Petersburg: Paradigm of VBOE Incompetence

The Petersburg schools have been operating under Memoranda of Understanding (“MOUs”) of the Board of “Education” since at least 2004.

The current MOU and associated “Plan” are long on inputs but they fail to measure or demand adequate outputs.  As to the purpose of any school (learning!), there is no plan and no accountability. 

In light of this fecklessness, it cannot be surprising that the fourteen year history of Board of “Education” dealings with Petersburg is a tale of unremitting failure.


I have asked Petersburg for clarification of the recent SOL data but have received no response.  So we’ll have to try to figure things out from the public record.

Note added on 8/26:  I sent the P’Burg inquiry to the wrong email address.  The estimable Leigh Ann McKelway saw the post and today sent the following:

The last year Peabody Middle was open was 2016-17. In 2017-18 we moved the middle school to the building that previously was named Vernon Johns Junior High and we renamed it Vernon Johns Middle.

Vernon Johns Junior High’s last year was 2015-16 (I think). During the 2016-17 school year, the Vernon Johns building was empty.

To start, here are the reading pass rates since the deployment of the new tests in 2013:


The 2017 datum for A.P. Hill is missing because the school was caught cheating that year. 

Peabody Middle data are missing for 2018; Vernon Johns Junior data are missing for 2017 and ‘18; Vernon Johns Middle data start in 2018.  The current directory of Petersburg schools lists only one middle school, Johns Middle.  It looks like Peabody and Johns Junior have been merged into Johns Middle.  No telling about the 2017 data for Johns Junior.

(BTW: The first three elementary schools in this list have now been renamed to deConfederatize them; it looks like Walnut Hill got caught up in the process.  All four elementary school names in these data will be obsolete next year.)

Here are those data on a graph.


Notice the (temporary) benefits of cheating at Hill (the red line).  And notice the bottom-of-the-barrel pass rate there once they had to test honestly.

And notice that very nearly half of the students tested at Lee, Johns Middle, and Hill failed this year.

Except for the high school in 2013, Walnut Hill in 2016 and ‘17, and Hill before it got caught, none of these data meets the 75% benchmark for English accreditation.  Even more to the point, there’s no indication here of improvement in these ninth through fourteenth years of state oversight.

The math data paint a similar picture.


The high school enjoyed two years above the 70% accreditation benchmark; Walnut Hill managed four but is headed in the wrong direction.  All the others were, and are, mired in failure with no sign of improvement.

Indeed, more than half of the students tested at Hill, Lee, and Johns Middle flunked the tests.

As to Petersburg, the Board of “Education” has failed, miserably and at length, to discharge its duty of “general supervision of the public school system.”


Please visit this page for a discussion of the several reasons that the MOU process is a terrible idea, both as to strategy and tactics.  Those concerns aside, the data above demonstrate that the process has been a wordy and persistent failure as to Petersburg.

The Board of “Education” can sue to compel compliance with the Standards of Quality.  They have not done so.  They have instead persisted with this failed process that they know does not work.

There is a simple explanation for all 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.

Forty point six million of your tax dollars at “work.”

Mr. Federal Fixit(?)

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included $3 billion for School Improvement Grants.  Of course there’s an acronym, “SIG.”

The program awarded grants to states that agreed to implement one of four intervention models in their lowest-performing schools: transformation, turnaround, restart, or closure.

We now have a report (pdf) from the Federales that evaluates the effect of those funds.  In short:

  • Overall, across all grades, we found that implementing any SIG-funded model had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.
  • When we compared student achievement gains from different models in elementary grades (2nd through 5th), we found no evidence that one model was associated with larger gains than another. For higher grades (6th through 12th), the turnaround model was associated with larger student achievement gains in math than the transformation model. However, factors other than the SIG model implemented, such as baseline differences between schools implementing different models, may explain these differences in achievement gains.

Is it any wonder, then, that our Board of “Education” does not know how to fix Richmond’s awful schools?

