The New Knee

On July 24, I went down to MCV (newcomers to town might call it “VCU Health”) and laid on a hard table while Dr. Gregory Golladay took a knife and saw to my left knee.

MCV has a helpful process that largely prepared me for the surgery. RN Janet Muntean, a consummate pro, ran the ortho boot camp with skill and kindness.

My experience at and since leaving the hospital has taught some further lessons. Here is my summary of those.

Four Factors

There are four factors, aside from luck, that determine the outcome of a joint replacement:

  • The skill and care of the medical team;
  • My condition going in;
  • My compliance with the post-op program; and
  • My attitude.

I am in charge of 75% of those.

The Medics

Based on my own experience with this and an earlier surgery and on Ms. Penelope’s several bouts with her own set of problems, the folks at MCV are remarkably skilled, careful, and cheerful. And, in important ways, they want what you want: They want you healthy and they want you out of the hospital.

My surgery started about 2 PM. I remember hearing the saw as they shaped the bone and hearing the pounding as they hammered in the implant. They had me sufficiently full of happy juice that I found those sounds merely curious.

About 4 PM they took me to Recovery. The kind nurse there went and got Ms. Penelope from the crowded waiting area.

The nurse told me they’d release me to the orthopedic floor as soon as I could wiggle my toes. I had not thought about toes until then and I found I could not even twitch them on the operated leg. Of course, with the nerve block I couldn’t feel any pain, either. The feeling slowly moved down that leg until, about 6 PM, my toes moved.

At about 2 AM the next morning (nobody gets much sleep the night after surgery), the night nurse had me up and standing beside the bed. Before breakfast she had the Foley catheter out. By midmorning, I had met the two requirements for discharge: I had produced some clear urine and I had demonstrated to the in-house Physical Terrorist (sometimes known as “Physical Therapist”) that I could manage the walker, the crutches, and the stairs. They threw me out about noon.

That was less than 24 hours after the first incision.

As always, you should avoid hospitals vigorously but, if you have to embrace the hospital risk, this one is really fine.

Condition Going In

One of the Physical Terrorists who worked on me after the operation told of his father’s knee operation. When the need for the operation arose, he hauled Dad to the gym and started him on a serious strength program that included, especially

  • Squats,
  • Deadlifts,
  • Bench Presses,
  • Rows,
  • Lat Pulldowns, and
  • Dips (think body weight crutch exercises).

ALL of those are crucial, with the squats, dips and bench press the first among equals.

The squats are first line leg strengtheners; they and the deadlifts are powerful balance exercises.

One of the first lessons from the bench press is hand position to put the weight straight thru the wrists. Grab the bar naturally and the wrists wind up bent, which is a prescription for hurt wrists. The lesson applies directly to the dips at the gym and to the walker and crutches at home.

I was pleased to hear that list of exercises: It mirrors most of what I’ve been doing at the gym for several years.

To that list I would add the ministrations of my former Yoga teacher, Sophia Wilson, the Princess of Pain. Among other things, she worked on abdominal strength and flexibility (not to mention balance). If you don’t think your tummy is important, get a glass of water and try to drink it in bed (without a straw, of course). Or lie back on the bed and try to use one leg to lift the other off the floor and onto the mattress. And with one gimpy leg and a post-op injunction from the Doctor, “DON’T FALL DOWN,” balance joins the crucial list.

Post-Op Compliance

If you’re dealing with Medicare, you can look forward to about five weeks of home visits by a Physical Terrorist. Mine were from Encompass Health; they did a fine job.

These folks know what is good for you and they are relentless. Indeed, as soon as you master one aspect, they’ll come up with something tougher to do. They can tell you horror stories of patients who wouldn’t stand the discomfort of PT and who wound up with knees that were as bad as or worse than before the operation.

I was pleased that the first basic exercise, marching all about the house on the walker, was not particularly uncomfortable; indeed, the knee usually felt better after the marching. They wanted me up and walking every hour. The marching soon enough progressed to other, less comfortable, torments.

I have learned from hard experience to not overdo the exercises. I can exercise a healthy joint to, or nearly to, failure and expect nothing worse than a sore joint in the morning. Working a hurt joint that hard is a painful mistake.

It is particularly dangerous (for me at least) to exercise a hurt knee, as some of the PT folks recommend, while in the gentle embrace of oxycodone. I prefer to work out without meds and I am careful to stop if anything gets to about 6 on my pain scale.

