SOL_gapby James A. Bacon

Jim Weigand, also known on this blog as Hill City Jim, responded to my call yesterday for a crowd-sourcing of the Standards of Learning data to better understand the key drivers of educational performance. Why do some school systems show SOL pass rates that are so much higher than others? Clearly, the level of affluence and education in a school division plays a major role. But does that tell the whole story? Do some racial or regional groups put a higher or lesser premium on educational achievement than others? Do some school divisions simply do a better job?

One of the starkest demographic divisions in SOL performance is race. As Weigand crunched the numbers, white students statewide had an 84% pass rate on their SOLs while black students had a 63% pass rate — a racial gap of 21 percentage points. (Weigand did not run numbers for Asians, Hispanics or other ethnic/racial minorities.) Tragically, the low pass rate is an advance indicator that yet another generation of blacks will be relegated to the bottom of the educational and income hierarchy in the United States.

The big question is why. Does the SOL performance gap reflect inequalities in the distribution of resources in Virginia school systems? Does it reflect different cultural attitudes among blacks — an aversion to “acting white”? Or are other factors responsible — subtler forms of institutional racism, perhaps, or the distribution of races between wealthy and poor regions of the state? Liberals and conservatives will be tempted to revert to their default ideological positions (liberals skew to resources/racism explanations, conservatives tend to blame black cultural attitudes) but this is too important to leave to ideology. We need reality-based answers so we can address real problems, not philosophical figments.

I have refined Weigand’s numbers with an eye to identifying outliers: the 10 school divisions with the smallest racial performance gaps and the 10 divisions with the largest gaps. Interestingly enough, the tiny West Point school system is an extreme outlier. In yesterday’s analysis, the mill town showed the second highest SOL composite pass rate of any system in the state. In today’s data, it is the one school system in Virginia where black students marginally out-performed white students! Once again, I challenge an enterprising newspaper reporter to take a close look at the West Point school system to see what’s going on there.

Other observations from the outliers:

  • School divisions with small gaps in racial performance are smaller school systems. Are these divisions more thoroughly integrated by virtue of having fewer schools? If you’ve got only one high school in the jurisdiction, it has to be integrated. Or are there other ways in which smaller school systems could lead to more egalitarian results?
  • The smallest-gap school divisions also tend to come from poor regions of the state. If everyone is poor together, perhaps there are fewer racial disparities in household income and education.
  • The biggest-gap school divisions skew more urban. And what’s going on in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, both of which appear on the list of school divisions with the biggest racial gaps? That is not what we’d expect from school systems that serve children of University of Virginia faculty and administrators.

Looking at outliers is a useful exercise but it will take us only so far. We need to look at the distribution of SOL performance across all school systems, including those closer to the mean. It’s also worth exploring other performance gaps — how about the gap between Asians and everyone else, including whites? How about the gender gap? To what degree do girls out-perform boys statewide? And what about the gender gap within racial groups? Is that gap greater in some ethnic or regional cultures (inner-city black, white Appalachian) than others?

If you want to take this analysis to the next level, you can access Weigand’s numbers here. Or, please, bring fresh data to the discussion.

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75 responses to “Plumbing the SOL Racial Gap”

  1. I regret HillCityJim not posting here and wish he would return.

    If you KNEW the following -you’d know a LOT MORE :

    for the school systems with the biggest disparities – you need to look at the individual schools to see if some schools are very good and some are very bad then you’d know something.

    I’ve had some spirited discussions about this here on BR and with some career teachers I know …..

    but my basic premise is this – two elementary schools – same enrollment size – probably same aggregate IQ for the student body irrespective of geography. (if you don’t believe this, I’d like to hear a reason why).

    what’s different when one elementary school has a much smaller gap? what’s going on? You got the same number of qualified teachers, the same curriculum (SOL), the same resources…so what’s different?

    what would be likely different because of geography?

    more – why to small one-school systems not have these gaps?

    I’m not looking for blame here.. I’m looking for honest answers.

    in about a week or so – we’re going to find out that 1/3 of Virginia schools are not going to be fully accreditated and more than that – it won’t be entire county systems that fail or not – it will be some schools in some county systems while other schools int the same county system do fine.

