Punishing Poverty

Our Board of “Education” has engineered a reporting system
that rewards the more affluent divisions and penalizes the poorer ones.

We have seen that economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students underperform their more affluent peers (“Not ED”) in terms of pass rates on the SOL tests.  In 2018, that underperformance ranged from 17.43% on the History & Social Science tests to 21.82% on the writing tests.


This places schools and divisions with larger ED populations at an unfair disadvantage with respect to the SOL averages.

Here, to start, is a selection of reading pass rates.


I’ve selected these nine divisions because their ED populations are spaced at about 10% intervals.  (They are, from the left, Falls Church, Powhatan, Arlington, Gloucester, Bath, Dickenson, Roanoke City, Northampton, and Greensville.)  The orange diamonds are the division average reading pass rates of the Not ED students; the green triangles are the ED pass rates. 

The SOL average pass rates are the blue circles.  The divisions with smaller numbers of ED students to drag down that average have higher SOL numbers.  Indeed, the divisions with fewer than 51% ED (the statewide average) enjoy a boost; divisions with more than 51% suffer a penalty.

The extreme examples are Falls Church and Greensville County (which includes Emporia).

Falls Church had the lowest ED numbers in the state, 9%.  The reading pass rate for their Not ED students was 95%; for ED, it was 67% (a 28 point spread; no bragging rights there).  The average of the ED and Not ED averages was 81%, which would have been a fair measure of the performance of both groups.  The division SOL pass rate, however, was 92% because of the small number of EDs.  Falls Church thus enjoyed an eleven point SOL bonus for affluence.

Greensville County was the other end of the scale, 93% ED.  The pass rates were lower: 76% for Not ED, 59% for ED, a seventeen point spread with a 68% average.  But the reported SOL was 61%.  Greensville suffered a 7 point SOL penalty for poverty.

For a more complete view of the situation, here is a graph of division pass rates, Not ED, ED, and SOL, all plotted v. the ED percentage.


The Falls Church points are enlarged and filled with purple; Greensville, maroon; Richmond, gold.

Let’s simplify the picture by looking just at the least squares fitted lines:


The statistics of the fitted lines tell three different stories:

  • ED: The fitted line shows an 0.43% decrease in the ED pass rate for a 10% increase in the ED population but the correlation is minuscule.
  • Not ED: The slope is minus 1.35% for a 10% increase in ED and there is something of a correlation.  It looks like increasing the ED population is mildly related to a decrease in the Not ED rate, but not so much the ED (this kind of data can’t show whether the ED population increase causes part of the Not ED pass rate decrease).
  • The SOL pass rate decreases by 2.77% for a 10% increase in the ED population.  Thirty-five percent is a pretty good correlation and the reason is obvious: Divisions with larger ED populations have more ED (i.e., lower) pass rates included in the average.

The math data tell much the same story.


Here the average of the Falls Church ED/Not ED pass rates is 74% but the small ED population results in an SOL pass rate 13 points higher.  The Greensville SOL reflects a 3 point penalty vs. the ED/Not ED average, which is that small only because the ED and Not ED rates are only seven points apart.

Notice that the Falls Church ED rate again is far below the Not ED, here by 33%, which is double the state average difference.  Either those Falls Church schools are coasting with unusually bright Not ED students, or struggling with unusually low-performing ED students, or doing a poor teaching job with the ED group, or some combination of such factors.


The slopes again show how the SOL average penalizes divisions with large ED populations.  As well, the R-squared for the Not ED group suggests, even more strongly than in the reading data, that increasing the ED population is associated with an effect on the performance of the Not ED group.

We cannot infer from the data why the Board of “Education” would embrace this system that punishes poverty.  We can notice, however, that the system is unfair on its face. 

Indeed, the Board had a fair measure of learning, the SGP, that was independent of poverty.  But the Board abandoned that system on the flimsy excuse that it could not calculate the results until Summer School results were in.  In fact, they knew that when the started calculating the SGP.  As well, they were (and are) perfectly capable of calculating the SGPs in May for the students (and teachers) not involved in Summer School.  Waiting until August merely gives them a chance to camouflage some of the poor performances during the regular school year.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Here, for the record, is a list of the divisions that received more than a 2% reading SOL boost from the ED/Not ED average in 2018:


And here are those that enjoyed a penalty of 2% or more:


Ah, well, we can make one inference:  If you’re that Board and you’re going to make an enemy, better the Superintendent in Greensville or Colonial Beach than the one in Falls Church or Loudoun.

