What Funding Gap?

The estimable Jim Bacon points to a study of school spending by state.  He concludes: “In Virginia, districts that serve mostly black students spend about $200 more per student on average.”

Well, please recall what Mark Twain said about statistics.

Please also notice that the study was prepared by EdBuild, which advocates for school funding and is funded in part by the Gates FoundationAnother study (with, obviously, a different viewpoint) asserts that of 2,625 political contributions by staff of Gates grantees, only 6 went to Republicans. 

In this context, we can wonder about the methodology of the EdBuild study: The study compared funding of “nonwhite” districts – those with more than 75% nonwhite students – with “white” districts – those with more than 75% white students.  The study does not explain the basis of the 75% criterion; it does not report the results of choosing other criteria; it does not mention local costs of living.

(Indeed, ± 75% is very close to ± 1.2 standard deviations; if there had been a statistical basis for the study, we might have expected to see a 68% or a 95% criterion.)

Thus, it is hard to know exactly what the study shows, albeit it seems to give Virginia some modest bragging rights.

There is a Virginia data set that can shed some light on the matter.  The Superintendent’s Annual Report for 2017 (the latest available data) provides at Table 13 disbursement data for each division.  I’ve extracted the day school (school operations not including food, adult ed., pre-K, etc.) expenditure per student.  The Fall Membership Report database provides the 2017 enrollments for students of all races and for “white, not of Hispanic origin” students, inter alia

If we graph the day school expenditure v. the percentage of nonwhite students, we obtain:

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Of course, correlation does not imply causation (another thing the EdBuild study does not mention) but the absence of correlation does tell us to look elsewhere for causes.  Here, 93% of the variance (that’s statspeak for “scatter”) comes from factors other than the percentage of nonwhite students.

In any case, the least squares fit offers the same result as an eyeball examination: There’s LOTS of scatter but the divisions with larger nonwhite populations are not being punished.  So, modest (6.6%) bragging rights.

Looking at the data we also see that the EdBuild average being pulled up by the older, urban divisions with large nonwhite populations and with higher costs of living (with the notable exceptions of Petersburg, which has a reputation for being notoriously impoverished, and Sussex, which is decidedly non-urban).

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Among those divisions, the R-squared rises to 9%.

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At the other end of the spectrum, the low expenditure divisions are mostly rural counties with relatively lower costs of living.

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The Big spenders here are Bath (38% of the budget is VEPCO money), Highland (43% of budget from property taxes), and Rappahannock (who knows?).

Interesting, perhaps.  It might also be interesting to look at the expenditures corrected for cost of living. 

In any case, no racial funding gap on the expenditures.

With all that said, it remains that, while school finances are important to the teachers and the schools’ bureaucrats, they are irrelevant to student performance among the Virginia divisions, e.g.,

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Note: These are total disbursements, not just day school.  Richmond is the gold square; the peer cities Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk, the red diamonds; Lynchburg, blue; Charles City, green.

Serving the Numbers, Not the Students

With the aid of our General Assembly, Richmond has abandoned its truant students in order to improve its numbers.

We are reminded by a piece on NPR that you can’t teach students who don’t attend school. 

The General Assembly noticed that problem awhile back.  In 1999, they amended Code § 22.1-258 to install requirements for truancy responses:

  • Any unexcused absence: Contact with the parent;
  • 5 unexcused absences: Attendance Plan;
  • 6 unexcused absences: Conference with Parents;
  • 7 unexcused absences: Prosecute parents or file CHINS petition.

That was massively unpopular with our public school bureaucracy.  The Board of “Education” responded by requiring the divisions to report the number of students for whom a conference was scheduled and the aggregate daily attendance.  Notwithstanding its duty and authority “to see that the [mandatory attendance laws] are properly enforced throughout the Commonwealth” the Board cheerfully ignored the other requirements of the statute.

Richmond followed that lead.  After ten absences they sent the parents a letter.  They did very little else, even as their truancy rate exploded.

In 2018, the Generous Assembly amended § 22.1-258 to gut the enforcement mechanism: Now after ten unexcused absences, the attendance officer may prosecute the parents or file a CHINS petition.  The attendance officer is no longer responsible for the five- and six-absence plans and conferences.

Richmond is responding by firing all its seventeen attendance officers and replacing them with seven “attendance liaisons.”

(The statute still provides that “[w]here no attendance officer is appointed by the School Board, the division superintendent or his designee shall act as attendance officer.”  Presumably these “liaisons” now will be the superintendent-designated attendance officers.)

On the 2017 data, 4,998 Richmond students had ten or more unexcused absences.  That’s 294 per attendance officer. 

