How to Degrade the Value of a High School Diploma in a Few Easy Steps

The Richmond Public School System reported an enrollment of 27,221 students this past fall. Of those, 7,234 had seven or more unexcused absences. Earlier this month, as I blogged here, the School Board suspended the absenteeism policy while the administration studied what to do. Now comes John Butcher with background and statistics showing how extraordinarily negligent the school system has been in policing its absenteeism policy.

First, let us pause to consider how endemic the problem is. Look at the chart above, which John compiled with data provided by the Clerk of the School Board. (See his presentation on Cranky’s blog.) The mind-bending statistic is not that more than 26% of the city’s students had seven or more unexcused absences — it’s that 2,125, or almost 8% had 20 or more unexcused absences, and 469 had 50 or more!

Now, let us consider how Code of Virginia requires districts to deal with absences:

  • Any absence: Notify parents; obtain explanation;
  • 5 absences: Attendance plan;
  • 6 absences: Conference with parents; and
  • 7 absences: Prosecute parents or file Child in Need of Services Supervision (CHINS) petition.

According to John’s data, the city undertook only 173 prosecutions and filed only 60 CHINS petitions in 2017. “That’s a 3.22% compliance with the law,” he writes. “Viewed otherwise, it’s a 96.8% rate of violation by our School Board.”

The 2017 data, by the way, is no aberration. It’s consistent with the record of non-compliance since 2012. As far as Butcher can tell, the state Board of Education has done nothing to enforce the law.

Perhaps the reality on the ground — absenteeism is so endemic — that school authorities feel too overwhelmed to grapple with the problem anything. If that’s the case, perhaps we should stop pretending that a Richmond high school degree is worth the paper it’s printed on. Richmond schools purport to graduate 76.6% of its students on time. Educators may think they are helping kids on the margin by keeping them in school, but diploma inflation erodes the value of the degree, thus hurting students who attended classes, completed the work and deserved to graduate. Compassion for one group victimizes the other.

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7 responses to “How to Degrade the Value of a High School Diploma in a Few Easy Steps

  1. Butcher does not splice the data by grade level, so as a city taxpayer I can grab onto the hope that the worst of the problems are among the higher grades – and a student who has dropped out and failed to say goodbye would rack up a high number. But if the elementary schools do have better attendance records, what does that say about how bad things really are in the middle and high schools?

    It would also be very interesting to compare the report from a few years back to see if there is a trend in either direction. And if you are really working on improving the schools — and many good people are — clearly step one is to change the obviously common perception that either there are no consequences to showing up only when it suits you or there is no benefit to be gained by showing up at all.

  2. The problem that Cranky is looking at, continues to look at – is not a public school problem per se. It’s a reflection of the demographics of the school population in which the parents themselves are often mired in generational poverty – and family dysfunction. In other words, unfit to raise kids and others – the school system – ends up with the problem.

    Blaming it on the schools and/or expecting them to do something about it – is not fair nor a reasonable expectation.
    The attendance problem is reflecting the reality of the kids they serve and many come from broken/dysfunctional circumstances where the parents themselves are incapable of normal expectations especially with regard to raising kids.

    The “rules” as written – the State Code are hard and fast and without regard to the realities found in many poverty-demographic school systems – not just Richmond – I suspect some in Henrico that border Richmond are that way… ditto in Lynchburg, and other parts of Virginia where at-risk kids from low-income neighborhoods and dysfunctional families are not uncommon.

    Cranky just keeps on digging up this stuff as if the Schools are failing to perform their basic responsibility.

    I’m not going to give them a pass but at the same time – a lot of what is wrong with the Richmond School system – is endemic to the plight of people mired in generational poverty and hopelessness and whacking on them over and over is akin to flogging a dead horse.

    This seems to be a favorite activity of Conservatives and critics of public schools these days but in the end – what is more helpful is to talk about what actually needs to be done to start to fix the problem. That’s a much tougher gig.

  3. RPS: Stick a fork in it. Larry always goes back to the same tired nostrums about how the Richmond schools aren’t to blame. Then he implores us to talk about “what actually needs to be done to fix the problem”. Then what follows are…crickets.

    Ok, I’ll talk about what needs to be done. Just for starters, 1. stop with the “Oh, the poor dears, we can’t fault them for not attending”. 2. set up a real system of charter or vouchers schools, not a system where the Richmond School Board drags its heels on approval of such schools in order to protect its friends in the system. 3. Hire teachers who can actually speak the king’s english, who will hold their students accountable, and who will be upheld by the administration. 4. If #3 isn’t possible because of laws and rules governing public schools, then see #2.

    • Well.. I’ll give Crazy credit…at least you’re pointed in the right direction.

      But the public schools – as currently constituted – can’t fix the kids who live in bad parental circumstances.

      It’s not like we haven’t seen this before. Some parents who are wealthy are also bad parents but they have the money to send the kids off to 24/7 schooling ….

      No.. I do not think they are “poor dears” at all… they are undisciplined ruffians headed for prison life… and in some
      respects I’d not give a rats behind on that fate – except that it comes back on all of us in spades…. we cannot ignore it – we cannot walk away from it – unless we are prepared for the consequences to us… These kids will grow up and repeat the cycle … and we’ll end up paying in entitlements, crime, and prison.

      Oh.. I’m just fine with voucher schools – including ones with uniforms and stern discipline… but they have to meet the same standards for academics and attendance. Not about to bail out of the accountability –

      but back to flogging that dead horse…. meh… find another career.

  4. If we can get ourselves out of the temptation to blame race or genes… think about the “new” problem we now have with Opioids – described as a “crisis” and as far as I can tell – is an equal-opportunity menace – race/culture-wise.

    Now think about people that are seriously messed up with opiods and they have kids… and the kids end up with “problems” .. like attendance. Tell me this is the fault of the schools and that if they took a hard line on attendance, that doing so would “fix” the problem. How? By expelling the kids? By putting the parents in jail?

    remember – we’re taking about kids whose parents are Opioid abusers… not parents who are living in a cycle of poverty.

    Is the problem – at the school level – really much different if the kids live in dysfunctional circumstances?

    My bet is that you put those kids in ANY school system and it’s going to be a tough slog… and if there are a LOT of those kinds of kids in a school – it’s going to be even worse.

    And you want the schools to “fix it”?

  5. Nope, not the schools. The problem needs to be addressed long before the child is heading to kindergarten. There is growing focus on Pre-K, and the home visitation programs I know best start before that at birth or during the prenatal period. Those nurses and parent educators go into the homes early and often with the goal of strengthening that very family structure you talk about Larry, and it can be done. There are positive results, although there is some self-selection going on in that the parents who are motivated to change things are the ones who achieve change. It is very much the “teach a person to fish” approach.

    After you’ve already posted a couple of thousand words, Larry, I’m reluctant to go into detail but will do so as time goes by. I think the horrible statistics Butcher points to in part reflect the school division’s desire to keep on the rolls students who have really dropped out, but I also think – as I’ve said before – that high expectations will produce better if not perfect results. RPS needs to change its practices and spend a little less time making excuses like you.

    Let’s see what the new supe can do:

  6. What does the Code of Virginia prescribe as the way to deal with districts that do not follow the regulations?

    Am I correct in thinking “absolutely nothing” making these regulations not worth the paper they’re printed on?

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