Teacher Truancy FOIA

Having noticed that Richmond’s budget for substitute teachers looks to be increasing, despite an outrageous rate of teacher absences, I filed a FOIA request to see what our Superintendent is doing about the matter.  I got the following response (reformatted here to comport with WordPress):

Richmond Public Schools (RPS) received your follow-up request for records, which was submitted on February 7, 2017 via electronic mail. Your request consisted of the following:

 Summary records by school for the 2015-16 school year showing the number of teacher days and
the number of substitute teacher days; and
 Records since the beginning of Superintendent Bedden’s tenure that contain instructions or advice
to principals regarding the reduction of the number of substitute teacher days.

As provided by Virginia Code §2.2-3704(B), the request “a request for public records shall identify the requested records with reasonable specificity”. Please be more specific with regard to “Records since the beginning of Superintendent Bedden’s tenure the contain instructions or advice to principals regarding the reduction of the number of substitute teacher days”.

Please contact the Clerk of the School Board at (804) 780-7716 with any questions or concerns.

I guess they want me to sue them.

The Indifferent Leading the Inept

As we have seen, Woodville is one – perhaps the worst – of twelve Richmond schools that flunked accreditation for a third year running and applied for “reconstituted” status.

Before we turn to the Woodville application, here is a summary of Woodville’s performance:



  • The “All” entries refer to all the tests on the selected subject:  In the graph above, reading at all the elementary grade levels tested, grades 3-5.
  • These are pass rates, not the inflated accreditation rates.



The regulation at 8VAC20-131-315.C tells us:

[A] local school board may choose to reconstitute a school rated Accreditation Denied and apply to the Board of Education for a rating of Partially Accredited: Reconstituted School. The application shall outline specific responses that address all areas of deficiency that resulted in the Accreditation Denied rating . . .

Woodville’s application can be found in the agenda for the Sept. 22, 2016 meeting of the Board of Education.  It provides some basic data:


See the note below regarding that 93%.

The application also provides some Virginia Studies scores (probably accreditation scores) that my spreadsheet did not:


We saw earlier that 74% of the Woodville teachers were rated “proficient” and 26%, “needs improvement” in 2016.  So this school suffers one of the worst pass rates in Virginia but the Principal tells us that three quarters of the teachers are “proficient.”

That Principal has one year of experience as a principal.

The application proposes reconstitution in the areas of governance, instructional program, and staff.

Governance:  Woodville will add a administrative dean to the current Principal and two assistants.  The rationale:

The administrator’s (sic) ability to monitor and support teachers will increase as administrative duties will be equitably distributed.  All administrators will be tasked with the daily monitoring of instructional practices . . .   Administrators will increase formal and informal observations by at least 50%.

Aside from the problem with the English of these folks who supervise the teaching of English to our children, we have the fundamental issue: Instead of replacing the bureaucrats (and teachers) who led Woodville into the subbasement of failure, they propose to add a new bureaucrat and “increase . . . observations”  by the “leaders” who have demonstrated their incompetence.

And, most important: There’s no accountability in here for anybody.  They’re going to monitor and support and conduct observations but with no standards of performance for themselves or the monitored.  

Instructional Program, Reading:  The application tells us that many teachers now use the Benchmark Literacy Reading Program.  Woodville will implement it “with fidelity” this year, albeit they don’t say how the previous use has failed to be faithful or whether this year’s faithful implementation will include more teachers than used the program before.  More fundamentally, the application doesn’t tell us how many of Woodville’s manifestly incompetent reading teachers will be replaced.

Instructional Program, Math:  The application says:

Currently, the use of the array of math resources provided with the EnVision math program are (sic) inconsistent with many teachers.

Even aside from the problem with subject-verb agreement, it’s hard to know what that sentence means.  The proposed new practice does not shed light on that question:

It will be required that the EnVision math program components and activities be used more consistently during math instruction as it aligns with the outlined curriculum.