Who can think that the truancy situation will improve with “liaisons” who should have, on those data, 714 cases each?  But, of course, those “liaisons” don’t have to actually do anything so we might wonder why we’re paying even for seven.

(BTW: At the old limit of seven, there were 7,234 students with 7 or more unexcused absences in Richmond in 2017.  That would be 1,033 per “liaison” if they were actually dealing with truancy.)

We don’t have to dig far to unearth the reasons for this deliberate disservice to schoolchildren: Students who are not in school can’t be taught.  Students who are truant frequently drop out.  Students who have dropped out cannot lower the SOL pass rates.  Indeed, if the division can get rid of these troublesome children in middle school, they won’t even count against the cohort graduation rate.

This is win/win for the schools and the Board of “Education.”  Never mind those inconvenient children.

Mendacious Excuse, II

Having sentenced myself to read the School Board’s no-longer-secret (but probably still illegal) budget, I moved on from Page 11 and was stopped at page 12 by a further false excuse for Richmond’s lousy (and very expensive) performance:

Special Education Students

Another factor for consideration in educating the students residing in the City of Richmond is that approximately 4,100 or 17.5% of our students qualify for special education services. The graph shown below represents the percentage of special education students benched against state-wide averages and surrounding districts; RPS = 17.5%, state average = 13.0%.

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This graph is a step up from the one on p.11 that stopped at 2014: This one goes to 2018, albeit the database continues to 2019. 

As well, this page again calls Norfolk a “surrounding district.” 

More to the point, here is my graph for Richmond and the peer districts.

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You may have noticed that the Board’s Richmond numbers and mine agree only for 2016.  Either the database has been heavily amended since the Board pulled its data or the Board has miscalculated.

Still more to the point, this appears to be another official embrace of a “Blame the Students” excuse for the School Board’s own failure. 

It is clear, of course, that disabled students underperform their more abled peers.  On the SOL pass rate, the state average difference ranges from just over thirty to over forty points, depending on the subject.

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But Richmond magnifies that effect: Because of the awful schools, Richmond’s students, economically disadvantaged and not, grossly underperform their peers.  For example, on the reading tests Richmond’s disabled students underperformed eight of the ten divisions with larger disabled populations and Richmond’s non-disabled students underperformed all ten of those divisions (Richmond is the enlarged, gold points):

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On the math tests, it was nine of ten and, again, all ten.

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For the School Board to blame those disabled students for its own costly failures is a shameless lie.

Our Neighbor, Norfolk

Following the kerfuffle over our School Board’s’ (probably illegal) secret adoption of its 2020 budget, the Board released that budget.

I have a lot of reading to go, but was stopped by this on page 11 of the budget:

Free and Reduced Lunch Population

Free  and  reduced  lunch  population  is  a  measure  of  poverty.  As  reflected  in  the  Department  of  Education’s October 31, 2013 report, RPS ranked as the 9th highest free and reduced lunch population in the  Commonwealth  with  17,351  or  over  74.25%  of  our  students  receiving  subsidized  meals  under  the  Federal  school  lunch  program.  The  graph  shown  below  depicts  Richmond’s  status  as  compared  to  neighboring districts and the state average.

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Norfolk is 92 miles away by car.  Some “neighboring district.”

Then we have the dates: The graph stops at 2014.  The “Program Statistics” page on the VDOE Web site has Free/Reduced Lunch data thru 2018-2019.

Even more to the point, VDOE has a more general measure of poverty, “economically disadvantaged.”

Economically Disadvantaged   A flag that identifies students as economically disadvantaged if they meet any one of the following: 1) is eligible for Free/Reduced Meals, or 2) receives TANF, or 3) is eligible for Medicaid, or 4) identified as either Migrant or experiencing Homelessness.

The VDOE Fall Membership database provides the economically disadvantaged populations through 2018-19 for the state and all divisions.  Here are those data for Richmond and the peer jurisdictions:

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Do you suppose the School Board’s graph stopped at 2014 because they were just too lazy to update the graph?  Or, perhaps, because that was the year that showed Richmond’s largest free/reduced percentage?

Still more to the point, this appears to be an official embrace of the School Board’s “Blame the Students” excuse for its own failure. 

It is clear, of course, that economically disadvantaged students underperform their more affluent peers.  On the SOL pass rate, the state average difference is about 20 points, depending on the subject. 

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But Richmond magnifies that effect: Because of the awful schools, Richmond’s students, economically disadvantaged and not, grossly underperform their peers.  For example, on the reading tests (Richmond is the enlarged, gold points):

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Note added 2/28: That’s %ED in the tested group, not the division.

