Tag Archives: John Butcher

It’s Performance, Not Poverty

by John Butcher

The popular sport in the Richmond “education” establishment has been to blame the kids for the awful performance of our schools. We particularly hear about our less affluent (the official euphemism is “economically disadvantaged”) students.

We have some data on that. Again.

Here are the average reading pass rates by grade of the economically disadvantaged (”ED”) and non-ED students in Richmond and the state.  “EOC” indicates the End of Course tests that generally must be passed to receive “verified credits” that count toward a diploma.

Both in Richmond and on average, the ED group underperforms the non-ED group.

To the point here, the Richmond ED students underperform their peers in the state averages, as do the non-ED Richmond students.

We can calculate the differences between the Richmond groups and state average to measure that underperformance.

Here we see Richmond’s ED students underperforming their peers by about 7% in elementary school while our non-ED students average some 9% below that group statewide.  In middle school the difference increases to roughly 19% for the non-ED students and 25% for the ED group.

The math test results show a similar pattern.

These data tell us two things:

  • Richmond students, both ED and not, underperform their statewide peer groups on average; and
  • The average SOL performance of Richmond students, ED and not, deteriorates dramatically in middle school.

As I have demonstrated elsewhere, the large percentage of ED students in Richmond (64% in 2017) does not explain our low pass rates.  So we are left with (at least) two possible explanations: Either Richmond students are less capable on average than students statewide or our schools are less effective than average.

If Richmond’s students were just less capable, it would explain the low elementary school scores but not the drop in pass rates after the fifth grade.

The plummeting performance of our students when they reach middle school tells us there’s a (big!) problem with our middle schools.  And there’s every reason to think that the school system that has terrible middle schools might also have problems with its elementary schools. Continue reading

Failing to Fix the Unfixable

Cranky (aka John Butcher) is on a tear these days, most recently exposing the Virginia Board of Education’s ineffectual effort to fix the City of Richmond’s broken school systems.

The Richmond’s schools are in turmoil. According to the state board, 27 of the city’s 44 schools are not fully accredited. The school board has booted out the district’s superintendent, who only two or three years ago had been highly touted, for reasons that remain opaque. City and state bureaucracies are moving ponderously to address the deep-rooted dysfunction. But so far, the only product of the teeth gnashing and foot dragging is a “Memorandum of Understanding,” which, in Cranky’s jaundiced eyes, “does nothing but create busy work and a ‘rough draft’ plan that is not a plan.”

Cranky proceeds to dismember the MOU like Jeffrey Dahmer rended his victims. The MOU, he suggests, is vague, redundant, intrusive, and unenforceable. Worst of all, he writes, “VBOE does not know how to fix Richmond’s broken school system. They don’t know what to tell a judge that Richmond should be made to do, so they don’t even contemplate exercising their authority to sue.”

If you want to find yourself laughing and crying at the same time, check out his post.

Mo’ Money Is Not the Answer

by John Butcher

It’s been a while since I sent Jim a bang per buck analysis of school performance. Now that the 2016 SOL data are out, I’ll try to get back in the groove.

In the past I have plotted the raw division SOL pass rates vs. the annual disbursements per student. But comparing bang-for-the-buck between different school systems is a tricky business. We know, for example, that poverty impacts academic performance. As shown in the scatter graph below, economic disadvantage explains about 39% of the variation in 2016 reading test scores.

2016_reading

To level the playing field this year, I’ve adjusted each division’s pass rate to eliminate the effect of economic disadvantage. (I can offer an explanation in the comments, if you’d like to know the details.)

2016_reading_corrected

You might notice that six divisions show corrected pass rates exceed 100%. That is because their pass rates were high in the first instance and considerably higher than their average ED would predict.

That rising tide floats all boats: The adjustment also raises the City of 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 for disbursements per student (using end-of-year enrollment).

On that basis, here are the 2016 division average reading pass rates, corrected for the economic disadvantage of the division’s studentbody, plotted vs. the 2015 division disbursements per student.

2016_reading_adjustment_disbursements

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. Continue reading

VDOE on School Cheating: It’s Not Our Problem

by John Butcher

We have seen that a former Latin teacher in the Roanoke County Public School (RCPS) 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, Billy K. Cannaday, Jr., ducked the issue, responding, 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 a serious inquiry into the cheating.

If you’ve ever dealt with the bureaucracy you know that functionaries don’t make a trip to the water cooler without writing a memo to file. Even though Virginia Department of Education administrators handled a letter from the aforesaid Latin teacher, Robert Maronic, largely by word of mouth, they left 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 Maronic has provided me a copy:

holton_letter2

Note her response: “I encourage you to share your concerns with your local superintendent’s office as well as your local school board.” (Maronic had brought up the issue to the School Board and Board of Supervisors, but no action was taken.)