Still a Scofflaw?

We have seen that Richmond had the lowest secondary attendance in Virginia last year: 88%.  This happened in a context where Richmond earlier was ignoring the requirements of the state law regarding truancy and the Board of “Education” was ignoring its duty to require Richmond to obey that law.

Inquiring mind wants to know whether all that truancy last year was again exacerbated by Richmond’s defiance of the law:

Subject: Records Request
From: John Butcher
Date: 03/03/2017 08:57 AM
To: Angela Lewis — RPS FOIA

Ms. Lewis,

Please share with me the public records of the Richmond School Board that set out the following data for Richmond Public Schools for the 2015-16 school year:

The number of students with five or more unexcused absences;
The number of five absence truancy plans;
The number of students with six or more unexcused absences;
The number of six absence conferences scheduled;
The number of students with seven or more unexcused absences;
The number of CHINS complaints filed as to students with seven or more unexcused absences;
The number of proceedings instituted against parents of students with seven or more unexcused absences;
The summary of outcomes of the CHINS complaints and/or the proceedings instituted against parents;
The number of students with ten or more unexcused absences;
The number of warning letters sent to parents of students with ten or more unexcused absences.

If the School Board has begun to attend to its duty under Va. Code 22.1-258, there doubtless will be multiple records responsive to each portion of this request.  Please do NOT send me all of those; a single record responsive to each request (or a smaller number of records responding to multiple requests) would be plenty; an email with just the data, without production of the underlying records, would be even better.

With thanks always for your kind and good work,


Where Have All the Students Gone?

The 2016 Superintendent’s Annual Report sets out, at Table 8, the elementary and secondary attendance data by division for the year.

Here are the elementary data.


The yellow bar is Richmond.  The red bars, from the left, are the peer cities Norfolk, Newport News, and Hampton.

The Richmond elementary datum is merely discouraging.  The secondary attendance is appalling:


The yellow again is Richmond.  The red, Norfolk, Hampton, and Newport News.

Va. Code § 22.1-258 requires an attendance plan after the fifth unexcused absence and a conference with the parents after the sixth.  Upon a further absence, the statute requires either a prosecution of the parents or the filing of a CHINS petition against the student.

When I asked RPS for data on compliance with this statute for 2015, they reported 13,046 five-day attendance plans and 61 CHINS petitions.  They had NO RECORD of the number of five, six, or seven day absences and NO RECORD of prosecutions of parents.

We do have some data from earlier years:


Of course, our State Board of Education Fecklessness did not fire the Superintendent or sue the School Board over those wholesale violations of a law the State Board is required to enforce.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Looks like I’ll have to ask RPS for those data for 2016.

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.

Accreditation Theater of the Absurd

The Board of Education has deliberately created a problem it does not know how to solve.  But that “problem” will keep it and its minions busy.  Indeed, the sterile, ballooning bureaucratic exercise might even justify a budget increase.

Some background:

The Board has an elaborate and opaque system for “accrediting” Virginia schools and school divisions. 

The schools that fail to meet the Board’s standards can be “reconstituted” or just denied accreditation.  Schools being reconstituted operate under improvement plans approved by the Board.  Schools denied accreditation operate under corrective action plans and MOUs (Memoranda of Understanding, which is bureaucratese for unenforceable agreements) with the Board.

The plans and MOUs generated by this process have provided busywork for bureaucrats but have been ineffective to fix bad schools. 

Petersburg, for example, has been operating under MOUs since at least 2004 (video of 9/21/16 at 1:48:30) .  Here, as a paradigm of the Board’s ineptitude, is the history of Petersburg’s Peabody Middle School:



Over a decade of state supervision has left Peabody and, indeed, the Petersburg division languishing in failure.


(This failure is the ugly cousin of the Board’s money and effort squandered on “priority” schools.)