For the School Board to blame poverty for its own failures is a shameless lie.

It begins to look like reading this budget will be about as much fun as reviewing the performance of Richmond’s schools.

Problem in Paradise: Theft from Motor Vehicle in Forest Hill

The daffodils are budding in the alley and I still haven’t updated the Forest Hill crime report data.  Let’s get to work.

First the geography: In the Police Dept. database, the neighborhood runs from the park to the Boulevard and from Forest Hill Ave. to the river:

As you see, this does not include all of the Forest Hill Neighborhood Ass’n area and does include some of the Westover Hills Ass’n area.  It includes only one side of Forest Hill Ave, notably only one side of the commercial area.

Microsoft has a nice view of the area.

For the period from the start of the Police Department Database, January 1, 2000, through December 31, 2018, that database contains 3,081 offense reports for the Forest Hill neighborhood. 

The database contains lots of duplicates.  In this case, 999 of the entries duplicate the incident number, offense code, and offense number of another incident, leaving 2,082 unique entries.

Among that 2,082 entries, “theft from motor vehicle” is the most common at 27%.

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I like to call those incidents “car breakins” but that is not accurate: Most of those are cases where park visitors left the car unlocked.  The count of “Destruction property/private property” incidents gives a high but approximate measure of the actual breakins.  “Abandoned property in car” might be more accurate.

As usual in a quiet neighborhood, most of the incidents involve property crime.  In the present case, the most frequent violent crime is simple assault, in tenth place behind 69% of the total (ninth place, 67%, if we don’t count the 56 natural deaths).

The neighborhood was enjoying a consistent pattern of improvement until 2015.

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The increases then were driven by increases in theft from motor vehicle.

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By far our worst block for crime is 4200 Riverside Drive.

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That block is home to the 42d St. Parking Lot.

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Half of the crime reported in the block is theft from motor vehicle, with second place going to the property destruction where the thief had to break in because the car was locked.

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No telling how much of the rest is spillover from the criminals lured into our neighborhood by the unlocked cars.

The earlier decreases in the 4200 block came after Parks’ 2005 response to neighborhood complaints: They started locking the gates to the 42d. St. lot at night and off season and they installed rocks to block parking in the part of the lot that is less visible from the street.

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I attribute the recent increases to the increased use of the Park, the removal of the rocks in 2016, and the reassignment of Stacy, the bicycle cop.

Aside from 4400 Forest Hill (mostly the nursing home) and 4700-4800 Forest Hill (the commercial area), the other blocks at the top of the list are high theft from motor vehicle blocks:

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There are two lessons here:

  • Leaving stuff in the car, especially in an unlocked car, is an invitation to lose the stuff and to help chum the neighborhood for criminals; and
  • Given that most of the thefts are from the vehicles of park visitors, it’s past time for some LARGE signs in the 4200 block and at the Nature Center and 4100 Hillcrest and, especially, in the 42d St. parking lot, to warn the visitors:
                                             Car Breakins Here! Lock your junk in your trunk.

If you share my view on that, please contact our Councilwoman and fill in the Park Master Plan Questionnaire.  Here is what I said there:

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College Graduation Rates

The SCHEV Web site has cohort graduation rates for first-time, full-time freshmen in our four-year institutions.  Because the data include the six-year rate, the most recent report is for the cohort that entered in 2012-13.

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The numbers in the green bars are the 4-year rates; those outside the end, the 6-year.  You’re on your own for the five-year rates.

Notice JMU and University of Richkids approaching the W&M/UVa rates and notice especially W&L leading the pack.

If we calculate the ratio of the 4-year to 6-year graduation rates, we get:

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The lower average rate for the public schools reflects the relatively larger 5- and 6-year rates at the urban schools, the former teachers’ colleges, and Tech.

Comcast vs. the Neighborhood

Returning home from the gym yesterday, I found the alley blocked by a vehicle.

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Judging from the sign on the side of the vehicle, the driver is a Comcast contractor (without the required Virginia plates, it seems).

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Getting no response from a polite honk of my horn, I resorted to a more robust sounding.  That produced the driver, walking down the (empty) driveway of the house to the right and rear of this picture.

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I asked if he would move the car.  He said no.

I turned around and drove around the block to get to the other end of the alley, thinking unkind thoughts about Comcast.

This kind of behavior does not improve Comcast’s (already less than wonderful) reputation.

Richmond: More Money, Worse Schools: Update

An earlier post discussed our Superintendent’s false statement about financial support.  That post was based on the 2017 VDOE data, the latest funding data then available.  I’ve updated the post with the 2018 numbers that VDOE just posted.

