The Cranky Taxpayer
In Virginia, better attendance correlates with better SOL scores. Unfortunately, Richmond has the 12th worst attendance of the Virginia school divisions. Richmond also has been flagrantly violating the Virginia law that requires it to respond to truancy. The State officials who are charged with the enforcement of that law have been enabling Richmond's violations and, to further that cause, ignoring their duty under the law.
Richmond is the yellow squares at 93.4% attendance on this graph. As you see, Richmond is performing far below the average values predicted by its (appalling) attendance rate. This despite Richmond's ardent cheating to improve the Richmond SOL scores.
The straight line fits of the data suggest that increasing average attendance by 1% correlates with a 3.3 point increase in the reading score and 4.2% on the math test. The R2 values tell us that attendance explains only about 20% of the variance in the scores in each case.
Of course, correlations do not prove that high attendance produces high SOL scores. There could be a third factor that causes kids both to attend and score well. Even so, it makes sense that the kids who have not been in school are likely to score worse on the SOL tests. One might hope that specific attendance improvement (perhaps even compliance with the State law on the subject) will be written into all our Principals' performance objectives.
Here are the dozen divisions with the worst attendance in 2013 (updated 5/23/14 to use the Table 8 data for 2013):
That 93.4% attendance rate is equivalent to a 6.6% absence rate, i.e., the average student was absent for 11.4 of the 173 teaching days in 2012-13.
The Richmond Public Schools' Web page formerly had a table of the number and percentage of elementary, middle, and high school students who were absent ten or more days. The table was titled "Truancy Rates" so we'll infer that these are ten or more unexcused absences (see below). They took the table down in 2013 and have yet to bring it back up. Later data obtained piecemeal.
The 2001-02 data look to be anomalous.
Even after the improvement pre '08, we still have a fifth of the high school students missing school for ten or more days. BTW: The slight improvement in 2005-06 cost you and me $675,000.
If we believe these data (The low numbers in 2001-02 and the bogus SAT data on the Richmond Web site surely invite skepticism), there is even more shocking information to be had by comparing them to the truancy data on the State Web site.
But first, some background.
Virginia Code § 22.1-258 requires each school division (through an attendance officer or, where there is none, through the superintendent) to create an attendance plan for any student with five unexcused absences and to schedule a conference with the parents after the sixth absence. The law does not merely permit this conference; it says the school "shall" schedule the conference. The statute continues:
That is, if the student continues to be truant after the conference, the school division is required to file a CHINS petition and/or to initiate proceedings against the parents. HOWEVER, if you'll follow the links you'll see that the (required) conference is part of the prerequisite notice to the parents: No conference scheduled, no petition or proceedings.
In light of that, let's compare the Richmond data on students truant ten or more days and the State data on number of conferences scheduled after the sixth absence, keeping in mind that 10>6:
The truancy (red line) and conference (green line) numbers are on the left axis. The number of conferences (six absences) as a percentage of the number of truants (10 absences) is the magenta line, with the numbers on the right axis.
As you see, Richmond scheduled fewer than 20% of the required conferences in 2003, '04, and '05 but improved sharply in 2006 (after this Web page blew the whistle on their lawless behavior). I have no data as to absences beyond ten and no direct data (but see below) whether absences beyond six resulted in a trip to court in the cases where the school had scheduled the required conferences; for sure, Richmond could do nothing about the vast numbers for whom they did not schedule a conference.
Starting in 2007, Richmond held over 2.5 conferences per student who was truant 10 or more times. The first implication of that, at least as to the conferences, is that Richmond was fully capable of obeying the law it ignored until 2006. The second implication is that, as we would expect, the students who make it to ten days truant are less numerous (about 40%, it seems) than those who make it just to six days. The third implication is that the 33%+ drop in 10-day truancies that immediately followed the huge increase in 6-day conferences may reflect a causal relationship.
The final issue is that the statute requires Richmond to be filing CHINS petitions or prosecuting parents over 2,000 times per year. Yet, they are filing fewer than 13% of the required number.
Moreover, they're doing part of their lawbreaking on purpose. On April 26, 2013, the School Board released a PowerPoint presentation, with the imprimatur of the Richmond schools' Chief Academic Officer, apparently prepared for Council in March. Notwithstanding the state law that requires either a CHINS petition or a prosecution of the parents after a seventh day truant, the presentation explicitly provides that RPS will "call home" for the seventh through ninth absences and will send the parents a letter from the Commonwealth's Attorney after the tenth. That is, the presentation states that RPS is deliberately flouting the state attendance law. Here is the relevant slide:
The term for this behavior is "malfeasance" and it is grounds for replacing our new Superintendent and fairly new School Board if this goes on for another year.
One final look: Richmond's poor performance is not uniform by school. Here, for instance are the 2014 numbers of court actions as a percentage of the numbers of ten-absence truants by school. First the high schools.