The Board’s record of failure tells us that its remedies for broken schools are ineffectual.  But we don’t have to rely on inference:  In September of this year, the Board members generally admitted (video of 9/21/16 at 1:48:30 et seq.) that they do not know how to fix the awful schools in Petersburg and elsewhere.

A few years ago, not content with being unable to cure the failing schools it already had, the Board set out to generate some more failure.  Sure enough, the new, tougher, math tests in 2012 and new English and Science tests in 2013 clobbered the pass rates statewide.


And in Richmond.


The three year rolling average “adjustment” to the accreditation ratings slowed the effect of these score drops but the accreditation rates soon followed the scores.


All of this generated an Everest of paperwork for the Department of Education and for the affected schools and divisions.  Unfortunately, there’s no sign that all this newly concocted activity accomplished anything useful.

Indeed, the bad schools already were scoring poorly on the SOLs.  For example:


Note: Grades 6-8, but not EOC, pass rates.

It didn’t take new tests to ferret those schools out.

When we look at outside evaluations of Virginia’s schools we do not see the ups and (mostly) downs so evident in the SOLs and accreditations.  Here, for example are the NAEP 4th grade reading and math scores for Virginia, by year.



And here are the 8th grade data.



These scores tell us that Virginia schools, on average, have held steady or improved slightly over the years.

The SAT scores paint much the same picture.



Yet the Board of Education would have us think that Richmond’s performance fell by nearly 70% and Petersburg’s sank yet lower by 15% since 2010 and that the “remedy” for this artificial problem is for these divisions to submit plans and reports to the Board of Education that does not know how to improve their performance.

There is a conclusive measure of the State’s failure here: The Board’s last annual report (pdf at 22) asserts: “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.”  Yet they can fire a Superintendent who does not toe their line.  Even more to the point, the Board has the authority to sue to compel compliance with the Standards of Quality.  Trouble is, to get a remedy the Board would have to tell the judge what a school or division must do to meet the standards.  The Board’s record of failure and its admissions (video of 9/21/16 at 1:48:30 et seq.) reveal that it does not know what to tell the judge.

Beyond question, Virginia has some awful schools.  Beyond question, those schools need to be fixed.  These data suggest that the Board of Education should go try to find something useful to do and leave Petersburg (and Richmond and Norfolk and . . . ) to fixing those awful schools, not implementing “plans” that only generate futile paperwork for the bureaucrats in the 14th St. Office Building.

The Board already is spending some portion of a $92 million budget on this charade.  They couldn’t do a worse job (and just just might help some schools) (and surely would be more honest) if they just gave the money they are wasting to Petersburg et al. to hire decent principals.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Sex and Truancy

Delving further into the Feds’ 2014 “Civil Rights Data Collection,” here are Richmond’s rates of chronic absences (absent fifteen or more school days, whether excused or not) by school and by sex.


Aside from the appallingly high absence rates in some schools (indeed, in the Division, which averages 22%), one might notice the several cases where the females’ absence rate is higher than the males’.

We can examine that phenomenon by sorting the data by the (male minus female) difference:


Where the female absences exceed the male by more than one percent, we see a preponderance of high schools (Armstrong, Community, Huguenot, Marshall, and Wythe, plus Franklin that has both middle and high school grades).  Also one middle school, Binford.

Three of the four elementary schools in that group (Bellevue, Fox, and Overby) are on the Northside; Swansboro is here on the Gracious Southside.


Looking at the other end of the list, we see six of the eight middle schools (Boushall, Brown, Elkhardt, Henderson, Hill, and King) with male rates >2% more than the female.  Seven Southside elementary schools (Blackwell, Broad Rock, Fisher, Francis, Oak Grove, Reid, and Westover Hills) inhabit this part of the list, along with three from the Northside (Ginter Park, Stuart, and Woodville).

Aside from the obvious fact of far too many students missing far too many school days, I’m not sure what to make of this.  If you would like to try to puzzle it out, here is the dataset:


And here are the specialty schools not in that list:


What is clear, of course, is that the State Board of “Education,” which is charged with the duty and authority “to see that the [mandatory attendance laws] are properly enforced throughout the Commonwealth,” does not even collect useful truancy data, much less enforce the attendance laws.  Rather than dealing with the manifest problem, it looks like the Board will adopt a feckless, unlawful, belated regulation on June 23.

