Underperformance by Group

We have seen that Richmond’s underperformance reaches the disabled, economically disadvantaged, and limited English proficiency subgroups.  The VDOE Web site provides data that allow a more fine-grained look at that problem.

To start, here is the distribution of 2016 SOL pass rates by division on the reading tests.  Here, and below, I’ve yellowed the bar at Richmond’s pass rate.


The disabled population shows a much different distribution, with Richmond again underperforming, but not so dramatically.


The economically disadvantaged group also shows lowered overall performance but not so much as the disabled group.  Richmond does not shine.


Next, the LEP group.


Note: Twenty-nine divisions have fewer than ten LEP students taking the reading tests.  VDOE does not report pass rates in those cases so those divisions are not included in this graph; similarly, twenty-six divisions are not reported in the LEP math graph below.  VDOE reports seven divisions with LEP averages of zero on both the reading and math tests; those also do not show on the graphs.

Finally, we have the students who are not in any VDOE group: Not disabled, not ED, not LEP, and not in the very small migrant and homeless groups not analyzed above.  Those no-group students test well on average.


But even this high-performing group performs badly in Richmond.   

(This despite RPS taking credit for the Maggie Walker students who do not attend any Richmond Public School.)

The math data paint much the same picture.






There you have it:  On average, Richmond can’t teach reading or math to any disadvantaged group or even to the high-performing, not-disadvantaged group.

But notice that Carver Elementary School, with a student population drawn from a part of the inner city that includes an RRHA project, breaks the pattern by turning in outstanding and division-leading results.

It’s not the students that are the problem here, folks.  It’s the schools.

Moreover, we get to wonder whether Richmond’s relatively better scores from its disabled population suggest that Richmond’s past abuse of its students to cheat on the SOLs continues in some measure.

More on Bang per Buck

To follow up on the previous post, I’ve calculated a five-subject bang/buck value for each division: (pass rate)*100,000/(expenditure per student). 


The green bar is West Point; the red bars from the left are Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk; the blue is Lynchburg (thanks, James); and the yellow is Richmond.

From those data, here are the top ten, bottom ten, average, and selected division values.


The ten at the bottom are the eight Big Spenders


and the two low scorers, Petersburg and Richmond.

Teaching, Not Treasure

Jim Weigand writes to say that Table 15 is up for the 2016 school year.

That table provides, inter alia, the divisions’ expenditures for operations per student.

The footnotes to the Table tell us:

Operations include regular day school, school food services, summer school, adult education, and other education, but do not include pre-kindergarten, non-regular day school programs, non-local education agency (LEA) programs, debt service, or capital outlay additions. Non-LEA programs include expenditures made by a school division for state-operated education programs (in hospitals, clinics, and detention homes) that are located within the school division and reimbursed with state funds.

State revenues for regional Alternative Education programs and Academic Governor’s Schools are allocated to divisions according to participation, rather than as paid to the fiscal agents for these programs.

The Average Daily Membership (ADM) calculated at the end of the school year includes the ADM of pupils served in the school division and the ADM of resident pupils for whom tuition is paid to another school division, regional special education program, or private school. It excludes Head Start, pre-kindergarten, junior kindergarten students, and students for whom the division receives tuition payments from another division or entity (i.e., out-of-state school division, Comprehensive Services Act, Interstate Compact Agreement).

At the same time, the helpful front end to the SOL database gives us the division average pass rates.

Uniting these two datasets gives a Bang per Buck picture. 

Let’s start with the reading data.


Richmond is the gold square.  The red diamonds are, from the left, the peer cities, Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk.  The outperforming division, there at 94% and only $11,893, is West Point.  The state averages are $11,745 and 77%.

The Big Spenders are:


Excel is glad to provide a linear fit to the data and to announce that there is no correlation between the division pass rate and the expenditure per student.

Here are the graphs for the other subjects and the five subject average.  Notice that the scale of the ordinate changes from graph to graph.






Note: In a couple of cases, the Newport News point was hiding behind the datum for another division; in those cases I colored the covering point.

