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.

Absent in Richmond (and Elsewhere)

I noticed the other day that VDOE collects, but does not report, the number of unexcused absences.

I asked the always helpful Chuck Pyle whether those data were available and he sent me the spreadsheet for 2016. 

Here, from those data, is the distribution of unexcused absences per student.


Richmond is the gold bar; Lynchburg is blue.  The red, from the left, are Norfolk, Newport News, and Hampton.  The graph does not show the twenty-nine divisions that reported zero unexcused absences or Virginia Beach, which averaged 0.0.

That 7.1 datum for Richmond (2.6 times the state average) is 0.1 beyond a magic number: Virginia law requires that the division prosecute the parents or file a CHINS petition for any student with seven unexcused absences.  The average tells us that either Richmond was required to file on every student or, more likely, that some students were running up far more than seven absences, court action or not. 

In any case, there can be no good explanation (and no excuse) for this number.

Charles City and Petersburg are among the twenty-nine divisions that reported zero unexcused absences.  If you believe that datum from Petersburg, I have a nice bridge in Brooklyn you might like to buy.

Here is the entire dataset.

Div Name Membership Unex. Abs. Abs./Member
Greensville County  2590 37190 14.4
Sussex County  1127 11834 10.5
Norfolk City  32180 271164 8.4
Brunswick County  1780 14318 8.0
Montgomery County  9950 78479 7.9
Dickenson County  2296 16370 7.1
Richmond City  23909 169104 7.1
Nottoway County  2232 15713 7.0
Bristol City  2473 16619 6.7
Essex County  1510 9905 6.6
Accomack County  5412 34195 6.3
Buena Vista City  1038 5843 5.6
Westmoreland County  1749 9699 5.5
Prince Edward County  2137 11846 5.5
Russell County  4033 22334 5.5
Amelia County  1877 10187 5.4
Spotsylvania County  24336 130638 5.4
Surry County  846 4496 5.3
Portsmouth City  15349 80763 5.3
Northumberland County  1347 7078 5.3
Alexandria City  15509 76581 4.9
Dinwiddie County  4643 22670 4.9
Cumberland County  1378 6656 4.8
Wise County  6086 28873 4.7
Prince George County  6882 32262 4.7
Northampton County  1678 7748 4.6
Hopewell City  4420 20388 4.6
King William County  2326 10637 4.6
Colonial Beach  638 2877 4.5
Waynesboro City  3271 14354 4.4
Lunenburg County  1596 6905 4.3
Martinsville City  2272 9772 4.3
Suffolk City  14800 63527 4.3
Staunton City  2806 11515 4.1
Norton City  862 3484 4.0
Williamsburg-James City County  11803 47222 4.0
Stafford County  28899 115121 4.0
Prince William County  90610 359689 4.0
Goochland County  2610 10311 4.0
Lynchburg City  8724 34403 3.9
Middlesex County  1280 4975 3.9
Galax City  1381 5156 3.7
Manassas Park City  3659 13592 3.7
Newport News City  29429 108587 3.7
Smyth County  4629 16894 3.6
Franklin City  1180 4284 3.6
Southampton County  2827 9907 3.5
Hampton City  21256 74419 3.5
Mecklenburg County  4511 15679 3.5
Buckingham County  2039 7081 3.5
Colonial Heights City  2960 10158 3.4
Warren County  5635 19337 3.4
Amherst County  4262 14495 3.4
Nelson County  2011 6771 3.4
Salem City  3946 13055 3.3
Patrick County  2977 9825 3.3
Henry County  7441 24418 3.3
Mathews County  1132 3681 3.3
Craig County  663 2149 3.2
Manassas City  7927 24736 3.1
Chesapeake City  41479 129143 3.1
Appomattox County  2316 7000 3.0
York County  13231 39161 3.0
Augusta County  10592 31349 3.0
Floyd County  2087 6140 2.9
Culpeper County  8395 24067 2.9
Halifax County  5292 14983 2.8
Bath County  575 1626 2.8
Washington County  7452 20777 2.8
King George County  4509 12026 2.7
Poquoson City  2173 5754 2.6
Franklin County  7379 18963 2.6
Louisa County  5019 12833 2.6
Rockingham County  11809 28289 2.4
Shenandoah County  6148 14493 2.4
Clarke County  2040 4697 2.3
Isle of Wight County  5664 13030 2.3
Pulaski County  4424 9943 2.2
Grayson County  1749 3843 2.2
New Kent County  3138 6828 2.2
Greene County  3271 6826 2.1
Fairfax County  189296 382824 2.0
Radford City  1689 3313 2.0
Powhatan County  4364 8399 1.9
Arlington County  25538 47840 1.9
Henrico County  52752 97695 1.9
Frederick County  13684 24324 1.8
Wythe County  4290 7552 1.8
Chesterfield County  61376 106859 1.7
Loudoun County  77452 134695 1.7
Campbell County  8140 13583 1.7
Roanoke County  14638 24176 1.7
Fauquier County  11437 17521 1.5
West Point  794 1081 1.4
Bedford County  10144 13776 1.4
Albemarle County  14000 13517 1.0
Rockbridge County  2850 2644 0.9
Fredericksburg City  3611 2674 0.7
Orange County  5174 2844 0.5
Falls Church City  2574 1325 0.5
Hanover County  18280 2171 0.1
Virginia Beach City  71772 219 0
Alleghany County  2337 0 0
Bland County  830 0 0
Botetourt County  4853 0 0
Buchanan County  3012 0 0
Caroline County  4509 0 0
Carroll County  3941 0 0
Charles City County  740 0 0
Charlotte County  1933 0 0
Charlottesville City  4414 0 0
Covington City  1020 0 0
Danville City  6413 0 0
Fluvanna County  3629 0 0
Giles County  2515 0 0
Gloucester County  5663 0 0
Harrisonburg City  6081 0 0
Highland County  206 0 0
King and Queen County  901 0 0
Lancaster County  1200 0 0
Lee County  3200 0 0
Lexington City  510 0 0
Madison County  1831 0 0
Page County  3457 0 0
Petersburg City  4328 0 0
Pittsylvania County  9325 0 0
Rappahannock County  916 0 0
Richmond County  1307 0 0
Roanoke City  13910 0 0
Scott County  3701 0 0
Tazewell County  6236 0 0
Winchester City  4636 0 0
Total 1311280 3552772 2.71