  • Will EnVision be used all the time or just more often?
  • Will it be used by all the math teachers or a few more or no more?
  • Is the antecedent of “it” the program or the (plural) components and activities?  In any case, why is the current program not aligned with the curriculum; who is responsible for the lack of alignment; will that person or those persons be fired?
  • So it “will be required.”  Will they assess whether it’s used?  What will happen to math teachers who don’t use it?
  • What will happen to that minority of teachers who were evaluated as needing improvement and most of that majority who, while evaluated as “satisfactory,” plainly can’t teach?
  • Will the “more consistent[]” use just be a bit more consistent or entirely consistent?
  • Why should we think that “more consistent[]” use of the program will, in the hands of incompetent teachers and administrators, improve anything?

Staff, Title I Math Resource Teacher:  The application says:

The Title I Math Resource Teacher was added to our school this year.  Until the 2015-16 school year, we only had one Title I Math Teacher.

The Title I Math Resource Teacher retired at the end of the school year.  We plan to hire a new Title I Math teacher for the upcoming school year.

The only interpretation that makes sense of that mishmash is: “We hired our first Title I Math Resource Teacher in 2015-16.  He/she retired at the end of the year.  We’ll hire a replacement.”  But I wouldn’t bet you a #2 lead pencil on that or any other attempted translation.

Then we have what this Resource Teacher will do:

The . . . Teacher will share the responsibility of supporting, coaching, modeling best practices in math while supporting individual and small groups of students based on weak skills.  Students will reduce the failure rate in the area of math by at least 10%.


  • “Supporting” and “coaching” and “modeling” but not supervising?
  • “Supporting” practices or teachers?
  • “[B]ased on weak skills”:  Whose?
  • “Students” will reduce the failure rate, not the learning imparted by this Resource Teacher or the coached teachers?
  • Given that the former Math Resource Teacher failed to accomplish anything useful, why should we think this one will perform differently?
  • Will they do nothing more about retraining and nothing at all about replacing their cadre of awful teachers?

Staff, PBIS Coach:  (The Web site says that the theme of  Positive Behavioral Interventions & Support is “teaching behavioral expectations in the same manner as any core curriculum subject.”)

The school added a PBIS coach near the end of the 2016 year.  They propose to keep that coach and create “a more positive climate and environment” and reduce suspensions by 20%.

Again, no discussion of why more inputs will improve the grossly deficient output.  And no discussion of retraining or replacing ineffective teachers.

Family Engagement:  The application provides a page and a half of “Activit[ies]” to involve parents and “Impact[s]” of that involvement without discussing how the school intends to lure the parents into participating in the activities.

Closing Rationale . . .:  Woodville’s peroration claims a 5% reading increase and an 11% math increase from “2015/16 to 2016/17” (presumably accreditation years; testing years are one year earlier).  In fact, for the 2015 to 2016 school years, the reading pass rate increased 4.7% (to 33.2%) and the math rate, 8.9% (to 38.5%).  At those rates of increase, Woodville would be accredited for reading based on the 2025 testing and for math, 2021.

Woodville projects English score increases to 55 in 2020 (accreditation year, based on the 2019 testing) and math increases that year to 60.

Facial Insufficiency:  Never mind the incompetent use of the Mother Tongue by people who purport to teach English to our children.  Never mind the confused and vacuous proposals that fail to deal with the incompetent teachers and administrators who sank Woodville into a quagmire of failure.  Never mind the absence of any kind of accountability.  The application is defective on its face:

The regulation is not a marvel of specificity as to the requirements for reconstituted status:

The application shall outline specific responses that address all areas of deficiency that resulted in the Accreditation Denied rating . . .

The regulation nonetheless provides:

The school will revert to a status of Accreditation Denied if it fails to meet the requirements to be rated Fully Accredited by the end of the three-year term. . .

Yet Woodville proposes to miss the standard for English accreditation by twenty points and the math requirement by ten at the end of the three year reconstitution period.  Woodville thus proposes to “address” its failure to be accredited by failing to be accredited.

The Chairman of our School Board embarrassed himself by signing this thing.  The Secretary of Education embarrassed himself by forwarding it to the State Board for action. 

Then we have the State Board: The video of the Sept. 22 meeting tells us (start at 1:48):

  • These applications have been reviewed by a subcommittee (1:48:56);
  • The plans were prepared in collaboration with VDOE (1:51); and
  • The federal requirement that the principal of the failed school be replaced is going away (1:53).