  2. Jim Weigand Avatar
    Jim Weigand


    You asked a lot of questions, here are a few answers. Statewide, black girls scored about 5.7% higher than black males, white girls scored about 3.3% higher than white males. Asians scored a 90.22 % passing rate, Hispanics 69.55% which was above the black passing rate of 63%. Other groups had small samples. I need to review it but it used to be passing rates for individual students are VERY LOW

    Was there an improvement in the achievement gap between the black and white scores from 2013 to 2014? Not much, from a gap of 20.976% to 20.91.

    While there have been zillions of studies on how best to close the achievement gap, not much has changed lately. In Lynchburg we have spent a boatload of money…well maybe two boatloads, big boatloads, with not much to show for it. Our “gap” went from 31.666% in 2013 to 32.39% in 2014. Our instructional staffing levels are 33% higher than the state average and we have no rural inefficiently staffed schools. Most of that staff is all locally funded which is why we have the third highest extraction rate in the state according to the Commission on Local Government. And our black students scored the second worst in the state. If in fact it takes “mo money” the state has to pick up the slack, we have already taxed the middle class whites out of the city.

    Lots of easy questions…no easy answers.

    1. When you say black girls scored 5.7% higher than black boys… do you mean 5.7 percentage points?

    2. What about being raised in single parent homes? I believe that 65% of African American children are raised in single parent homes while some 25% of white children are in single parent homes. For Asians it is only 15%. And for Native Americans it is around 50% which is close to Hispanic children.
      There may be a cultural aspect to this and it is a heavy burden to place on teachers to not only teach but to compensate for significant cultural issues too. It may be that schools could help by focusing on this cultural issue when dealing with kids beginning with K and going up.
      It is not an easy chore to assign to our already over worked and stressed public school teachers. And I doubt there is any interest in a new federal program to address this cultural issue in the public schools.
      But all students regardless of race do better when they are in smaller classes so maybe we should have smaller classes for all kids or perhaps those who are culturally handicapped by being in one parent homes?
      Today a much smaller proportion of the schools budgets are spent on teachers’ salaries and benefits than were 25 years ago. We have added tens of thousands of administrators, resource personnel and teacher aides while we spend less and less on teachers again a proportion of the budget.
      Somehow people think that technology can substitute for teachers. In our colleges the same is happening for in the past ten years the number of full time faculty has stayed constant while non-teaching personnel has grown by 30%.
      .And one important difference between public high schools and private high schools is the size of classes.

      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        “Today a much smaller proportion of the schools budgets are spent on teachers’ salaries and benefits than were 25 years ago. We have added tens of thousands of administrators, resource personnel and teacher aides while we spend less and less on teachers again a proportion of the budget.”

        At one point in time, a former Fairfax County School Board member told me FCPS had 200 “curriculum specialists.” To hell with the kids, their parents and taxpayers, we need jobs for the professional caring class.

        1. what would happen to Va schools including Fairfax if there was no Title 1 funds and teachers for the lower performing schools?

          Would Va or Fairfax step up to replace the loss of title 1?

          how many reading this know what Title 1 is?

          how many of the public at large know what Title 1 is and where the money for Title 1 comes from?

        2. re: ” At one point in time, a former Fairfax County School Board member told me FCPS had 200 “curriculum specialists.” To hell with the kids, their parents and taxpayers, we need jobs for the professional caring class”

          Fairfax County spends billions (yes 1.8 billion) of dollars of local money over and above what the State requires them to spend money on. Do you know what Fairfax County is spending the local discretionary money on?


          if they are like many schools in Va, you have no clue what the discretionary local money is spent on and thus no way to really provide informative feedback as to what you think local spending priorities should be or not.

          1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

            Larry, agreed. Fairfax County Public Schools are notorious for hiding information from county residents. I’ve been lied to so many times by FCPS staff over the last 20 years that I regard FCPS as one of the most dishonest entities I have ever seen. If I had all weekend with nothing else to do, I could compile a list that looks like a gangster’s rap sheet.

          2. @TMT – it’s fairly standard operation procedures for most school systems.

            they basically fear the public so they are very careful about what they show, what they don’t and what they cloak.

            Of the schools I am familiar with – not one details on a line item basis what the local discretionary money is spent on.

          3. TooManyTaxes Avatar

            What school staff fear is a loss of power that could occur if the public knew what staff was doing. So they lie and cheat.

            Fairfax County Public Schools spend around $60 M extra on students/schools that qualify for Title 1 and whatever the Commonwealth adds to Title 1. That’s around three cents on the real estate tax rate.

