Spending ≠ Learning

We have seen that Richmond spends a lot more money per student than either the division average or its peer jurisdictions.  For that extra money, Richmond gets vastly inferior performance; indeed it is in a race for lowest SOL pass rates in the state.

To begin examining those data in more detail, here are the 2017 disbursements (not including facilities, debt service, and reserves) per student for Richmond, the peers, and the division average (rounded to the nearest dollar).


And here are the totals for just the day school operations.


Turning to the categories in the VDOE data, we see:


As we might expect, the instruction budget is the major item here.  If we just look at the other categories, we see:


Or, in terms of the differences from the division averages:


From these data, we can’t tell where those funds are going in the instruction category but we know that we aren’t getting any return for the money.  The (very) large Pre-K expenditure (funded in some part by federal Head Start money) does not look to be producing results either, at least not in the overall sense.

The food expenditure makes sense in light of Richmond’s relatively large proportion of free and reduced lunches (albeit the poverty rate in Richmond does not begin to explain the low pass rates).  The state data don’t tell us where the “other” educational expenses are going.

Richmond is grossly violating the state law that requires it to deal with truancy; their puny (and lawless) effort as to attendance cannot explain the relatively large expenditure for Attendance and Health.

Our new Superintendent has asked the Council of the Great City Schools to audit the Richmond budget.  Let’s hope that effort provides a more detailed – and more helpful – look at how our tax money is being squandered on these awful schools.

Money Won’t Buy You Learning

OOPS!  A kind reader points out I messed up the totals in this post.  The State spreadsheet has a column for the day school total and I included that in the grand total, double counting the day school total.

Sigh.  Corrected version below:


Now that VDOE has posted the division disbursements for 2017, we can juxtapose those data with the 2017 SOL scores.

For purposes of this exercise, I’ve left out the amounts for facilities, debt service, and reserves because of the wide variation of those numbers between divisions.  The numbers below, then, are the totals for the regular day school operations plus food services, summer school, adult education, pre-K, and “other” educational programs.

To start, here are the reading pass rates v. those disbursements.


The fitted line might suggest that pass rates decrease with increasing disbursements but the 1.1% R-squared value tells us those variables are very slightly correlated.

Richmond is the gold square on the graph.  The red diamonds are peer jurisdictions, from the left Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk.  Charles City is green; Lynchburg is blue.

The average disbursement is $12,216.  The average reading pass rate, 77.4.  Richmond spent an extra $2,804 per student for an SOL return 19.3 points below the state average.

Here are the graphs for the other four subjects:





And here are averages of the five.


These other correlations are larger, up to the 6.29% in math, which is an R of 0.251.  From eyeballing the graphs, it looks like it’s driven by that flock of divisions in the upper left that gets better than average pass rates and spends less money than average.

And, as to Richmond, the result is clear: We’re spending a lot more money than average and we are competing for the lowest pass rates in the state.

Let’s hope the upcoming audit by the Council of the Great City Schools will tell us where all that money is going in Richmond and why it gets us such awful results.

Lawless Disfunction

The RT-D this morning reports that RPS has never implemented a 2012 policy that students with more than six unexcused absences per nine weeks or ten per semester be denied credit for the class(es) missed.

Aside from the absurdity of a policy that the School Board adopted but does not enforce, this – in conjunction with other public information – tells us at least five things about our awful school system and our dysfunctional school board:

1.  Our School Board Deliberately Violates State Law.

Virginia law requires the Superintendent to prosecute the parents or file a CHINS petition against the student after the seventh unexcused absence in any year.

RPS has long been violating that law wholesale.  On the most recent data (2016) RPS filed 201 prosecutions and 25 CHINS petitions for a total of 226, which was 3.1% of the 7,288 court cases required that year by the statute.

2.  The Board of “Education” Has Been Ignoring Richmond’s Violations

The State Board of Education is required by law to enforce the statute Richmond has been so flagrantly violating.  That Board has utterly failed to do so.

3.  The Policy Is Stupid and Counterproductive

If RPS and the courts were doing their jobs, no student would collect the ten unexcused absences that could trigger the policy.  Indeed, the statute requires interventions long before the seventh absence:

  • Contact the parents after any unexcused absence;
  • Develop an attendance plan after the fifth absence; and
  • Schedule a conference with the parents after the sixth absence.

While ignoring the statutory requirements, Richmond adopted this silly policy that would (if enforced) deny course credit as punishment of students whose behavior had demonstrated that they did not care about course credit.

4.  The Board Is (And Has Been) a Fraud

A policy that is not enforced – at all – is not a policy.  It is mendacious showboating.  The current School Board confirms that the policy is a fake by suspending the policy.

5.  Our Current Board Is Dysfunctional

Our School Board is fighting a pitched battle with City Council about funding new schools rather than focusing its energy on repairing the educational failures of one of the worst school systems in the state.  The Board concentrates on this secondary issue, of course, because the buildings are a problem even it can understand.  Meanwhile, the Board continues to abuse the children in its charge by failing to fix its dysfunctional school system.

