The Board of “Education” Wants to Help Richmond the Way It Has Helped Petersburg

For years, the mantra to distract attention from Richmond’s failed schools has been, “We beat Petersburg.”

On the 2018 SOL pass rates, we can say it again as to all five subjects and the five subject average: Petersburg has the worst SOL pass rates in the state.  Richmond is only second worst.

Specifically: Here are the bottom 20 (or more) divisions in each subject.  I’ve highlighted the peer jurisdictions in red and, as a courtesy to my readers there (two is more than none!), I’ve also highlighted Charles City and Lynchburg.







Petersburg has been operating under Memoranda of Understanding (i.e., edicts of the Board of “Education”) since at least 2004.

As I have pointed out, the Board of “Education” is a paper tiger.  It has the power to sue to compel compliance with the Standards of Quality.  It has never done so.  It has, instead, persisted with a failed Memorandum of Understanding process that it knows does not work.

There is a simple explanation for this counterproductive behavior:

If it were to sue, the Board would have to tell the judge what Petersburg must do to fix the schools.  The Board cannot do this because it does not know (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48) how to fix those schools.  That is, the Board knows it would be futile to sue (and even more embarrassing than its present failure).

So now the Board has brought the same disruptive, expensive, and futile process to Richmond with, in this first year, the inevitable absence of any measurable benefit to the students.

On the evidence of fourteen years of sterile (if not destructive) State supervision of Petersburg and a fruitless year of State supervision of Richmond, RPS would be wise to tell the Board of “Education” to take its Memorandum of Understanding and go away.

Plan? What Plan?

We have seen that, having suffered the lowest average reading pass rate and the second lowest math pass rate in Virginia, Richmond this year “requested” a “division-level academic review.”

§ 22.1-253.13:3.A
                                                      * * *
When the Board of Education determines through the school academic review process that the failure of schools within a division to achieve full accreditation status is related to division-level failure to implement the Standards of Quality or other division-level action or inaction, the Board may require a division-level academic review. After the conduct of such review and within the time specified by the Board of Education, each school board shall submit to the Board for approval a corrective action plan, consistent with criteria established by the Board setting forth specific actions and a schedule designed to ensure that schools within its school division achieve full accreditation status.

On November 17, 2016, the Board of Education approved the request.  The minute is silent as to the “time specified” for the review.  The agenda item for that meeting provides an expectation (that was not submitted to the Board for approval) but no deadline:

A division-level Memorandum of Understanding and Corrective Action Plan are expected to come before the Virginia Board of Education by June 22, 2017.

Today (May 8, 2017), Richmond replied to my Freedom of Information Act request regarding the Plan:

  • They do not have a suggested model or list of items or format for the Plan from VDOE;
  • They have no schedule for conducting the division level review;
  • They have no plan or schedule for obtaining the required public input; and
  • The do have a draft “template [that] has not been vetted with RPS administration nor has it been presented to the State Board of Ed[ucation].”

One need not suffer beyond the first few elements in the template to see that it is not a Plan.  It is a list of items to go into a Plan. 

For example, the “Essential Action[s]” on the “Academics and Student Success” page include:

  • Create, implement, and monitor a comprehensive plan to ensure alignment between the written, taught, and tested curriculum.
  • Develop and implement a plan for division leadership to conduct instructional walkthroughs at all schools, analyze data collected on walkthroughs, and use the data to make decisions on how to support schools.
  • Develop, implement, and monitor programs for students with limited English proficiency compliant with state requirements.

And on and on.

Thus, we see that, in the 172 days since November 17, Richmond has done nothing but create a laundry list of issues to go into a Plan.  If they somehow manage to “vet [this or some other document] with RPS administration” and subject it to public comment and have it approved by the School Board, all by June 22, they still will have nothing more than a plan to create a Plan.

But, what the heck!  The Board of “Education” that is vested with “supervision of the public school system” does not know how to fix bad schools.  Indeed, they admit it (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48).

It is merely an outrage that we are being taxed to support this sterile (and lethargic) bureaucratic exercise. It is something beyond an abomination that, in the meantime, Richmond continues to victimize many of its schoolchildren.

Grading the Board of Education

Item H on the agenda for the Nov. 17 meeting of the Board of Education is titled “Final Review of Request for Division-Level Review for Richmond City Public Schools.”  It recites a request from the Richmond School Board for a division-level review of the Richmond system.

