Kudos to the VaCU

I’ve been a customer at the Virginia Credit Union for some time, especially for the period awhile back when their CD rates were competitive.

From time to time they offer free document shredding at their Boulders location.  We’ve been frustrated there in the past when the line of cars reached out onto Jahnke Rd.

Disdaining the lessons of the past, we drove there about 08:40 this morning, expecting to wait in line until the 09:00 opening.  We were surprised to find them open early, with two lines and four shredding trucks.  We left our bag of old documents and were gone in a few moments.  Indeed, when we drove past an hour or so later there still was no line visible from Boulders Pkwy.

All Glory to the VaCU, especially to the person there who decided to improve this helpful public service.

Now, if they’ll just bump their 60 month CD rate to match, or even come a bit closer to matching, their online competitors . . .

The Insecure Defending the Unspeakable

It looks like I’m being sued.

Yesterday I received by email a “Petition for Injunction” for VEA and others against VDOE, Brian Davison, and me.  The Petition asks the Richmond Circuit Court to enjoin VDOE from releasing SGP and related data and to prohibit Brian and me from using such data.

Well, as to the name of the court I’m being unduly kind: The Petition is addressed to “The Circuit Court for the City of Richmond” (emphasis supplied).  There is no such court.  By statute, our circuit court is “The Circuit Court of the City of Richmond” (emphasis supplied again).  So, the Petition, if it is genuine, demonstrates at the top of the first page the ignorance of the VEA’s lawyer.

The body of the Petition, entirely aside from any legal merit (actually, lack thereof), illuminates the unfortunate truth that VEA is more interested in protecting incompetent teachers than in furthering the educations of Virginia’s schoolchildren.

Then, at the bottom, the Petition carries a signature block that begins:

Dena Rosenkrantz, Esquire (VSB#28667)
Legal Services Director

Of course, “Esquire” is a courtesy title, mostly applied to lawyers.  So we have Ms. Rosenkrantz stroking herself with a courtesy title.  As well, the “Esquire” is redundant: The Virginia State Bar number, required by Supreme Court Rule 1:4(l), tells us she is a lawyer.

It’s hard to imagine a lawyer with an ego so shrunken that she feels a need to be courteous to herself and to tell us she is a lawyer lawyer.  But it seems the VEA has found one.

Indeed, it looks like there’s an epidemic of insecurity over there.  The signature block of the purported law clerk who sent the email starts: “Catherine A. Lee, JD.” Really!  A law clerk who feels the need to tell us she has a law degree.  Remarkably, she didn’t attach a law school transcript to show how smart she is or a picture to show how pretty.

Let’s hope this Petition is not a prank and that it will be filed at the courthouse and served on Brian and me.  Dealing with a lawyer at that level of ignorance and with that defect of ego, who is attempting to keep Virginia’s parents from knowing whether their kid is being damaged by an incompetent teacher, should be good fun.

Moreover, VDOE’s lawyer is a competent and affable fellow.  To the extent he is on Brian’s and my side, or even to the extent he isn’t, those qualities will enhance the enjoyment.


P.S.: I have created a new email account for this litigation: 4students_unlikeVEA@outlook.com.  If you know where and what the Richmond plaintiff, Bradley Mock, teaches or whether he is the same “Bradley Mock” who studied “Hip Hop Culture” at VCU, please do use it to send me an email.

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.”

Maggie What?

The Times-Dispatch this morning reports that Open and Community high schools have been rated among the top ten schools in Virginia.

That’s no surprise.  Except perhaps as to math and science, both schools do an outstanding job.



The surprise is that Maggie Walker did not make the list.

The MW Web site [School Profile page] tells us that the Daily Beast ranked Walker 12th best public high school in the nation on August 27, 2014.  Yet, if you go to the VDOE Web site you won’t even find SOL scores for Walker.

Ask VDOE about this and they’ll tell you something like what they told me:

Governor’s Schools are regional centers or programs and do not report membership [what you and I would call enrollment] to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). Students who attend these programs are included in the average daily membership (ADM) of the schools they otherwise would have attended in their home division. Only schools that report membership to VDOE are assigned a school number.

