Charter Middle School?

The Times-Dispatch has a story, “Richmond parents want a charter middle school.  It faces an uphill battle.” 

The snippet on the “Education” section of the Web page tells us the issue:

The power to approve a nascent effort to launch a public charter middle school in Richmond rests solely with officials wary of watching limited dollars needed for their own underperforming schools follow students elsewhere.

The data suggest that those “wary” School Board members and City Great Ones should think a little harder.

Let’s start with the distributions of fifth and sixth grade pass rates on the reading tests.


Here we see nine elementary schools with fifth grade pass rates that meet or beat the (former) 75% benchmark for accreditation on the reading tests: Munford, Fox, Southampton, Broad Rock, Stuart (now Obama), Holton, Patrick Henry, Cary, and Bellevue.  The only middle schools that make the same cut for the sixth grade are Alternative and Franklin Military. 

Relevant here, Richmond Alternative operates Spartan Academy, which “serves as a school to support students with academic, attendance and behavior challenges.”  Franklin is a different kind of specialty school; it does a decent job for selected students who elect “to experience a regular academic course of study while participating in a Junior Reserve Officer Training Program or Middle School Leadership Program.”

The highest-scoring non-specialty middle school on the graph is Binford, with a 69.5% pass rate, followed by Hill, 67.4%, and Brown, 62.6%.

The math data paint a similarly ugly picture.


Munford leads the fifth grade parade, followed by Cary, Fox, Fisher, Patrick Henry, Broad Rock, and Obama, all of which beat the nominal 70% benchmark for math. 

Franklin and Alternative 6th grade averages again beat the benchmark.  Next in line is Hill, at 65.2%, followed by Brown, 55.4%, and Binford, 54.1%.

(This is not to say that there aren’t serious problems in both elementary and middle schools.  Just look at those collections of pass rates below 50% in both subjects.)

To the point here, there are some Richmond elementary schools where a parent can send a kid while entertaining only the normal parental worries.  But come middle school, parents who can afford it have a good reason to opt for a County or private school.

And opt out they do: The Richmond enrollment plummets after the fifth grade.


Or, in terms of the raw enrollments:


(That ninth-grade “bump” is a national phenomenon that appears to reflect laissez faire promotion policies in the lower grades.  Most of the drain in Richmond after the 9th grade is dropouts.)

So, the question for our city and school board is more nuanced than just watching dollars flow to a charter middle school:  Would having a decent middle school help stanch the current flow of middle school funds out of the Richmond school system?