The agenda item concludes:

Superintendent’s Recommendation:
The Superintendent of Public Instruction recommends that the Virginia Board of Education approve the Request for Division-Level Review for Richmond City Public Schools.

Rationale for Action:
The request for Division-Level Review for Richmond City Public Schools supports accountability for student learning. Results of the review will be used to develop a division-level Memorandum of Understanding and Corrective Action Plan which will support improvement in the academic performance of students in Richmond City Public Schools.

The Board is operating here under an enabling statute:

§ 22.1-253.13:3. Standard 3. Accreditation, other standards, assessments, and releases from state regulations.
                           * * *
When the Board of Education determines through the school academic review process that the failure of schools within a division to achieve full accreditation status is related to division-level failure to implement the Standards of Quality or other division-level action or inaction, the Board may require a division-level academic review.  After the conduct of such review and within the time specified by the Board of Education, each school board shall submit to the Board for approval a corrective action plan, consistent with criteria established by the Board setting forth specific actions and a schedule designed to ensure that schools within its school division achieve full accreditation status.

That’s clear enough: The prerequisite to a division-level academic review is a “determin[ation].”  No determination, no authority to conduct a division-level review.

The agenda item, notably the recommendation, is silent as to the required determination of “division-level failure to implement the Standards of Quality or other division-level action or inaction” leading to failure to receive full accreditation.  The Board thus is proposing to strike out into ultra vires (that’s Latin for “lawsuit bait”) territory.

As well, the Superintendent’s rationale is silent as to facts that would support a determination of such division-level failure or action or inaction.  It mentions only that the Richmond request “supports accountability for student learning” (whatever that means) and will lead to a “Plan.”  So the Board’s paperwork also fails to state the factual prerequisite for the required finding.  In this respect, the rationale ignores the attachments that show only a third of the Richmond schools fully accredited).

Finally, and most important to the schoolchildren of Richmond, the Board’s paperwork asserts only that the resulting Plan will “support” academic improvement but not that it will produce improvement or lead to accreditation.  This Board of “Education” is so unsure of its own capability that it is unable to assert that its intervention will do any good.

Unfortunately, that timidity is well founded.  The Board has been conducting futile “academic reviews” of the Petersburg system since at least 2004 with the result that only two of six Petersburg schools are fully accredited.  Indeed, the Board members admit (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48) that they don’t know how to fix bad schools.

For observance of the requirement of § 22.1-253.13:3 and for clarity and completeness of its paperwork and for the effectiveness of its academic review process, the Board of Education gets an F.

MOU Madness – III

When the Board of Education denies accreditation to a school, it requires that the local school board enter a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

We have seen that the MOU is feckless nonsense from a sovereign entity charged to enforce a law.  In particular, the standard MOU reduces a legal requirement to an unenforceable agreement that the affected school board comply with the law it is violating.  It further maunders that VDOE and the affected division “should” comply with all applicable laws and regulations.

Today we examine the second sentence of Section I of the boilerplate MOU:

A copy of the [Standards of Accreditation] requirements for schools rated Accreditation Denied is located at the following link:

In fact, that link leads not to the requirements but to the VDOE Web page titled “Standards of Accreditation.”  That Web page, in turn, has a link to an unofficial copy of the Board’s regulation.  The official copy is here.

This regulation that has the force of law provides in part:

8VAC20-131-315. Action Requirements for Schools That Are Denied Accreditation.


B. Any school rated Accreditation Denied in accordance with 8VAC20-131-300 shall be subject to actions prescribed by the Board of Education and affirmed through a memorandum of understanding between the Board of Education and the local school board. The local school board shall submit a corrective action plan to the Board of Education for its consideration in prescribing actions in the memorandum of understanding within 45 days of the notification of the rating. The memorandum of understanding shall be entered into no later than November 1 of the academic year in which the rating is awarded.

The local board shall submit status reports detailing implementation of actions prescribed by the memorandum of understanding to the Board of Education. The status reports shall be signed by the school principal, division superintendent, and the chair of the local school board. The school principal, division superintendent, and the chair of the local school board may be required to appear before the Board of Education to present status reports.

The memorandum of understanding may also include but not be limited to:

1. Undergoing an educational service delivery and management review. The Board of Education shall prescribe the content of such review and approve the reviewing authority retained by the school division.

2. Employing a turnaround specialist credentialed by the state to address those conditions at the school that may impede educational progress and effectiveness and academic success.

