Blarney à la Bedden, II

The Times-Dispatch yesterday reported on the Superintendent’s State of the Schools speech.

Bedden returned to the old excuses for Richmond’s awful performance: poverty, handicapped students, and students whose native language is not English.  I commented earlier on those bogus arguments: In short, those populations in Richmond are underperforming the state averages for the same populations so we should be looking to inferior instruction, not the students, to explain our lousy scores.

Much of the speech seems to have been devoted to explaining the needs of RPS for more money.  Crucially absent was any discussion of what RPS is doing to reduce the $50 million of excess spending that does not seem to be helping our students.

The RT-D also quoted the Superintendent for five specific statements, none of which withstands close examination.

 

10 out of 28 of elementary schools met the state’s standards for full accreditation; up from 43 percent last year.

Just a week ago, VDOE updated its accreditation data.   Their spreadsheet shows eleven of twenty-seven Richmond elementary schools to be fully accredited if one counts Richmond Career Education and Employment as an elementary school; if we notice that the school is oriented to “employment for Richmond students ages 14-21” and do not count it as an elementary school, the fully accredited count is ten of twenty-six, not twenty-eight.

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In any case, ten of twenty-eight is 36% and ten of twenty-six is 38% and eleven of twenty-seven is 41%, none of which is greater than 43%. 

 

Five out of seven middle schools are partially accredited

Franklin Military, which has both middle and high school classes, is fully accredited.  Hill is “Partially Accredited Improving School – Pass Rate,” i.e., it is not accredited and “[does] not qualify for a rating of Partially Accredited . . . but [is] making acceptable progress toward full accreditation.”  Binford, Henderson, Brown, and Boushall all are “Partially Accredited” only insofar as they are being reconstituted after being denied accreditation.  Elkhardt-Thompson is “new” and gets a pass, erasing the “Denied” ranking for Thompson last year.

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The Superintendent gets a “True But Vastly Misleading” rating on this statement, whether we read it as “five of seven” or “five of eight.”

Six out of eight of the comprehensive and specialty high schools met the state’s standards for full accreditation, up from 37 percent last year.

Actually it was 29% last year, 20% if you count Franklin.

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This year, it indeed is six of eight (if you count Franklin).

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28 out of 45 schools posted gains in English scores for Standards of Learning tests, and 9 schools demonstrated double-digit gains. 

There are two English SOL test classes, Reading and Writing, but a single score for accreditation purposes.  Since the Super speaks of “English” scores, let’s look at the accreditation scores.

Thompson and Elkhardt had awful English scores last year (thirty-eight and forty-two, respectively) but the combined school has no English score reported this year.  That leaves forty-three scores reported, not forty-five.  Of those, twenty-four, not twenty-eight, improved, seven, not nine, by double digits; eighteen schools declined; and one remained unchanged.  

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Note that these accreditation scores have been “adjusted” in many  cases to depart significantly from the actual pass rates.

 

33 out of 45 schools posted gains in math SOLs.

As to math, it’s twenty-eight up, not thirty-three, with twelve by double digits; twelve down; and three with no change.

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Just in case the Super is speaking of actual SOL math pass rates, the results are:

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That’s thirty-two up, one the same, and twelve down.

Overall, those score increases did not move Richmond from its second-from-lowest place in the state for reading pass rate and improved our math pass rate from fifth worst to sixth.  That’s not much to brag about.

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In light of all this, I’d make four suggestions to the Superintendent:

  1. Stop blaming the kids for the awful instruction in your schools;
  2. Recheck the numbers your staff give you;
  3. Try telling the whole truth – good and bad — when you are bragging on your performance; and
  4. Spend more effort improving instruction and finding out where RPS is wasting the money it has (and talking about these!), and spend less time kvetching about the amount of money in the Mayor’s budget.

The estimable Carol Wolf makes two further suggestions:

  1. Take some credit for cleaning your administrative house, making the budget more transparent, and the money you have saved; and
  2. Think about other metrics, e.g., scholarships earned by seniors, student and staff accomplishments that don’t fit into the bureaucratic categories, Franklin students who have served with distinction in the military..

Dollars But Not Scholars, 2015

Jim Weigand emails to say that VDOE has just reported the 2015 excess Required Local Effort (RLE).  The RLE is the local expenditure required by the Standards of Quality

The 2014 data are here.

I have juxtaposed the excess local effort, i.e., the expenditure above the requirement expressed as a percentage of the RLE, with the SOL pass rates

Notes: There are no RLE data for Lee County.  VDOE reports RLE data separately for Greensville County and Emporia and for both James City County and Williamsburg, but SOLs for the combined systems; I have omitted those data.  VDOE also reports RLE data separately for Fairfax County and City but SOLs for the combined system; because the county is so much larger, I have used the county RLE datum.

