The Headline in the Times-Dispatch says: “Richmond school officials propose closing six schools to bridge budget gap.”
I say: It’s High Time!
On a different subject, see this link.
Is Richmond Hiding Its Egregious Truancy Problem?
Richmond has a longstanding and ugly problem with truancy.
Virginia law is perfectly clear as to what Richmond must do about truancy: Schools are required to notify the parents of any unexcused absence. After the fifth such absence, “[t]he school principal or his designee or the attendance officer, the pupil, and the pupil’s parent shall jointly develop a plan to resolve the pupil’s nonattendance. Such plan shall include documentation of the reasons for the pupil’s nonattendance.” After a further (sixth) absence, the school must schedule an attendance conference with the parents. After a further (seventh) absence, the school division must either prosecute the parents or file a Child in Need of Services/Supervision petition.
For years, Richmond largely ignored these requirements. Indeed, Richmond only counted ten-absence truancies (three beyond the required filing of a court action) and publicly stated that, upon the tenth absence, it sent a letter to the parents.
Following some publicity regarding its lawless behavior, Richmond began to schedule more of the required conferences but the number of court actions remained pitifully (and unlawfully) small.
Note those numbers, please: In 2014, Richmond was required by law to file somewhere between 2,254 and 3,864 court actions to deal with truant students; they filed only 291 (13% of 2,254, <13% of the required number).
VDOE reports that Richmond held 6,946 conferences (!) in 2015.
On Feb. 24, I emailed our Superintendent and my district School Board member to inquire about the disappearance of the SAT and dropout data from the RPS Web site. They have not favored me with a reply. Today I noticed that the truancy data also are missing in action. Looks like it’s time for a FOIA demand.
P.S.: To its credit, Richmond has at least published some truancy data. The State Board of Education deliberately abides by its failure to even collect data by which it might perform its statutory duty to “see that the [mandatory attendance laws] are properly enforced throughout the Commonwealth.”
Both curves show the “ninth grade bump” that the federales attribute particularly to students who have underperformed in the lower grades. ( Sadly, the feds’ prescription is to improve ninth grade instruction, after the damage has been done, rather than avoid the damage by improving instruction in the lower grades.)
In order to allow a direct comparison of the two curves, l’ve normalized the numbers to the ninth grade enrollments.
Here we see that Richmond suffers an exaggerated ninth grade bump (i.e., failure rate in the ninth grade), almost certainly reflecting inferior preparation in our middle schools. The falloff beginning in the tenth grade reflects Richmond’s appalling dropout rate.
To the point here, Richmond’s enrollment drops throughout the elementary grades, and the drop continues through middle school. We can measure the magnitudes by looking at enrollment change by grade.
The State enrollment in the sixth grade is nearly unchanged from the first grade while Richmond is down by twenty-seven percent. As of the eighth grade, the Statewide numbers are down by 1.2%, Richmond by 35.9%.
Perhaps some of those Richmond students dropped out; I’ll suggest that a lot more escaped to the Counties. In either case, the decrease is an indictment of our schools, particularly the middle schools.
If you think, as I do, that these data reflect badly on the Richmond schools (or even if you don’t), please see this report of the 2014 valedictorian at John Marshall who said she was a “math genius” in high school but could earn only a B and a C in her math courses at JMU.
We have seen that, among the Richmond middle schools, tiny Binford is costing the taxpayers an inordinate amount of money per student.
Yet, looking at the 2017 budget, the Binford expenditures by category appear to be in line with the other middle schools.
As we would expect, the major expense is personnel costs; salaries are 55% at Binford, 57% as the middle school average. If we expand the abscissa, we don’t see anything unusual in the lesser categories either.
As best I can discover, neither RPS nor VDOE provides data on faculty size by school. But, since the budget is dominated by personnel costs (> 75% of the total), it is clear that Binford must have an inordinate number of teachers and administrators. Based on total budget, it looks like about a 50% excess(!), compared to the other Richmond middle schools.
The 2015 SOL pass rates, when combined with the budget data, give a measure of the productivity of that excess staff (Note: Elkhardt/Thompson not included here).
