About those Henrico School Disparities…

henrico_school_ratiosby James A. Bacon

It now seems to be the received wisdom that high turn-out by African-Americans in the East End of Henrico County was the decisive factor that won approval for the 4% meals tax. African-Americans bore a slew of grievances regarding the under-performance of East End schools and racial disparities in the disciplining of students for school infractions. Proponents of the meals tax appealed to those grievances in a mailer that stated, “The side of the county they live on shouldn’t determine how much opportunity they are given.”

That statement played to the idea that kids in poor East End school districts are getting short-changed. There is a widespread stereotype that kids in the affluent West End of Henrico, where the vast majority of taxes are paid, attend schools that are newer, better equipped and better staffed.

I decided to check the numbers. I first endeavored to get a breakdown of Henrico County public school expenditures by school. Much to my amazement, that information is not available — even under a Freedom of Information Act request. “Henrico County does not budget by specific schools, but rather by cost centers,” responded Andy Jenks, director of communications and public relations.

I will leave to another blog post the incomprehensibility of the idea of holding individual schools accountable for student performance on Standards of Learning tests without tracking how much money those schools are spending. Whatever. Instead, I decided to compare the number of staff — teachers, administrators, counselors, etc. — to the number of students. Insofar as salaries are the biggest cost center for schools, the staff-student ratio is a decent proxy for total resources expended. Mr. Jenks was more than helpful in providing that information.

The first column of numbers in the table above displays the number of employees at each of Henrico County’s five school districts, broken down by elementary, middle and high schools, in 2013. (Central administration and countywide staff are excluded.) The second column shows enrollment for the 2013-2014 school year. From those two sets of numbers I derived a student-to-staff ratio for each school, shown in the third column. Then, as an indicator of the number of poor and disadvantaged kids at each school, I appended the percentage of students on free and reduced lunch programs in the fourth column. (To see the list broken down by individual schools, click here.)

The data show clearly that the Fairfield and Varina school districts on the East End of Henrico have lower student-to-staff ratios, which is another way of saying that they have a greater number of staff for a given number of students. For elementary and middle schools, there is a near-perfect correlation — the poorer the student population, the lower the number of students per staff. Indeed, Arthur Ashe Elementary, with a 6.1 student-to-staff ratio, the lowest in the county, is less than half that of  Shady Grove Elementary, with a 12.6 ratio, the highest. In other words, there are twice as many staff and teachers for a given number of students at Arthur Ashe.

Admittedly, that’s an extreme case. But the evidence is crystal clear. The distribution of staff resources does not favor the affluent school districts; quite the contrary, it favors the poorer school districts.

Does that settle the issue? Probably not. For one thing, it doesn’t end the argument that the East End schools tend to be staffed with more junior teachers with less teaching experience, while West End schools tend to get the veterans, who, by virtue of their seniority, are better paid. Nor does the table counter a possible claim that West End kids attend the newer, shinier schools. (For what it’s worth, my son goes to Douglas Freeman High School in the Tuckahoe district, which is 59 years old.)

Perhaps most important, the table says nothing about how resources should be distributed. Given the higher prevalence of learning disabilities and poverty-related issues, one could argue that East End schools deserve an even bigger share of the resources. That would be a hard sell for West End parents who are paying most of the taxes, but it could be made. One issue that we can decisively settle, however, is the idea that privileged West End schools enjoy any resource advantage over poor East End schools. They don’t. End of story.

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13 responses to “About those Henrico School Disparities…”

  1. I’m confused. I thought that the Henrico County meals tax referendum PASSED.

    1. It did pass. I didn’t make that clear, so I amended the original post.

  2. there appear to be some HUGE disparities in free and reduced lunch percentages in the elementary schools.

    in the SAME county.. 3/4 in some schools and 16% in others.

    Normally schools that have large percentages of free and reduce are designated at Federal Title 1 schools and they get extra money for special teachers. There are only about 20 staff different between the high free/reduced and the low free-reduced (although the lower have 500 more students).

    I’be be curious to know how many of the 20 additional are Federally funded positions.

    I’d also be curious to see the achievement results. of the schools.

    there is no Fairfield Elementary – so it must represent several elementary schools probably 10 or so…

    but here is Fair Oaks Elementary (which is a Title 1 School) and see for yourself the disparity between whites and blacks:

    https://p1pe.doe.virginia.gov/reportcard/report.do?division=43&schoolName=1115 Page 4

    there is a 24 point difference!!!!

    and compare the passing rate for blacks with economically disadvantaged – they are within one point.