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.

Absent at VBOE

Never mind a statutory duty to enforce the mandatory attendance laws, the Board of “Education” did not even attempt to adopt a truancy regulation until 2011.  They botched that one so terribly that they withdrew it

The next try yielded a wordy concoction that ignored part-day truancy (the kind that killed Justin Creech in 2005).  As I said at the time:

[W]e are obliged to read the statute to accomplish its purpose: every student must attend school for “at least 180 teaching days or 990 teaching hours.” Staff’s narrow reading of the [statute] would lead to a regulation that is manifestly inconsistent with the will of our General Assembly.

Indeed, having officially interpreted the statute to apply only to full day absences, the Board would be challenged to later expand the reach of the regulation to part day absences. Further, the regulation as reproposed does not even require the reporting of part day absences. The Board thus seeks to codify its failure to enforce the mandatory attendance statute as to such absences.

The feeble regulation took effect Nov. 30, 2016, 5+ years after the first attempt.

To the good, the regulation requires some reporting regarding compliance with the requirements of Va. Code § 22.1-258 (notice to parents after five absences; conference after six; prosecution of parents or CHINS petition after seven).

So I went looking for the Board’s data reporting requirements. 

The VDOE Data Elements (xls; also available as a pdf) for the 2016-2017 Student Record Collection were last revised on August 8, 2016, before the Nov. 30, 2016 effective date but well after the May, 2016 adoption of the truancy regulation.  Only two of these data elements refer to truancy:

  • Item 47, Truancy Conference Flag (Conference scheduled with parents when student has six or more unexcused absences); and
  • Item 68, Unexcused Absences (Cumulative number of unexcused absences)

VDOE reports to the public (under the heading “Student Truancy”) only the count of conferences (that the report calls “Truancy Count”).  These numbers are interesting, but only mildly so in the absence of the count of 6-day truancies.

VDOE does not explain why it suppresses those totals that could measure the extent to which a division has met the conference requirement of § 22.1-258.  Could it be that the Board would be embarrassed because these data would show widespread failure to comply with this requirement the Board is obliged to enforce?

As of Feb. 5, 2017, this “Truancy Count” report for the 2016 school year has not been posted (Never mind that we are seven+ months into the 2017 school year).

More to the point, the Data Elements have not been revised to include the requirements of the Board’s truancy regulation.  Looks like we get to go yet another year without any measure at all of the Board’s failure to discharge its duty to enforce school attendance.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Still Absent in Richmond

A recent study from The University reminds us that Richmond still has a terrible problem with truancy.

The study’s 2015 data on “chronic” absences (10% or more, nominally 18 of 180 days) show Richmond with more than double the state rate.


Forty-five percent of twelfth graders were absent more than three and a half weeks out of that year!

Richmond stopped posting its truancy data two years ago.  A Freedom of Information Act request this spring disclosed that they are not even keeping records.

For sure, the upcoming Division Level Academic Review of the Richmond system must deal with truancy abatement and compliance with Code § 22.1-258 and full reporting on the results.

Truant in Richmond

WaPo yesterday has a piece on a UVa truancy study that is based on USDOE’s 2014 “civil rights” database.

Here is one eye-opener from the study:


Note: The Feds count as “chronic” an absence of fifteen or more school days, whether excused or not.  Fifteen days is 8.3% of the statutory 180 day school year.

In fact, the Richmond situation is worse in some places (and much better in others) than the UVa figure suggests:


Do you wonder that Richmond has stopped posting its truancy numbers and, particularly, the numbers of court cases that are required by state law after the seventh unexcused absence?

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.

Teacher Truancy

If you thought Richmond’s truancy rate (22% absent 15 days or more, excused or not, in 2014) was bad, wait ‘till you see the teachers’ truancy rate.

The Feds’ 2014 “Civil Rights Data Collection” includes data on the numbers of teachers absent from work more than ten days, other than for professional development.  Here are the division data, sorted by increasing rates:


Richmond is the yellow bar at 56% (!), ninth from the worst.  The red bars are, from the left, Hampton, Norfolk, and Newport News.

The mean here is 33% with a standard deviation of 15%.  That puts Richmond one and a half standard deviations above the mean.

It must be tough to run a school system when your teachers are not at work.

Here are the school division data:

image image

The two Governor’s Schools in the report provide a nice contrast:


Caveat: The 2014 Superintendent’s Annual Report tells us that Richmond had 1,295.5 elementary teaching positions and 740.5 secondary, for a total of 2,036.  The Feds report 1,718 teachers.  The State numbers include guidance counselors, librarians, and technology instructors, which presumably accounts for the 16% difference.

Stay tuned for the data by Richmond school.  I also have an inquiry pending to see whether VDOE has more detailed data on this subject.

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.