            This is not evil, but it’s done without any public discussion and debate because FCPS staff does not produce budget documents that say “FCPS wants to spend an extra $60 M to supplement Title 1 and state money.” Such a bald statement would trigger public debate and it’s quite possible a result other than the staff’s proposal might be adopted by the School Board.

            My problem is not with the supplemental funding per se, but with the deliberate obfuscation by the staff. I think it borders on fraud and misrepresentation. This is as corrupt as anything that goes on in Richmond. And, of course, none of this ever hits media, as well as strong justification for the Dillon Rule. I shudder to think of the fraud that would occur if FCPS employees had more authority.

  3. Jim Weigand Avatar
    Jim Weigand

    Black average of 5 categories passing rate 63.02%. Females (sorry for calling them girls) 65.944% passing rate, males 60.182% passing rate.

    1. Let’ see if this works:

      if this shows up for folks and the tool is correct and my use of it is correct, then for the following:

      Grade 3, Reading, economically disadvantaged – blacks and whites.

      it DOES show for most all counties a difference in pass rate for the two races – both economically disadvantaged.

      So I was wrong in my perception that once you looked at economically disadvantaged – the pass/fail rate was the same for both races.

      More than that – this is 3rd grade – it means that in many cases the children have had 2 years – at Grade 1 and Grade 2 – , in some cases Head Start and/or PreK – and in some schools that have Title 1 services for at-risk kids.

      there ARE variations – for instance the gap in Stafford and Spotsylvania is only about 5% and in some other counties it can be 30% or more. In Accomack, it’s 40 points!

      If you drill down further to look at the specific elementary schools in Accomack there are huge variances in the disparities between the schools.

      I’m going to put the link in the next post so it won’t hold the post for moderation

      1. here are the specific schools in Accomack (I hope)

        we can explore different theories that have to do with culture and single parent and so forth – but how would that explain the differences in gaps BETWEEN the schools?

        if culture, and single parent, etc are said to be a distinguishing characteristic of the race – then why does it vary so much by school?

        try it yourself for the counties you are in. I have done it for Spotsylvania and Stafford (will add Fredericksburg) , Perhaps Bacon should do it for Henrico and Chesterfield and Richmond city, Cville resident should do it for Charlottesville and Albemarle, and perhaps Jim Weigan for Lynchburg, Amherst,Appomattox,Bedford,Campbell

        1. here is Stafford, Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg City:

      2. I get an error message for the link.

        1. me too.. so I will have to save the PDFs and then put them on Google Drive and share them – but later on. can’t do now.

          but you can verify this yourself by looking at individual schools in the same school district – like Henrico.. and you’ll see different pass rates for blacks at different schools.. which pretty much kills any theory involving one parent or other “cultural” issues.

          or perhaps you have some ideas why blacks would have different pass/fail rates between different schools.

  4. shouldn’t we be looking at the individual schools within a district to see if these gaps are uniform district-wide or vary by individual school?

    ” More Than 40% of Low-Income Schools Don’t Get a Fair Share of State and Local Funds, Department of Education Research Finds”

    “The data reveal that more than 40 percent of schools that receive federal Title I money to serve disadvantaged students spent less state and local money on teachers and other personnel than schools that don’t receive Title I money at the same grade level in the same district.”

    ” In recent years a growing number of researchers, education advocates, and legislators have highlighted that by not requiring districts to consider actual school-level expenditures in calculating “comparability of services,” the existing comparability requirement doesn’t address fundamental spending inequities within districts.

    “Instead, districts can show comparability in a number of easier ways, such as by using a districtwide salary schedule. This masks the fact that schools serving disadvantaged students often have less experienced teachers who are paid less. It also undermines the purpose of Title I funding, as districts can use federal funds to fill state and local funding gaps instead of providing additional services to students in poverty.”

  5. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    So – aside from West Point, which really does deserve a special look – I think these numbers broadly reflect the idea of what determines educational outcomes: parental income.

    The smaller, poorer school districts perform worst for both categories than the white categories in the wealthier counties and cities. In those wealthier counties and cities the disparity in income is going to be larger and more likely to be pooled in white households.

    Those larger, wealthier systems also tend to either be suburban areas adjacent to urban cores or urban cores themselves, which means racial segregation is going to be much more pronounced. You’ll either have whites in the suburbs that have fled with their wealth from the cities, or whites that have crafted enclaves in the cities.

    In the smaller, poorer counties there aren’t enough kids to generate a segregated system or any suburbs to flee to, so the gap between the races is smaller.

