MOU Madness – I

Even under the Board of Education’s flexible, score-boosting “standards,” a public school or division can be denied accreditation.  The Board requires the unfortunates who are so denied to execute a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

The Board’s MOU is a terrible idea, both as to strategy and as to tactics.

Strategy

First, the statutory background: The third Standard of Quality provides for accreditation and requires that schools and divisions be accredited:  “Each local school board shall maintain schools that are fully accredited pursuant to the standards for accreditation as prescribed by the Board of Education.”  The Board can sue to compel compliance with the Standards of Quality.

As a mandatory statement of “understanding,” without any hint of the agreement, consideration, or damages remedy of a contract, the MOU is even less than a contract.

Yet, even contracts to require compliance with the law are a terrible idea.  Contracts are subject to different rules than enforcement suits and orders.  And contracts have some slippery side effects, such as third party beneficiaries

No competent enforcement agency executes a contract with a violator: The agency uses contracts to buy paper and toner; it abates violations by exercising its authority to issue orders or to bring suit.  Use of a contract as an enforcement tool usually signals a reluctance to actually enforce. 

MOUs have their uses; they are particularly useful for dividing turf between agencies.  For example, the State Water Control Board has plenary authority over groundwater while the State Board of Health has authority over septic tanks et al. that inject partially treated sewage into groundwater.  In that kind of situation, MOUs are useful to help the employees of each agency know how to deal with borderline situations.

But here we have the Board of Education requiring an unenforceable MOU of each school and division that suffers a denial of accreditation.

Aside: We might also notice that the regulation requires an MOU but leaves the contents to the Board’s discretion.  Thus, if the resulting MOU actually required anything, it probably would be unlawful.

Tactics

The Board’s boilerplate MOU is ridiculous on its face. 

The foolishness begins in the very first section of the MOU (copy kindly provided by VDOE’s Chuck Pyle):

I. Requirements

BLANK Public Schools will comply with all requirements included in the Regulations Establishing Standards for Accrediting Public Schools in Virginia (SOA).

A copy of the SOA requirements for schools rated Accreditation Denied is located at the following link:  http://www.doe.virginia.gov/boe/accreditation/index.shtml .

Both the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and BLANK Public Schools should ensure that program activities are conducted in compliance with all applicable federal laws, rules, and regulations.

The first requirement of the MOU is that the school or division promise to comply with the law!!!

It’s difficult to discuss this kind of nonsense without resorting to obscenities.  Here we have a school or division that the Board says is violating the law and the Board’s first remedy is that the violator make an unenforceable promise to comply with the law.

But wait!  It gets worse:

The MOU then says that VDOE and the school/division “should ensure that program activities” are lawful. 

Here, in a public record, the Board of Education says that VDOE and the school/division that is the subject of an enforcement action “should” act in compliance with the law.  

Never mind the meaningless redundancy of the earlier empty promise to comply with the law.  This “should” mandate is too week to even be redundant.  It is hollow, preposterous babble.

There is a simple explanation for all this frivolity:  The Board does not prescribe an actual remedy because it doesn’t know (or is unwilling to say) what the judge should require the unaccredited school to do.  That is, the Board knows it would be futile to sue.

Your $22.3 million tax dollars per year at “work.”

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Preview of coming attraction: The second sentence of Part I of the MOU leads, after some thrashing about, to a regulation.  In typical educrat fashion, that regulation says much about inputs (MOUs and plans and reports and management reviews and turnaround specialists) but says nothing about obtaining an output, such as accreditation.  And, for sure, the regulation is silent about accountability for any (the inevitable?) failure.

Stay tuned . . .

Accreditation Theater of the Absurd

The Board of Education has deliberately created a problem it does not know how to solve.  But that “problem” will keep it and its minions busy.  Indeed, the sterile, ballooning bureaucratic exercise might even justify a budget increase.

Some background:

The Board has an elaborate and opaque system for “accrediting” Virginia schools and school divisions. 

The schools that fail to meet the Board’s standards can be “reconstituted” or just denied accreditation.  Schools being reconstituted operate under improvement plans approved by the Board.  Schools denied accreditation operate under corrective action plans and MOUs (Memoranda of Understanding, which is bureaucratese for unenforceable agreements) with the Board.

The plans and MOUs generated by this process have provided busywork for bureaucrats but have been ineffective to fix bad schools. 

Petersburg, for example, has been operating under MOUs since at least 2004 (video of 9/21/16 at 1:48:30) .  Here, as a paradigm of the Board’s ineptitude, is the history of Petersburg’s Peabody Middle School:

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Over a decade of state supervision has left Peabody and, indeed, the Petersburg division languishing in failure.