After the home PT, I had my choice of outpatient providers. I elected to stick with the MCV system and picked the Stony Point location for convenience. I am working there with David Naputi, yet another pro, and Cameron Gordon, a student doing her practicum under David’s supervision. I think Cameron will make a wonderful Terrorist.

The outpatient level of discomfort varied but the importance of doing the exercises, be they silly, uncomfortable, and/or boring, abided.


The operation, the pain, and the boredom messed with my brain. The pervasive dependence on others tended to make me snappish.

This can be as dangerous as the drugs: Any less than cheerful behavior, especially any movement in the direction of depression, will poison the relationship with caregivers. Moreover, that stuff feeds upon itself; the first victim of my bad attitude is me.

I have learned to (try to) stay busy, do everything needed for the knee and then focus on something else. That can be tough when the knee banishes further sleep after the 02:00 bladder break but, hey, knee surgery is not for sissies.

Early on, the drugs are there as a last resort; even then, it’s time to work on being cheerful.

Misc. Lessons

I laid out a pair of moccasins for use after surgery. I thought I was being smart because the backs would keep them from slipping off while I was up. Silly me: I couldn’t get the left moc on because the foot, along with the rest of the leg, was swollen from the surgery. I was the Barefoot Boy for about ten days (Yoga was good practice for that).

Ice helped with the pain and swelling. I used it after exercise, before bed, and whenever I hadn’t cooled the knee for a while. I like a little ice bag that, once I find the right fill level, can be used and then popped in the freezer to prepare for the next use. A big gel pack is a fine alternative. In both cases, it’s mandatory to have gym pants or other thin fabric between the ice and the knee to prevent frostbite.


The operation also messed up my alimentary canal. On top of that, the pain meds are constipating. This called for lots of roughage, peanut butter, and fruit. I’d also pop a prune or two with each oxycodone.

As to those pain meds: They are powerful and wonderful and dangerous. Sleep being of the first importance, my approach was to spend the last 20 min. before bedtime with an ice pack and fix the bed to make the leg as comfortable as possible (hint: small pillow under the wounded knee). And medicate if necessary. For the first few days, it was oxycodone and prune a half hour before bedtime. After that, pill (+prune) only if I couldn’t get to sleep. During waking hours, I’d avoid the pills. Discomfort is part of the deal.

Ancillary annoyance: Any oxycodone refill will require a caretaker to take my driver’s license, go to the Dr’s office to get a written ‘script, and then go to the pharmacy. In a happy contrast, MCV delivered the initial Rx to the room before I left. As a another happy note, I used less than a dozen of the pills, so I didn’t need a refill.

As to lesser drugs, they did NOT want any clots in the legs so they put me on a blood thinner. But they didn’t want any more than the prescribed thinning so they banned any pain meds other than the oxycodone and Tylenol. I hope Tylenol works better for you than it does for me.

Some wonderful news: In the Bad Old Days, they wrapped the incision with gauze that collected ooze and blood for almost a week, during which I was restricted to sponge baths. The New Way creates a much better incision and uses a waterproof dressing; I could shower as soon as I could get over the ledge to the shower.

Here is the dressing, three days after the surgery. No ooze; no blood.  It looked like that on the day it came off.


When I removed it on day 10, the bandage was stained on the inside only by a few blood spots (and by the ink from the lines they had drawn for use in aligning the skin when they closed the incision).


BTW: They really mean it when they say to remove that bandage by stretching it. That is merely painful. Pulling it off is torture, at least as to the more tender areas of the knee.

The incision itself was clean and dry.


Compare this to the stapled knee on the Wikipedia page:

No stiches or staples to be (painfully) removed from my knee! Hurrah! There are bunches of stiches inside; they’ll dissolve in time. The final closure is glue.

I was considerably impaired immediately after the surgery. For example, I couldn’t reach the ankle on the surgical leg. Moreover, with that leg stretched out in front of the bed or chair, I couldn’t raise the toes, much less lift the heel. So I couldn’t even put on my own underwear. All that improved daily, such that by a week after Knee Day I could raise the toes and reach far enough to lasso the underpants or pants over them and drag the clothing up under the heel. In short, I could get dressed on my own. Little things can mean a lot!