If you’ll parse this carefully, you’ll see that it is a redundant accumulation of feckless nonsense:

  • What constitutes an acceptable Plan?  Where is the list of minimum requirements?
  • What happens if VBOE rejects the Plan?  Does this lead to an endless loop of Plan submission and rejection?
  • What happens to a School Board that does not submit an acceptable Plan or any Plan at all?  That division already is violating Virginia law.
  • What happens to a School Board that does not execute the Plan? 
  • What happens if the Plan fails?

The MOU adds a layer of paperwork but does not answer these basic questions.  Neither does it create any enforceable requirements.  It is a bureaucratic excrescence. 

Your $22.3 million tax dollars per year at “work.”

MOU Madness: Peabody

We have seen that the Board of Education places schools denied accreditation under Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs).  The Petersburg system has enjoyed the benefits of MOUs continuously since at least 2004.  The current MOU is designed to produce a mountain of paper but no measurable improvement in the education of Petersburg’s schoolchildren.

Last night I pulled the pass rates for the festering center of the Petersburg system: Peabody Middle School.  Here are the results:


Peabody made the accreditation cutoff (75%, the red line) in 2011 and –12, only to be undone by the new tests in 2013.  It now wallows at 53%.

If we extrapolate the data for the four years under the new tests, we can predict accreditation in reading somewhere after 2022:


There are no history & SS data for Peabody after 2014.  The drop that year mirrors the performance at other schools where we might infer that the school diverted efforts to dealing with the new math tests (2012) and the new English and science tests (2013), at the expense of H&SS.


Notice that the accreditation cutoff for subjects other than English is 70%.

With the really bad news saved for last, here are the math data.


More than half the kids are flunking. 

At the current rate, Peabody will break 50% somewhere around 2021.  Accreditation will remain a distant dream.


But we can rest easy: Peabody is filing a Pyrenees of paperwork with VDOE every year.

More Mischief at VDOE

VDOE is running a “survey

After two preliminary questions (nature of your interest in schools; where you live), the survey (reproduced below) asks how important the responder thinks various factors are “for federal accountability purposes.”

There are fourteen questions about matters such as pass rates, academic growth, graduation rate, dropout rate, etc. 

Then, second from the bottom, there is one about the crucial element in school success, the teachers.  But Our Leaders fall back on the old, misleading stupidity of measuring inputs and ignoring outputs: They ask about teacher credentials, not teacher effectiveness.

This fits into an ugly pattern:

It is clear that SOL performance decreases with increasing poverty.  Under the federal prod, VDOE began calculating Student Growth Percentiles (“SGPs”) that were essentially uncorrelated with economic disadvantage. 

The SGPs proved to be embarrassing to the Virginia “Education” Association and VDOE: They allowed a clear measure of teacher effectiveness (see this and this).  So VDOE abandoned ship and introduced “Progress Tables” that roughly measure student progress but mostly ignore the lack of progress.

Now they ask about the importance of teacher credentials (that do not measure teacher effectiveness) but they ignore even their diluted measure of teacher effectiveness.

Guess what: You and I get taxed to pay for this deliberate sidelining of the most important public influence on our schoolchildren, teacher effectiveness.


Here is the meat of the survey form:


MOU Madness – Petersburg

We have seen that Petersburg has been under Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with the Board of Education since at least 2004


The 2016 MOU and Plan are attached to the Board’s October agenda.  The Plan was adopted by the Petersburg School Board (search for corrective action plan) on September 21. 

Given that it must reflect the Board of Education’s latest thinking in the face of a longstanding problem, let’s look at the Plan.

The heart of the plan is at pages 6-9, titled “Implement Quality Instruction and Curricula Alignment.”  Here are those pages:




At first glance, this offers some hope: The Plan identifies a person responsible for each item and a person monitoring the responsible person.  And there are deadlines.

A closer look, however, reveals that there are no quality measures.  It’s enough to “provide guidance” or “monitor” or the like.

Another look discloses that virtually all of this is educratic busywork.  Starting from the top:

  • Provide guidance re curriculum monitoring;
  • Monitor curriculum implementation;
  • Provide procedures to monitor Special Ed. compliance;
  • Provide guidance for expectations for representatives for Special Ed. processes(!);
  • Provide guidance for expectations for monitoring “written and taught” curriculum; 
  • and on and on . . .

It’s interesting that Petersburg has been under MOUs since 2004 and it still has to be prodded to “provide guidance” and “monitor” things like curriculum. 