Our school Superintendent wrote an op-ed for the Times-Dispatch complaining that:

Virginia’s highest poverty school divisions — which serve large percentages of children of color — receive 8.3 percent less in per-pupil funding than the state’s wealthiest districts. Put plainly: The students who should be getting more are actually getting less.

In fact, Virginia’s high poverty divisions (larger numbers of economically disadvantaged students) actually spend more per pupil on average than the more affluent divisions.

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Richmond, the gold square on the graph, spends $2,219 more than average per student; indeed, it is the fourteenth biggest spender (of 132).

Table 15 in the (State) Superintendent’s Annual Report permits a look into the sources of those funds that the Richmond schools are spending.   

The table breaks out division receipts by source:

  • State Sales and Use Tax (1-1/8 % of the sales tax receipts);
  • State Funds (appropriated by the Generous Assembly);
  • Federal Funds (direct federal grants plus federal funds distributed through state agencies); and
  • Local Funds (local appropriations).

Let’s start with a graph of the per student spending of state and federal funds vs. the division percentage of economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students:

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The immediate lesson here is that Superintendent Kamras is simply wrong about high-poverty schools being starved for outside funds: The sales tax funding is essentially flat v. % ED while the state appropriations and the federal funding increase with increasing % ED.

Richmond, the gold squares, is a bit low in terms of state funding, but that deficit is offset (and then some) by federal money.  Richmond’s sales tax funding, $1,071 per student, is hidden in the forest of other schools, almost exactly on the fitted line.

Only in local funding can we can find any hint of support for the notion that divisions with more poor students receive less money.

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Of course, it is no surprise that less affluent jurisdictions might provide fewer funds to their school systems.  For the most part, they have less money to spend on any governmental operation. 

Kamras’ own division, with a 61% ED population in its schools, nonetheless came up in 2018 with $1,806 in local funds per student more than that fitted line would predict. 

As well, when all the fund sources are added in, the spending on education increases with increasing populations of disadvantaged students: See the graph at the top of this post.

In summary, Richmond schools received LOTS of money in these categories:

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[“Predicted” values here are calculated from the Richmond % ED and the fitted lines in the graphs above.  The sum of the predicted values is seven dollars less than the value calculated from the actual total, which is probably explained by the inclusion of tuition from other divisions in the total reported.]

So, when he says “The students who should be getting more are actually getting less,” our Superintendent is wrong.  And, even more to the point, Kamras’ own schools are enjoying much more than average financial support.

The Kamras op-ed is a bald attempt to excuse the ongoing failure of the Richmond public schools to educate Richmond’s schoolchildren.  For example, on the 2018 reading pass rates:

https://calaf.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/image-33.png

The excuse is contradicted by reality: Those Richmond schools are swimming in money.  Even more to the point, the performance of Virginia school divisions is unrelated to how much money they spend.  For example:

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Richmond again is the gold square, spending lots of money and getting lousy results.  For comparison, the peer cities are the red diamonds: from the left, Hampton, Norfolk, and Newport News.  As a courtesy to my readers there, the violet diamond is Lynchburg, the green, Charles City.

It would be helpful for our Superintendent to turn his energy to improving the performance of our schools and to stop misleading the public about the reasons those schools are so ineffective.

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Change the Subject

On Sunday, The Times-Dispatch published an op-ed in which Superintendent Kamras decried “institutional racism” and suggested that the first step to deal with it would be more money for divisions with higher poverty rates.  Such as Richmond, of course.

Kamras wrote:

According to the National Center on Education Statistics, Virginia’s highest poverty school divisions — which serve large percentages of children of color — receive 8.3 percent less in per-pupil funding than the state’s wealthiest districts. Put plainly: The students who should be getting more are actually getting less.

The estimable Jim Bacon pulled some data from the VDOE Web site to question that proposition.  The full dataset makes an even stronger case than the one Bacon argued.

The Superintendent’s Annual Report includes at Table 13 a list of division disbursements.  The latest data there are from 2017.  The VDOE Web site also sports a (very nice) database that provides “membership” data by race and by “disadvantage” (primarily free and reduced lunch numbers), inter alia.

Excel is happy to juxtapose the datasets on a graph.  Let’s start with economic disadvantage (“ED”).

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Note:  The disbursement data here are division totals, less spending for facilities, debt service, and contingency reserve.

The fitted line suggests that divisions with more ED students spend more per student ($244 for a 10% increase in ED enrollment) but the 2.3% R-squared value tells us the two variables are very weakly correlated.