I couldn’t deal with toenails for several weeks after the operation. Dr. Earnest took care of that, beautifully (and Medicare paid for the visit!). I didn’t need to mess with toenails for another month after his ministrations.

Aside from basic strength and flexibility and balance, the clear benefits of the pre-surgery exercise reminded me of the importance of preparation:

  • After surgery I had to be able to get up using only one leg, while the other one just stuck out and hurt. The three Big Issues there were the toilet, shower, and bed.
    • I had to have enough room in the bathroom to sit on the toilet with the surgical leg straight out.
    • One friend strung a rope between towel racks in her bathroom so she could pull up from the toilet. We don’t have enough towel racks for that; we do have tall toilets so I can push off. Next time I will make it easier with something like this.
    • We have a foldable kitchen ladder similar to this that works fine for a shower stool; it is fairly high and it has a bar above the top step for grabbing. That’s not the end of it, though: I had to have enough space to sit on the stool while the hurt leg stuck almost straight out. We have a shower with just enough room.
    • We have a high bed; I can push up with both arms and get out one-legged. With a lower bed, I’d be thinking of a chair for pushing off or something such as this for pulling up.
  • Then, there’s getting IN the bed. For the first week or so, there was no way for that hurt leg to swing up and into the bed. Indeed, there was not even a hope of putting both hands under the thigh and lifting. After the first few days I could cradle the heel of the bad leg on the other ankle and use that good foot as an elevator. If that hadn’t worked, it would have left one more task for the helper.
  • Ah, the helper! I needed one 24/7 for the first few days, and less intensely as strength and mobility and the remains of my mind returned.
  • Beyond those matters, I went for chairs with arms and soft cushions. Low chairs were easier on the hurt leg (pressure on the back of the leg was most unpleasant) and only a bit harder to push up from.
  • And in every case, I had to have room for that hurt leg to stick out; I did NOT want to be forced to bend it.
  • When in doubt (indeed, even when not) I recommend pre-need practicing one leg sit downs and standups (with the other leg sticking out) to make sure.

The PT folks recommend a walker over crutches and I can see why: The walker is MUCH easier to use and MUCH more stable. But it has to fit through the bathroom door and maneuver once through. The alternative is to switch to crutches at the door.

And the walker needs a basket or pouch to carry things because the hands will be busy holding on. One caution: There are at least two styles of basket. Here is the one that fits my walker, the sort with a curved bar in front.


I put tennis balls on the back legs of the walker (skids also work); the rubber nubs that come with it tend to scuff hardwood floors and stick on rugs.

If stairs are part of the system, crutches (and a second walker) enter the picture. A friend loaned me another two walkers (home is a tri-level). For my upstairs walker, a repurposed apron provided pockets to supply carrying capacity.


Crutches are difficult on the flat but a crutch is mandatory for stairs. Indeed, if you have steps to get in your house or stairs to get around inside, they’ll make you demonstrate on stairs before they’ll let you out of the hospital. You’ll be doped up and weak then so some preliminary crutch practice would be a good idea.

The crutch Rules of the Road for stairs are simple: Good foot goes to Heaven, bad foot goes to hell. Thus, going upstairs, weight goes on the banister and crutch and good foot goes up a step; then bad foot and crutch go up with good foot furnishing the lift and banister the balance. Going down (much harder and more dangerous), crutch and then bad foot go down; weight then goes on crutch and banister; then good foot goes down and retakes the weight. All this is possible (or, at least, much easier) if you’ve been doing your dips at the gym.

Note: Banister is mandatory. The process works better with the crutch and bad leg on the side away from the banister, so one banister on each side of the stair is even better.

I knew I would be bored and in pain. The first line for dealing with pain is keeping focused on something else. That calls for setting up the bed and a soft armchair with reading materials, TV control, laptop, Amazon Echo, and/or whatever else will help keep me occupied (when I’m not exercising, sleeping, or going to/from the bathroom). Also charging cables for all the gadgets.

I found a tablet pillow on Amazon that worked well for keeping the tablet bottom and controls out of the bedclothes.


It turns out that the laptop is nearly useless in bed: The keyboard angle is wrong. The tablet pillow fixes that.


At the second post-op appointment, PA Justin Latimer warned me that I might have one or more sutures pop out through the skin. He said I could either pull them on out or clip them and wait for Nature to take her course. In fact, I had only one. It came in a tender little mound. Tweezers only fragmented the end so I couldn’t pull it out. As I write this, the area no longer is tender and it looks like Nature is doing her thing.