Chronic Absence by Division

From a further dive into the Feds’ “Civil Rights Data Collection,” here is the distribution of Chronic Absence rates (fifteen or more school days, whether excused or not) by division.



Richmond is the yellow bar at 22%.  The red bars, from the left, are the peer jurisdictions Newport News, Norfolk, and Hampton.  Hampton is off scale on this graph at 68%(!); no telling whether that datum is in error.

Here are the data:

image image

I left out six divisions because their numbers looked to be erroneously low.  Here they are FWIW:


The Feds also included two Governor’s Schools:


And we have the (believable) attendance leader:


These federal data do not compare directly to the State’s attendance numbers.  The federal chronic data count absences of fifteen days or more; 50 days of absence count exactly the same as fifteen.  The state, in contrast, counts average attendance. 

Converting the state data to absence rates, we obtain this distribution:


Richmond again is the yellow bar; the red bars from the left are Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk.  Whatever be the incongruities between the two datasets, it’s clear that the Hampton datum is wrong in one.

More to the point, Richmond’s attendance is lousy by both measures and the State Board of “Education,” which is charged with the duty and authority “to see that the [mandatory attendance laws] are properly enforced throughout the Commonwealth,” does not even collect useful truancy data.  Rather than dealing with the manifest problem, it looks like the Board will adopt a feckless, unlawful, belated regulation on June 23.

What Do They Learn When They’re Not In School?

The Feds have an annual “Civil Rights Data Collection” that includes data on chronic absences (absent 15 or more school days,  whether excused or not) by school.  They have mapped those data.

The latest dataset, 2013-14, runs 457 MB as a CSV file and 606 MB when imported into Excel.  My first venture into that thicket found some interesting data about Richmond.

Let’s begin with the elementary schools:


The Excellent News here is Patrick Henry.  Now, if they only had better SOLs to match.

The shockers here (beyond the astounding rates of absenteeism) are Carver and Fairfield.  Their awful rates of chronic absences contrast with their recent, splendid SOL scores.

image image

If we plot the elementary school pass rates vs. the chronic absence rates, we see:


The outperformer there, with an absence rate of 25% and pass rates above 80% on both tests, is Carver (squares on the graph).  Fairfield Court (diamonds on the graph), at 21% absences, outperforms on math at 79% but not so much on reading at 61%.

These data can’t tell us whether those two principals are superb educators or accomplished cheaters but it looks like one or the other.

If you thought the elementary school absence rates were awful, just wait:  The Division average is 22% so something is pulling the average up.  That “something” is the middle and high schools.

The (much too high) middle school numbers look to be consistent with the pass rates there.



The two big underperformers are Elkhardt (squares) and Henderson (diamonds).

The high schools’ rates (including the astounding 60% chronic absence rate at Wythe) are much worse than the middle schools’ while the SOLs are generally better (courtesy, methinks, of the horrific dropout rate).



The overperformers with excellent attendance and pass rates are Open (4% absences, 98% reading, 91% math) and Community (5%, 100%, 82%).  Wythe, at 60% absences, nonetheless overperforms the mainline high schools in reading.  The underperformer on both tests, notwithstanding pretty good attendance, is Franklin (squares).  The other math underperformers are TJ (diamond) and Armstrong (triangle).

Note that Franklin has both middle and high school grades and I’ve included it in both the middle and high school datasets, albeit the numbers probably do not compare directly.

Looking at these data, notably Open and Community high schools, we can guesstimate that the excused absence rate is somewhere under 5%. The 22% Richmond average rate of fifteen day absences thus translates to something like a 17% truancy rate.  Yet Richmond reports only a 10% rate of ten-day truancies.  There’s something fishy here.

Unfortunately, the Virginia Board of Education, which has the duty and authority “to see that the [mandatory attendance laws] are properly enforced throughout the Commonwealth,” still does not even collect useful truancy data.  Instead of correcting that situation, it looks like the Board will vote to adopt a feckless, unlawful, belated draft regulation on June 23.

And the government compels us to pay for this shambles.


Here are the data:




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.”

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.