Cheating at Carver?

The recent numbers at Carver have been spectacular. 

For reference, here they are, along with a bit of history:

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When I asked our former Superintendent whether they were cheating at Carver, he ducked

When Carol Wolf asked the new Superintendent, he asked VDOE.  Here is the (initial) result. 

Message from the Superintendent

Dear RPS Community,

We recently received information about potential irregularities with SOL testing procedures at Carver Elementary and consulted the Virginia State Department of Education (VDOE) regarding next steps.  Based on their initial exploration, it is clear that, in some instances, standardized procedures for testing were not followed.  

In alignment with the VDOE’s conclusions, we believe it is in the best interest of our students for them to re-test under proper protocols.  While we understand the burden this places on students and staff, having accurate student performance data allows us to better support our students and our educators.  We are working closely with the Carver administration and staff to communicate with parents and answer their questions and concerns.

I take testing integrity extremely seriously.  We have extraordinary students and they deserve the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities without question. If you have a concern about testing protocols at any other RPS school, you can anonymously share information by calling RPS at (804) 780-7906 or the VDOE at (804) 225-2102.

Jason Kamras
RPS Superintendent

VDOE says:

The Virginia Department of Education is investigating reported irregularities in the administration of Standards of Learning tests at Carver Elementary. The investigation is being conducted at the request of Richmond Public Schools. VDOE is also providing guidance on the retesting of students.

Carol points out that a number of other folks have raised questions about those remarkable SOL pass rates.  As well, the “irregularities” here involve the adults, not the kids.

Let’s hope the details will soon follow.


Truant Students; Lawless School Board; Feckless Board of Education

The always kind Clerk of the School Board sent me the list of unexcused absences for the 2016-17 school year.  That list shows the number of unexcused absences for each of 27,221 students.

CAVEAT:  VDOE reports a Fall membership at RPS of 24,868 that year.  Perhaps the 2,353 difference reflects turnover during the school year; perhaps there is a problem somewhere in these datasets.  In any case, these are their numbers.  I’ll go with the 27,221 total, given that I have absence numbers for that many students.

Here, to start, is the distribution:

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OOPS:  An alert reader noticed that the axis labels were reversed on this graph in the original post.  This is the corrected graph.

While I’m at it, here is that graph abbreviated to show only the distribution for 40 or more absences:

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Those numbers range from 5927 students with no unexcused absences to the one Big Winner with 137.  (That is one hundred thirty-seven; it is not a typo.)

At the other end of the scale, only 21.8% of Richmond students had no unexcused absences.  Said otherwise: 78.2% had one or more unexcused absences.

Or, for a more detailed picture:

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The “7 or more” is a magic category.  Va. Code § 22.1-258 requires the following:

  • Any absence: Notify parents; obtain explanation;
  • 5 absences: Attendance plan;
  • 6 absences: Conference with parents; and
  • 7 absences: Prosecute parents or file CHINS petition.

These actions are not optional: The statute says “shall” throughout.

In 2017, Richmond had 7,234 students with seven or more unexcused absences; they brought 173 prosecutions and filed 60 CHINS petitions.  That’s a 3.22% compliance with the law.  Viewed otherwise, it’s a 96.8% rate of violation by our School Board.

The flagrant violations of 2017 are part of a history of flagrant violations:

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Our Board of “Education,” which has the duty to enforce § 22.1-258, has done nothing about this ongoing defiance of state law.

In the meantime, Richmond had the third lowest reading pass rate and the second lowest math pass rate in the state in 2017.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Turnover at Westover Hills

The story about Westover Hills in the Times-Dispatch suggests that Virginia Loving has been Principal there since 2011.

The SOL performance there since 2011 has not been encouraging:

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Note: The Reading scores dropped statewide with the new tests in 2013; math showed a similar effect with the new tests in 2012.

RPS has just posted a job listing: “Principal – Westover Hills Elementary – 2018-2019 School Year.”  The start date is July 1.

I hear the party line is that Loving is “retiring.”

Where Have All the Dollars Gone?

