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:

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

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(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.

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And in Richmond.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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And here are the 8th grade data.

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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.

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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.”