Given that none of the Richmond middle schools is producing an acceptable pass rate,
the bang per buck analysis tells that Binford is battling with Henderson and King for the most expensive awful performance, but it is King, our worst-performing middle school, that is providing the least return on our tax dollars.
For sure, more money does NOT produce better performance, either in Richmond or statewide.
It would be refreshing, for a change, to hear our School Board and Superintendent talk about the real issues – poor teaching, lousy leadership – instead of making excuses and whining about money. But it seems that, in Richmond, “educational leadership” is just another adynaton.
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One result of that is the astronomical rate at which elementary school students leave the Richmond system and unprepared high school students drop out.
We’ve been spoiled by having Judge Gregory Rupe in the Manchester General District Court. He was scrupulously fair but he was Big Trouble for anybody who made trouble here on the Gracious Southside.
Hicks served three terms as Richmond’s Commonwealth’s Attorney before becoming a senior bureaucrat in Mayor Jones’ administration. Notwithstanding his law enforcement background, I’m hearing grumblings that he is turning loose — especially by granting bail to — people that should be in jail.
I thought I’d go see for myself. So today, Louise McQueen and I sat through Judge Hicks’ morning docket.
This is General District Court so the docket is huge. Much of it, however, is short matters such as setting trial dates or appointing counsel. There were four cases of interest.
Steal That Plywood
According to the witness, Mr. X (didn’t catch the name; it’s hard to hear in there; see below) and another person stopped their pickup in the alley at 1:57 AM, looked around, and loaded up the plywood that was stacked in the back yard of the witness’ neighbor.
The purpose of this preliminary hearing was to determine whether there was probable cause to send the case to the grand jury. Judge Hicks dismissed the case because there was no evidence that Mr. X (or the other person in the truck) did not own or otherwise have a right to to plywood. That strikes me as strange on two counts:
Absent the finding of probable cause, the Commonwealth said they will indict, so Mr. X will get his case heard by the grand jury anyhow.
No harm, no foul.
Back to the Drug Market
Mr. Jackson was picked up walking away from a rental vehicle with the keys; he was not the renter. There were sixteen packages of heroin and several rocks of crack in the car. His record includes two counts of distribution, one of contempt, one of possession w intent. The defense argued that one of those was as a juvenile; to me that just argues that he broke bad young. He has no history of violent crime.
This guy is a dealer. He started young and this time he got caught with his inventory. Yet Judge Hicks turned him loose on a mere $5,000 bond. I don’t know what kind of pressure our full jail is putting on the judges; unless it is intense, I say: Leave this guy in the slammer where it will be much harder to ply his trade.
Maybe Criminal, Vastly Unwise
Mr. Lewis has a steady job, friends, and relatives. He is charged with attempted murder and reckless handling of a firearm for shooting toward(?) a person he says was slashing his tires. (Wish we knew more about that!)
There were no injuries but he didn’t tell the cops about the knife.
$10K bond, no contact with the shootee, home electronic monitoring. Looks like a good call by the judge.
Note added on Sunday after rereading this: Notice, please, that the judge stuck this otherwise upstanding citizen for a $10K bond and let the dealer off for $5K. Something wrong here.
Mr. Y (sounded like “Chapelle”) has a drug problem. He completed a supervised probation but stopped the methadone treatment when his mom could no longer pay the $15/day.
Perhaps he lacked employment that would let him pay for the methadone. In any case, he was an inept dealer: He sold drugs to a “cooperator.”
Judge Hicks ordered a $5K bond, referral to pretrial services, and electronic monitoring. With the monitoring, it will be very hard for him to get back into the market so I can’t criticize the judge.
This guy is in the thrall of his addiction. Aside from the damage to him, his mother, grandmother, and uncle were in court and probably will have to find the $500 or whatever it costs these days to fund the $5K bond; if they are more wise than loving, they’ll leave him in jail. He is breaking Louise’s and my hearts; it hurts to imagine what he is doing to his relatives.
Insufficient data. I’ll have to invite Louise (and anybody else who might be interested) for another visit or two or three.
The new Manchester courthouse is palatial. The huge courtroom was nearly full.
