The Cranky Taxpayer

The Cranky Taxpayer

The conventional wisdom seems to be that socioeconomic status of a population has a major effect (perhaps as much as half) upon the performance of the school that serves that population.  Title I measures poverty by the portion of the students who are eligible for free or reduced price lunches.  Those data, and the Virginia SOL data, are available on the Web.

Here are the raw data for 2006-07 division English SOL scores and the % of students receiving free or reduced cost lunches:

The red diamond is Norfolk; the gold square is Richmond.

The trend of the data is apparent.  We can obtain a measure of that trend by asking the computer to fit a line to the data.  Then, following the program at SchoolMatters, we put a one-standard deviation band around the fitted line:

As you might expect, the scores go down as the poverty goes up.  Indeed, the least squares fit to the data shows a drop of 1.95 points for a 10% increase in the percentage of free lunches. 

Of course, there's no particular reason to expect a linear relationship between SOL scores and the percentage of subsidized lunches.  The fitted line clearly shows the trend, however, and gives a measure of how Virginia's school divisions perform compared to that trend line.  On that basis, Norfolk and Richmond are performing just about as expected.

The R2 value tells us that the free and reduced percentage explains just over a third of the variance in the SOL score.  These numbers don't tell us were the other 2/3 comes from.  Plainly something else is involved: Charlotte County is at 49.4% F/R and they scored 93, over two standard deviations above the fitted line; Mecklenburg County has 53.93% F/R and their English score was 92, also more than two standard deviations up.  Both of these school divisions are doing almost as well as the best of the divisions with only 10% F/R.

Why do you suppose Richmond is not out studying Charlotte and Mecklenburg to figure out what they are doing right?

About the only thing good one can say about Richmond on these data is that we are not doing as terrible a job as poor Petersburg (in the cellar with a SOL of 61).

The math test gives similar results:

Scott County and (ta-da!) Mecklenburg County both are around 53% F/R and both are over two standard deviations above the fitted line.  Norfolk, as you see, is fading, but then you knew that from the trends in the raw SOL scores.

BTW: Charlotte, Mecklenburg, and Scott Counties all are on the SchoolMatters list (link now broken) of Virginia districts that, as of 2004-05, had a three-year history of "outperformance."  Norfolk is on that list for 2004-05 but, as we have seen, it since has taken a tumble.

We can get another comparison to Norfolk from the Census data.  These include income and poverty data from 1999.  Here is a summary:

We have an unusually large number of folks in Richmond who are not working:

Nonetheless, our mean, per capita, and median earnings all are higher than Norfolk's:

Except as to families with female householders, we have more poverty than Norfolk:

In particular, about 11.8% of our families have an income less than $ 10,000, while in Norfolk that datum is 10.5%:

Viewed otherwise, 16% our our households and 14% of Norfolk's have incomes below $ 10,000:

The census data show we are more affluent than Norfolk but they fail to explain why we are spending over $ 2,500 per kid more than Norfolk on our schools or why we're getting so little for the extra money or why we have the 2d worst truancy record in the state in our secondary schools.  Likewise, the special education enrollment does not explain the high cost or low performance of the Richmond System.

As an aside: We also have data that illustrate the relationship between poverty and SOL performance of the Richmond elementary schools.

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