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(This failure is the ugly cousin of the Board’s money and effort squandered on “priority” schools.)

The Board’s record of failure tells us that its remedies for broken schools are ineffectual.  But we don’t have to rely on inference:  In September of this year, the Board members generally admitted (video of 9/21/16 at 1:48:30 et seq.) that they do not know how to fix the awful schools in Petersburg and elsewhere.

A few years ago, not content with being unable to cure the failing schools it already had, the Board set out to generate some more failure.  Sure enough, the new, tougher, math tests in 2012 and new English and Science tests in 2013 clobbered the pass rates statewide.

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And in Richmond.

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The three year rolling average “adjustment” to the accreditation ratings slowed the effect of these score drops but the accreditation rates soon followed the scores.

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All of this generated an Everest of paperwork for the Department of Education and for the affected schools and divisions.  Unfortunately, there’s no sign that all this newly concocted activity accomplished anything useful.

Indeed, the bad schools already were scoring poorly on the SOLs.  For example:

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Note: Grades 6-8, but not EOC, pass rates.

It didn’t take new tests to ferret those schools out.

When we look at outside evaluations of Virginia’s schools we do not see the ups and (mostly) downs so evident in the SOLs and accreditations.  Here, for example are the NAEP 4th grade reading and math scores for Virginia, by year.

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And here are the 8th grade data.

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These scores tell us that Virginia schools, on average, have held steady or improved slightly over the years.

The SAT scores paint much the same picture.

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Yet the Board of Education would have us think that Richmond’s performance fell by nearly 70% and Petersburg’s sank yet lower by 15% since 2010 and that the “remedy” for this artificial problem is for these divisions to submit plans and reports to the Board of Education that does not know how to improve their performance.

There is a conclusive measure of the State’s failure here: The Board’s last annual report (pdf at 22) asserts: “Board members continue to perceive a lack of statutory authority to require the most effective actions by local school systems. That remains the purview, under the Code of Virginia, of the local school board.”  Yet they can fire a Superintendent who does not toe their line.  Even more to the point, the Board has the authority to sue to compel compliance with the Standards of Quality.  Trouble is, to get a remedy the Board would have to tell the judge what a school or division must do to meet the standards.  The Board’s record of failure and its admissions (video of 9/21/16 at 1:48:30 et seq.) reveal that it does not know what to tell the judge.

Beyond question, Virginia has some awful schools.  Beyond question, those schools need to be fixed.  These data suggest that the Board of Education should go try to find something useful to do and leave Petersburg (and Richmond and Norfolk and . . . ) to fixing those awful schools, not implementing “plans” that only generate futile paperwork for the bureaucrats in the 14th St. Office Building.

The Board already is spending some portion of a $92 million budget on this charade.  They couldn’t do a worse job (and just just might help some schools) (and surely would be more honest) if they just gave the money they are wasting to Petersburg et al. to hire decent principals.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Leaderless in Virginia

Having seen the Board of “Education” members admit that they don’t know how to fix Virginia’s failing schools, I thought I’d turn to the results of their “leadership,” (also see this) for those schools.

Back in 2011, only two schools were denied accreditation: Peabody Middle in Petersburg and Lafayette-Winona in Norfolk.  Since then, VBO”E” has been handing out denials wholesale.

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Particularly to the older cities.

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The Board says its accreditation standards “are designed to ensure that an effective educational program is established and maintained in Virginia’s public schools.”  And, indeed, the Board requires a mountain of paperwork from schools that have been denied accreditation.  At a minimum:

  • A Corrective Action Plan;
  • A Memorandum of Understanding (bureaucratese for an unenforceable contract); and
  • Status reports.

So let’s see what all this activity has “ensure[d].”

Peabody Middle School in Petersburg has been denied accreditation since before 2011.  More then six years of “leadership” from VBO”E” have left Peabody mired in failure.

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Recall that the current threshold for accreditation is 75 in English and 70 otherwise.  The “adjustments” will boost these pass rates by a few points for accreditation purposes, but nowhere near to accreditation levels. 

Indeed, the Board of “Education” has not even approached “ensur[ing] . . . an effective educational program” at Peabody.

Norfolk’s Lafayette-Winona Middle School was denied accreditation before 2011; that denial continued through 2013.  The school then disappeared from the VDOE’s accreditation records although VDOE reported the pass rates through 2014. 

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For sure, it was not on a path to quick accreditation as of 2014.