Looking at just the four peer cities (Hampton, N.News, and Norfolk in red from the left and Richmond in yellow) and the state average (in blue), we get:







Two obvious conclusions:

  • By division, more money does not correlate with better SOL performance.
  • Richmond is spending a lot and teaching very little.


I attempted to post the data table; the software choked (sigh!).  If you’d like a copy, email john [at] crankytaxpayer [dot] org.

$500,000: Price of VAAP Cheating?

A Patrick County jury this week awarded $500K to former Stuart Elementary principal Muriel Waldron. 

As the newspaper reports, the case involves alleged false statements in Waldron’s performance evaluation.  The meat of the case, however, was Waldron’s claim that she was removed as principal because she refused to cram kids into the VAAP (a SOL alternative for students with “significant cognitive disabilities”) to boost the school’s SOL scores.

The good taxpayers of Patrick County now can look forward to the possibility of (federal?) lawsuits by the parents of the kids who might claim their children were misclassified in order to cheat on the SOLs.

We have some data that may speak to the situation.  Here are the reading and math pass rates for the Patrick County elementary schools and the state by year.  According to the paper, Ms. Waldron was removed in 2015.  Note the remarkable improvements at Stuart in 2016 and at some other schools a year earlier.



Note: The school rates are for all grades; the state rates are averages by grade, which should be quite close to the average by students for the three grades.

Unfortunately, there is no indication that the State Department of Education Superintendent Protection has done or will do anything to prevent this kind of abuse.  For example, we know that a Superintendent who admitted to packing a different test for handicapped students in order “to assist schools in obtaining accreditation” was merely required to write a “corrective action plan.”

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Truancy Postscript

One last look at the truancy data:

Last year’s 6-absence conference data from RPS for the elementary and middle schools don’t look to be useful; they contain too many reports that are obviously bogus.  The high school numbers, in contrast, are so large that they might even be accurate.

So, let’s look for a relationship between the high schools’ SOL performance and those conference numbers. 

Below, I’ve plotted the pass rates vs. the number of conferences expressed as a percentage of the fall enrollment (“ADM” or “Average Daily Membership”).  I’ve omitted the selective schools, Community, Franklin, and Open.


It’s reasonable to expect the SOL performance to decrease with increasing unexcused absences and both datasets meet that expectation.  Indeed, the correlation is nontrivial for the math tests and fairly robust for the reading.

Of course, correlation does not imply causation.  But these data (1) make sense, and (2) suggest that the 6-absence conference counts from these schools might be believable.

Here are the data:


One further inference:  Armstrong has only one attendance officer assigned to it and reports 602 conferences, i.e., 3.34 for each of the 180 days in a nominal school year.  If that attendance officer actually scheduled 602 conferences and had the parents and student show up for some number of them, and also prepared at least 602 of the prerequisite 5-absence attendance plans, we’ll have to wonder about the level of preparation.  As well, it it makes sense that he wouldn’t have had time to take more than a few of the 7-absence cases to court.

But, then, the shortage of truancy officers, and the decreasing truancy budget, make it clear that Richmond’s gross violations of the truancy statute are deliberate.

That’s about as far as these data can take us.  It surely would be fine if RPS were more forthcoming (and if VBOE were actually doing its job of enforcing the attendance laws).


Notes for the interested reader:

  • Jim Bacon points out the UVa study that reports a 19.7% chronic absenteeism rate (defined in the report as ≥ 10% of school days) in Richmond in 2015.  Their data show the rate decreasing from first to fifth grade and then rising steeply through the later grades.  Their data also show chronically absent students underperforming their (chronically present?) peers considerably on the SOLs.
  • A VDOE Web page headlines the requirements of the new truancy regulation adopted by VBOE last June, albeit they won’t collect the (badly needed) data until next year.

RPS Shooting Itself in the Truancy Foot

The ever helpful Ms. Lewis of RPS sent me the list of attendance officers and their assignments from 2016.

It turns out RPS had only eighteen of them to serve 47 schools and to deal with the 7,288 cases that state law required be taken to court.

