We hear that the Richmond student population is particularly
difficult because the kids are [pick your excuse]. The only excuse that I
might credit is
socioeconomic: Poorer kids don’t perform as well in school as their
better-off peers.

The conventional proxy for socioeconomic status of a school population is
the number of kids who qualify for
free or reduced price lunches. Indeed, the F/R percentage is the
criterion for
Title I money from the feds. VDOE
has settled on a more general measure, the percentage of students who are
economically disadvantaged. That term includes any student who “1) is
eligible for Free/Reduced Meals, or 2) receives TANF, or 3) is eligible for
Medicaid, or 4) [is] identified as either Migrant or experiencing
Homelessness.”

The enrollment data are available
here and the SOL scores are
here for both the
general population and the economically disadvantaged.

So let’s look at the 2014 Virginia division pass rates as a function of the
percentage of students whom VDOE identifies as “economically disadvantaged.”
First, the reading test:

The data give a decent least squares fit (R^{2} =
0.57), suggesting a pretty good correlation between ED percentage and the
scores (recalling, always, that
correlation is not causation). On this graph, Richmond is the gold
square (recall that Richmond had the
second lowest reading score in the Commonwealth this year). Richmond is
1.8 standard deviations below the fitted line. The red diamonds are, from
the left, Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk. Charles City is the green
diamond.

Here is the same graph for the math test:

The color codes are the same and the correlation is not quite as good.
Richmond is 1.1 standard deviations below the line.

Plainly, Richmond is grossly underperforming both the fitted line and a
number of other divisions that have similar socioeconomic situations.
Hampton and Newport News, both old, urban jurisdictions with high poverty
rates, are particularly instructive.

Nothing about the Richmond student population explains the
recent plunges in the reading and math
scores, while a lousy (former)
Superintendent explains the situation fully. These disasters are the
product of the Brandon years:

Turning to the individual schools, let's look at Richmond's
elementary schools. First the reading tests:

The slope is in the direction we would expect and the
correlation is fair. More interesting is the very large spread among
the schools with large populations of economically disadvantaged students.
The really exceptional schools are Carver (97% ED, 84% pass rate) and
Woodville (96%, 27% (!!)). Let's hope our new Superintendent is
looking carefully at those two schools.

On the math tests, we get the same general pattern but about
half the correlation:

The outliers are Carver, again (97%, 81%), Fairfield Court
(98%, 79%), and Woodville, again (96%, 40%). Slightly below poor
Woodville, is Reid (86%, 37%), where
they just
demoted the principal (mirabile dictu!). Looking at the
data,

we all can wonder why the same fate did not befall the
Woodville principal.

What might explain the large spread among the schools with
large populations of economically disadvantaged students. I suggest
it's leadership. We'll see whether our
new Superintendent can do something about that.