    And there’s nothing shocking about the disparity in Charlotesville and Albemarle – the kids of the faculty and staff at UVa are performing well and the others aren’t. Liberals are generally good at recognizing broad problems and talking a big game, but when it comes down to it most of them have never really done a thorough job of rejecting the white supremacist ideology that has run through everything since the founding of this country, so while they may wring their hands and argue for different types of social programming, at the end of the day they aren’t taking their resources and moving into needy neighborhoods – they aren’t willing to risk the benefits their status confers within the existing system.

    1. re: ” parental income”

      what causes low parental income?

      it’s more than income – it’s a lack of a education sufficient to get a good paying job – as well as the lack of a culture of education.

      the official name is Economically Disadvantaged. It’s a sub-group for the SOLs that usually encompasses larger numbers of blacks and Hispanics where there are geographic pockets of them .. out in the rural areas it can be larger numbers of whites..on in southside Va – blacks.

      But we KNOW some things:

      1. – We KNOW how to correctly identify the demographic
      2. – we know that they have to be taught different than kids with educated parents
      3. – we know HOW to teach them – that’s what the Federal Title 1 program does – with great success when it’s done as a supplemental to the regular instruction – as opposed to the Title 1 funds supplanting funds for the regular curriculum.

      I’ve provided a couple of links that show the problem – that hard-to-teach are associated with geography and those schools typically do not allocate – equitably – the full measure of resources needed to successfully teach that demographic.

      we have schools that do this right. we have many more that do not.

      we still want to blame the parents or other things for why we fail to properly teach – innocent kids who are in their circumstances through no fault of their own – we do them and ourselves a huge disservice … morally and economically.

      if this were a problem where NO ONE was doing it right – I’d not have a leg to stand on. But the fact that some schools do this very successfully makes it a scandal for the systems that refuse to change and adopt the successful methods that do exist. It’s harder to do – no question – especially so for bigger districts. Even Fairfax fails at this.

      Basically most school systems are set up to teach the easier-to-teach kids because it’s harder and more expensive to teach the harder-to-teach.

      and then we have folks on the right talking about “bad” teachers… and unions as the fault… and that we can “fix” this with vouchers… and private schools.

      1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

        “what causes low parental income?

        it’s more than income – it’s a lack of a education sufficient to get a good paying job – as well as the lack of a culture of education.”

        Or it’s belonging to a group that has been systematically oppressed since the first of their ancestors were brought here by force.

        1. re: ” Or it’s belonging to a group that has been systematically oppressed since the first of their ancestors were brought here by force.”

          I won’t go that far because it seriously muddies the issue even if true.

          we actually can have the same problem with whites.. in some places… often rural… where mom/dad are barely literate and poor – and unable to help their kids with material that they themselves barely understand.

          How they ended up uneducated and poor doesn’t change what actually needs to be done to successfully educate and by making that part of it – it gives those who have impure motives a reason to claim the issue is partisan and seeking to reward undeserving for past wrongs.

          Kids – are Constitutionally entitled to EQUAL ACCESS to an education regardless of how their parents ended up disadvantaged and we are really perpetuating the discrimination by recasting it as blame … which solves nothing and actually perpetuates the cycle.

          in an ideal world – the aggregate SOL scores of a school district would be close to each school within a few points but the reality is the aggregate scores for the district are more like a Median of the high performing and low performing schools.

          but why do we have low-performing schools if we are allocating equitably the resources needed?

          For instance, do low-performing schools get the more experienced teachers or do they get the new ones?

          why would you assign a brand new teacher to the schools with the most difficult to teach? The answer is pretty easy. the teachers with seniority don’t want to be assigned to schools where they, as a career teacher, will be blamed for the low scores.. so you can’t really blame them. if teachers have options where they can teach – they’re not going to take the harder jobs for the same pay. New teachers have no such ability so they go where they are assigned but they are by far the worst to send to teach the hardest-to-teach.. but that’s what happens.

          and you’d know it if school systems had to report the salary / years of service info for teachers (anonymized) on a per school basis.

          the information is not there so there is no accountability.

          1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

            It doesn’t muddle the issue, it expands it.

            If I’m designing an intersection and there’s a high volume of pedestrians I can’t just ignore my pedestrian phase because it complicates what I’m trying to accomplish with my vehicular traffic. Until we fully wrestle with and address the ongoing legacy of white supremacy in this country then any attempt to close the racial performance gap in our schools is going to be inadequate.

