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 . . .

Where Has All the Money Gone

The ongoing expenditure of over $4 million per year on substitute teachers (in support of a 22% rate of teacher absences of 15 days or more in 2015) along with the annual kerfuffle over the RPS budget reminded me to look again at the vanishing money in the RPS budget.

The current and recent Richmond budgets are on the RPS Web page.  To get the statewide expenditure data, however, we have to wait for VDOE.  They have had the 2016 data (pdf at item 6) since September, 2016 but won’t publish them until sometime near the end of the 2017 school year, so we ‘re stuck with the 2015 numbers.

Here, for a start, are the 2015 disbursements (for everything but facilities, debt service, and contingency reserve) per student (end of year enrollment) for Richmond, a neighbor, three peer jurisdictions, and the state division average.


And here are the same data expressed as differences from the division average.


Hmm.  The peer cities cluster around the state average but Richmond is high by over three thousand bucks per kid (26%).  Where is all that money going?

Well, it’s going to almost every budget category.


In dollar terms, the major item is the instruction budget, with a $37.8 million excess.


Richmond that year had 10.0 students per instructional position while the state average was 11.8.  That is, Richmond had 18% more teachers per kid, a total of 390 extra instructional positions.  At the average salary of $51,962 per instructional position, we spent an extra $20.3 million.

At the same time, our average instructional salary was (a shameful) $3,927 below the state average of $55,888.  So we saved $8.58 million on those salaries vs. the average.

Combining those numbers, we see $27 million gone missing in the instruction budget vs. the state average:


No telling where all that money went.  And no telling why we had (and still have) all those extra teachers.  For sure, the extra money and staff are not improving SOL scores or reducing truancy.

But you might hope RPS would figure that out before demanding more public funds.

And while you were hoping, you could hope they might tell us what they’re spending that $27 million on and what those extra teachers are doing, and what we’re getting for it.

Adult Delinquents

You may recall that in 2016 we had the 30th worst elementary attendance and the very worst secondary attendance in the state.  So, of course, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with RPS.

Here is a summary of the (incomplete) historical data I have, along with the (incomplete) data in their response.


As a reminder, Va. Code § 22.1-258 requires an attendance plan after five unexcused absences, a conference with the parents after six, and either a prosecution or a CHINS petition after seven.

To the good, the number of six-absence conferences has been increasing, at least up through 2015. 

To the illegal and unacceptably bad, we see the count of ten absence truancies increasing to 4008 in 2016.  The count of seven absence cases must be a larger number.  Yet the numbers of prosecutions and CHINS petitions decreased from 2014.   The sum, 226, was merely 5.6% of the ten absence truancies and surely less than that fraction of the seven absence cases. 

So, by their own numbers, RPS violated § 22.1-258 more than 3,782 times last year, i.e., in more than 94.4% of the cases.

RPS also violated FOIA by failing to provide most of the data I requested last week.  I will follow up with them once I finish this post.

As icing on this egregious cake, the State Board of “Education,” which is required by law to enforce § 22.1-258, has neither fired the Richmond Superintendent nor sued the Richmond School Board.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Question for VDOE

I’ve been looking at enrollment patterns (posts will follow) and have emerged with questions about the problems that underlie the “ninth grade bump,” the larger enrollment in the ninth grade compared to both the the later grades and the eighth grade.  So today I sent an email to the estimable Chuck Pyle at VDOE:


Via Email


The “ninth grade bump” looks to be a statewide phenomenon.


VDOE examines the far side of that bump with data on dropouts and graduation rates. The graduation rate now is part of the accreditation process.

The near side of the ninth grade bump looks to reflect students who are not prepared to do high school work or who otherwise have problems adapting to high school. What is VDOE doing to measure the influences that lead to this problem and to counter those influences?


Middle School Mess, II

We have seen that Middle School and the onset of puberty have been marked by a slight drop in math pass rates statewide but not in reading.  In contrast,  the sixth grade brought plummeting pass rates in both subjects in the Richmond schools.

Those data mostly looked at the period before the new math tests in 2012 and the new reading tests in 2013.

Today let’s look at the third-graders of 2011 and the progress of their group up to the past school year.  To that end, here are the pass rates of the third graders in 2011, the fourth graders in 2012, and so on. 

Let’s start with the reading pass rates.


The new tests dropped Richmond’s fifth graders to 23 points below the state average, while the same group scored six points below the average in 2012 (under the old tests).

The same group dropped another ten points when they entered middle school in 2014; in the eighth grade that group remained 31 points below the state average.

The math scores are even more dramatic.


The group went from six to fourteen points below the state under the new tests in 2012, and dropped another three points in the fifth grade (2013).  Then came middle school: In the sixth grade the (mostly) same students fell to 43 points below the average.  In 2016 (eighth grade) the group remained 30 points down.

As before, we see two effects here: The new tests whacked the Richmond scores in both elementary and middle grades, especially in math.  The middle schools took students who had been performing below average in elementary school and devastated their performances, especially in math.

These data don’t tell us what is wrong with our middle schools; they do tell is that, whatever it is, it is horrible.

Gone. Forgotten. For Shame!

The 2016 4-year cohort dropout data are up at VDOE.  The only good thing about the Richmond datum, 9.9% dropouts, is that it’s less than last year’s 11.9%.

Here is the distribution of division dropout rates.


Richmond is the gold bar.  The red bars are, from the left, Petersburg, Norfolk, Hampton, and Newport News.  The blue, with a hat tip to Jim Weigand, is Lynchburg.  Charles City is an invisible 0% over at the right.

And here are those selected divisions and the state average.


That 9.9% in Richmond counts the 146 kids, out of the 1,472 student cohort, whom the Richmond schools utterly failed to educate. 

But see this on the subject of the students who did not drop out and were left to marinate in the incompetence of RPS.