    What is most troublesome to me is the county and the school system implying that the schools in the east are not getting the same resources as the schools in the west and that’s justification for the meals tax.

    if they are not funding equally now with whatever resources they have, what makes one believe they will change with more revenues?

    I see trouble in the Henrico system… You’ve got Title 1 schools and terrible pass rates….for the economically disadvantaged which is precisely what Title 1 is supposed to address.

    1. Just to be clear, it was not county officials who implied that there was a disparity between eastern and western schools in Henrico — it was the Yes for Henrico Kid group.

  3. okay so the county and the schools systems did not make that argument.
    who is the “Yes for Henrico Kid group” and who funded them?

    but I’m shocked at the huge disparities in the Henrico County school system, not becoming at all to one of the 7 AAA counties in the state –
    meals tax or not.

    When I look at that DOE site for Fair Oaks Elementary (one of about 45 elementary schools), – I am struck by the fact that are 368 total kids there and 50% of the economically disadvantaged are failing and 73% of the whites are passing reading.

    that ought to be raising eyebrows…

    these kids who “fail” grow up – and they become entitlement burdens on the kids who pass… we’re growing the problem.

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    You look at only one set ofvdara and grandly proclaim no east-west inequity. Bogus on its face

    1. And you look at no data whatsoever and proclaim my argument bogus.

      In Peter World, you start with the position you want to maintain. Data is optional.

  5. Lynn Wilson Avatar
    Lynn Wilson

    So you know, the student: teacher ratio info was made abundantly clear by school officials at my supervisor’s community meeting at Elko MS on Sept 16. This would not be news if people bothered to inform themselves.

  6. the concept of a general student-teacher ratio is harmful in my view because it promotes the idea that all courses and all grades are affected the same way whereas it is my view that the most important and critical area where student/teacher ratios matter is core academics specifically in K-6 and preK-K3.

    student teacher ratio is much less important for instance for many high school electives – especially now that we’re getting into online and distance learning.

    so if the DOE and others really wanted to make this measure meaningful, it needs to be granular at least with respect to core-academic classes and especially so in the earlier grades where kids literally – learn-to-read so that they can then read-to-learn.. you cannot learn if you cannot read and you cannot learn well if you cannot read well.

    The most important metric for schools in my view is how well their K-3 kids are doing in reading – and math… if they are failing – it ain’t going to get better.

  7. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    It is what it is: one set of data.

    1. Given the fact that the county does not report a breakdown of spending per school, what other data would you suggest looking at?

  8. Lately many of the posts seem to be making some point about race and “liberals”. Not sure what is and neither does the writer who ends each post with something equivalent to “just sayin’ “.

    I think your comment that maybe the extra money for some schools is justified because those schools need it is the obvious answer, and that of course is not a race based decision. That seems like an extremely fair approach. It is as simple as that.

  9. and I do not think more money going into a system that already does not correctly allocate what it currently receives won’t fix the mis-allocation problem but I see where it can influence folks who might be persuaded that more money overall would “trickle” down to where currently needed.

    The problem is – with any school system – that there are two kinds of kids, those who have an intact family and strong parental influence and support – and those that come from families of more modest circumstances, lower education levels and/or single parent/broken family structures.

    the latter group – through no fault of their own as kids – are harder to teach and require more services if they are to stay on grade level and grow up with a better education than their parents.

    This is not rocket science. The Feds call it Title 1 and provide additional resources to schools that have title 1 populations usually identified by free and reduced lunch demographics. The Feds also try to influence the states to provide Head Start and Pre-K services to intercept these kids as quickly as possible and get them into a curriculum tailored for their particular needs.

    What always amazes me is that the State itself seems to not have an obvious counterpart to Title 1 ( they do have grants) – as a program and the localities even as they take Title 1 money – often do not add money on a priority basis to that same effort, and sometimes are complicit in weakening the effort by assigning newly-graduated teachers without specific training for that harder-to-teach demographic rather than proven and accomplished teachers even if they’d have to pay them more to do that more-skilled work.

    As a fiscal-conservative, I see this as a disaster because by not focusing on these issues and allocating the resources that we know are proven to work – we are continuing to create kids who will grow up as adults who cannot compete for decent jobs and end up on entitlements.

    No, we cannot save all kids.. nor prevent everyone from growing up functionally illiterate… but when fully half of your K-3 elementary kids are failing basic proficiency levels – you know there is room for improvement and we know this again – because in schools where there is a
    focus on this demographic – there are demonstrated successes.

    When this issue only finds daylight – as the result of a political pushing match over meals taxes – an ancillary issue in that context, it’s troublesome but especially so in a county like Henrico that is in the top 5 in Virginia for being efficient and well run.

    If Henrico cannot do this then how will Richmond do it?

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