Note added on 11/1: At the 3-month appointment yesterday PA Laura Giambra took one look at that little mound, unwrapped tweezers that are ridged at the business end to grab slippery things like sutures, and extracted a quarter inch of suture. A blessing upon her!

I knew the operation (mostly the anesthesia) would mess up my thinker. I got my finances and todo’s in order before the knives came out.

At the 1 month post-op appointment they offered me an application for a handicapped parking dololly. A bargain at five bucks but it proved to be more a temptation than a necessity: Close to the door parking when I should have been parking far out and walking.

At 4+ weeks after knife & saw day I got back to driving and returned to the gym. Squats were off the list and I reduced the deadlift by over 30%. The other exercises were off by up to 20%. I’ve been titrating back up ever since. Some weeks later, the knee would tolerate the recumbent bike; I am just now back to my standard 20 minutes at 60 rpm and low resistance.

Last week, 12+ weeks after knife & saw day, I asked the PT folks whether I could get back to Yoga. They worked me at getting onto and, especially, off of the floor and sent me off to Renee, the successor Mistress of Masochism. Renee was kind and helpful, esp. as to protecting that knee. I was able to do ca. 80% of the exercises. I was a sore puppy the morning after but ended up, I think, stronger and more flexible. So Yoga is back on my calendar.

When I had a “uni” (unicondylar arthroplasty = partial knee replacement) some years ago, it was two months before I was walking down a sidewalk and not noticing discomfort in the knee. The operation this time was a total; the PT folks tell me it will be at least several months to get to no discomfort. That said, as I write this at 13+ weeks, the gait is smoothing out and the pain level is onesie-twosie except during and after exercise.

Note added on 9/26/20: Once the knee would tolerate my weight, I noticed that kneeling on it felt funny. No sensation on the surface of the knee. This week I learned that this is normal and does not threaten the normal functioning of the knee. That was Good News: When I do right handed one-armed rows at the gym, most of the weight (mine plus the dumbbell’s) goes on The Knee.

Giving Thanks!

I can’t say enough about Dr. Golladay and, indeed, all the troops at MCV. Special mention goes to every one of them, except there was no way to get all the names.

I do have the names of, and would particularly like to praise, Dr. Golladay’s PAs, Laura Giambra and Justin Latimer. They are worlds apart in approach: Latimer is Chatty Charlie; Giambra is focused and quiet. Where it counts, though, both are smart, efficient, effective, and kind.

The nurses, PT, and other folks were uniformly kind and helpful and, where necessary, demanding. Everybody responded well to a little cheerful humor.

And, most of all, Ms. Penelope! This was a difficult process; without her it would have been impossibly ugly. She remained cheerful and helpful, even when I was withdrawn and/or grouchy.  Just the interest on the debt I owe her is daunting.

Richmond Elementary Schools: Mind the Gap!

An earlier post showed that, among the school divisions, an increasing percentage of economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students was slightly correlated with a decreasing pass rate of the more affluent (“Not ED”) students and that the division average for ED students was ca. 20 points lower than for Not ED. Another post showed that two of Richmond’s high-scoring elementary schools were not getting high-scoring pass rates from their ED students.

Let’s take a more general look at the ED/Not ED performance of Richmond’s elementary schools.

To start, here are the 2019 reading pass rates of the Not ED students of Richmond elementary schools plotted against the percentage of ED students in the tested group. Fairfield Court and Miles Jones are missing from the graph (see below).


As with the divisions, the pass rate decreases with increasing % ED, here by about four points per 10% ED increase. The R-squared value of 29% indicates a modest correlation.

Things get more interesting when we look at the ED pass rates.


As expected, the pass rates are generally lower. The slope drops to 1.5% for a 10% increase in ED population while the R-squared decreases to 9%.

Of interest here, the surprisingly lower pass rates of the more affluent schools contribute to that lower slope.

Two schools with >70% ED (Cary and Obama) outperformed Munford (13% ED) and four outscored Fox (25% ED). Indeed, none of the five low-ED schools covered itself with glory in terms of ED performance.

Here are the data:



  • The “#N/A” entries for Jones and Fairfield Court indicate cases where VDOE did not report Not ED data, probably as a result of small ED populations and the VDOE suppression rules.
  • The VDOE database does not offer state average pass rates for elementary schools. The state numbers here are the average of the averages for each of grades 3-5. Given that the state enrollment is approximately flat across those grades, that should give a close estimate of the average over all elementary students.