For a more specific look at the problem, let’s look at the top of the list:


The assignments appear to be designed to spread the worst parts of the load.  In each case here, for example, the attendance officer had one easier assignment and one absolute horror.  Thus, Ms. Ponton had Fairfield Court, which reported 6-absence conferences for 21%  of its students last year, and Woodville, which reported 43%.  Mr. Barnes, poor soul, had Bellevue, with too few to report, and Armstrong, with 72% (!).

These eighteen attendance officers managed to take only 226 cases to court (of the 7,288 required by law).  That’s only 12.6 cases per attendance officer (of the 405 required). 

But  it could well be those folks were focused on the 5-absence attendance plans and 6-absence conferences that are prerequisite to the 7-absence court filing.  RPS data show 10,381 students with five unexcused absences that year, which comes to 577 plans required per attendance officer, and 8,502 students with six absences, which requires 472 conferences per officer. 

On these data, we can’t tell what kind of job these attendance officers are doing.  We can tell, however, that that there are far too few of them.

The 2017 budget (pdf)  (the latest on the RPS Web page) exudes indifference to the truancy problem and to the state law on the subject.  Here, from that document, are three years’ allocations for “attendance services,” in millions of dollars:


Notice the decrease after 2016’s lawless debacle, outlined above and earlier.

For 2017, the budget shows 43 employees in the attendance services category; the attendance officers were to be paid $17.11 per hour. 

The statute provides that “[w]here no attendance officer is appointed by the school board, the division superintendent or his designee shall act as attendance officer.”  I read that to say that the Superintendent is individually responsible for Richmond’s gross violations of the truancy law.

Perhaps RPS could spend some of the $27 million they were wasting in the instructional program in 2015 to hire many more attendance officers.

Rampant, Lawless Truancy

The always helpful Clerk of the School Board, Angela Lewis, sent me a spreadsheet with the number of unexcused absences for each of 26,067 students in 2016.

5,166 of those students had no unexcused absences.  After that, the distribution looks like this:


The Big Loser here is the student with 143 unexcused absences.  (The runner-up had only 136).  That 143 days is 79% of a nominal 180 day school year.

If we truncate the axes to get a better look at the larger numbers, we get this:


And a further cut gives this:


Here is a summary of those and some other counts:


All told, the spreadsheet shows 182,100 unexcused absences, an average of 6.99 per student.

That 6.99 average rounds to seven, which is a magic number:  Va. Code § 22.1-258 requires that the Superintendent (or one of his anointed “Attendance Officers”) create an attendance plan after the fifth such absence, schedule a conference with the parents after the sixth, and go to court to either prosecute the parents or file a CHINS petition after the seventh.

RPS, responding to an earlier information request, reported 19,742 5-absence plans in ‘16.  I have no way to reconcile that number with the 10,381 datum from this spreadsheet, albeit they say their count included some (looks like many) “duplicated students.”  In any case, both numbers are obscenely large.

RPS also reported 4008 ten (or more) absence truancies in ‘16, which is a closer match to the 5,066 from their spreadsheet.  Either number, of course, is inexcusably large.

Here is the earlier summary of their data, insofar as I was able to obtain them:

On the subject, of “inexcusable,” they report 201 prosecutions and 25 CHINS petitions in 2016, for a total of 226, which is 3.1% of the 7,288 required by state law.

In his State of the Schools address earlier this week, our Superintendent mentioned the out of school suspensions that “contribute[] to a higher rate of chronic absenteeism.”  He also mentioned the “social issues that stem from the community” and lead to, inter alia, chronic absenteeism.  Nowhere in that litany of excuses did he mention the state law on the subject of “chronic absenteeism” or Richmond’s gross and ongoing violations of that law.

Joining RPS in this noisome swamp of lawlessness is the State Board of “Education,” which is required by law to enforce § 22.1-258.  That Board has neither fired the Richmond Superintendent nor sued the Richmond School Board.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

State of the (Bogus) Excuses

Our Superintendent gave his third annual State of the Schools speech the other night.  He again trotted out the old excuses: poor kids (the euphemism is “Economically Disadvantaged), handicapped kids (“Special Needs” or “Exceptional Education”), and immigrants (“Limited English Proficiency” or “English as a Second Language”).