At 1:51:50 of the video, staff recommended that the Board “receive” the requests “for first review.”  The video does not show a vote on that recommendation (at least not there or immediately thereafter).  We’ll see what the minutes say.

To the point, this embarrassing application was created in “collaboration” with VDOE and it has survived review by a subcommittee (presumably of the Board).  We’ll see whether the Board affirms all this fecklessness by a final action in October.


Note:  The 93% Free and Reduced Lunch rate reported above looks in fact to be the Economically Disadvantaged rate.

93% certainly is high.  And we know that academic performance decreases with increasing poverty.  But poverty tells only part of the story.

Here are the Richmond elementary school data for the 2016 school year:


Woodville is the red circle.  And it is the low scoring outlier.  The outliers in the other direction are:

Doubtless poverty makes the job more challenging at Woodville.  But poverty is not the explanation for Woodville’s awful performance.


Next up: An even larger Another embarrassment (if that were possible): Blackwell.

DPU Data Admit It: The Reedy Creek “Restoration” Is a Boondoggle

We have seen that our City got a grant to “restore” Reedy Creek in order to remove pollutants that already are being removed.  As well, we have seen that they plan to clearcut park property and dig up a part of Reedy Creek that now helps improve water quality.

A Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Public Utilities now provides some gory details.  


Thus, we see:

  • DPU has no record as to how much of the sediment or phosphorus to be removed by the project already is being removed by the sediment traps (“forebays”) at Forest Hill Lake.
  • DPU has no record showing that it disclosed, or even discussed disclosing, to DEQ that it was asking for grant money to remove pollutants that the taxpayers already had built a facility to remove.
  • There are no records regarding dissolved oxygen.  As to the “see attached file” portion of this response:
    • See below as to the attached files.  Neither discusses dissolved oxygen.  Thus neither document contradicts the first part of the response:  They have no record discussing the effect of the project on the current dissolved oxygen removal in the project area.
    • See below as to the “discussion” of a rain garden alternative to the project.
  • Aside from the rain garden “discussion” (at the consultant, not at DPU), DPU has no record as to consideration of alternative sites on Reedy Creek or elsewhere.

The attachment mentioned in the last item is a PowerPoint presentation:


The fourth slide of that presentation, mentioned in the request, is this:


So we see that DPU’s Grace LeRose says to the public that “Integrated Watershed Management in Richmond” somehow is, or should be, related to applying funds to get best environmental gain.  But DPU has no records on that subject as to the Reedy Creek project.

The Attachments: There are two attachments to the response. 

The first is an email from February 23 of this year, 4 months after the project contracts were to be awarded, from the City’s engineering firm on the project.  See a copy here.  The date is interesting: It is the day of the public meeting in Forest Hill regarding the project.  The implication is that, as the absence of other documents demonstrates, DPU had not given any thought at all to alternatives.

The email reports a back-of-the-envelope calculation that it would take rain gardens on 55% of the residential properties on the Reedy Creek watershed to obtain the phosphorous removal calculated for the project.  From the date, we see that the City did not have even this morsel of information when it decided to clear six acres of native forest (Bill Shanabruch of the Coalition tells me that all but three of the trees to be killed are natives) and dig up Reedy Creek to remove pollutants that the sediment traps in Forest Hill lake already are removing.  In short, the consultant thought briefly about rain gardens, but DPU did not.  As well, we see that the City utterly failed to consider runoff from businesses (e.g., along Midlothian Tpk.) or other alternatives to the project before obtaining the grant and applying for the permits.

As another back-of-the-envelope calculation: If the City spent its $635,000 on the 1,760 calculated rain gardens ($360 per rain garden), they could achieve the same effect without clearcutting six acres of parkland.  Indeed, I’ll bet a $100 or $200 tax abatement would generate that many rain gardens at a much lower cost.