The Munford ED pass rate is the same 62% as the state average; Fox is 3 points lower. The state average ED population is 44%, Munford is 13%, Fox is 25%.

Let’s take this one step further: The fitted line in the ED graph, above, slopes down. In an ideal world, it would be exactly horizontal, indicating that the average performance of ED students was independent of the % ED in the tested group.

The statistics of the fitted line allow calculation of the difference between each school average and the fitted line, thus removing the average effect of the increasing ED percentage. The results, sorted by the difference:


Or, in terms of a graph:


For sure, some of our schools get lousy results. But others do much better. And some of the low-%ED schools don’t get good ED performance, even when they get very good Not ED pass rates. It would be useful to understand the reasons for those differences.

The math data show a similar pattern.


The slope here is down from the reading, three points per 10% ED vs. four. The R-squared is about 20%, v. 30% for reading. But the conclusion remains the same: On average, the Not ED pass rates decline with increasing % ED students in the tested group. These data don’t tell us why.

The ED pass rates again show a lower slope and an R-squared value that indicates very little correlation.


Five schools with >70% ED outperformed Munford (a sixth tied) and six outdid Fox. Whatever the magic at Fox and Munford, it doesn’t seem to work for their ED students.

The data:


Munford is four points below the state average; Fox is nine below.

In terms of ED pass rate differences from the fitted line:



Some Richmond schools are doing much better with their ED students than others. The literature suggests that the important variables are the socioeconomic status of the students and the effectiveness of the teachers. Here, we can wonder whether the large differences in ED performance might be related to the quality of the teaching.

For sure, the ED students at Munford and Fox don’t seem to be gaining any benefit from exposure to large populations of Not ED students.


The definition of economic disadvantage gives us, at best, a rough measure. Teacher performance, however, can be measured, independently of ED. Unfortunately, our Board of Education abandoned the measure they had, the SGP, because it did provide an accurate measure of teacher performance.

In that situation, we can only wonder what’s going on. Or, perhaps, blunder along and hope for better.

Picking the Unblemished Cherries

The headline in the Chronicle says, “SOL scores soar in Charles City.”

The text continues:

In Charles City, several areas saw massive gains in comparison to the previous year. Of the improvement areas, perfect pass rates were achieved in the areas of Algebra II and chemistry. Subject areas that saw a 20 or more point gain include grade seven English reading (64 to 85), World History I (59 to 79), World History II (54 to 92), grade three mathematics (53 to 81), grade seven mathematics (36 to 66), geometry (28 to 51), and the aforementioned Algebra II (34 to 100). . .

“When we got those scores in, it was absolute elation,” said Charles City superintendent of schools David Gaston. “Coming off last year, we didn’t do poorly but we knew we had areas to work on.

To be sure, CCCo saw some nice pass rate gains this year. As well, there were some (unmentioned) decreases.


In the larger view, the overall trends do not justify the Superintendent’s “elation.”

Reading is indeed up this year. But over half of the gain was used to overcome the loss of 2018.


The six year trend is +0.21% per year.

The trends in the other subject areas are less encouraging.

In math, this year’s gain was not sufficient to overcome the 2018 decrease, and the overall trend is down.


History and social science, moreso.


The writing pass rate this year fell to a six-year low, wiping out the gains of the previous two years.


This year’s decrease in the science pass rate more than undid 2018’s increase.


The average of those five subject area pass rates increased by 1.2 points this year but the trend continued to decline (-1.4 points per year).


It takes selective blinders to see cause for “elation” in these data. A more measured reaction might be “some bright spots but large areas that continue to need our attention.”

Profligate Promotion

The conventional wisdom these days seems to be that both social promotion and retention in grade are ineffective. For example:

Studies indicate that retention negatively impacts students’ behavior, attitude, and attendance, but it is still practiced in schools around the country. Social promotion undermines students’ futures when they fail to develop critical study and job-related skills; however, it too is still practiced in many schools throughout the United States. These practices are ruining public education as we know it, and unless we innovate and find alternative strategies to replace them, the US. K-12 education system will continue to underperform.