          2. maybe… people are yet undecided if modern day people are responsible for their own fates (rather than descendants of oppressed)…

            or if they come here from somewhere else uneducated and reproducing kids that have to be educated….

            it gets political.

            it’s important – but if you strip politics of blame away and just focus on the fact that we have totally innocent kids with normal IQs that can be successfully taught to learn and grow up to become taxpayers instead of entitlement “takers” – you disable those who want to make it about politics and blame.

            I find the political extremes as not really about pragmatic problems solving as – we really need – to go forward.

            the politics of blame and gridlock don’t lead to solutions.. and depress me (even though I know that you can’t enslave folks or prey on them as cheap labor without generational consequences…

      2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        Low parental income is also driven by the refusal of the GW Bush and Obama administrations to enforce immigration laws. We import poverty and people willing to undercut wages for America’s least skilled and educated residents.

        1. we import cheap labor.. and with it .. expensive entitlement and school costs.

          Put a hammer-lock on the profit-seeking businesses who want taxpayer subsidized labor – and we fix the problem without having to worry about spending money on borders…

          Canada has a strict guest worker program where businesses who are gaming the guest worker program for cheap year-round labor are ripped new butts.. – don’t have our problems and they don’t worry about their border either.

          Of course one might also ask – why in the world people who have minimal high school educations and cannot be responsible for their own needs – are having kids.. to start with -but I guess that’s another story.

          “The Awesome Idea That Led to a Huge Drop in Teen Births”

          Between 2007 and 2012, Colorado saw the highest percentage drop in birth rates among teens 15 to 19 in the country.

          In fact, in less than five years, the Colorado teen birth rate declined by a staggering 40%. And there have been plenty of other benefits, too.

          What’s the reason for this decline?

          For the answer, we need to go back to 2008, when an anonymous donor made a $23 million, five-year commitment to provide long-acting reversible contraception such as intrauterine devices or implants for low-income women who needed them, for free or at very low cost.

          Thus began the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, which provided more than 30,000 IUDs or implants to women served by the state’s 68 family-planning clinics.

          “We really strongly believe that adolescents need access to contraception,” says Liz Romer, a family planning nurse at Denver Children’s Hospital.

          “It needs to be readily available, the same day, and it needs to be free.”

          So there you have it: give young women access to contraception at little or no cost, and they will make a reasoned, mature decision about their own bodies.

          The type of birth control is also important.

          “With an implant or an IUD, if someone wants it out, we take it out, but once it’s in and they have to make an appointment to take it out, they really have to think, ‘OK, do I want a baby now, really?’” says Dr. Stephanie Teal, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s medical director of Family Planning. “As opposed to the pill, you basically have to decide every single day, ‘Do I want to be not pregnant?’ And some days, you might want to be pregnant.”

          but you’ll find so-called “Conservatives” – OPPOSED to such programs…

          go figure.

  6. ksmith8953 Avatar

    West Point does deserve a second look. It is often referred to as a quasi private school. Many of the parents pay tuition to West Point for their children to attend rather than attending in surrounding districts. It is an outlier.

    We keep looking at race, but it isn’t about race, it is about the Haves and Have Nots.

    Teachers are humans– if you were a pharmacist, where would you prefer to work? A hospital, drug company, drug store, or grocery store? After four years of college, would you go to work in a school across the street from a community recreation park in the suburbs or a housing project in the inner city. There aren’t people waiting in line for the rural areas like Sussex either. They don’t even have an apartment complex. First year teachers might be able to find a trailer to rent. This is the way it is — as I said, people are human.

    Sometimes, we make things too complicated. If I re-assign and move a really great teacher to a low-performing school, he/she will quit and get a job in another division. So do I re-assign or keep him/her and make them happy?

    Sometimes, in places like Petersburg, the new teachers who stay for three years and are effective, are sucked up by the surrounding counties like Chesterfield. We keep thinking about how bad Petersburg is, we should be thanking them for helping Chesterfield do well.

    1. re: teachers are humans

      indeed.. but if you listen to the “bad teachers” are the reasons for school problems ” folks

      they say – get rid of the bad teachers..

      they never say what you replace them with.


  7. I am still convinced that presence or absence of an active private school alternative makes a difference.

    The Weldon Cooper folks say that 10% of Virginia’s students attend private schools in K-12.

    This line finds 28,461 attending private schools in Farifax County, VA –

    Fairfax County public schools had 184,625 students enrolled.