When I mentioned rain gardens to Bill Shanabruch, he wrote: With regard to rain gardens – they actually cost quite a lot more than $360 if they are professionally installed.  Of course, there are lots of variables: size, soils, plants, etc.  On the face of it, the city is correct that rain gardens are not as cost-effective as stream restoration in terms of getting Bay TMDL credit.  But there are many other factors to consider.  Cost-share and/or sweat equity programs for residential rain gardens would greatly reduce the cost to the city.  Then, there is also grant money available out there.  And there are lots of non-profits and volunteers to tap into.  And there are no maintenance costs because you make the private property owner sign a maintenance agreement.  But most of all, rain gardens solve the actual problem of too much stormwater volume and the pollutants carried.  I could go on and on about the benefits.  As I recall, EPA has a pretty good analysis of the benefits of green infrastructure which only become apparent when one looks at urban areas holistically and stop bean-counting for one issue.

The second attachment is a copy of the City’s application to DEQ for a Stormwater Local Assistance Fund grant.  See a copy here.

  • The application seeks $635,000 to match the same amount of City funds.
  • The application lists Reedy Creek, not the James or the Bay, as the waterbody “impacted by stormwater runoff being addressed by the project.”
  • Nonetheless, the application avers that “The downstream portion of Reedy Creek and the James River will also benefit in terms of water quality from this proposed project.”  The application utterly fails to mention the existing sediment traps in James River Park that are downstream, close to the project area.
  • Page 8 of the application is a summary of the City’s Stormwater Facilities Improvements budget, whose purpose is “[t]o complete the necessary replacement and upgrades to the stormwater facilities.”  It seems that, to DPU, the portion of Reedy Creek running through a native forest in a City park behind Wythe High School is a “stormwater facility.”

DPU later sent me a link to the City’s TMDL Action Plan.  The Reedy Creek discussion, p. 4-2, does not add anything new.

On this record, it is fair to conclude that:

  • DPU selected and designed this project without any consideration of alternatives;
  • DPU applied for and received $635,000 from DEQ without disclosing that the pollutant removal to be performed by the project already is largely or entirely performed by the sediment traps at Forest Hill Lake;
    • NOTE: A kind reader reminds me that the DEQ grant is approved but won’t be paid until all the required permits (the one I know about is the Corps of Engineers)  have issued.
  • DPU did not consider the environmental effect as to dissolved oxygen of the creek in its current condition.
  • Ms. LeRose of DPU tells the public about “integrated watershed management” and application of funds for best environmental gain but DPU has no record of either with respect to the Reedy Creek project.

The term for a government project to spend our money with no prospect of benefit is “boondoggle.”  This one would spend $1.27 million of your and my tax money to remove pollutants that we already have paid for sediment traps — and are paying for sediment trap cleaning — to remove.  And, at least by omission, they lied to DEQ to get half the money for the project.  And DPU’s LeRose tells the public one thing while DPU does another.  “Boondoggle” probably is too kind a word.  “Mendacious Boondoggle” comes closer to being accurate.


P.S. Due, probably, to a dustup caused by the City’s arbitrary email spam filter, DPU has not yet responded to the last item in my requests:

All records that establish or comment upon the schedule for the Reedy Creek project as related to the schedule in slide 7 of the attachment.

The attachment was another LeRose Powerpoint.


Slide 7 says:


Slide 6 tells us that the blue squiggles stand for “Watershed Management Plan, Set goals, Identify sources of pollution.”  We already have seen that DPU did none of that in this case.

As well, although the slide title speaks of “Stakeholder Involvement,” the slide body is silent on that subject.  I’ll be interested to see what DPU actually says on the subject of public involvement.

And, given that they have no dissolved oxygen information and, apparently, no information about the effect of Forest Hill Lake on sediment or phosphorus, I’ll be interested to see their plans for post-permit monitoring and reporting.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

“The” Is a Dirty Word in Richmond

Our City Throws Away Emails Without Any Notice and Then Pretends It’s Not Their Fault

Perhaps you’ve noticed that Richmond sought and received a grant to pay for removing pollutants from Reedy Creek, never mind that the sediment traps in Forest Hill Lake already are removing those pollutants.  And never mind that they plan to dig up the part of Reedy Creek that now is helping to improve water quality.