The acoustics aren’t great. The judge, clerk, and lawyers all speak softly so, despite the microphones, it is VERY hard to follow the proceedings.
After the “all rise,” Judge Hicks gave a nice talk about this courtroom being a place to see democracy in action; it’s too bad we couldn’t hear it in action.
The 2016 RPS Budget is up. It’s time to start trying to understand where our money is going.
For a first effort, let’s look at the budget by school compared to the September, 2015 enrollment, or “membership” as they call it.
Here is the budgeted expense per student for the Richmond elementary schools.
The data come remarkably close to fitting a straight line (R2 = 66%), which suggests that there are important economies of scale. Said otherwise, our little schools are more expensive per student than the larger ones.
All of the three smallest schools (from the left, Swansboro, Cary, and Bellevue) look to be anomalously pricey. The slope of –$6.36 per student further tells us that if those three schools were combined, it would save about $3.6 million per year.
Here are the data:
We can examine the academic benefit of the smaller schools by looking at the 2015 SOL pass rates.
And plotting the pass rates vs. the budgeted expenditures per student tells us about the educational return on the money.
That’s clear enough: Neither smaller schools nor more money per student correlates significantly with better performance in the Richmond elementary schools. Looks to me like any new schools should be quite large.
Turning to the middle schools, Binford is anomalously pricey.
As to the pass rates, there’s one wrinkle: The 2015 SOL data predate the Elkhardt/Thompson merger. Rather than fiddle with the data (e.g., use the 2015 enrollments) I’ve left Elkhardt/Thompson off the following graphs.
Here, it looks like the smaller schools have some advantage, but a 9% correlation on the reading tests is nothing to bet money on and, as to math, 4% is even less so.
And, as to budget, we’re spending lots of money per student at little Binford, with precious little return.
Finally, the high schools.
Those expensive, little schools are doing very well.
But if we take selective Open and Community out of the mix, we see that decreasing size doesn’t improve the pass rate in our mainstream high schools.
As to cost, the expensive, selective, little schools do better as to reading, but not so much as to math.
If we again take Community and Open out of the mix, we (yet again) see that more money per student is not buying better performance.
Indeed, to a 20% correlation, more money is buying less math performance. That’s driven by the large, inexpensive high school, Huguenot.
What we are getting for those small schools is high costs but no better teaching.
As the estimable Carol Wolf keeps pointing out, we have too many old, decrepit, little schools. When we replace them, it would be a mistake to build new, shiny, little schools.
If at first you don’t succeed, hope for some help. In this case, after I posted the 2014 data thinking they were 2015, Steve Fuhrman emailed to say that VEA has the 2015 Required Local Effort (“RLE”) data posted. Indeed, they do. Indeed, so does VDOE. Somehow I pulled up the previous year’s data last time I tried.
Turning to the data, we again have some caveats: The RLE data again include both Emporia and Greensville County, Fairfax City and County, Williamsburg and James City County but the SOL data combine each of those pairs. I’ve deleted Emporia, Greensville, Williamsburg, and James City. The Fairfax RLE data are close (116 for the County, 103 for the City) and the County is so large that it should swamp any difference in pass rates so I’ve included the County RLE excess and the County+City pass rates.
As well, the VEA data show Lee County with no numbers and as “Resubmission Pending” so I’ve deleted Lee County.
To the good, we have Accomack County this time.
With those changes, here are the 2015 division reading pass rates plotted vs. the 2015 Expenditure for Operations excess over the Required Local Effort.
As a thank you to Steve, the green diamond is Charles City County.
The gold square is Richmond. The red diamonds are the Richmond peers, from the left Norfolk, Newport News, and Hampton.
The median excess RLE is 77%. The two high-spending, high-scoring divisions are West Point (284% excess RLE) and Falls Church (196%).
The least squares fitted line suggests that doubling the RLE increases the pass rate by about 2% but the 1.7% R2 tells us that the pass rate and excess RLE are essentially uncorrelated.
Here are the data for the remaining subjects and the five subject average:
Finally, with the omissions noted above, here are the five subject data. I made the upper case entries in the RLE list (e.g., Roanoke CO) to force it to sort the same way as the SOL list.