So, there you have it: The few records that exist suggest that the VDOE inquiry into Maronic’s charges of widespread cheating amounted to a single phone call by one mid-level VDOE functionary to a mid-level Roanoke school functionary. The Party Line, running up to the Secretary: “Nothing we can do about it.”

Continue reading

The State Department of Superintendent Protection

monkeysby John Butcher

On June 7, I posted a letter to the President of the State Board of Education from a former Latin teacher in the Roanoke County system alleging cheating at one or more schools in that system. That teacher, Robert Maronic, averred “widespread” cheating and claimed to have informed the administration of the problem in November, 2012, the Board of Supervisors in October, 2015, and the School Board in November, 2015.

(Maronic posted an op-ed in Bacon’s Rebellion on the same topic: “Halt the High School Cheating Epidemic.” — JAB)

On June 24, Maronic received a reply (reproduced below) from the President of the Board of Education. Let’s analyze that letter.

Thank you for your letter detailing concerns with the Roanoke County Public School system. I appreciate you [sic] taking the time to contact the Virginia Board of Education.

Just from the first sentence we know this letter is Bad News: President Cannaday characterizes allegations of wholesale cheating as “concerns.”

The [Roanoke County Public School] division informed the Department that it is taking measures to address this issue and is working with outside support to combat this challenge.

So, the Roanoke County division admits to some or all of the allegations:

  • It is taking unspecified “measures.”
  • Those measures will “address,” but perhaps not eliminate the cheating.
  • The division is “working” with outsiders to “combat this challenge.”

What this does not say is that the Roanoke County School Superintendent has eliminated the cheating and fired the people responsible for it.

Pursuant to the Constitution of Virginia, the Board of Education determines and prescribes the Standards of Quality for school divisions, and the supervision of schools in each school division is vested in the local school board.

Hmmm.  Let’s look at authority:

  • Va. Const. art. VIII, § 4:  The general supervision of the public school system shall be vested in a Board of Education . . .
  • 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.

We need not parse the scope of “general supervision” to understand that the Roanoke County Superintendent is responsible for what happens in his system.  Either he knew of the cheating and needs to be fired for not dealing with it, or he did not know of the cheating so he needs to be fired for incompetence.

And Cannaday is president of one of the two boards that can do the firing.

Continue reading

What the Virginia “Education” Association Is Trying to Hide

by John Butcher

It’s a strange state we live in. The meetings of our legislators are open to the public; their work product goes in the newspaper and on the Internet. The public is free to evaluate their positions, express opinions, and hold them accountable by voting them in or out of office.

Virginia’s judges perform in open court. Their work product is public and subject to legal review by the appellate courts. Judicial Performance Evaluations based on feedback from attorneys and jurors go to the General Assembly, which has the power to fire judges, and to the public, which can fire members of the General Assembly.

By contrast, the data showing how effectively public school teachers are educating our children are treated as a state secret.

The Virginia “Education” Association says that performance data might let the public make “prejudicial judgments about teacher performance.” They want teacher evaluation to be left to the school systems, which are free to ignore ineffective teaching — and do. So, Virginia parents are deprived of information to evaluate their children’s teachers or even to gauge how school divisions are managing — or mismanaging — inadequate teachers whom parents are taxed to pay.

Brian Davison of Loudoun sued the Department of Education and punched a small hole in this conspiracy against Virginia’s schoolchildren. (See Davison v. Virginia Education Dep’t, No. CL14 -4321; circuit court, city of Richmond, final order, 12 April 2016). Now the Virginia “Education” Association has threatened to sue VDOE, Brian, and me, seeking court orders to prevent, among other things, our disseminating and commenting upon Student Growth Percentiles (SGPSs) and, perhaps, other data regarding teacher effectiveness.

At the outset, this demonstrates that the Virginia “Education” Association is too stupid to count to “one.” The First Amendment bars this attempted prior restraint of our truthful speech.

As well, the information already available provides a window into what the Virginia “Education” Association is trying to hide.

We know that the Standards of Learning are an imperfect measure of teacher performance. The scores go down as there is a strong correlation between SOL scores and the socioeconomic disadvantage of students increase. In contrast, the Student Growth Percentile (“SGP”) provides an indicator of effective instruction, regardless of a student’s scaled score. Indeed, the SGP, which measures improvement, not absolute scores, appears to be insensitive to economic disadvantage.

VDOE calculated SGPs in reading and math for three or four years, ending in 2014. Here are the 2014 statewide distributions of average SGPs by teacher.

2014_reading_math

Here we see, as expected, a few very good teachers, a few ineffective ones, and a whole bunch who get average or nearly average performance from their students.

The 2014 data allows us to take a close-up look at individual teachers, albeit with personal identification data stripped away.

Continue reading