“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.

Richmond SOL vs. Poverty by Grade

We have seen that Richmond’s SOL scores mostly dropped this year and that neither expenditure nor the population of economically disadvantaged students explains Richmond’s worst- or close to worst in the state performance.

To get a more detailed look at the matter, let’s take a look at SOL pass rates by economic disadvantage and grade. 

Here, to start, are Richmond’s and the state’s average pass rates in the reading subject area, broken out by grade for the ED and not ED populations.  (“EOC” is the end of course tests, required to obtain “verified” credits toward graduation.)

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Hmmm.  ED students are scoring below their non-ED peers at both the state and Richmond levels.  Let’s examine the gaps by subtracting the Richmond pass rates from the state values for each group.

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Two things jump out here:

First, Richmond’s awful middle schools somehow take kids who are performing within sight of the state average and drop their performance off a cliff.

Second, both the ED and non-ED populations underperform the state averages for their groups and grades by about the same amount.  Said otherwise, Richmond’s schools are underperforming at about the same level for both the ED and non-ED populations.

Next the math subject area.

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Note the different scale here: As to middle school reading, both groups were 16 to 25 points behind their peers statewide; for math that range is 23 to 43%. 

And we see our middle schools again doing a terrible job for our ED students but an even worse job for the non-ED population.

Finally, the five subject average.  (“CST” = Content Specific Test, used for elementary and middle school history tests.)

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This paints a picture similar to the reading results: Low performance in elementary schools; awful performance in middle schools; ca. 10% underperformance on the EOC tests;  Richmond ED and non-ED students underperforming the statewide averages for their groups by about the same amount.

This more finely grained view provides some interesting details but does not change the basic result: Economic disadvantage is a problem but it’s not the problem with our schools.  That problem is lousy schools (especially the middle schools).

Big Bucks; Pitiful Bang

In the past, I have demonstrated that Richmond was paying a lot of money for poor SOL results.  This year, in light of our Superintendent’s complaints about his customer base, I’ve demonstrated that our SOL scores are awful, even after correcting for the economic disadvantage of the student population.

In this latter light, I turn to this year’s bang per buck analysis.  Instead of using the raw SOL scores as with, e.g., last year’s reading data,

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I’ll adjust the scores for economic disadvantage, by adding the decreases predicted by the % ED

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to the actual pass rates to level the playing field. 

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Note: The gold squares are Richmond; the red diamonds, from the left, are Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk; the green diamond is Charles City County.

On the reading data, this produces an average adjusted score of 90.4, which is the intercept of the fitted line, i.e., the pass rate extrapolated to 0% ED.  Said otherwise, it expresses each division’s pass rate as the actual rate increased by the disadvantage posed by the division’s percentage of economically disadvantaged students.

You might notice that six divisions show corrected pass rates > 100%.  That is because they have pass rates that both are high and are considerably higher than their average ED would predict.  The rising tide floats all boats: The adjustment also raises Richmond from an actual 60% pass rate to an adjusted 79%

As to cost, VDOE will not post the 2016 data until sometime this Spring so we’ll have to make do with 2015 data, here the disbursements per student.

On that basis, here are the 2016 division average reading pass rates, corrected for the ED of the division, plotted vs. the 2015 division disbursements per student.

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The fitted line suggests a slight increase in score with disbursement but there is no correlation.  That is, spending more per student is not correlated with better pass rates (adjusted for ED, so the divisions with more poor students are not disadvantaged).

Richmond (the gold square) underperformed and overspent its peers, Hampton, Norfolk, and Newport News (the red diamonds, from the left, ), as well as our neighbor, Charles City County (the green diamond).

Three of those six divisions with adjusted pass rates > 100% (i.e., > 9.6 points above the 90.4 adjusted average) were spending < $12,000 per student; all spent less than Richmond’s $15,155.

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The math data paint much the same picture.

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Here the slope might suggest a negative correlation between pass rate and disbursement except that the R2 again tells us that there is no correlation.  Richmond again underperforms, expensively.

The five subject average tells the same story.

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To state the obvious: Richmond schools don’t need more money; they need competent management.

The data are here.

2016 SOL v Poverty II

We have seen that, as expected, school division performance on the SOL is affected by the relative affluence of the students.  Indeed, on the 2016 Virginia data, it appears that the percentage of economically disadvantaged students explains about 25% of the variance in the division SOL pass rates.

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Excel is glad to recast the data to express the division pass rates as differences from the least squares fit.  When we do that calculation for the reading subject, the graph of pass rate v. % ED

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becomes a plot of (pass rate – calculated pass rate) v. % ED:

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As before, Richmond is the gold square.  The red diamonds are, from the left, Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk.  Charles City is the green diamond.