Your Government at “Work”

Mark A. Olinger, Director
Department of Planning and Development Review
City of Richmond

Mr. Olinger,

I have your notice of the public hearing at City Hall at 1:30 PM on Monday, May 7 regarding a proposed encroachment into the Chesapeake Bay Resource Protection Area at 3005 Riverside Drive.

I am interested to notice:

  • The hearing is scheduled at City Hall, where the parking is limited and expensive, rather than in the affected neighborhood, where the parking generally is abundant and free;
  • The hearing is scheduled near midday on a work day, when many of my neighbors will be at work helping to fund your agency, rather than in the evening, when it would be convenient for ‘most any interested person;
  • The application for the exception is available during business hours at City Hall, where it will be decidedly inconvenient to view, rather than on the Web, where it could be read at any time with a click of the mouse; and
  • The Notice arrived in my mailbox a mere nine days — five work days — before the hearing.

This Notice is fully consistent with Richmond’s reputation for treating its citizens with a mixture of obnoxious arrogance and thoughtless disdain.  Whatever we are paying you, any excess over 25 cents a decade is too much.

With kindest regards,

John Butcher


Note added April 29:

Ms. Penelope points out that the last sentence above (re Mr. Olinger’s salary) was snarky and inappropriate.  She is right, as usual.  I retract that sentence and apologize to Mr. Olinger.

It remains, however, that our City went to some trouble to mail a notice (1) advising us we can comment on the project and (2) telling us they are making it as inconvenient as possible to comment on the project.

This stands in contrast to the notice on the Planning and Development home page:


Here we see that, at least as to building permits, the City:

  •     Opens early, to accommodate contractors and other customers;
  •      Provides free parking;
  •      Posts status reports on the Web; and
  •      Accepts submittals (only) in electronic form.

We are left to wonder why the City treats permit applicants with so much more care than it does mere taxpayers.

Dollars ≠ Scholars

VDOE has just posted Table 19 of the 2017 Superintendent’s Annual Report.  That table gives us, inter alia, the Average Annual Salaries for All Instructional Positions of each school division.

The spreadsheet tells us, “All Instructional Positions include classroom teachers, guidance counselors, librarians, technology instructors, principals, and assistant principals.”

Juxtaposing the Table 19 data against the 2017 SOL pass rates we obtain, for the reading tests:


The fitted line suggests that, among the Virginia divisions, $10K in higher average salary is associated with a 2% increase in the division average reading pass rate.  The R-squared, however, tells us that the two variables are only distantly related, with about 96% of the variance being explained by other variables.

Richmond is the gold square on the graph.  The peer jurisdictions from the left are Norfolk, Hampton, and Newport News.  Charles City is green; Lynchburg is blue.

The graphs for the other subjects tell much the same story.





Also the average of the five averages.


That high-performing division at a mere $43,006 is West Point.  The high performer paying almost twice as much, $78,350, is Falls Church.

Well, we knew that money can’t buy you love.  Looks like it doesn’t buy better division pass rates either.

More Teachers ≠ More Graduates

It is Spring and VDOE has posted the teacher data it has had since September.  So let’s look at the relationship between those numbers and the graduation rates.

First, the “Federal” graduation rate, i.e., the sum of standard + advanced diplomas in the 4-year cohort divided by the cohort size.


The fitted line might suggest that hiring more teachers leads to lower graduation rates but the tiny R-squared value tells us the two variables are quite uncorrelated.

Richmond is the gold square there.  The red diamonds are the peer cities, from the left Newport News, Hampton, and Norfolk.  Charles City is green; Lynchburg, blue.

As we have seen, VDOE has inflated the federal graduation rate by using “credit accommodations” that permit counting Modified Standard Diplomas as “Standard.”  They do an even better job of cooking the data by defining an “On Time” rate; in 2017 that deception raised Richmond’s federal rate of 70.1% to a bogus 76.8%.

Here is the happier picture painted by this manipulation:


Again the two variables are not correlated.  The inflated numbers make Richmond (and the Board of “Education”) look a bit better but do no good at all for the Richmond students whom the system has failed to educate.

Interesting note: For Charles City, both rates are 92.6%.

More Teachers ≠ More Learning

The Dogwood are coming into bloom so we can expect VDOE to start posting the data they have had since last September.  Indeed, they posted Table 17b, “Instructional Positions Per 1,000 ADM,” the other day.

A reader (the reader?) noticed and asked whether there is a relationship between those numbers and the SOL pass rates.  The short answer is “no.” 

The longer answer:


The fitted line might suggest that increasing the relative number of teachers is associated with decreasing pass rates but the minuscule R-squared value tells us that the two variables are essentially uncorrelated.

The gold square is Richmond; the red diamonds, from the left, are the peer cities, Newport News, Hampton, and Norfolk.  Lynchburg (home of the reader) is blue; Charles City, green.

Using the same system, here are the data for the other four subject areas.