It gets more interesting: DPU’s Grace LeRose is co-author of a PowerPoint that touts “Integrated Watershed Management” and suggests that we “Apply $$ to get best environmental gain.”  Yet DPU has not studied the environmental gain available from the upstream portion of Reedy Creek where the City’s efforts have exacerbated the problem that their present effort will not solve.  Another LeRose PowerPoint discusses “Stakeholder Involvement” that apparently never occurred.

I was curious enough about all this to send them a Freedom of Information Act request for, inter alia:

  • All records that evaluate or comment upon alternatives to the [Reedy Creek] project;
  • All records that disclose, or discuss the actual or potential disclosure, to the Department of Environmental Quality that some portion of the sediment and/or phosphorus to be removed from Reedy Creek by the project now is removed by the sediment traps at Forest Hill Lake; and
  • All records that establish or comment upon the relationship of the Reedy Creek project and the goal of [the LeRose PowerPoint] in light of the existing sediment traps at Forest Hill Lake: Apply $$ to get best environmental gain.

No reply!

I’ve had problems in the past with the Richmond system blocking emails so I forwarded the requests to Mr. Todd of IT.  He has been helpful in the past with disappearing emails.

No reply.

At this point I should have sued them.  But lawsuits are disruptive and loaded with uncertainty.  Most annoying: I would have to pay income taxes on the attorneys’ fee award.

So I mailed a hard copy to the City Attorney.  Nine days later I got a helpful call from Dave Kearney, who has returned to the City Attorney.  He assembled the request and the (LeRose PowerPoint) attachments and got them to DPU.

Next day I received an email with a pdf of a letter from Susan McKenney, also with the City Attorney.

If I were to deal with all the outrageous statements in the McKenney letter, I’d have to write a treatise.  So I’ll stick to the really weird one:

We believe the City’s email filtering appliance likely intercepted the email intended for Mr. Steidel (and any of your subsequent attempts to forward or resend that email to Mr. Steidel, Mr. Todd, or Mr. Jackson) due the the appearance of the terms (sic) “porn,” “jerk,” and “the” [in the email].

McKenney has to say “likely” because the same primitive spam filter that purges the emails without notice to anybody deletes its logs after seven days.

Then we have those offensive “terms.”  They are in the signature that I put on my Verizon account some time back to warn unwary readers about my propensity to send out links (offensive terms hilighted here):

HEADS UP: I don’t think I’ve been hacked and I post only links that work and don’t seem to be dangerous. Even so, DON’T CLICK ON ANY LINK IN THIS (or any other) EMAIL. It’s just not safe. If what I say looks interesting, and you don’t mind some risk, open your browser, type in the address of the Web site in question, and drill down to the page in question. (It’s no accident that the address of my blog,, is quite short and easy to type.)

For example, I recently sent the link If you are interested, you can open your browser and type in (Obviously you won’t intentionally go to anyplace in China or Russia or to anything related to porn or gambling. And you WILL check the spelling and avoid obvious traps such as “Goegle” or “tachspot”) As I write this, the Techspot 300 android phones post is listed on the /news page. Later on when it’s been replaced by newer news, you can click the search button there and search for “beethoven.” Or just Google “android phones beethoven.”

I know, I know. It’s a lot of trouble. But then, if you click a bad link and some jerk gets your logon data and your banking password and your latest love notes, you’ll wonder why you didn’t take the trouble.

So there you have it:

  • The City’s primitive and arbitrary spam filter blocks emails that contain offensive words such as “the”;
  • Any FOIA request that offends that filter gets deleted without notice to the sender or intended recipient;
  • Seven days later, they delete the logs so they can’t know what they have received or not;
  • The statute requires the City to respond to FOIA requests within five working days of receipt;
  • The City could not arbitrarily trash an email if it had not received that email;
  • The City cannot respond to a request it has trashed without notice to anybody; and
  • Poor Ms. McKenney caught the hot potato and had to embarrass herself by writing a letter that seeks to defend the City’s stupidity.

I like to say that Richmond is the second most embarrassing jurisdiction in the East.  It looks like they are bucking for first place.