Our challenges include poverty, neighborhood crime that spills over into our schools, language barriers and limited resources to deal with very special circumstances, like the fact that:

1) A large percentage of students ages 0-17 live in poverty,
2) More than 3 out of 4 students qualify for free/reduced lunch,
3) 19% or put another way, over 4000 students receiving special education services, and
4) The growing ESL population, which has risen from 5% in the early 2000s to approximately 12% today.

For sure, our overall performance has been, and remains, awful.  Here it is in terms of reading and math SOL pass rates, along with those of Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk.



Next, let’s look at the “over 4,000 students receiving special education services,” as the Super. put it.



Here we see our disabled students performing at about the same (dismal) level as their peers in the peer cities in reading but underperforming in math.  And falling farther behind.

Next, the performance of the “Economically Disadvantaged” students.



The problem there is not the large population of ED students, it’s Richmond’s inability to teach those students (with whom our peers are doing a much better job).

Finally, the non-English speaking students.



Again, we see Richmond underperforming and, especially as to the reading tests, losing ground vis-à-vis the peer cities.

In every respect except reading by disabled students, Richmond’s reading and math pass rates are being dragged down, not by the large or growing populations of challenging students but by Richmond’s failure (worsening in some cases) to educate those students.

PS: Thanks to the estimable Carol Wolf for getting a copy of the speech.  The text has not (yet?) been posted to the RPS Web site.

Truancy by School

The Freedom of Information Act is a wonderful thing.  For example, it’s beginning to pry loose some of the data that underlie Richmond’s appalling truancy rate.

Let’s start with the numbers of six-absence conferences (required by Va. Code § 22.1-258) by school for 2016.

Note: The statute also requires an attendance plan after the fifth absence and either a prosecution of the parents or a CHINS petition after the seventh, but RPS doesn’t keep records of those, they say.


  • These are RPS counts.  I have no way to verify the accuracy of these numbers.
  • RPS withheld the data in a number of cases, presumably following the VDOE practice of suppressing the information when fewer than ten students fall into a category.  In the graphs below, I’ve reported those cases as “5” but you should understand that the actual number in each case could be anywhere from one to nine.
  • Richmond’s relationship with § 22.1-258 has been more marked by violation of the statute than by compliance.  In line with that, many of these data (especially, most of the 5’s) are obviously bogus.

First the elementary schools.


I could believe the Broad Rock and Woodville numbers.  Perhaps Munford (Remember, the number there could be anything from 1 to 9).  Many of the others, no.

These schools come in different sizes so even the believable data need to be read in light of the enrollments.  Here, then, are the same numbers (with the 5’s omitted), expressed as percentages of the Fall enrollments.


You may have thought that our truancy problem mostly started in middle school.  I know I did.  Even if we overlook the gross statutory violations implied in these data, it’s clear that I was wrong.

Turning to those middle schools, the people at AP Hill and, probably, Brown have to be violating § 22.1-258 wholesale:


We have enough data here to look at the variation by grade for the four schools that might actually be trying to obey the law.


These data won’t tell us whether the folks at Boushall have a more serious truancy problem or whether they’re doing a better job of meeting the statutory mandate.  In any case, and assuming for a moment that these remaining numbers are somewhere near valid, the best rate of six absence (or more) truancies is the 18% in the 7th grade at Henderson and the worst is the 51% rate in the 8th grade at Boushall.

We also have high schools.


I’m almost ready to believe those numbers.  Here they are as percentages by grade (Open and Community numbers are suppressed for some grades so I’ve left both of those schools off).


You read that correctly: The twelfth grade rates range from 50% at Huguenot to 72% at Armstrong.


I’m waiting on some further data that may give a measure of truancies in excess of six days.  The list I now have is a 705 page pdf that cannot be read into the computer.  A quick look at <10% of that list shows half a dozen kids with more than 100 unexcused absences(!!), with the “leader” at 117.  