On the 2017 data (the latest available from VDOE), Richmond spent $2,578 per student more than the average Virginia division (data are disbursements, not including facilities, debt service, and reserves). 

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Multiply that excess by the 22,916.17 students (Don’t ask me where 0.17 students come from.) and you get an excess expenditure of $59.1 million.

Other data on the VDOE Web site can offer clues as to where that money is (or is not) going.

To start: If Richmond were paying its teachers more than average, that could suggest a healthy purpose for some of the excess money.  As to those salaries, VDOE’s Table 19 gives us the following:

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Hmmm.  Richmond is paying its average teacher $7,207 less than the division average.  That number times our 2,274.53 teachers (Looks like teachers also come in fractions.) tells us Richmond is saving $16.4 million per year from those lower salaries.

Versus the average, Richmond is spending that $16.4 million somewhere, but not on teachers, so let’s add the counterproductive salary saving to the $59.1 million excess expenditure.  That gives a total of $75.5 million per year.

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Next, the number of teachers.  If Richmond had extra teachers per pupil, the cost of those teachers could explain part of this $75 million.

VDOE’s Table 17 gives us the data:

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A little arithmetic tells us that, vs. the division average, Richmond is has an extra 278 teachers.

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At an average salary of $50,567, Richmond is paying $14.1 million per year for those extra teachers.

It’s not clear that smaller classes produce better learning.  But Richmond seems to be trying, so let’s’ offset that $14.1 million against the overspending:

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We often hear that special education and poverty are major contributors to Richmond’s higher costs.  It is difficult to come by data to quantify that.  The closest I have come is SchoolDataDirect, the now defunct Standard & Poors data service that was supported by the Gates Foundation.

S&P calculated adjustments to spending on core operating activities to account for poverty, special education, and geographic factors.  On the 2006 data, here are their numbers:

The difference in adjustments is -6%; that is, on those (old) data, Richmond schools were 6% less expensive than average (in terms of “core” spending) because of those three factors.

Based on that counter-intuitive result and the absence of current data, let’s pass on those factors.

One final item: Richmond’s excess expenditure for O&M is $77 per student, a total of $ 1.7 million.  If all that were justified (and given the sorry state of our old school buildings, Richmond surely could justify a much larger O&M expenditure), Richmond would still have been spending an extra $59.7 million on something.

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Richmond’s disbursement total (as with all the numbers above, not counting facilities, or contingency reserves) was $344.2 million.  (That’s right, just over a third of a BILLION dollars!)  The $59.7 million excess was 17.3% of that total.

What we got for that money was the third lowest reading pass rate and the second lowest math pass rate in the state.

Until RPS can explain where all the money is going and what they are going to do to redirect it to a useful purpose, there is no reason at all to increase the school budget.  To the contrary, these data make a case for cutting the RPS budget by at least $59.7 million.

Spending ≠ Learning

We have seen that Richmond spends a lot more money per student than either the division average or its peer jurisdictions.  For that extra money, Richmond gets vastly inferior performance; indeed it is in a race for lowest SOL pass rates in the state.

To begin examining those data in more detail, here are the 2017 disbursements (not including facilities, debt service, and reserves) per student for Richmond, the peers, and the division average (rounded to the nearest dollar).

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And here are the totals for just the day school operations.

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Turning to the categories in the VDOE data, we see:

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As we might expect, the instruction budget is the major item here.  If we just look at the other categories, we see:

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Or, in terms of the differences from the division averages:

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From these data, we can’t tell where those funds are going in the instruction category but we know that we aren’t getting any return for the money.  The (very) large Pre-K expenditure (funded in some part by federal Head Start money) does not look to be producing results either, at least not in the overall sense.

The food expenditure makes sense in light of Richmond’s relatively large proportion of free and reduced lunches (albeit the poverty rate in Richmond does not begin to explain the low pass rates).  The state data don’t tell us where the “other” educational expenses are going.

Richmond is grossly violating the state law that requires it to deal with truancy; their puny (and lawless) effort as to attendance cannot explain the relatively large expenditure for Attendance and Health.