The assessments of students attending regional centers and programs are coded with the school numbers of the schools where these students are included in membership. This is a long-standing practice that pre-dates the Standards of Learning (SOL) program.

Note, however, that is not true for Fairfax County’s Thomas Jefferson, the Governor’s School for Science and Technology in Northern Virginia.  



In short, Maggie Walker, a four-year, full day, public high school that issues diplomas to its graduates, is not a “school.”  The SOL (and other) scores of the MW students are falsely reported at the high schools in those students’ home districts.  So, of course, if you look to the official SOL data, MW does not exist.

Do you wonder why I call VDOE the “State Department of Data Suppression and Manipulation”?

Big Budgets Don’t Teach

There is an unfortunate tendency to measure school quality in terms of inputs, particularly money, albeit the important measure should be the output, how much the kids learn.  The SOL provides a ready, but rough, measure of output.

We have seen that neither division expenditure nor nor excess local financial effort nor average division teacher salary correlates with SOL pass rates.

But we know that SOL scores are sensitive to at least one other variable, the economic status of the students: Economically disadvantaged students score lower, on average.

For about four years, until last year, VDOE produced student growth percentile (“SGP”) data that are not dependent upon economic advantage or disadvantage.  VDOE attempted to hide those data but Brian Davison of Loudoun pried loose some of the data by division.

I’ve taken the latest of those data, for 2014, and juxtaposed them with the teacher salary data for that year to see if there’s anything to learn there.

To start, here are the division reading SGPs plotted vs. the division average teaching salary (regular K-12 education teachers, art, music, physical education, technology, remedial, gifted, mathematics, reading, special education, and ESL teachers; not included in the calculation are: teacher aides, guidance counselors or librarians).


The 7.1% R2 tells us there is only a faint correlation between how much the teachers are paid and how much the students learn.

Even so, there is some interesting information in these numbers.

For a start, we see that Richmond (the gold square) and the peer jurisdictions (red circles, from the top Hampton, Norfolk, and Newport News) all are getting better results than the raw SOL pass rates suggest.  Richmond still underperforms, but the peer jurisdictions are close to the middle of the pack, with Hampton just above the 46.6% division median.

The Big Spenders here are the NoVa divisions: the divisions above $60,000 are, from the left, Loudoun, Prince William, Manassas City, Fairfax, Falls Church, Alexandria, and Arlington.  The outstanding performers, all but one with modest salaries, are Poquoson, Bland, Botetourt, Wise, and Falls Church.

The eye opener is the surrounding counties (the green circles, from the top Charles City, Chesterfield, Henrico, and Hanover): Charles City is outperforming the others; the others are not obtaining student growth at any level to brag about.  Of course, all are beating Richmond, but by much less than the raw pass rates would suggest.

The math data are less flattering to Richmond but similarly interesting.  Caveat: These data do not include algebra (for reasons of the maximum number of rows that would fit into Excel).


The 3% R2 again indicates no significant correlation between the SGPs and the salaries.

Here we see Richmond, again the gold square, 5.5 percentiles below the math median of 48.4, compared to the 3.1 points below the reading median.  In blue, Newport News and Hampton are above the median; Norfolk is 1.8 points below (and should be dropping unless they are cheating).

The Counties (green circles, from the left Charles City, Hanover, Chesterfield, and Henrico) are in the middle of the pack, except for Henrico, which is 1.8 points below Richmond.

The Big Spenders are getting less for their money here than with reading.

The outstanding performers are, from the top, Bristol, Buckingham, Bland (again), Botetourt (again), and Surry.  We probably should reserve judgment about Botetourt; they were caught cheating wholesale with the VGLA.

The dataset is posted here.

The bottom line: Spending more money on teacher salaries does not correlate with better student learning of reading or math.

But, then, we knew all along that the key to student performance is management, not money.

Categories SGP

Still Absent on Truancy

The Board of Education has the duty and authority “to see that the [mandatory attendance laws] are properly enforced throughout the Commonwealth.”  Notwithstanding that requirement, the Board does not even collect information to allow it to assess school or division compliance with the law.

