Superintendent’s Dilemma

The Petersburg experience – fifteen years of state “supervision” that has produced declining, basement-level SOL pass rates – raises interesting questions about Richmond and its recent embrace of that supervision.

I. Where we are

Richmond’s SOL performance has long been comparable to that of Petersburg and other failed divisions. In recent years, that performance has deteriorated.

Note: Economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students pass the SOL at rates about 20% lower than their more affluent peers (“Not ED”). Thus the SOL averages punish divisions with large ED populations, e.g., Richmond. The data below, then, analyze the ED and Not ED pass rates, not the averages.

Here are the Richmond data for the last six years, presented as pass rate differences from the State averages.






There are some ups but the overall pattern is down.

It’s disgraceful that any school system, much less the one in the state capitol, would do this to its schoolchildren.

II. Memoranda of Understanding Have Failed to Help Petersburg

As set out in detail here and here, Petersburg has labored since 2004 under four different Memoranda of Understanding (“MOUs”) issued by the Board of Education. Those edicts have left Petersburg foundering with declining pass rates.

III. Richmond’s MOU Is An Exercise in Bureaucratic Busywork

The Richmond MOU is long on coordination and meetings and consultations and technical assistance. It is short on specific fixes for Richmond’s awful schools.

The Tell is in what the MOU does not say: “If you haven’t fixed those schools by date x, we’ll sue you.”  That is because the Board of Education does not know how to fix Richmond’s broken school system (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48).  They don’t know what to tell a judge that Richmond should be made to do, so they don’t even contemplate exercising their authority to sue.

IV. Our Superintendent Faces a Tough Choice

In light of the Petersburg experience and the vacuity of the Richmond MOU, our Superintendent has to be wondering whether to squander his limited resources on MOU window decoration or direct those resources to fixing our schools.

Fearless Predictions:

  • If our Super follows the MOU course, he will join the parade of failed Richmond superintendents.
  • If he tells the Board of Education to fashion its MOU into a kite and go fly it, that Board will back down.

Open Question: Even if our Superintendent ignores the MOU, can he fix our schools?