Perhaps it was merged or otherwise converted to a “new” school, which allowed it to obtain the new school freebie, or was otherwise renamed.  Perchance someone who knows the Norfolk situation can identify a successor school for me.  Until then, I’ll expect the school is yet another VBO”E” failure.

Jefferson-Houston Elementary in Alexandria was one of the two schools newly denied accreditation in 2012.  They took a hit from the new math tests that year and were hurt by the new English tests in 2013.  Their science scores dropped in 2014; that’s a year too late to blame the new science tests from ‘13. 

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They have recovered somewhat, but only to a school average pass rate of 55%, which is far too low a rate for even the Board’s opaque “adjustments” to convert to accreditation.

William H. Ruffner Middle School in Norfolk also lost accreditation in 2012. 

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With the “leadership” of VBO”E,” their performance has barely budged since then.

The 2013 school year brought two more denials of accreditation.

Lindenwood Elementary School in Norfolk started the year in fair shape, except for math, and then fell off a cliff.

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It has recovered some, especially in math, but has suffered in science.  Despite all the “leadership” from VBO“E,” it remains unaccredited.

Petersburg’s A.P. Hill Elementary School was in trouble in 2011.  It took a hit in math in 2012 and fell off its own cliff in 2013.

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Hill then recovered nicely and regained accreditation in 2015.  On the face of the matter there’s no way to tell the source of this transformation, so VBO”E” gets to take the credit.

School year 2014, when the three year rolling average “adjustments” started having less effect on the 2012-13 score drops, found seven more schools denied accreditation.

Sedgefield Elementary School in Newport News displayed the pass rate drops we have come to expect: math in 2012, English and science in 2013.

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The school made a nice recovery in 2015 but gave back about half of it in 2016.  It remains in “denied” status.

Newsome Park Elementary School, also in Newport News, showed a similar pattern of decline but remains in a sump of failure, with all its pass rates below 50%.

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L. Douglas Wilder Middle School in Henrico started out with excellent scores in science, acceptable (or nearly acceptable) scores in English and in History & Social Science but awful math performance.

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The new tests clobbered all but the History & SS pass rates, all of which have recovered only slightly.  Count one more failure of the VBO”E” “leadership.”

Lake Taylor Middle School in Norfolk shows a similar pattern and counts as yet another instance where “leadership” from VBO”E” has not led to accreditation.

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Kiptopeke Elementary School in Northampton suffered from the new math and reading tests but recovered into accreditation territory in every subject except reading.

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The opaque but always helpful VBO”E” “adjustments” converted Kiptopeke’s 74.45% reading pass rate in 2016 into a 77 and allowed the school to regain accreditation.

Norfolk’s Campostella Elementary School was in trouble before the new tests and in big trouble after.  It has not recovered, all the “leadership” from VBO”E” notwithstanding.

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The school disappeared from the accreditation list in 2016, perhaps replaced by Southside STEM Academy at Campostella, which also was denied accreditation.

Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk recovered nicely from the new tests except that its writing scores declined year upon year.

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The school now enjoys “Partially Accredited: Approaching Benchmark-Pass Rate” status: Close but still not accredited.

Richmond’s Fred D. Thompson Middle School was denied accreditation in 2014 but was combined with Elkhardt Middle School the next year and, thus, disappeared from the unaccredited list.

It’s too early to draw any conclusions about the seventeen schools newly denied accreditation in 2015 (although two of them either made it back or otherwise got off the list the next year) or the twenty-four in 2016.  So let’s look at the earlier years:

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For those schools where we have data, the leading Board of “Education” can claim credit in three of thirteen cases if we count B.T. Washington as a wash, two of eleven if we look just at the other schools. 

After the “adjustments,” a Virginia school can retain accreditation with over a quarter of its students failing the SOLs.  The Board of “Education” has a batting average of .231 or .182, depending on how we count Norfolk’s B.T. Washington High School, in “ensur[ing]” that schools attain even that undemanding failure rate. 

So we see that the Board, even with its corrective action plans and MOUs and status reports and other “leadership,” is failing in about 80% of its efforts to assist schools that have been denied accreditation.

This Board and its bureaucracy are costing us somewhere north of $92 million this year.  At least insofar as the schools that have been denied accreditation, it’s clear that the money is being wasted: Our Board of “Education” doesn’t know how to fix out broken schools and its lousy performance reflects that ignorance.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

The Ignorant Governing the Incompetent

At the Sept. 21 meeting of the accountability committee (a committee of the whole) of the Board of “Education,” Dan Gecker remarked that MOUs (“Memoranda of Understanding,” bureaucratese for unenforceable agreements) don’t do anything: We’ve had thirteen MOUs at Petersburg.