And here is the five subject average.


I will resist the temptation to comment further about Richmond’s above-average number of teachers and it’s bottom-of-the-barrel pass rates.  (I earlier discussed Richmond’s very expensive failure rates and dismal graduation rates.)

The Worst of the Appalling

The earlier post shows that, despite the happy aura, Westover Hills Elementary School is miserably failing to educate its students. 

I singled that school out because of the story in the paper, not because it is the worst performer in town.  It merely is among the worst.

For example, here from the 2017 testing are the twenty-one worst 3d grade reading pass rates in Virginia.  For reference, the accreditation benchmark is 75%.


Westover Hills’ 39.3% ties for ninth from the worst.  Seven other Richmond elementary schools join Westover Hills in this cellar.

It’s a secret pleasure to see a school each from Fairfax and Henrico on this list.  That said, these data tell us that terrible schools are not unique to Richmond, but the concentration of them is.

Moving to the higher grades:



Notice that Westover Hills’ 5th grade performance floated above the bottom of the barrel.

The math picture is similarly awful.




The middle school numbers are no more encouraging, especially in light of MLK’s successful candidacy for worst in the state.


This 7th grade list expands to 22 schools in order in order to include Binford.  Of Richmond’s seven middle schools, all but Albert Hill made this expanded list.


Armstrong High makes the 8th grade list courtesy of the complicated SOL system that results in high schools administering the 8th grade test to some students.  Among the middle schools, MLK retains its “lead.”


Turning to the End of Course tests:


All of Richmond’s mainstream high schools made the bottom 23.  In a happy contrast, both of the more selective high schools aced the reading tests (Franklin, which is selective and has both middle- and high school grades, also did just fine, with a 93.9% pass rate).


To complete the picture, here are the math data.  The accreditation benchmark is 70%




The only surprise in the middle school math data is the (slight) competition for MLK in the race to the bottom.




As to the mainstream high schools, Huguenot floats out of the cellar.  Franklin (which is selective), replaces Huguenot.


Neither of Richmond’s selective high schools appears near the top of the math EOC list.  Open High is no. 178 from the top with a 98.1% ; Community is 611 at 67.9%, behind Huguenot at 579, 72.1%.

Welcome to Richmond, Mr. Kamras.

Enthusiasm v. Data at Westover Hills

The RT-D’s Ned Oliver did a piece the other day about the flight from Richmond’s public schools.  As a contrast (an antidote?) to that, Oliver discussed Westover Hills Elementary School, where

Principal Virginia Loving said the parents who come to open houses to check out the school rarely ask about test scores, instead focusing on class size and extracurricular opportunities — two points where her school is strong.

Indeed, Oliver quotes a spokesperson for RPS for the proposition

I know that’s (Superintendent Jason) Kamras’ vision — to have all of our schools look like Westover Hills — look like the city.

Let’s take a look at those “rarely ask[ed]” about test scores.  First, the reading pass rates.




Recall that VBOE installed new English and science tests in 2013 that lowered pass rates statewide.  The decreases were generally exaggerated in Richmond because our then-Superintendent failed to align the curricula to the new tests. 

At Westover Hills, we see 2013 reading decreases that more closely mirrored the state averages than did the Richmond decreases, presumably reflecting better preparation at the school. 

In 2014, the third grade enjoyed a reading renaissance.  Unfortunately, that lasted only the one year and was followed by a decline that persisted through 2017.

The fourth grade decline anticipated the 2013 drop and then continued to 2014.  The smaller gains in 2015 and 2016 were wiped out by a further plunge in 2017.

The fifth grade suffered a further drop in 2015, from which it has only partially recovered.

The reading scores for all three grades remain below the 2017 Richmond averages while, on the division average, Richmond was third worst in the state.  Those differences are appalling: Third Grade, 19 points below Richmond, 35 below the state average; Fourth Grade, 29 and 42 points down; fifth Grade, 11 and 22 points.

The mathematics pass rates paint a similarly dismal picture.




The new tests here were in 2012.  In 2017, Richmond had the second lowest division pass rate in math. 

The 2017 Westover Hills deficits were:


Finally, science:


Before the new tests, Westover Hills was running well above the state average on the 5th grade science test (the only grade tested to the present).  In 2017, it was 18 points below Richmond, 33 below the state.

If our new Superintendent really wants “to have all of our schools look like Westover Hills,” he is prescribing a massive (but happy, it seems) failure that is far beyond even the current, appalling state of our schools.

Sex Offender at 4310 New Kent

The State Police Web site has the Sex Offender Registry required by Va. Code § 9.1-913.

The registry now includes a map.  Here is the portion that includes our neighborhood.


That closest entry to our neighborhood is Mr. Edwards at 4310 New Kent (You’ll have fill in the number to prove you’re not a robot before the link will open).


The Registry doesn’t say that Mr. Edwards would be dangerous, just that he was convicted of aggravated sexual battery in 2010.  You get to draw your own inference as to risk to your family.