To the point here, none of that stuff deals with what is important: What kind of job are the teachers doing and how much are the kids learning and what happens when either of those is inadequate?

The closest the Plan gets to talking about results is the last item:

Implement and monitor a process to develop classroom summative and formative assessments which are aligned to the Standards of Learning in content and cognition and contain a sufficient number of items to assess mastery of the taught standards in a given time period.

Summative assessments” are end of unit measures of student learning; “formative assessments” provide ongoing measurement of student learning.  Translated into English, this bureaucratese says “Come up with ways to measure students’ progress, both ongoing and end of term.”

Of course, as to end of term measures this would reinvent the SOL testing and Progress Tables provided by the Board of Education. 

Redundancy aside, there are no measures here of what constitutes adequate performance, either ongoing or end of term; there is no mention of what the schools will do for students not making adequate progress or what they will do for or to teachers who do not produce adequate progress from their students or what happens to principals or the Superintendent in the absence of adequate progress.

The Human Resource section of the Plan, pp. 10-13, does deal with professional development.  But the most it requires is paperwork as to needs for and “feedback” from that activity.

In short, this “Plan” is all about inputs.  It fails to measure or demand adequate outputs.  As to the purpose of any school (learning!), there is no plan here and no accountability.

Petersburg being the poster child for the massive and ongoing failure of the Board’s accreditation process, we can be sure that this “Plan” represents the best that our Board of “Education” knows to do to fix a badly broken school system.  Which is: Erect a paperwork Everest and hope for the best.

This is worse than wasted effort; this is a malign assault on the schoolchildren of Petersburg.

But, then, we already have seen the Board members themselves admit (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48) that they don’t know what to do about bad schools.

Your $22.3 million tax dollars per year at “work.”

Ignorance or Cowardice?

While starting to look at the Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) and Plans that the Board of Education demands of schools that have been denied accreditation, I was reminded of that Board’s terrible track record. 

The paradigm is Petersburg, which has been operating under MOUs and submitting Plans since at least 2004.  Yet, as of this year two-thirds of the public schools in Petersburg are not fully accredited.

This poses the questions: Does the Board of Education have the authority to end this assault on the children who are stuck in bad schools in Petersburg (and Richmond and . . .)?  If so, why has it not done so?

The answer to the first question is easy: Yes.

§ 22.1-253.13:3. Standard 3. Accreditation, other standards, assessments, and releases from state regulations.
                                           * * *
Each local school board shall maintain schools that are fully accredited pursuant to the standards for accreditation as prescribed by the Board of Education.

§ 22.1-253.13:8. Compliance.
                                           * * *
When the Board of Education determines that a school division has failed or refused, and continues to fail or refuse, to comply with any such Standard, the Board may petition the circuit court having jurisdiction in the school division to mandate or otherwise enforce compliance with such standard, including the development or implementation of any required corrective action plan that a local school board has failed or refused to develop or implement in a timely manner.

§ 22.1-65. Punishment of division superintendents.
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 can sue to compel a school or division to meet the requirements for accreditation and it can fire a division superintendent whose incompetence or obstruction interferes with achieving accreditation.

Of course I checked to see how often the Board has used this authority.  Both a search of the VDOE Web site and an inquiry to the always helpful Chuck Pyle of VDOE gave the same answer: The Board of “Education” has never sued under § 22.1-253.13:8 and has never fired a superintendent.

This tragic failure of the Board to do its job leads to the second question: Why all this timidity?

The profound and prolonged failure in Petersburg and the admissions of the Board members (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48) in an open session point to the same conclusion:  The Board does not know how to fix badly broken schools.

But wait!  It’s even worse than that. 

Page 22 of the Board’s 2015 Annual Report tells us:

To assist those schools which chronically fall below the achievement levels identified by the Board as fully accredited, the Department of Education continues to provide technical assistance through an academic review process, designed to help schools identify and analyze instructional and organizational factors affecting student achievement. The Department and Board are also continuing collaborative agreements with certain school divisions, detailing essential actions that must occur within affected schools. However, Board members continue to perceive a lack of statutory authority to require the most effective actions by local school systems. That remains the purview, under the Code of Virginia, of the local school board.

You read that correctly:   This Board that is too stupid or too timid to exercise its overwhelming power over local school boards wants more authority. 

Never mind the ridiculous suggestion that the Board thinks a constitutional barrier could be removed by statute.

Your $22.3 million tax dollars per year at “work.”