A search of the Board’s agenda [Don’t rag on me about number; “agendum” is the singular] suggests that “thirteen” MOUs is an exaggeration.  But Gecker’s point is well taken: Petersburg has been operating under MOUs with the Board since at least 2004

Petersburg’s pass rate history shows a flirtation with accreditation that ended precipitously with the new tests in 2012 and 2013.

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At present, Petersburg has been rescued from its last-in-the-state position only by Richmond’s malpractice:

The efforts of the Board of “Education” have produced mountains of paper while leaving Petersburg’s (and Richmond’s and too many other divisions’) schools free to damage the children they are paid to educate.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

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Note added on 10/2:

Some good and some perhaps bad news about Petersburg: The cohort size decreases over time tell us that fewer and fewer kids are being damaged by VBOE’s “help.”

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In light of the appalling SOL pass rates, the increasing graduation rates suggest that P’Burg is giving diplomas to kids who haven’t earned them.

School Improvement Theater–Chapter 3

We’ve already seen the applications for “reconstituted” status of Woodville, the worst performer of the twelve Richmond applicants this year, and Blackwell, the second worst.  Both of those posts set out the background on the reconstitution process.

Next up:  Third worst, Chimborazo

Chimborazo’s already unacceptable performance deteriorated this year in reading and math:

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Notes:

  1. The “All” entries refer to the tests on the selected subject.  In these graphs, it means grades 3-5 for reading and math, grades 3 & 5 for science.
  2. These data are pass rates, not the inflated accreditation rates.

Chimborazo has been a Focus School since 2015.  Fat lot of good that did.

The science data paint a far happier picture:

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The application [Item F] tells us that Chimborazo is a Title I school with no English language learners and 61 of 416 (15%) Special Ed students. 

The application is blank at the “Free/Reduced Lunch Eligible Percentage.”  VDOE tells us that this school’s student population is 83% economically disadvantaged. 

We know that academic performance decreases with increasing poverty.  But 83% ED does not tell the whole story. 

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Chimborazo, the red circle on this graph, considerably underperforms other Richmond schools with similar or more challenging populations.

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Moreover, notice above that Chimborazo gets nearly state average science pass rates from the same students who suffer miserable pass rates in reading and math.  The difference between science and reading/math can’t be the students; it must be the teaching.

As we saw earlier, the (former) Principal at Chimborazo rated six teachers (15% of 39) as Exemplary, twenty-eight (72%) as Proficient, four (10%) as Needs Improvement, and one (2.6%) as Unacceptable.  Yet, with all those purportedly fine teachers, Chimborazo’s subject average pass rate was the 26th worst (of 1715) in the state.

The Chimborazo application proposes reconstitution in Governance, Instructional Program, and Staff.

Governance:  Chimborazo will have a new Principal and Assistant. 

They do not tell us whether the departures of the incumbents were forced or adventitious.  As to what these new bureaucrats will actually do, they say only:  “New principal and new assistant principal to present new ideas and relationship building activities to assist teachers and students with bonding.”  There’s no mention there of rigor, or evaluation, or accountability.

There will be two teachers, one an eleven month employee, acting as IB coordinators and providing “intense” teacher training.  There is no discussion of the place of the IB program at a school that can’t teach its students to read.

Instructional Program:  Currently the teachers handle all subjects, K-5.  The school will “departmentalize[]” teams in grades 3-5 “to allow teachers to focus on specific subject matter.”  Nice jargon; wonder what it means.

Collaborative planning will be doubled from one to two days per week at all grade levels.

“All grade levels will move toward co-taught classrooms and away from the self-contained model for students with special education needs.”  Whatever that means.

Staff:  All new teachers will be mentored.

Family Engagement:  The application contains a page and a half of family activities but no information as to how the families will be enticed to participate.

Peroration:  Quote without comment:

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Then, without any further explanation, the Trajectory of Progress shows English and History scores improving to the accreditation minima by 2019 but the math score increasing only to 61, which is nine points short.

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So, entirely aside from the jargon, the occasional statement that does not make sense, the lack of any explanation as to how the proposed changes will produce the trajectory of increasing scores, and the absence of any kind of accountability, Chimborazo proposes to “reconstitute” in order to remain unaccredited.

This reminds us of Woodville’s plan to not be accredited and Blackwell’s better but wholly nonspecific plan.  And this “plan” is the twin of those plans in its failure to hold anybody accountable for anything.