The Board started a regulatory process on July 22, 2010 with a Notice of Intended Regulatory Action.  They got around to adopting (a vastly unlawful) regulation in 2012, but withdrew it when some fellow sued them over their statutory and procedural errors.  In a reproposed regulation of January 10, 2013, the Board set out to emasculate the (already weak) regulation by defining “truancy” to include only full-day absences, notwithstanding the state law the requires attendance “for the same number of days and hours per day as the public schools.”

The Board approved its newly weakened regulation on January 10, 2013.  They got around to publishing the regulation for public comment on Oct. 23, 2015.

The public comment period closed on December 2, 2015 but the Board did not manage to schedule the matter for action until the April 28, 2016 [Item G.] meeting.  Somewhere between the posting of the agenda and the meeting, someone had a change of heart:  Without discussion or even mention, consideration of the regulation was “withdrawn” [at 3:17:38].

In the meantime, Richmond (doubtless among many other divisions) is violating the truancy laws wholesale.

And the Board of Education wallows along in its own disinclination to lawfully serve the students, parents, and taxpayers of Virginia.

Bless You, Brian Davison!

[For background, see this.]

From: John Butcher
Sent: 4/29/2016 5:46 PM
To: Pyle, Charles (DOE)
Subject: FOIA Request

Mr. Pyle,

I am a Citizen of the Commonwealth and a resident of the City of Richmond at the address set out below.  Under the authority of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, I request an opportunity to inspect and copy the following public records, as that term is defined at Va. Code § 2.2-3701, that are prepared, owned, or in the possession of the Department of Education:

•    All records that establish or comment upon any reason why it might not be practically possible to provide the records I requested on April 21 within the five work days provided by the Act.

If any record responsive to this request exists in electronic form, I request that you provide it by posting it to the Department’s web site or emailing it to me at the return address above.

In the event the Department elects to withhold any public record responsive to this request, for each such record please:

•    Identify the record withheld by date, author, title, and summary or purpose of the record;

•    Identify all persons outside your Department to whom the record has been shown or to whom copies have been furnished; and

•    State specifically the statutory exemption under which the Department elects to withhold the record.

If you elect to charge me part or all of the actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records, please estimate the total charges beforehand.  If those total charges exceed $100, please notify me before you incur the costs.

Please contact me by telephone at the number below or by email at the address above if I can answer any question about this request.

I look forward to hearing from you as promptly as possible and in any event within the five work days provided by the Act.

P.S.: Notwithstanding your email of today, my request was made at 1:31 PM on April 21, not on April 19.  Today being the sixth work day since the request (although I rather like the April 19 date, which would make today the eighth day), the Department is in violation of the Act and has waived any objection to providing the requested records.  Please just send along the records.


On 4/29/2016 4:51 PM, Pyle, Charles (DOE) wrote:
> Dear Mr. Butcher:
> The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) is in receipt of your request for records dated April 19, 2016, and made in accordance with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (§ 2.2-3700 et seq.).
> Please be advised that it is not practically possible to provide the requested records or determine their availability within the five working days required by FOIA due to the unavailability of staff and the complexity of your request.  Therefore, VDOE is invoking subsection B 4 of § 2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia to provide the agency with seven additional working days to respond to your request.
> Best regards,
> Charles B. Pyle
> Director of Communications
> Virginia Department of Education
> (804) 371-2420
> Charles.Pyle@doe.Virginia.gov

Dollars But Not Scholars, Yet Again

We have seen (here and here and here) that division expenditure does not correlate with division SOL pass rate.

Today we explore the relationship (if any) between average teacher salary and pass rate.

VDOE posts an annual report that includes the average classroom teacher salaries (regular K-12 education teachers, art, music, physical education, technology, remedial, gifted, mathematics, reading, special education, and ESL teachers; not included in the calculation are: teacher aides, guidance counselors or librarians) by division and school.

Here, for a start, are the 2016 average teacher salaries of the highest and lowest and several selected divisions.


Richmond, it seems, is outspending both its peer, older city divisions and the neighboring counties. 

Maggie Walker (despite not being a “school”), looks like a real bargain.

