For Shame!

The 2016 4-year cohort dropout data are up at VDOE.  The only good thing about the Richmond datum, 9.9% dropouts, is that it’s less than last year’s 11.9%.

Here is the distribution of division dropout rates.

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Richmond is the gold bar.  The red bars are, from the left, Petersburg, Norfolk, Hampton, and Newport News.  The blue, with a hat tip to Jim Weigand, is Lynchburg.  Charles City is an invisible 0% over at the right.

And here are those selected divisions and the state average.

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That 9.9% in Richmond counts the 146 kids, out of the 1,472 student cohort, whom the Richmond schools utterly failed to educate. 

But see this on the subject of the students who did not drop out and were left to marinate in the incompetence of RPS. 

Teacher Truancy, II

The 2014 data from the Feds showed Richmond with the ninth worst Virginia division record of teacher absences >10 days, excluding days for professional development. 

The Richmond data by school ranged from surprisingly high to astronomically high:

The 2014 RPS budget did not break out Richmond’s expenditures for substitutes; the 2015 budget showed $101.8 million for “instr. class staff” and $4.104 million (3.9% of the “instr.” budget) for “n-substitute instr prof.”

Today I checked the 2017 adopted budget.  It shows:

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The 2015 actual expenditure for substitutes came to 5.6%, well beyond the budgeted 3.9%. 

As well, the budget for FY 17 shows 4.2% for substitutes (going up, it seems).  

Of course, I’ve filed a FOIA request to see what our Superintendent has been doing to reduce this waste of taxpayer funds.

Teacher Non-Evaluation

The National Council on Teacher Quality has a state-by-state evaluation of teacher evaluations.  Their analysis flunks Virginia’s implementation of the (statutory) requirement for use of objective measures of student growth as part of the teacher evaluation system.

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(Note citation to Vermont).

In fact, that understates the weakness of the Virginia system.

The Virginia requirement in Va. Code § 22.1-253.13:5 is

Evaluations shall include student academic progress as a significant component and an overall summative rating.

According to the Board of Education, “Student Academic Progress” supposedly accounts for 40% of the evaluation.  But the Board’s “performance indicators” dilute that beyond recognition:

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Nowhere in “sets . . . goals,” “documents . . . progress,” “provides evidence,” or “uses . . . data” do the guidelines say that the teacher shall be evaluated based on how much the students learn. 

This is important because experience teaches us that teacher evaluations that are not firmly grounded in objective data are inflated and meaningless:

  • In the 2011 the statewide report of teacher evaluations (the only such report), three of 7,257 ratings were “unsatisfactory” and forty-nine were “needs improvement.”  All the rest were “meets” or “exceeds” expectations.
  • In twelve of the Richmond schools denied accreditation this year, four of 444 (0.9%) teachers were rated “unacceptable” and 32 (7.2%), “developing/needs improvement.”  That is, only 8.1% of the teachers in these schools that had failed accreditation for four years running were less than “proficient.”

For a more detailed analysis of the Board’s feckless evasion of the law, see this.