Our new Superintendent has asked the Council of the Great City Schools to audit the Richmond budget.  Let’s hope that effort provides a more detailed – and more helpful – look at how our tax money is being squandered on these awful schools.

Money Won’t Buy You Learning

OOPS!  A kind reader points out I messed up the totals in this post.  The State spreadsheet has a column for the day school total and I included that in the grand total, double counting the day school total.

Sigh.  Corrected version below:

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Now that VDOE has posted the division disbursements for 2017, we can juxtapose those data with the 2017 SOL scores.

For purposes of this exercise, I’ve left out the amounts for facilities, debt service, and reserves because of the wide variation of those numbers between divisions.  The numbers below, then, are the totals for the regular day school operations plus food services, summer school, adult education, pre-K, and “other” educational programs.

To start, here are the reading pass rates v. those disbursements.

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The fitted line might suggest that pass rates decrease with increasing disbursements but the 1.1% R-squared value tells us those variables are very slightly correlated.

Richmond is the gold square on the graph.  The red diamonds are peer jurisdictions, from the left Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk.  Charles City is green; Lynchburg is blue.

The average disbursement is $12,216.  The average reading pass rate, 77.4.  Richmond spent an extra $2,804 per student for an SOL return 19.3 points below the state average.

Here are the graphs for the other four subjects:

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And here are averages of the five.

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These other correlations are larger, up to the 6.29% in math, which is an R of 0.251.  From eyeballing the graphs, it looks like it’s driven by that flock of divisions in the upper left that gets better than average pass rates and spends less money than average.

And, as to Richmond, the result is clear: We’re spending a lot more money than average and we are competing for the lowest pass rates in the state.

Let’s hope the upcoming audit by the Council of the Great City Schools will tell us where all that money is going in Richmond and why it gets us such awful results.

Lawless Disfunction

The RT-D this morning reports that RPS has never implemented a 2012 policy that students with more than six unexcused absences per nine weeks or ten per semester be denied credit for the class(es) missed.

Aside from the absurdity of a policy that the School Board adopted but does not enforce, this – in conjunction with other public information – tells us at least five things about our awful school system and our dysfunctional school board:

1.  Our School Board Deliberately Violates State Law.

Virginia law requires the Superintendent to prosecute the parents or file a CHINS petition against the student after the seventh unexcused absence in any year.

RPS has long been violating that law wholesale.  On the most recent data (2016) RPS filed 201 prosecutions and 25 CHINS petitions for a total of 226, which was 3.1% of the 7,288 court cases required that year by the statute.

2.  The Board of “Education” Has Been Ignoring Richmond’s Violations

The State Board of Education is required by law to enforce the statute Richmond has been so flagrantly violating.  That Board has utterly failed to do so.

3.  The Policy Is Stupid and Counterproductive

If RPS and the courts were doing their jobs, no student would collect the ten unexcused absences that could trigger the policy.  Indeed, the statute requires interventions long before the seventh absence:

  • Contact the parents after any unexcused absence;
  • Develop an attendance plan after the fifth absence; and
  • Schedule a conference with the parents after the sixth absence.

While ignoring the statutory requirements, Richmond adopted this silly policy that would (if enforced) deny course credit as punishment of students whose behavior had demonstrated that they did not care about course credit.

4.  The Board Is (And Has Been) a Fraud

A policy that is not enforced – at all – is not a policy.  It is mendacious showboating.  The current School Board confirms that the policy is a fake by suspending the policy.

5.  Our Current Board Is Dysfunctional

Our School Board is fighting a pitched battle with City Council about funding new schools rather than focusing its energy on repairing the educational failures of one of the worst school systems in the state.  The Board concentrates on this secondary issue, of course, because the buildings are a problem even it can understand.  Meanwhile, the Board continues to abuse the children in its charge by failing to fix its dysfunctional school system.