In a school year with the nominal 180 days, 117 days is 65% of the of the year. 

The statute required that RPS haul the kid and/or the parents to court at the seventh absence.  That leaves 110 truancy days unaccounted for.  Either the school ignored the statute in that case or our courts are as feckless as our schools.  Or both.

The totals at the end of page 705 of the list give an average of 6.99 unexcused absences per student, citywide.

Stay tuned . . .

CSOs Stink (Except Maybe in Alexandria)

The Alexandria Combined Sewer Overflows hit the VPAP newsfeed this morning.

Some background.

In the Bad Old Days,

[T]he oyster planter takes his right to plant and propagate oysters . . . subject to the ancient right of the riparian owners to drain the harmful refuse of the land into the sea, which is the sewer provided therefor by nature.

Darling v. City of Newport News, 123 Va. 14 (1918). 

That is, oystermen had no complaint if Newport News’ sewage was killing their the oysters.

As the population, and the stench, grew, our lawmakers began to respond.

  • In 1946, the Generous Assembly adopted the initial (mostly toothless) version of the State Water Control Law in response to fish kills in the James (from the Piney River titanium mine) and Shenandoah (from the rayon plant at Front Royal).
  • In 1948, Congress adopted the initial (also mostly toothless) version of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (in bureaucratese, the “FWPCA”).
  • In 1972, Congress greatly strengthened the FWPCA.
  • In 1977, Congress further tightened the FWPCA, and renamed it the Clean Water Act (the “CWA”).

The Heart of the CWA is Section 1311(a), which prohibits the discharge of pollutants from point sources to the waters of the United States, except in compliance with a permit.

Danger!  That is a paraphrase of a statute.  If you want to know what the statute really means, go read it and the abundant caselaw and regulations on point.

For reasons related to both the Supremacy Clause and the federal pocketbook, the CWA mostly calls the tune these days. 

The CWA has had dramatic effects.  For example, if a fish in 1972 were foolish enough to try to swim in the summer from Hopewell to Richmond or from Quantico to DC, it would have died from suffocation: The sewage from upstream would have consumed the dissolved oxygen in the river.  By the ‘80s, that fish had a much better chance, except after major rainfalls, as noted below.

Combined Sewer Overflows

As our cities developed, we installed sewers (aka “combined sewers”) to handle both sewage (aka “sanitary wastes”) and urban runoff in the same pipe.  Those sewers, of course, ran straight to the river, the “sewer provided . . . by nature.”

Mostly under pressure from the FWPCA, cities began to treat their sewage.  When they expanded, they installed separate sewers for sewage and stormwater runoff so as not to have to treat the spikes in flows after every rainfall. 

But our older cities (read: Alexandria, Lynchburg, and Richmond) had large areas served by combined sewers.  Piping those straight to the treatment plant was not an option; every major rainstorm would overwhelm the plant.  Tearing up the streets to install separate sewer systems would have been prohibitively expensive.  So they piped the dry weather flows to the treatment plant, leaving pipes straight to the river for dealing with the overflows after a rain.

Those remaining “combined sewer overflows” (“CSOs”) were point source discharges of pollutants to the waters of the United States.  There is no way those discharges could meet the technology-based limits required under section 1314(b) of the CWA.

So EPA and the State Water Control Board imposed compliance schedules, mostly under consent orders.  In the case of Alexandria, it appears that the city was to start dealing with its major CSO overflow point in 2026 and have it under control by 2035.

Which Brings Us to the Governor’s Dilemma

Our Generous Assembly is, as you surely know, the thrall of Republicans, some of whom represent Potomac jurisdictions downstream of Alexandria.   This year they passed SB898, which would require, inter alia, that Alexandria control its CSOs by 2025.

This leaves our Governor (a Democrat) with an uncomfortable choice between the taxpayers of Alexandria (mostly Democrats, you may be sure) and the water quality in the Potomac.

Stay tuned . . .