BTW: That article says that both social promotion and retention in grade “are ruining public education.” A closer view might suggest that the prerequisite failure to learn is the problem, not the dilemma of retention v. promotion.

In any case, the data tell us that Richmond has elected for social promotion.

Table 7 in the Superintendent’s Annual Report gives the number of students repeating the same grade as in 2018. The 2018 Table 7 reports the 2018 Fall membership. The ratio gives the percentage of students held back. The SOL database offers the percentage of students failing the tests in each subject in each grade. With those data in hand, it is straightforward to produce a graph:


Changing math failure rates for reading gives a similar picture.


The other subjects are not tested in all grades 3-12. In that data desert, the 6th grade failure rate in writing probably says something about the fifth grade education in that subject.


2019 Dropouts

Richmond won the dropout race this year.

Here are the eleven divisions with the largest All Students 4-year cohort dropout rates for 2019:


That 24.4% is 372 students (of 1,523) who dropped out.

The peer city, Norfolk, is highlighted in red.

The “ED” column is the rate for economically disadvantaged students. Sorted by the ED rate, the list changes but Richmond’s position does not.


Just to cleanse the palate, here are the divisions with the lowest rates, sorted first by the all students rate, then by ED.



In terms of the subgroups of students, the rates of black, white, and homeless students are unacceptable; those of the English learners, Hispanics, and students with disabilities are astronomical.


The VDOE information sheet and FAQ don’t tell us what “anytime” means in this context.

Our Superintendent’s Plan, Dreams4RPS, lists ten priorities; the eighth is “Decrease chronic absenteeism-overall and for each subgroup.” There is no mention of how, by how much, or who is to be responsible for the decrease. None of the five “priorities” in the Plan mentions attendance, truancy, or absenteeism.

More Salary $ ≠ Higher Pass Rate

We often hear that better pay leads to better teaching. VDOE has some data on that.

Table 19 in the Superintendent’s Annual Report lists, among other things, the average annual teachers salaries by division. Data here are averages for both teachers and principals. The very nice database on the VDOE site provides pass rates. The latest data in the Annual Report are from 2018 so the pass rates here are from 2018 as well.

For the reading tests, the data look like this:


“ED” on the chart refers to the “economically disadvantaged” students. Statewide, ED students underperform their more affluent peers (“Not ED”) by about twenty points so I’ve posted both sets of data.

The fitted line to the Not ED data suggests that a $10,000 increase in the average salary is associated with a 1.1% increase in the pass rate. The R-squared value of 2.3%, however, tells us that the two variables are essentially uncorrelated.

The ED data suggest a decrease in the pass rate of 3.1% per $10,000 increase in average salary. The R-squared of 9.2% indicates a slight correlation, but nothing to write a thesis about.

The fair conclusion is that division average reading pass rates are unrelated to average teacher salaries, except for a hint that ED rates may decrease slightly with increasing average salary.

The enlarged, squared points are Richmond, paying a bit more than average and getting a lot less.

The math and science data tell much the same story.



For the record, here are the ten high- and low paying divisions:



Notice that high paying and high scoring Falls Church is not doing well at all with its ED students. Ditto most of those Big Spenders. Also notice that, except for Lexington and Halifax, the Little Spenders have ED pass rates within ten to fifteen points of their Not ED.

CAVEAT: These data are consistent with the notions that Virginia’s systems for evaluating educational outcomes and for setting teacher salaries are counterproductive:

Research dating back to the 1966 release of Equality of Educational Opportunity (the “Coleman Report”) shows that student performance is only weakly related to school quality. The report concluded that students’ socioeconomic background was a far more influential factor. However, among the various influences that schools and policymakers can control, teacher quality was found to account for a larger portion of the variation in student test scores than all other characteristics of a school, excluding the composition of the student body (so-called peer effects).

Yet, Virginia’s evaluation system punishes schools and divisions with larger numbers of “economically disadvantaged” students. Moreover, the counterproductive salary scales reward degrees and time in service, not teaching effectiveness:

Teachers’ education (degree) and experience levels are probably the most widely studied teacher attributes, both because they are easy to measure and because they are, in the vast majority of school systems, the sole determinants of teachers’ salaries. However, there appears to be only weak evidence that these characteristics consistently and positively influence student learning.

For another look at the relationship between educational inputs and outputs, see this study from the OECD.

