Bureaucracy Über Alles

The Division-Level Academic Review of Richmond Public Schools
Is a Fallow Heap of Bureaucratic Nonsense

In July, 2016, our (now ex-) Superintendent “indicated” that a division-level academic review of the Richmond schools was in order.  In November, the Board of Education (VBOE) voted (pdf at 365) to approve that review.

In June of this year, VBOE performed a “First Review of Division-Level Memorandum of Understanding for Richmond city Public Schools.”  That Memorandum is a monument to bureaucratic nonsense but does not report the results of the review.

It turns out that the Department of Education (VDOE) completed the division-level review in March but the results remained closeted until Katy Evans of the Times-Dispatch pried them loose on June 12 with a Freedom of Information Act request. 

Evans’ story about the Review includes the Score Sheet and the “Review Tool.”  Evans reports, inter alia: “Richmond scored lowest on leadership and governance and human resources tools.  The division lost many points because its latest strategic plan, which expired in 2015, lacked a vision statement.”

In fact, only seventeen of forty-four Richmond schools are fully accredited.  Richmond had the lowest reading and second-lowest math pass rates in the state on the 2016 SOLs.  Yet VDOE marks the division down for leadership, governance, human resources, and and a stale vision statement.  Never mind the lousy teaching.

The Score Sheet illuminates this skewed approach: Only one of twenty-seven items even mentions student achievement.  None of the six “Human Resource” items (and none of the other twenty-one items) mentions teaching effectiveness.

Indeed, you can parse the Score Sheet (or, if you have a really high tolerance level for bureaucratic excess, the “Tool”) and seek in vain evaluations of what the kids are or are not learning, and why. 

To the contrary, the review is designed to camouflage the only real performance datum we have, the SOL pass rate.  Thus, the “Student Achievement” item is an average of five elements, only one of which is a measure of student performance.

On a scale of zero to three, where zero and one are failing, Richmond receives a “0” for student “Outcomes” (no surprise there), a “1” for “Student achievement Expectations,” a “1” for “Curriculum Alignment,” a “1” for “Instructional Leadership,” and a “3” for “Support for Instructional Leadership.”

The “Student Achievement” score for Richmond thus is 1.2, not zero!  The “3” for leadership “support” boosts the average from an actual SOL performance of zero to a misleading bureaucratic fiction of 1.2. 

This avoidance of the the important but difficult (measuring and improving teaching performance) and embrace of the trivial but easy (counting beans) should not come as a surprise.  The VBOE members have admitted that they do not know how to fix broken school systems (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48).

As well, the “Tool” at p. 77 tells us that VDOE’s own standards for teacher evaluation are meaningless:  The five criteria for “Functional Implementation” (don’t you just love bureaucratese!) include “Complies with the VDOE Standards for Teacher Evaluation, Principal Evaluation, and Superintendent Evaluation.”  VDOE tells us that Richmond meets this criterion.  Two items later in the list, we see that Richmond does not use “meaningful measures of student achievement, where applicable, as a part of the employee evaluation process.”

This tells us two things:

  1. Richmond teachers are not evaluated on whether their students are learning the material (see distressing examples of this here), and
  2. Richmond can meet VDOE standards for teacher evaluation without evaluating teachers on whether their students are learning the material

I could go on and on but the point is clear:  The “Review” is a bureaucratic effluvium that carefully avoids the fundamental question of what Richmond must do to produce students who know how to read, write, and reckon.

Your tax dollars at “work.”