Big Bucks; Pitiful Bang

In the past, I have demonstrated that Richmond was paying a lot of money for poor SOL results.  This year, in light of our Superintendent’s complaints about his customer base, I’ve demonstrated that our SOL scores are awful, even after correcting for the economic disadvantage of the student population.

In this latter light, I turn to this year’s bang per buck analysis.  Instead of using the raw SOL scores as with, e.g., last year’s reading data,

I’ll adjust the scores for economic disadvantage, by adding the decreases predicted by the % ED


to the actual pass rates to level the playing field. 


Note: The gold squares are Richmond; the red diamonds, from the left, are Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk; the green diamond is Charles City County.

On the reading data, this produces an average adjusted score of 90.4, which is the intercept of the fitted line, i.e., the pass rate extrapolated to 0% ED.  Said otherwise, it expresses each division’s pass rate as the actual rate increased by the disadvantage posed by the division’s percentage of economically disadvantaged students.

You might notice that six divisions show corrected pass rates > 100%.  That is because they have pass rates that both are high and are considerably higher than their average ED would predict.  The rising tide floats all boats: The adjustment also raises Richmond from an actual 60% pass rate to an adjusted 79%

As to cost, VDOE will not post the 2016 data until sometime this Spring so we’ll have to make do with 2015 data, here the disbursements per student.

On that basis, here are the 2016 division average reading pass rates, corrected for the ED of the division, plotted vs. the 2015 division disbursements per student.


The fitted line suggests a slight increase in score with disbursement but there is no correlation.  That is, spending more per student is not correlated with better pass rates (adjusted for ED, so the divisions with more poor students are not disadvantaged).

Richmond (the gold square) underperformed and overspent its peers, Hampton, Norfolk, and Newport News (the red diamonds, from the left, ), as well as our neighbor, Charles City County (the green diamond).

Three of those six divisions with adjusted pass rates > 100% (i.e., > 9.6 points above the 90.4 adjusted average) were spending < $12,000 per student; all spent less than Richmond’s $15,155.


The math data paint much the same picture.


Here the slope might suggest a negative correlation between pass rate and disbursement except that the R2 again tells us that there is no correlation.  Richmond again underperforms, expensively.

The five subject average tells the same story.


To state the obvious: Richmond schools don’t need more money; they need competent management.

The data are here.

Richmond Teacher Truancy

We have seen that, according to the Feds’ 2014 “Civil Rights Data Collection,” Richmond has the ninth worst 2014 record of teacher absences >10 days, excluding days for professional development.


Let’s break the Richmond numbers out by school.


You read that right: 94% of the teachers at Lucille Brown were absent from work more than ten days in 2014!

For sure, the wide range here tells us we have (well, had in 2014) serious management problems in many of our schools: We’re paying a lot of teachers for not working.  Of course, our School Board does not tell us about such problems or whether it is demanding that the the Superintendent do something about them.

Looking at the schools where the rate was >65%, we find half of the eight high schools (Armstrong, Jefferson, Open, and Wythe) (counting Franklin as both a high and middle school), two thirds of the nine middle schools (Binford, Brown, Elkhardt, Hill, King, and Thompson), and 15% of twenty-six elementary schools (Fox, Chimborazo, Fairfield, Mason).

The preponderance of our (awful) middle schools at the not-at-work end of the list raises the obvious question: Does the absence of all those teachers affect performance.  After pulling the 2014 SOL scores and juxtaposing them with the absence rates, it appears that the short answer is “no.” 

For the longer answer, let’s start with the elementary schools.


This plot of reading and math pass rates v. the teacher absence rates shows essentially no correlation between the two variables.

Aside: Correlation is a necessary but not sufficient requirement for causation.  If the scores and absence rates correlated, it would suggest but not prove that the teachers’ absence was affecting the pass rates; the absence of a correlation, however, tells us that the variables are not causally related.

Well, on to those middle schools. 

(Note, I’ve again included Franklin in both the middle and high school categories because it has students at both levels.  It would make about the same amount of sense to leave Franklin out for failure to fit either category.)


As you see, we have higher absence rates and lower pass rates but no statistical relationship.

Last, the high schools.