Your Government at “Work”

Mark A. Olinger, Director
Department of Planning and Development Review
City of Richmond

Mr. Olinger,

I have your notice of the public hearing at City Hall at 1:30 PM on Monday, May 7 regarding a proposed encroachment into the Chesapeake Bay Resource Protection Area at 3005 Riverside Drive.

I am interested to notice:

  • The hearing is scheduled at City Hall, where the parking is limited and expensive, rather than in the affected neighborhood, where the parking generally is abundant and free;
  • The hearing is scheduled near midday on a work day, when many of my neighbors will be at work helping to fund your agency, rather than in the evening, when it would be convenient for ‘most any interested person;
  • The application for the exception is available during business hours at City Hall, where it will be decidedly inconvenient to view, rather than on the Web, where it could be read at any time with a click of the mouse; and
  • The Notice arrived in my mailbox a mere nine days — five work days — before the hearing.

This Notice is fully consistent with Richmond’s reputation for treating its citizens with a mixture of obnoxious arrogance and thoughtless disdain.  Whatever we are paying you, any excess over 25 cents a decade is too much.

With kindest regards,

John Butcher

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Note added April 29:

Ms. Penelope points out that the last sentence above (re Mr. Olinger’s salary) was snarky and inappropriate.  She is right, as usual.  I retract that sentence and apologize to Mr. Olinger.

It remains, however, that our City went to some trouble to mail a notice (1) advising us we can comment on the project and (2) telling us they are making it as inconvenient as possible to comment on the project.

This stands in contrast to the notice on the Planning and Development home page:

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Here we see that, at least as to building permits, the City:

  •     Opens early, to accommodate contractors and other customers;
  •      Provides free parking;
  •      Posts status reports on the Web; and
  •      Accepts submittals (only) in electronic form.

We are left to wonder why the City treats permit applicants with so much more care than it does mere taxpayers.

Dollars ≠ Scholars

VDOE has just posted Table 19 of the 2017 Superintendent’s Annual Report.  That table gives us, inter alia, the Average Annual Salaries for All Instructional Positions of each school division.

The spreadsheet tells us, “All Instructional Positions include classroom teachers, guidance counselors, librarians, technology instructors, principals, and assistant principals.”

Juxtaposing the Table 19 data against the 2017 SOL pass rates we obtain, for the reading tests:

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The fitted line suggests that, among the Virginia divisions, $10K in higher average salary is associated with a 2% increase in the division average reading pass rate.  The R-squared, however, tells us that the two variables are only distantly related, with about 96% of the variance being explained by other variables.

Richmond is the gold square on the graph.  The peer jurisdictions from the left are Norfolk, Hampton, and Newport News.  Charles City is green; Lynchburg is blue.

The graphs for the other subjects tell much the same story.

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Also the average of the five averages.

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That high-performing division at a mere $43,006 is West Point.  The high performer paying almost twice as much, $78,350, is Falls Church.

Well, we knew that money can’t buy you love.  Looks like it doesn’t buy better division pass rates either.

More Teachers ≠ More Graduates

It is Spring and VDOE has posted the teacher data it has had since September.  So let’s look at the relationship between those numbers and the graduation rates.

First, the “Federal” graduation rate, i.e., the sum of standard + advanced diplomas in the 4-year cohort divided by the cohort size.

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The fitted line might suggest that hiring more teachers leads to lower graduation rates but the tiny R-squared value tells us the two variables are quite uncorrelated.

Richmond is the gold square there.  The red diamonds are the peer cities, from the left Newport News, Hampton, and Norfolk.  Charles City is green; Lynchburg, blue.

As we have seen, VDOE has inflated the federal graduation rate by using “credit accommodations” that permit counting Modified Standard Diplomas as “Standard.”  They do an even better job of cooking the data by defining an “On Time” rate; in 2017 that deception raised Richmond’s federal rate of 70.1% to a bogus 76.8%.

Here is the happier picture painted by this manipulation:

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Again the two variables are not correlated.  The inflated numbers make Richmond (and the Board of “Education”) look a bit better but do no good at all for the Richmond students whom the system has failed to educate.

Interesting note: For Charles City, both rates are 92.6%.