Rigged Grading

A large study by the OECD concludes: “[T]he socio-economic composition of schools explains far more of the differences in student performance between schools than do other school factors that are more easily amenable to policy makers, such as school resources and school policies.” That is consistent with the Virginia data that show economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students underperforming their more affluent peers (“Not ED”) by about twenty points on the SOL pass rates.

The SOL reporting system ignores this issue and punishes schools with larger populations of less affluent students. Four Richmond elementary schools illustrate the situation.

Fox and Munford serve relatively affluent neighborhoods; both schools turn in superb SOL results. Cary and Obama have much tougher clienteles and do not show as well. Nonetheless, Cary and Obama get better ED pass rates than do Fox and Munford.

Hard to believe, eh? Well, look at this. And notice how the SOL average is affected by the %ED.


The SOL average over all students punishes Cary and Obama for the relative poverty of the majority of their students, albeit those students outscore the ED students at Fox and Munford. At the same time, Munford and Fox are rewarded for having small ED populations.

If we look at the averages of the ED and Not ED rates, a different pattern emerges.


In terms of those averages, all four schools cluster near the 75% accreditation benchmark. This calculation rewards Cary and Obama for the superior performance of their tougher-to-teach students and recognizes the inferior results at Fox and Munford.

On the math tests, Cary escapes most of the SOL penalty by way of a very high ED pass rate but Obama confirms the point. The Fox and Munford SOLs again shine, despite relatively lower ED pass rates.


The ED/Not ED average again tells a more balanced story.


The Board of Education bases its accreditation calculation on the SOL average over all students in a school or division. Indeed, the public measure of school quality is that same average. That rewards the schools and divisions with fewer ED students, whether or not they get good results with those ED students, and penalizes schools and divisions with large ED populations, even when they get better than average results with their ED students.

A plot of division average reading pass rates and ED/Not ED averages vs. the %ED illuminates the difference between the SOL average pass rate and the ED/Not ED average.


The fitted line to the SOL scores (red) suggests that the SOLs decrease on average by about 2.5% for a 10% increase in the ED population. The R-squared of 23% suggests a modest correlation. Indeed, we have seen that the correlation derives almost entirely from the effect of the ED group’s generally lower scores.

The green points show the averages of the ED and Not ED pass rates. The slope of the fitted line is much lower, minus 0.7% for a 10% ED increase, and the 2.3% R-squared value denotes only a trace of correlation. Said otherwise, this average is almost entirely unrelated to the percentage of ED students in the division.

The math and science data tell the same story.



An ideal grading system would present a horizonal fitted line with an R-Squared of zero. The ED/Not Ed average comes close and, in any event, is vastly less unfair than the current system.

BTW: The Board of Education had an even better system, the SGP, that was uncorrelated with economic status. The Board abandoned that system because it provided an accurate measure of teacher performance.

So we are left with a reporting system that punishes schools and divisions that serve larger populations of poorer students.

If that is a fair system, I am Santa Claus.

2019 Graduation Rates

The four-year cohort graduation rates are up on the VDOE Web site.

The Board of Education brags on its (inflated) “On-Time” rate that counts the “Board of Education-approved”  diplomas. The Federales, to their credit, count only the Advanced Studies and Standard diplomas.

This year, the Federal rate for the state slipped from 88.8% to 88.7%; the Richmond average fell from 67.6% to 64.9%.


On these data, there’s no telling how much of the Richmond decline is the result of correcting the transcript issues.

Breaking out the Standard and Advanced rates, the Advanced average fell from 52.0 to 51.5% while the Standard rate rose from 36.8% to 37.2%. The Richmond Advanced rate fell from 23.3% to 21.7%, the Standard, 44.3% to 43.2%.


Here are the Richmond rates by school, sorted by the Federal rate.


And, to complete the picture, the rates for Richmond’s economically disadvantaged students (ca. 2/3 of the Richmond population).


Note: The zero Advanced rates here for Wythe and Franklin probably are artifacts of the VDOE suppression rules for groups of <10 students. The Franklin rate calculates as 29%; the Wythe could be as high as 5.5%.

“Help” for Petersburg II: Mirror of VBOE Incompetence

The Petersburg Public Schools have been laboring under the supervision of the Board of Education since at least 2004.

The results are appalling.

Here, to start, are this year’s accreditation calculations. (See this post for descriptions of the L1 and L2 benchmarks and the various score boosts.)