As we have seen, some Virginia school divisions spend a lot more than others but the spending does not correlate with SOL performance. On the 2014 data, an analysis of the excess “expenditures and appropriations designated to meet [the] required local effort in support of the Standards of Quality” produced the same result.
Note: Jim Weigand points out that these are 2014 RLE data, NOT 2015. Sigh. If I hadn’t screwed this up, I’d be wondering at length why it takes VDOE over a year and a half to post the ‘14 data.
Details: Accomack is missing from the RLE report and is omitted here. The RLE report shows separate data for Emporia and Greensville County, Fairfax City and County, and Williamsburg and James City County; the SOL data, however, combine those three pairs. I have omitted Emporia, Greensville, Williamsburg, and JCC; Fairfax City and County have nearly the same RLE (about 129% excess each) and the County is large enough to swamp the City data in any case so I used the County RLE and City+County SOL pass rate.
With those adjustments, here are the 2015 division reading pass rates vs. the 2015 local expenditures for operations above the RLE.
The fitted line suggests that tripling the RLE increases the pass rate by about 4% but the 1.8% R2 tells us that the pass rate and excess expenditure are essentially uncorrelated.
Richmond is the gold square; from the left, the red diamonds are Hampton, Norfolk, and Newport News.
The Big Spenders out there are Sussex (221% excess, 72% pass rate) and West Point (218%, 94%).
And here are the data for the other four tests and the five subject average:
Here, with the omissions noted above, are the five subject data. I made the lower case entries in the RLE list to force it to sort the same as the SOL list.
|XS RLE||5 Subject Average|
|ISLE OF WIGHT||68.85%||84.5%|
|KING and QUEEN||73.63%||77.6%|
I have discussed the notion that divisions with high pass rates have little room for improvement while those with lower pass rates are shooting at larger targets. VDOE’s (bogus) accreditation process seems to recognize this. I suggested that a better measure of progress is the overall pass rate change divided by the previous year’s failure rate, in order to measure the relative change in the failure rate.
Today we have those data for the Richmond schools. I’ve left out Amelia St. Sp. Ed., which had an enormous (51%) drop in the pass rate.
To begin, the raw change in the five-subject average pass rates:
And then the pass rate change divided by the 2014 failure rate:
Here are the data. Note that comparison of the high schools with the elementary and middle schools is biased this year by the new retest policy in grades 3-8 that boosted the pass rates by ca. 4%.
VDOE has updated its 2015-16 Accreditation data.
I earlier discussed their byzantine, opaque process for accrediting Virginia’s public schools.
Well, some of those schools. You won’t find a rating for Maggie Walker, for instance, because VDOE counts the scores of the MW students at high schools they don’t attend. And that just scratches the surface of the “adjustments” that boosted the accreditation scores this year by 6.1%.
This year they made it even easier to avoid “Accreditation Denied” by relabeling some denied schools as “Partially Accredited: Approaching Benchmark-Pass Rate” or “Partially Accredited: Improving School-Pass Rate, or “Partially Accredited: Reconstituted School,” among others.
Adjustments or not, relabeling or not, VDOE could not get entirely away from Richmond’s second-from-last place performance on the reading tests or its sixth-from-last place on the math tests. The initial accreditation results showed Richmond with 37.8% accredited, v. 77.6% of the state’s schools and, more to the point here, with 15.6% “To Be Determined.” VDOE now has acted on five of the seven Richmond TBDs, which bumps the Accreditation Denied rate from 4.4% to 8.9% and the Reconstituted rate from zero to 6.7%. Here are the new data:
Note that one of the new schools is Elkhardt/Thompson; the relabeling converts Thompson’s earlier “Denied” rating into “New School.” All told, 53% of the Richmond schools were warned or denied accreditation this year with two schools still TBD and another failed middle school, Thompson, hiding in the definitional weeds.
The keel of this sinking ship is the middle schools: King denied; Hill improving; Binford, Brown, and Henderson reconstituted; Elkhardt/Thompson new and camouflaging the denied Thompson. Only Franklin, which includes both middle and high school grades, is fully accredited.
Data are here.