Nonetheless,

  • The Chairman of our School Board signed this application [item F];
  • VDOE collaborated [9/22 video at 1:48:56] in its creation; and
  • A subcommittee, presumably of the Board of Education, reviewed it [9/22 video at 1:53].  (See below)

The level of fecklessness in this application (as with the astounding level in the Woodville application and the lesser but still unacceptable level in the Blackwell document) is troublesome, of course.  But the involvement of VDOE and the Board of Education in this school improvement theater raises an ugly question: Does the state education bureaucracy not care about the awful performance of these schools or does it not know how to improve that performance?

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The always helpful Chuck Pyle points out that the Board of Education’s Accountability Committee (a committee of the whole)  met on these applications the day before the 9/22 Board meeting.  Perhaps that is the “subcommittee” mentioned at the Board meeting.

The committee minutes are not yet up but the video of the meeting [click the 9/21 video link] is instructive.

  • 56:20: Intro to the discussion.
  • 1:08: Intro to discussion of schools that did not demonstrate progress.
  • 1:30:40 to 1:32:58: “Discussion” of Blackwell, Chimborazo, Mason, Overby, Westover Hills, Woodville, and TJ.
  • 1:42:35: What is the recourse for the awful decline at Woodville?  Following discussion suggests that they will demand an MOU (incorporating a “corrective action plan”) at Woodville; beyond that they do not have an answer. 
  • One happy moment at 1:48:18: Dan Gecker makes the only sensible statement: Another MOU won’t change anything; we’ve had thirteen MOUs at Petersburg; we need a systemic approach.

Bottom line:

  • Much talk;
  • Gecker knows that what they’re doing doesn’t work;
  • THEY DO NOT KNOW HOW TO FIX THESE AWFUL SCHOOLS.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

School Improvement Theater, Chapter 2

Blackwell had the second-worst performance among the twelve Richmond schools that flunked accreditation for a third year running and applied for “reconstituted” status.  Blackwell missed accreditation in Reading, Math, and Science.  Blackwell also had the 17th lowest pass rate of 1715 Virginia schools.

Before we turn to the Blackwell application [Item F], here is a summary of the school’s performance:

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Notes:

  • The “All” entries refer to the tests on the selected subject.  In the graph above, it indicates reading at all the elementary grades tested, i.e., 3-5.
  • These data are pass rates, not the inflated accreditation rates.

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Blackwell has been a focus school since 2014.  Fat lot of good that did.

The regulation at 8VAC20-131-315.C tells us:

[A] local school board may choose to reconstitute a school rated Accreditation Denied and apply to the Board of Education for a rating of Partially Accredited: Reconstituted School. The application shall outline specific responses that address all areas of deficiency that resulted in the Accreditation Denied rating . . .

Blackwell’s application can be found in the agenda for the Sept. 22, 2016 meeting of the Board of Education.  It provides some basic data:

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The VDOE database contradicts the Free/Reduced number; it reports an economically disadvantaged total of 77%.  Given that students receiving Free/Reduced Meals are included in the ED count, we can be sure that one of these numbers is wrong.

See the note below regarding that 77% (or, perhaps, 100%).

The application also provides some Virginia Studies scores that do not appear in the database:

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As we saw earlier, 97% of the Blackwell teachers were rated “proficient” and only one (2.6%) “needs improvement” in 2016. 

This school produced the third worst overall elementary school pass rate in Richmond (which had the lowest overall rate in Virginia) but the Principal (former Principal, thankfully) reports that all but one of the teachers did just fine, thank you.

The application proposes reconstruction in the areas of Governance, Instructional Program, Staff, and Student Population.

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Yet the application discusses only two of these: Instructional Program and Staff.

Instructional Program:  As was the case at Woodville, Blackwell has been using the Benchmark Literacy and Envision Math programs.  They now will implement both “with fidelity.”

They don’t tell us what “fidelity” means in this context.  Given that Woodville proposes exactly the same new “practice,” with exactly the same lack of specificity, this looks to be VDOE jargon, not any kind of proposal for actual improvement.

Staff:  The Principal has retired and will be replaced.  An Assistant Principal also has left and will be replaced.

Family Engagement:  They will have PTA participation, a monthly calendar of parental involvement, and, every nine weeks, “Literacy and Mathematics Night.”  There is no mention of how they will entice parents into these activities.

That’s all, folks!  They will replace the departed Principal and Assistant; they will have some opportunities for parental participation; they will do more of what they did when failing, but now with “fidelity.”  No change in Governance; no change in Student Population: Never mind that they checked both of those boxes on the form.

The application does not tell us how this continuation of failed teaching and teachers will improve education at the school; it fails to mention accountability, either in the past or — crucial if this were a serious exercise — going forward.