In this case, we see Richmond move from the lowest reading pass rate to the fifth from lowest rate after correction for the average (well, least squares fitted) influence of economic disadvantage.

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Note that all four of the lower performers have much lower ED percentages, with only Petersburg breaking 50%.  Among the divisions with larger ED populations, Richmond’s reading performance is uniquely awful.

Applying the same process to the math pass rates we see:

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Here, only one of the high-ED divisions (Lancaster Co.) underperformed Richmond.

Finally, the five-subject averages, where we get bragging rights only as to poor Petersburg.

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Please forgive me for saying it again: Economic disadvantage is a problem but it’s not the problem with our schools.  That problem is lousy schools.

Richmond SOL by School

The RT-D reports “Standards of Learning pass rates mostly hold steady across Richmond region, state.”

As to the state, that is true.  As to Richmond, not.

Let’s start with the reading subject area and Richmond’s elementary schools.  Here are the 2016 pass rates (note that 75%, after the “adjustments,”is passing for accreditation purposes).

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The 64.4% average is not encouraging.  It improved from last year by 0.3%.

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The accreditation benchmark for math, science, and history is 70%.

Our elementary schools’ History & Social Science pass rates showed a 77.2% average with a 2.5% decrease.

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Patrick Henry was a particular disappointment here.

The math average of 68% was a 3.0% decrease from 2015.

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The elementary schools averaged 70% for the science subject area, up 1.2% from 2015.

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The four subject average for our elementary schools was 69.9, down 1.0% from 2015.

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Carver, with a tough clientele, continues to shine.

Our lousy middle schools turned in another awful reading performance, averaging 54.8%, an increase of 0.3% from 2015.

Notes: Franklin Military has both middle and high school grades; I’ve included it in both the middle and high school datasets although the pass rates do not compare directly with either the middle or high schools.  2016 is the first year for Elkhardt-Thompson so there are no year-to-year data.

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The writing average was an appalling 39.3, down 8% from 2015.

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History & Social Science looks a lot better, but shows a 2.6% decrease.

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The math pass rate plunged 6.3% to 47.5%.

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Science dropped 3.3% to 60.7.

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The middle school five subject average dropped 4.0% to 54.8%.

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As to Elkhardt-Thompson, here are the 2015 data for the separate schools and the 2016 rates for the combined school. 

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The History & SS scores came up a bit to passing; all the rest are and were variously awful.

The high schools posted a mixed group of pass rates with an average drop of 3.9% to a 72.8% average.

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Looks like ongoing problems at Armstrong, Marshall, and Wythe.

Overall, these data reflect a frightful incompetence of our School Board and Superintendent.

2016 SOL v Poverty

 The excuse we often hear for Richmond’s poor performance on the SOL tests is poverty.

VDOE has data on that.  They define a student as “economically disadvantaged” if that student “1) is eligible for Free/Reduced Meals, or 2) receives TANF, or 3) is eligible for Medicaid, or 4) [is] identified as either Migrant or experiencing Homelessness.”  Data (Fall enrollments) are here.

Juxtaposing the 2016 Division pass rates with the ED percentage of the enrollment, we see the following for the reading subject area:

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With an R2 of 39%, it appears that ED is a considerable influence on the pass rate.

Even so, Richmond (the gold square) underperformed not just the peer jurisdictions (red diamonds, from the left: Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk) and not just the divisions with similar rates of poverty, but all of Virginia’s school divisions, higher poverty or not.

Richmond’s math performance was nearly as dismal, beating out Lancaster County.

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The five-subject pass rate also was perfectly dismal, notwithstanding the larger R2.

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Anybody who uses poverty as an excuse for Richmond’s lousy SOL scores is an ignoramus or a liar.  Or both.

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Here are the data:

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2016 SOLs by Year

As a second bite at the SOL data released today, here are pass rates by year for Richmond; the peer jurisdictions of Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk; our neighbor, Charles City; and the state.

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Here are the same data, expressed as pass rates of division minus state.

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Upon reflection, firing of the School Board and Superintendent would be too kind.

Time for a New Superintendent (And a New School Board)

The SOLs are up today. 

 “Wait a minute,” you say.  “They had those data in time to schedule graduations last May.  Why did they wait until now to publish them?”

Good question.  Their excuse is that the summer testing data are not available until now.  The reason (one suspects; they hide the data so we can’t actually know) is that they manipulate these data extensively and all that futzing takes time.  As well, one can wonder whether the summer scores are so unusual that they would be embarrassed by their disclosure

The Richmond scores are a disaster.