With those caveats, here are the reading data.

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Richmond is the gold square.

The least squares fit suggests that doubling the RLE is associated with a 2.4% increase in the pass rate but the R2 tells us that the pass rates and excess RLEs are essentially uncorrelated.

The math data present essentially the same picture.

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The high price, high score jurisdiction is West Point.  The second highest price, not quite as well scoring, jurisdiction is Falls Church.

Binford (and Other Middle Schools): Big Bucks, Taxpayer Schmucks

We have seen that, among the Richmond middle schools, tiny Binford is costing the taxpayers an inordinate amount of money per student.

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Yet, looking at the 2017 budget, the Binford expenditures by category appear to be in line with the other middle schools.

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As we would expect, the major expense is personnel costs; salaries are 55% at Binford, 57% as the middle school average.  If we expand the abscissa, we don’t see anything unusual in the lesser categories either.

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As best I can discover, neither RPS nor VDOE provides data on faculty size by school.  But, since the budget is dominated by personnel costs (> 75% of the total), it is clear that Binford must have an inordinate number of teachers and administrators.  Based on total budget, it looks like about a 50% excess(!), compared to the other Richmond middle schools.  

The 2015 SOL pass rates, when combined with the budget data, give a measure of the productivity of that excess staff (Note: Elkhardt/Thompson not included here).

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Given that none of the Richmond middle schools is producing an acceptable pass rate,

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the bang per buck analysis tells that Binford is battling with Henderson and King for the most expensive awful performance, but it is King, our worst-performing middle school, that is providing the least return on our tax dollars.

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For sure, more money does NOT produce better performance, either in Richmond or statewide.

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It would be refreshing, for a change, to hear our School Board and Superintendent talk about the real issues – poor teaching, lousy leadership – instead of making excuses and whining about money.  But it seems that, in Richmond, “educational leadership” is just another adynaton.

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Note: The ineffable Carol Wolf reminds me to show why the interest in middle schools.  It’s because the Richmond middle schools are terrible, even by Richmond standards:

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One result of that is the astronomical rate at which elementary school students leave the Richmond system and unprepared high school students drop out.

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Budgeting to Waste Money

The 2016 RPS Budget is up.  It’s time to start trying to understand where our money is going.

For a first effort, let’s look at the budget by school compared to the September, 2015 enrollment, or “membership” as they call it.

Here is the budgeted expense per student for the Richmond elementary schools. 

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The data come remarkably close to fitting a straight line (R2 = 66%), which suggests that there are important economies of scale.  Said otherwise, our little schools are more expensive per student than the larger ones.

All of the three smallest schools (from the left, Swansboro, Cary, and Bellevue) look to be anomalously pricey.  The slope of –$6.36 per student further tells us that if those three schools were combined, it would save about $3.6 million per year.

Here are the data:

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We can examine the academic benefit of the smaller schools by looking at the 2015 SOL pass rates

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And plotting the pass rates vs. the budgeted expenditures per student tells us about the educational return on the money.

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That’s clear enough: Neither smaller schools nor more money per student correlates significantly with better performance in the Richmond elementary schools.  Looks to me like any new schools should be quite large.

Turning to the middle schools, Binford is anomalously pricey.

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As to the pass rates, there’s one wrinkle: The 2015 SOL data predate the Elkhardt/Thompson merger.  Rather than fiddle with the data (e.g., use the 2015 enrollments) I’ve left Elkhardt/Thompson off the following graphs.

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Here, it looks like the smaller schools have some advantage, but a 9% correlation on the reading tests is nothing to bet money on and, as to math, 4% is even less so.

And, as to budget, we’re spending lots of money per student at little Binford, with precious little return.

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Finally, the high schools.

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Those expensive, little schools are doing very well.

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But if we take selective Open and Community out of the mix, we see that decreasing size doesn’t improve the pass rate in our mainstream high schools.

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As to cost, the expensive, selective, little schools do better as to reading, but not so much as to math.

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If we again take Community and Open out of the mix, we (yet again) see that more money per student is not buying better performance.

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Indeed, to a 20% correlation, more money is buying less math performance.  That’s driven by the large, inexpensive high school, Huguenot.

We’ve heard that Richmond purposely invests in “small schools.”  For sure, this year Norfolk has, on the average, 44% more students per school (and, dare I say it, vastly better SOL pass rates).

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What we are getting for those small schools is high costs but no better teaching. 

As the estimable Carol Wolf keeps pointing out, we have too many old, decrepit, little schools.  When we replace them, it would be a mistake to build new, shiny, little schools.