In any case, there is no pattern here of deprivation of those divisions with large ED populations.  Quite the contrary, most of the Big Spenders are high poverty divisions. 

As well, we see Richmond, the gold square, spending lots of money.  Indeed, Richmond is the tenth biggest spender among the 132 divisions.

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We can argue about the reasons for the lousy performance of Richmond’s public schools, but lack of money is not a candidate.

Of course, Kamras was talking about race, not poverty.  There is no need here to accept his undocumented melding of those two factors; the VDOE database also has the division membership by race.

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Note: Bland and Highland are absent from this dataset, presumably because their black enrollments are small enough to trigger the suppression rules.

Again, the slope is in the wrong direction for the Kamras complaint ($275 increase per 10% increase in the black student population).  And this time the 7.7% R-squared value hints more strongly at a correlation.

The absence of Highland County from the list moves Richmond up to ninth place (of 130 divisions).

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Bottom line: The VDOE data contradict Kamras’ claim that divisions with more poor or more black students are under funded vis-à-vis the other divisions.

More fundamentally, Kamras’ jeremiad about funding overlooks the abundant data that show no relationship between division funding and SOL performance.  Money is not the problem in Richmond’s schools; lousy schools are the problem.

Looking at the study he cites, it appears that Kamras is complaining about the funds Virginia schools receive [Table 7] in an arbitrary grouping, not what each division spends.  Whatever that study may mean, it cannot contradict the Virginia data that show Richmond and other high-poverty (and high black student percentage) divisions spending about as much money as their more affluent peers.  And, for sure, those school systems can’t spend more than they receive.

Indeed, Kamras’ division is spending a lot of money and getting lousy results.  It would be helpful for our Superintendent to spend more energy improving the performance of his schools and less on misleading the public about the reason those schools are so awful.

Graduation Rates: Official Fiction

The estimable Carol Wolf sent me the link to an article reporting improving graduation rates of disabled students and asked whether that were reflected in Virginia or Richmond.

We earlier saw that Virginia’s graduation rate has been increasing while the reading and math End of Course pass rates were falling.  That is, the Board of “Education” has its thumb on the statistical scale.  Per Carol’s’ inquiry, let’s take a closer look at the overall rates and delve into the rates for disabled students.

The current requirements for a “standard” diploma include six “verified” credits, two in English plus one each in math, a laboratory science, history & social science, and a student-selected subject.  To earn a verified credit, the student must both pass the course and pass the End of Course (“EOC”) SOL test “or a substitute assessment approved by the Board of Education.”

[Do you see the thumb there on the scale?]

To start, here are the reading EOC pass rates for the past five years.

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Hmmm.  How might we explain those Richmond disabled numbers for 2014-16?  Friar Occam might suggest cheating.  In any case, this is not a picture of improving performance.

Then we have writing.

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History & Social Science.

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Math.

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And science.

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There are some bumps and squiggles there but the trends are clear: The state averages are fading and the Richmond, plunging. 

The five subject average smooths out the variations.

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That’s clear enough: The statewide averages have declined in the last two years; despite some gains in ‘15 and ‘16, those averages have declined overall since 2014.  The Richmond averages have plummeted.

Turning to diplomas: Our educrats report (and brag upon) an “on-time” graduation rate.  To get that rate they define “graduates” to include students who earn receive any of the following diplomas: Advanced Studies, Standard, Modified Standard, Special, and General Achievement

To their credit, the federales do not count the substandard diplomas: The federal rate includes only advanced and standard diplomas.  To combat that bit of realism, Virginia two years ago redefined the Modified Standard Diploma by allowing “credit accommodations” to transform it, in most cases, into a Standard Diploma.

This had a nice effect statewide and a dramatic effect in Richmond.

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With that background, let’s look at the four-year cohort graduation rates.

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Those increases are enough to warm an educrat’s heart, at least until we notice that:

  • The pass rates don’t support the recent increases, and
  • That 2017 bump in the disabled rate (that boosts the overall rate is some measure) reflects 1,200 or more modified standard diplomas that were transformed into standard diplomas by fiat.

The redefinition give Richmond a nice bump in 2017 but the overall rate resumed its decline in 2018.

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So, yes, Carol.  The Virginia four-year cohort graduation rates rose, both for disabled students and for all students.  The rise was enhanced after 2016 by (even further) manipulated data.  The rise continued at a time the pass rates in the End of Course SOL tests were declining.  If you believe those improving numbers, I want to sell you some shares in a nice James River bridge.

Richmond’s declining numbers remind us that even bogus statistics can’t make Richmond’s public schools look like anything but a menace to the students.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Postscript: It looks like inflated graduation rates are a national phenomenon.