The “Rationale” predicts, with no discussion of basis, gains of 18% in English, 17% in math, and 26% in science over the three-year reconstitution period.  They say “[i]t is hoped that the school will reach full accreditation over the three year period.”

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The table also shows an 9 point overall history gain not mentioned in the “Rationale.”  The “Reconstitution Information” section of the application is silent as to both history and science so it seems that Blackwell expects the new principal and assistant (or maybe magic?) to produce both that history gain and the 26 point science gain listed in this Trajectory.

In contrast to Woodville, Blackwell proposes to achieve accreditation within the three year period.  Unfortunately, the school predicts this progress without any analysis and without proposing to do anything significant to interrupt its record of failure and without installing any accountability for its past or future performance.  As well, the application neglects to include improvements it promises in the Governance and Student Population areas.

In marked contrast to Woodville, the writing in this application is tolerable.  It is larded with bureaucratese and it is submerged in the passive voice, but it is capable of being understood, insofar as it actually says anything.

In short: This is an exercise in hope, not rigor. 

Nonetheless,

The general level of fecklessness in this application (as with the astounding level in the Woodville application) is troublesome, of course.  But the involvement of VDOE and Board of Education in this school improvement theater raises an ugly pair of alternatives: Either the state education bureaucracy doesn’t care about the awful performance of these schools or it doesn’t know how to improve that performance. 

Perhaps we’ll learn more when the Board of Education votes on these applications in October.

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Poverty Note: The 100% (more likely, 77%) poverty rate at Blackwell certainly is high.  We know that academic performance decreases with increasing poverty.  But poverty does not tell the whole story:

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Blackwell is the red circle.  Notice the schools with similar or more poverty and much better performance, notably

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Surely poverty makes the job more challenging at Blackwell.  But poverty is not the explanation for Blackwell’s unacceptable performance.

Lake Woebegone of Teachers II

We have seen that the evaluation scheme in effect in 2011 held that Richmond’s teachers failed in some respect to meet expectations in only 0.72% of the items in the evaluations.

Richmond’s application for “reconstituted” status gives us a picture of the current situation:   The Accreditation process this year left sixteen Richmond schools unaccredited and in TBD status.  The Board of “Education” minutes (Hat Tip: Jim Weigand) contain the applications of twelve of the sixteen for “reconstituted” status.  Presumably the other four will go to some other form of unaccredited. 

Those applications contain some interesting data.  Here is a summary of some of it.  The first five columns report teacher evaluation totals.

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*”Developing/Needs Improvement”

Of the 444 teachers in these twelve failed schools, only 0.9% were evaluated as “Unacceptable” this year and another 7.2% as needing improvement. 

Yet all of these schools underperformed, some grossly.  Here are the details:

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Reid (Multiple entries because the name changed):

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And, finally, TJ, all grades:

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So, scores ranging from poor to awful, but very few teachers performing below average?

Then we have the principals: From the paperwork here, it’s not clear but as many as ten of the twelve could have kept their jobs.  Clearly, any principal who evaluates failing performance as “Proficient” needs to find work more suited to his/her talents.

And then we have the “Priority” status schools: Four since 2014, one since 2015.  Except, perhaps, for Ginter Park and Reid, this looks like squandered money.

And last, if you have a strong stomach, you can read the “plans” of these twelve schools.  There’s lot of feel-good bureaucratese there but only a few faint hints of the necessary measures: Fire all principals (and a bunch of the teachers); replace them with proven performers; hold the new principals responsible for improving performance.  Oh, and fire the Superintendent who oversaw this disaster.

It’s not as if we can’t afford to do this right.  On the 2015 data (the latest available until this Spring), we have the tenth most expensive division in the state.  (On the current data, we have the worst 2016 5-subject pass rate):

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On the 2013 data (that I need to update), we were wasting 50+ million dollars per year.

We have LOTS of money.  We just need to direct it to hiring first rate people instead of wasting it.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

“The” Is a Dirty Word in Richmond

Our City Throws Away Emails Without Any Notice and Then Pretends It’s Not Their Fault

Perhaps you’ve noticed that Richmond sought and received a grant to pay for removing pollutants from Reedy Creek, never mind that the sediment traps in Forest Hill Lake already are removing those pollutants.  And never mind that they plan to dig up the part of Reedy Creek that now is helping to improve water quality.

It gets more interesting: DPU’s Grace LeRose is co-author of a PowerPoint that touts “Integrated Watershed Management” and suggests that we “Apply $$ to get best environmental gain.”  Yet DPU has not studied the environmental gain available from the upstream portion of Reedy Creek where the City’s efforts have exacerbated the problem that their present effort will not solve.  Another LeRose PowerPoint discusses “Stakeholder Involvement” that apparently never occurred.