Next the specialty schools.
These data range from 0% at Community (no court action for the one ten-time truant) to 100% at Real School (where the only ten-day truant was the subject of a CHINS petition. The problem here is CCP with four petitions for 158 truants. This is especially unfortunate, of course, because kids don't get to CCP until they are an academic, attendance, or behavior problem elsewhere. It is inexcusable that Richmond then lets them cut school and does hardly anything about it.
Then the middle schools. Henderson did not report any ten-day truants and is absent here.
And last the elementary schools. Fisher reported no ten-day truants.
Recall please that the law requires court action at seven unexcused absences so all of these numbers should be greater than 100%. Beyond that, notice that the Principals and attendance officers at some schools are doing much better than their peers. This suggests (1) that the truancy enforcement is not being centrally managed and (2) that the Superintendent should be setting out some goals for 2015 and large penalties if those goals are not reached.
In short, Richmond may or may not at last be in compliance with the conference requirement of § 22.1-258 but it still is largely ignoring the enforcement requirements of that law.
Of course, Richmond's wholesale violations of the attendance law and its penchant for suspending kids for truancy are consistent with its pattern of chasing out poor performers in order to improve its SOL scores.
Unfortunately, the State has been (and still is) enabling this wholesale and destructive lawbreaking by Richmond.
It's not that they don't have the power to solve the problem. Code § 22.1-253.13:8 authorizes the Board of Education to obtain a court order to compel a school division to meet the Standards of Quality or to comply with a plan to accomplish that end. Code § 22.1-65 authorizes that Board to fine, suspend, or remove from office a division superintendent for "sufficient cause."
The 2005 report of the Board of Education discloses that Richmond had failed to meet the Board's (bogus) accreditation standards and has filed a corrective action plan. Indeed the Richmond plan is the recommendations of the evaluation committee from the Council of the Great City Schools. Never lacking for an euphemism, Richmond calls the compliance plan its Balanced Scorecard. Under that "Scorecard," Richmond's sole obligation as to truancy is to
Collaborate with appropriate local entities to implement a plan to increase student attendance and access to health services and to reduce truancy and dropout rates.
Notice: Nothing there about compliance with state law. All Richmond must do is "collaborate" and "implement a plan," while continuing to ignore a state law the Board of Education is required to enforce:
§ 22.1-269. Board to enforce.
When I raised this issue with the Education Department, they did not tell me they were acting to discharge their duty under § 22.1-269. Instead, they told me that Richmond in 2006 was spending funds appropriated by the General Assembly in 2005 for a pilot truancy program:
The legislature, through the Appropriations Act, directed the Department of Education and Richmond to develop a plan to reduce truancy and absenteeism in the City. . . . Mayor Wilder approved the plan on May 23, 2005. Full implementation of the pilot began last fall.
Mark Emblidge, the then President of the State Board of Education, responded to my email in the same vein:
The Board of Education will continue to discharge its responsibilities in this area through the division-level review process. Richmond Public Schools’ corrective action plan, which was accepted by the Board, addresses attendance and its impact on student achievement.
As you know, Richmond’s "Balanced Scorecard" details specific objectives for district improvement. Two of these "outcome measures" (5.2 and 6.1) deal specifically with improving attendance.
Those answers both try to change the question rather than answer it: The plan under the Appropriations Act identified three target neighborhoods (Hillside, Mosby, and Highland Park) and established a service center in each. The plan went on for eleven pages and proposed to spend the State's $675,000. Nowhere did it mention or require the City's compliance with § 22.1-258. Similarly, the Balanced Scorecard merely set a 2009 target for the "collaborat[ion] with appropriate local entities" to reduce dropouts from 15% to 5%. (No telling whether they collaborated; for sure they failed to reduce the dropout rate to 5%: in 2010 the dropout rate was 11.8%.) The Balanced Scorecard likewise is utterly silent about compliance with § 22.1-258.
Thus we see that the State education establishment now has approved two plans for Richmond's schools. In neither did it require Richmond to comply with the Virginia law the Board of Education is required to enforce. Indeed, the Education Department did not even try to enforce this law in the target neighborhoods where the State was paying for the pilot program. Dr. Emblidge embellished this nonfeasance with a shameless fabrication that the State Board "will continue" to discharge the responsibilities that, in fact, it was diligently ignoring.
Thus we see that among the Virginia school divisions, better attendance correlates with better SOL scores. Unfortunately, Richmond has some of the worst attendance of the Virginia school divisions. Richmond also has been flagrantly violating the Virginia law that requires it to respond to truancy. The State officials who are charged with the enforcement of that law have been enabling Richmond's violations and, to further that cause, ignoring their duty under the law.
And we get to pay taxes to support this disgraceful and unlawful behavior.