Or, in summary:


Petersburg reached this condition as the latest step in a march to abject failure. The decline was exacerbated in 2017 when the staff at AP Hill Elementary (now Cool Spring) were caught cheating.

And, please remember that the accreditation system is rigged to avoid this kind of failure.

The Board’s intervention at Petersburg goes back to a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) in 2004:

Approaches of the last two MOUs illuminate the Board’s feckless approach to improving the Petersburg schools. In November, 2009 the Board took over the Petersburg system:

The VBOE and the VDOE will continue to assign a CAO . . .   The CAO will have administrative authority over processes, procedures, and strategies that are implemented in support of the MOU and funded by targeted federal and state funds with subsequent review and approval by the Petersburg City School Board.

Then, in April, 2016 the Board retreated to “coordinat[ion]” and “technical assistance”:

The Director of [Office of School Improvement] will coordinate with school division staff and other VDOE offices to develop a Corrective Action Plan for Petersburg Public Schools and to provide technical assistance in support of the MOU and Corrective Action Plan.

Notwithstanding this pusillanimity, The Board has the authority to compel Petersburg to fix its schools:

Va. Code § 22.1-8 provides: “The general supervision of the public school system shall be vested in the Board of Education.”

Va. Code § 22.1-253.13:8 provides:

The Board of Education shall have authority to seek school division compliance with the foregoing Standards of Quality. When the Board of Education determines that a school division has failed or refused, and continues to fail or refuse, to comply with any such Standard, the Board may petition the circuit court having jurisdiction in the school division to mandate or otherwise enforce compliance with such standard, including the development or implementation of any required corrective action plan that a local school board has failed or refused to develop or implement in a timely manner.

Yet the Board has never sued Petersburg, or any other division, to compel compliance with the law. The reason is clear: The Board would have to tell the judge what the division must do to comply with the law but the Board DOES NOT KNOW HOW TO FIX BAD SCHOOLS [Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48].

I think it is past time for the Board members (and their staff at VDOE) to be directed to work that is better suited to their capabilities.

Effects of “Help” for Petersburg

The Board of “Education” has been “supervising” Petersburg since at least 2004.

If anything, all that “supervision” has let Petersburg’s performance continue to decay. In summary:

Notes: Statewide, economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students underperform their more affluent peers (“Not ED”) by about 20% in terms of the SOL pass rates. Yet, “the socio-economic composition of schools explains far more of the differences in student performance between schools than do other school factors .” This makes the SOL average an unfair measure for divisions, such as Petersburg, with large ED populations. Accordingly, the graphs here and below show the performance of both the ED and Not ED students. The new math tests in 2012 and the new English tests in 2013 dropped pass rates statewide; the new math tests in 2019 raised pass rates statewide by 3.4% for Not ED students, 6.6% for ED. The red lines are the nominal levels for accreditation. VDOE “adjusts” the pass rates in order to accredit some schools that come nowhere near those thresholds.

Turning to the individual Petersburg schools: The 2017 data for AP Hill, now Cool Spring, are missing because the school (the staff, not the kids) was caught cheating. The splendid numbers before and dismal performance since 2017 show much the same pattern as Richmond’s GW Carver.

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To the point here, with the false aura of the cheating removed, the data show that the school is unable to prepare half its students to pass the SOLs.

Note in passing: Last year, the Board of Education accredited Cool Spring in English based on the three year average. Lacking 2017 data because of the cheating, the Board ignored 2017 and reached back to the (cheating enhanced) 2016 pass rate to compute an average that met the “Level 2” threshold.

Pleasants Lane, formerly JEB Stuart, showed some improvement in the math scores this year (as did the state average with the help of the new, failure-averse scoring system), but the Reading rates slid.

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Lakemont, formerly RE Lee, painted a less rosy picture.

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Walnut Hill, in contrast, stayed in the running for accreditation this year.

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There are four middle schools in the database: Peabody, Vernon Johns Jr., Old Vernon Johns, and Vernon Johns. The relationship between these is not clear. However, only Vernon Johns has data after 2017 so we’ll go with that:

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The high school’s students suffer from declining performance.

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It’s hard to see any benefit here from sixteen years of Board of Education “supervision.” To the contrary, the ongoing, dismal failure of the Petersburg schools testifies to the abiding fecklessness of that Board.

Your tax dollars at “work” (this year, $1,939,750 for “school improvement).”