Here are the pass rates of the bottom ten divisions in each subject area as well as the five-subject average:

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You may recall that we were second from the bottom in reading last year and sixth from the bottom in math. 

More details will follow as I find time to process the data.

Can You Spell “Ripoff”?

The annual CPI increase from 2014 to 2015 was 0.12%; the mid-year increase from 2015 to 2016 was 1.07%; extrapolated from the first six months of this year, it will be 1.68% in 2016.  The average increase in mandatory non-educational and general fees at our state colleges and universities for the upcoming year is 4.2%, ranging from zero in the Community College System to 8% at Mary Washington.

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Details are in the SCHEV report here.

State Department of Cheating Protection

We have seen that a former Latin teacher in the Roanoke County school system alleged wholesale cheating on non-SOL high school tests in the system.  And we have seen that the President of the Board of Education responded, in essence, that RCPS is doing something about the cheating and, besides, the State can’t do anything.

So, of course, I filed a Freedom of information Act request with VDOE for the underlying public records.  The response: A collection of emails and drafts of the Cannaday letter but no report of an investigation.

If you’ve ever dealt with the bureaucracy you know that they don’t make a trip to the water cooler without writing a memo to file.  So this means that they intentionally did everything by word of mouth.  Even so, they created a paper trail.

Elizabeth – I am going to review the draft letter with Dr. Cannaday over the next two days while he is here for the Board meetings. Can you give me some notes (either written or verbal) that provide more specifics about who you talked with, what they are doing about the concerns, etc. so that I can share those informally with Dr. Cannaday?

  • Morris replied the same day:

Just in case you need it, here is the contact info for the person I spoke with from Roanoke County Public Schools:

Ben Williams
Associate Director of Testing & Remediation
540-562-3900

  • The June 22 Luchau email chain includes a June 20 from Eric Von Steigleder, the Special Assistant for Communications in the office of our Secretary of Education.  He wrote:

    FYI ‐ Mr. Maronic wrote a similar letter to our office as well. With input from DOE and our office, I mailed the attached letter to the constituent encouraging him to work with his local Superintendent as well as his school board to address his concerns.

They didn’t produce the “attached letter” but another email tells us what it said: “I encourage you to share your concerns with your local superintendent’s office as well as your local school board.”

Note: After I posted this, Bob Maronic sent along a copy of the Secretary’s letter.  As the emails predicted:

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So there you have it: A concerted effort to NOT create any records, but the records they nonetheless created show that their information base – none dares call it an “investigation” — amounted to a phone call.  Or maybe several phone calls.  And the Party Line, running up to the Secretary: “Nothing we can do about it.”

Well,  let’s look more carefully at their authority.

  • Va. Const. art. VIII, § 4:  “The general supervision of the public school system shall be vested in a Board of Education . . . “
  • 8VAC20-131-50: Graduation requirements for a standard diploma include twenty-two “Standard Units of Credit.”
  • 8VAC20-131-110.A: “The standard unit of credit for graduation shall be based on a minimum of 140 clock hours of instruction and successful completion of the requirements of the course” (emphasis supplied).
  • 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.”

In short, the Board has “general supervision” of the public school system.  In the exercise of that authority, it has specified graduation requirements that include “successful completion” of course requirements.  They can fire the local Superintendent.

Never mind the natural supposition that cheating undercuts the system and should be anathema at every level.  The Board’s regulation says, with the force of law, that “successful completion” of the coursework is prerequisite to graduation.  And, by the President’s own letter, we know that some students in Roanoke County have cheated to complete their coursework.  Even in Richmond, cheating to pass a course cannot lead to “successful completion.”

So we have the Secretary of “Education,” the President of the Board of “Education,” and the Department of “Education” resolutely refusing to deal with cheating and lying about their ability to do so.

Unfortunately, this nonfeasance is part of a pattern:  In 2009 VDOE conducted an investigation of misuse of the VGLA to boost pass rates in Buchanan County.  The County that year had the largest VGLA participation rate in the state, ahead only of Richmond.  The VDOE report said: “The Superintendent stated the he had encouraged the use of VGLA as a mechanism to assist schools in obtaining accreditation and in meeting AYP targets.”  Instead of firing the Superintendent for deliberately cheating (on SOL-equivalent testing!), VDOE required that he prepare a corrective action plan.

The folks in Roanoke County can vote out their School Board for allowing (and, probably, covering up) this cheating.   We cannot vote out our mendacious bureaucrats or our term-limited Governor; at most we can hope the Governor will do his job to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”  For sure, there is lots of room for him to do that in our “education” establishment.