VDOE will have the 2016 SOL scores in time for graduations this month but they won’t post them until August or September.  So we’ll have to be satisfied with the 2015 pass rates.  Here are the averages of the division pass rates on the reading, writing, math, science, and history & social science tests.


Richmond is the gold square.  The red diamonds are, from the left, Hampton, Norfolk, and Newport News.  The green diamonds are, from the top, Hanover, Chesterfield, Henrico, and Charles City (partially obscured, just above Hampton).  Lynchburg is the blue diamond.

You can decide for yourself what kind of return Richmond is getting on our money.

As you see, the computer is glad to fit a curve to these data but the correlation is nil (R2 = 1.3%).

Turning to the Richmond elementary schools, we see:


That 18% correlation looks to be driven in large part by expensive Munford (over at the right) and inexpensive, lousy scoring Woodville (bottom, left).  Note that the high scorer, Carver, is not all that expensive.

The state data still have not caught up with the Elkhardt/Thompson situation.  Here are the other middle schools


R2 is only 3.2%.  The low point there is MLK.

As to the high schools, it looks like we have a 34% correlation with salary


until we take out Community and Open, which restricts the analysis to the general population high schools + Franklin Military.


The low score there is Armstrong.  The expensive school is Huguenot.

Here are the data.


Of course, SOL scores depend on the economic status of the students as well as upon the quality of the teaching.  VDOE has student growth percentile (“SGP”) data that are not dependent on economic status but they have been sequestering those results.  Brian Davison has pried loose some of the data by division.  We’ll see if his recent victory court will make the SGP data available by school and by teacher.

Has Norfolk Joined the Cheaters Club?

I earlier quoted Scott Adams for the notion that “whenever you have large stakes, an opportunity for wrong-doing, and a small risk of getting caught, wrong-doing happens. . . .  When humans can cheat, they do.”  That certainly is what we’ve seen wholesale in Atlanta and in Virginia on the VGLA.

Now we heve the Virginian-Pilot seeing what looks like the smoke of cheating fires: In the course of a report of attempts to learn whether failing students are being withdrawn from courses where the SOL is mandatory, the paper obtained enrollment data from all the Hampton Roads divisions except one.  Norfolk said it couldn’t retrieve the data.  In the face of an incoherent push back from the Norfolk Superintendent, the Pilot stood by its story.

The state’s SOL pass rate data may speak to this situation.

As a first look, here are the averages of the pass rates for the five subjects reported, expressed as the differences between the division averages and the state average.


Norfolk was on a failing path and it stumbled badly on the new (non-VGLA) reading, writing, and science tests in 2013.  Then, mirabile dictu, it recovered dramatically.

Hmmm.  What about the pass rates for the individual subjects? 

The reading data show the hit from new tests and the subsequent recovery.


The math pass rates show the effect of the new tests in 2012 and an even more dramatic recovery.


The writing and science pass rates also show big hits from the new tests in 2013 and remarkable recoveries.



The history and social science data show a dismal pattern broken by a remarkable jump in 2015.


You get to draw your own conclusion from this.  I have one I’ll share: I’ll bet you a #2 lead pencil that the State Department of Data Suppression will not look beneath all this smoke to see if there is a bonfire of cheating.

More Money Down the RPS Rathole?

We dropped our subscription to the Richmond Times-Dispatch some time ago: The paper kept getting smaller and the local coverage more curtailed. 

Even so, the (excellent!) VPAP newsfeed discloses an ongoing kerfuffle over whether the Richmond Public Schools shall have more money.

Despite the recognition that the awful condition of some school buildings reflects inadequate maintenance, i.e., deliberate waste, there’s no talk of assuring that the new buildings will be properly maintained. 

Indeed, the money discussion has avoided the central problem: RPS is wasting money wholesale.

  • They spent an inordinate sum to paint handicap parking spaces and even more money to design them.
  • The violated Virginia law to give a $291,080 elevator design contract to a favored engineering firm.
  • It seems that every operation the City Auditor touches at RPS turns out to be wasting money (bottom of the page).
  • My own estimate suggests the something like $50 million per year is disappearing into the RPS budget with no discernable result.

Seems to me that the City should demand independent oversight of RPS spending before it even considers budgeting more money for the system.