I was curious enough about all this to send them a Freedom of Information Act request for, inter alia:

  • All records that evaluate or comment upon alternatives to the [Reedy Creek] project;
  • All records that disclose, or discuss the actual or potential disclosure, to the Department of Environmental Quality that some portion of the sediment and/or phosphorus to be removed from Reedy Creek by the project now is removed by the sediment traps at Forest Hill Lake; and
  • All records that establish or comment upon the relationship of the Reedy Creek project and the goal of [the LeRose PowerPoint] in light of the existing sediment traps at Forest Hill Lake: Apply $$ to get best environmental gain.

No reply!

I’ve had problems in the past with the Richmond system blocking emails so I forwarded the requests to Mr. Todd of IT.  He has been helpful in the past with disappearing emails.

No reply.

At this point I should have sued them.  But lawsuits are disruptive and loaded with uncertainty.  Most annoying: I would have to pay income taxes on the attorneys’ fee award.

So I mailed a hard copy to the City Attorney.  Nine days later I got a helpful call from Dave Kearney, who has returned to the City Attorney.  He assembled the request and the (LeRose PowerPoint) attachments and got them to DPU.

Next day I received an email with a pdf of a letter from Susan McKenney, also with the City Attorney.

If I were to deal with all the outrageous statements in the McKenney letter, I’d have to write a treatise.  So I’ll stick to the really weird one:

We believe the City’s email filtering appliance likely intercepted the email intended for Mr. Steidel (and any of your subsequent attempts to forward or resend that email to Mr. Steidel, Mr. Todd, or Mr. Jackson) due the the appearance of the terms (sic) “porn,” “jerk,” and “the” [in the email].

McKenney has to say “likely” because the same primitive spam filter that purges the emails without notice to anybody deletes its logs after seven days.

Then we have those offensive “terms.”  They are in the signature that I put on my Verizon account some time back to warn unwary readers about my propensity to send out links (offensive terms hilighted here):

HEADS UP: I don’t think I’ve been hacked and I post only links that work and don’t seem to be dangerous. Even so, DON’T CLICK ON ANY LINK IN THIS (or any other) EMAIL. It’s just not safe. If what I say looks interesting, and you don’t mind some risk, open your browser, type in the address of the Web site in question, and drill down to the page in question. (It’s no accident that the address of my blog, calaf.org, is quite short and easy to type.)

For example, I recently sent the link http://www.techspot.com/news/59754-watch-300-android-phones-tablets-play-beethoven-ode.html. If you are interested, you can open your browser and type in techspot.com/news. (Obviously you won’t intentionally go to anyplace in China or Russia or to anything related to porn or gambling. And you WILL check the spelling and avoid obvious traps such as “Goegle” or “tachspot”) As I write this, the Techspot 300 android phones post is listed on the /news page. Later on when it’s been replaced by newer news, you can click the search button there and search for “beethoven.” Or just Google “android phones beethoven.”

I know, I know. It’s a lot of trouble. But then, if you click a bad link and some jerk gets your logon data and your banking password and your latest love notes, you’ll wonder why you didn’t take the trouble.

So there you have it:

  • The City’s primitive and arbitrary spam filter blocks emails that contain offensive words such as “the”;
  • Any FOIA request that offends that filter gets deleted without notice to the sender or intended recipient;
  • Seven days later, they delete the logs so they can’t know what they have received or not;
  • The statute requires the City to respond to FOIA requests within five working days of receipt;
  • The City could not arbitrarily trash an email if it had not received that email;
  • The City cannot respond to a request it has trashed without notice to anybody; and
  • Poor Ms. McKenney caught the hot potato and had to embarrass herself by writing a letter that seeks to defend the City’s stupidity.

I like to say that Richmond is the second most embarrassing jurisdiction in the East.  It looks like they are bucking for first place.

State Department of Superintendent Protection

On June 7, I posted a letter to the President of the State Board of Education from a former Latin teacher in the Roanoke County system alleging cheating at one or more schools in that system.  That teacher, Robert Maronic, averred “widespread” cheating and claimed to have informed the administration of the problem in November, 2012, the Board of Supervisors in October, 2015, and the School Board in November, 2015.

On June 24, Maronic received a reply (reproduced below) from the President of the Board of Education.  Let’s analyze that letter.

Thank you for your letter detailing concerns with the Roanoke County Public School system.  I appreciate you [sic] taking the time to contact the Virginia Board of Education.

