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Faint Praise

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D Minus Data | Faint Praise

The December, 2003 report from the Council of the Great City Schools evaluates curriculum and instruction, Title I and other Federal programs, and special education in the Richmond Public Schools.

The Council sent three "Strategic Support Teams" of senior urban managers "from cities that have improved student achievement significantly" and who have "impeccable records for program excellence."  One of the members of the Curriculum and Instruction Team is the Coordinator of the Math Department in Norfolk.

Richmond is one of the sixty-one members of the Council so the report attempts to operate in the Thumper Rabbit tradition: "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothin at all!"

Thus, at page 84, the report says that Richmond has "[a] superintendent that [is] committed to the city and the school system under her charge."  That is important for what it does not say:

  • The Superintendent is capable

  • The Superintendent is effective

  • The Superintendent is respected

  • The Superintendent is doing a good job

In contrast, at page. 71 the report says the director of the special education program "is providing strong leadership for the Richmond Public Schools."  The report nowhere mentions any "strong leadership" from the Superintendent.

The report even omits important facts that might make it look unkind: It twice mentions that our Superintendent met the benchmarks in her contract for numbers of schools accredited and number of schools accredited with warning; it neglects to mention that she busted the third grade reading benchmark.

Otherwise the report is more direct:

  • P. 25: "The board lacks strong leadership focused around student achievement.  Agendas of school board meetings do not reflect a consistent focus on student performance."

  • P. 39: "The district does not have a coherent strategy or plan for boosting the performance of its lowest-achieving schools.  The district has left the task to the PASS teams."

  • P. 27: "The district's staff lacks a sense of urgency about raising student performance."

  • P. 28: "The district has no mechanism for holding staff, principals, and teachers accountable for student achievement."

  • P. 27: "The . . . school board, administrators, and teachers have low expectations for student achievement.  Many staff and board members were heard to blame parents for low performance of students."

  • P. 30: "The district lacks an overarching strategic plan for improving reading and math achievement."

  • P. 33: "The district's professional development is fractured, largely superficial, and 'event' oriented."

  • P. 36: "There is virtually no evaluation of the district's academic programs.  Evaluations that are conducted are often poorly designed and cannot tell the district what is working and what is not."

  • P. 37: "The district does not have a cohesive reform plan with a starting point that is defined around either grade levels or content areas."

  • P. 38: "The district is floundering in its middle and high schools."

  • P. 40: "[Richmond must] articulate -- at the board and superintendent level -- a sense of urgency and immediacy for the goal of improving student performance districtwide.  The message should make clear that the district expects high achievement and will not make excuses for poor performance."

When it evaluates the Richmond system, the report gives Richmond a D-.

Thus, although written in soft words that attempt to avoid stating the obvious, the report clearly says that the Richmond schools system is a terrible failure.  It is good when knowledgeable experts tell such obvious truth.

The Good News in this report is a detailed program for fixing Richmond's lousy schools.  We'll see whether our School Board and Superintendent are capable of following that clear program for ending the harm they are causing Richmond's schoolchildren.


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Last updated 04/01/12
Please send questions or comments to John Butcher