Here, at last, some slight correlations (ca. 10% on R2, i.e., R of about 0.3).

If we delete Franklin, the correlations improve a bit, but still not to anything dramatic.


Note that reading goes the wrong way: If the correlation were better, we could wonder whether reading performance might be improved by the absence of the regular teachers.  But we’re stuck with the numbers at hand.

That leaves the question of financial consequences, the cost of all those substitute teachers.

Unfortunately, the 2014 Budget does not appear to break out the costs of the substitutes.  As a happy contrast (Bless you, Dana Bedden!), the 2015 budget shows the following:


If Richmond could cut substitute teacher use by half, it could free up a couple of megabucks to give a 2% raise to its teachers (for actually working).

I’ll bet you a #2 lead pencil it doesn’t happen in your or my lifetime.

Dollars But Not Scholars, Yet Again

We have seen (here and here and here) that division expenditure does not correlate with division SOL pass rate.

Today we explore the relationship (if any) between average teacher salary and pass rate.

VDOE posts an annual report that includes the average classroom teacher salaries (regular K-12 education teachers, art, music, physical education, technology, remedial, gifted, mathematics, reading, special education, and ESL teachers; not included in the calculation are: teacher aides, guidance counselors or librarians) by division and school.

Here, for a start, are the 2016 average teacher salaries of the highest and lowest and several selected divisions.


Richmond, it seems, is outspending both its peer, older city divisions and the neighboring counties. 

Maggie Walker (despite not being a “school”), looks like a real bargain.

VDOE will have the 2016 SOL scores in time for graduations this month but they won’t post them until August or September.  So we’ll have to be satisfied with the 2015 pass rates.  Here are the averages of the division pass rates on the reading, writing, math, science, and history & social science tests.


Richmond is the gold square.  The red diamonds are, from the left, Hampton, Norfolk, and Newport News.  The green diamonds are, from the top, Hanover, Chesterfield, Henrico, and Charles City (partially obscured, just above Hampton).  Lynchburg is the blue diamond.

You can decide for yourself what kind of return Richmond is getting on our money.

As you see, the computer is glad to fit a curve to these data but the correlation is nil (R2 = 1.3%).

Turning to the Richmond elementary schools, we see:


That 18% correlation looks to be driven in large part by expensive Munford (over at the right) and inexpensive, lousy scoring Woodville (bottom, left).  Note that the high scorer, Carver, is not all that expensive.

The state data still have not caught up with the Elkhardt/Thompson situation.  Here are the other middle schools


R2 is only 3.2%.  The low point there is MLK.

As to the high schools, it looks like we have a 34% correlation with salary


until we take out Community and Open, which restricts the analysis to the general population high schools + Franklin Military.


The low score there is Armstrong.  The expensive school is Huguenot.

Here are the data.


Of course, SOL scores depend on the economic status of the students as well as upon the quality of the teaching.  VDOE has student growth percentile (“SGP”) data that are not dependent on economic status but they have been sequestering those results.  Brian Davison has pried loose some of the data by division.  We’ll see if his recent victory court will make the SGP data available by school and by teacher.

More Money Down the RPS Rathole?

We dropped our subscription to the Richmond Times-Dispatch some time ago: The paper kept getting smaller and the local coverage more curtailed. 

Even so, the (excellent!) VPAP newsfeed discloses an ongoing kerfuffle over whether the Richmond Public Schools shall have more money.

Despite the recognition that the awful condition of some school buildings reflects inadequate maintenance, i.e., deliberate waste, there’s no talk of assuring that the new buildings will be properly maintained. 

Indeed, the money discussion has avoided the central problem: RPS is wasting money wholesale.

  • They spent an inordinate sum to paint handicap parking spaces and even more money to design them.
  • The violated Virginia law to give a $291,080 elevator design contract to a favored engineering firm.
  • It seems that every operation the City Auditor touches at RPS turns out to be wasting money (bottom of the page).
  • My own estimate suggests the something like $50 million per year is disappearing into the RPS budget with no discernable result.

Seems to me that the City should demand independent oversight of RPS spending before it even considers budgeting more money for the system.