Just from the first sentence we know this letter is Bad News: President Cannaday characterizes allegations of wholesale cheating as “concerns.”

The [Roanoke County Public School] division informed the Department that it is taking measures to address this issue and is working with outside support to combat this challenge.

So, the Roanoke County division admits to some or all of the allegations: 

  • It is taking unspecified “measures.”
  • Those measures will “address,” but perhaps not eliminate the cheating.
  • The division is “working” with outsiders to “combat this challenge.”

What this does not say is that the Roanoke County School Superintendent has eliminated the cheating and fired the people responsible for it.

Pursuant to the Constitution of Virginia, the Board of Education determines and prescribes the Standards of Quality for school divisions, and the supervision of schools in each school division is vested in the local school board. 

Hmmm.  Let’s look at authority:

  • Va. Const. art. VIII, § 4:  The general supervision of the public school system shall be vested in a Board of Education . . .
  • Va. Code § 22.1-65:  A division superintendent may be assessed a reasonable fine, suspended from office for a limited period or removed from office by either the Board of Education, upon recommendation of the Superintendent of Public Instruction or the school board of the division for sufficient cause.

We need not parse the scope of “general supervision” to understand that the Roanoke County Superintendent is responsible for what happens in his system.  Either he knew of the cheating and needs to be fired for not dealing with it, or he did not know of the cheating so he needs to be fired for incompetence. 

And Cannaday is President of one of the two Boards that can do the firing.

As the Roanoke County Public School division is working to comply with all Standards of Quality, further intervention by the Board of Education is not necessary or authorized.

“Working to comply” has a nice, bureaucratic ring to it.  Unfortunately it is content neutral as to the real issues: What, exactly, was the extent of the cheating?  Who was responsible for allowing it?  Have all those people been fired?  What steps has the Superintendent taken to assure the public that the cheating is stopped and will not be restarted?

As to further intervention (Huh?  Where was the first intervention?) not being authorized, we have the President of the Board of Education that can fire the local Superintendent uttering a bald lie.

Dr. Billy K. Cannaday, Jr.
President

Did you get that, peasant?  You’re dealing with DOCTOR Cannaday, not some uncredentialed bureaucrat. 

More to the point, DOCTOR Cannaday’s degree is in educational administration.  If DOCTOR Cannaday had paid attention while acquiring that degree, Va. Tech would have taught him that hiding behind a misstatement of the law, in preference to doing his job, is not something a competent educational administrator would do.

If I may step back from the snark for a moment: This letter is written in what Peggy Noonan calls the “horrible bureaucratic nonlanguage people in government revert to when they don’t want to be understood.”  Entirely aside from the shocking misstatement of the law and the appalling refusal to deal with a cheating scandal, the letter sends the message that our education establishment cannot (or will not) write clearly and in good English (I trust you caught the absence of the plural with the gerund in the second sentence). 

For sure, Cannaday did not draft this awful document; some bureaucrat in VDOE wrote it in the Mother Tongue of the bureaucracy.  But Cannaday signed the thing and, thus, is stained by it. 

I used to hold VDOE and VBOE in high regard.  Looks like I am a slow learner.

 

PS: I have asked VBOE for the documents that underlie this scandal.  Stay tuned.

 

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Board of “Education” Ongoing Malfeasance

As I pointed out two days ago, the Board of Education has the duty and authority “to see that the [mandatory attendance laws] are properly enforced throughout the Commonwealth.”  Yet the Board does not even collect information to allow it to assess school or division compliance with the law.

The Board first announced a truancy rulemaking on July 22, 2010; it still is without a regulation.

The most recent proposal was on the April 28 agenda but, come the meeting, the matter was “withdrawn” [see the video at 3:17:38].

Of course, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the paperwork undergirding the withdrawal.  Melissa Luchau, the Director of Board Relations for VDOE, responded:

There are no records responsive to your request.

The item was withdrawn from the agenda because the staff with expertise in this area were unable to attend the Board meeting due to health reasons.

That raises more questions than it answers:

  • Is the VDOE bureaucracy so siloed that only the directly involved “staff” (no telling how many) knows/know about the proposed regulation?
  • In particular, does a regulation go to the Board without the Director of Board Relations and her boss not knowing all about it?
  • Still more particularly, are the Director of Board Relations and her boss too busy to get briefed when it appears that the affected “staff” may not be available?
  • Even more particularly, why is the Board extending, yet again, its tolerance of Richmond’s (and doubtless other divisions’) wholesale violations of the mandatory attendance laws?

Your tax dollars “at work.”