    Based on these numbers, Fairfax County has a private school enrollment of 13.6%, notably higher than the state average.

    The private school site claims 31% of those enrolled in the private schools are minorities. However, in Fairfax County, 62.7% of the population is white leaving 37.3% classified as minorities. There is also no breakdown of African-American vs other minority group in the private school statistics.

    I don’t know if private schools have to report SOL results or not. If they were to report SOL results we could start to force this analysis to a more even playing field.

  8. I can find school by school rankings for public schools but not for private schools –

    1. Private schools are not required to report how they assess or the results but perhaps this is the link DonR needs:

  9. you enrollment data is old.. I get 187,994 at and about half of Fairfax County kids speak a foreign language –

    a lot more diverse than many schools…

    school systems in Va – at the State level are funded on school attendance – not on the number of school-aged kids in the county and it appears that the state does not keep track of private school attendance numbers.

  10. you enrollment data is old.. I get 187,994 at FCS

    and about half of Fairfax County kids speak a foreign language –
    a lot more diverse than many schools… many different languages.

    school systems in Va – at the State level are funded on school attendance – not on the number of school-aged kids in the county and it appears that the state does not keep track of private school attendance numbers (but apparently do with home school and religious exemptions).

  11. Jim is characterizing (I think wrongly) as the race gap… it’s really aligned along class and neighborhood income demographics, I think. It’s just that blacks and hispanics as a group tend to have lower incomes – and you could see this with one simple metric and that would be to break down the economically disadvantaged by race on the SOL reporting.

    this gap keeps getting reported as a “race” gap because of the way the SOLs are reported by sub-group race demographics which people focus on more than the economically disadvantaged sub groups.

    The standard is – A student is economically disadvantaged if the student:

    is eligible for Free/Reduced Meals,
    receives TANF, or
    is eligible for Medicaid.

    If we broke down ED in race sub-groups – you’d see the low-income connection much better.

    but by not providing one chart with all schools and their economically disadvantaged stats along with their SOL scores – people cannot see the relationship between lower performing schools and income disparities that align with neighborhoods.

    Many (not all) multi-school, school districts have some schools that do well on the SOLs and some that do not – but you don’t see that when they report by overall district or individual schools – not a comparative chart of all schools in the district.

    that, in turn, leads to misunderstanding like Don is experiencing (in my opinion) where he is convinced that Fairfax as inordinate numbers of lower-achieving kids because the better ones are flocking to private schools.

    If he could directly compare the various neighborhood schools within the ame district, side by side – the disparities between SOL scores could be stark – with a more direct relationship to what percent are on free/reduced lunch and classified as economically disadvantaged than just race or English as a second language – alone.

    If Fairfax got more state money – there is no guarantee that they’d target the money rather than just continue to prioritize and allocate as they are now with some of the money going for staff and resources that have nothing to do with economically disadvantaged.

    typically new teachers or lower-performing teachers will get assigned to the lower-performing schools – and it’s perverse in that the lower performing schools qualify for title 1 – skilled reading specialists – but instead of them supplementing the efforts of experienced teachers – they end up kids who are not only economically disadvantaged but not receiving higher skilled classroom instruction either.

    working with lower skilled,newer teachers which in effect, negates the benefit of the Title 1 position.

    there are usually no higher salaries for teachers who teach at the tougher schools.. it’s the opposite – it’s where the new and less skilled teachers are usually sent because they have fewer alternatives other than that position.

    Once they get more skilled, they will often leave for better schools because teachers at the tougher schools are often considered “bad teachers” associated with the low SOL scores. If you are a teacher and have options – you don’t stay where someone is going to come along and look at the SOLs scores for your class and say that it’s your fault.

    the schools essentially evade accountability for this because they do not have to report staffing experience and salary levels on a per school basis. Instead, we get the district level data – which leads to a sound-bite perspective about “race”.

  12. Jim Weigand Avatar
    Jim Weigand

    Riddle me this.

    Why do the ” economically disadvantaged” students have a higher passing percentage than the entire student population?

    Economically disadvantaged black passing rate 68.646%, all black passing rate 63.02%.
    Economically disadvantaged white passing rate 88.046%, all white passing rate 83.93%.

    Still note the nearly 20% achievement gap between the black and white passing rates for the “economically disadvantaged” sub group.

    1. re: ” Economically disadvantaged black passing rate 68.646%, all black passing rate 63.02%.
      Economically disadvantaged white passing rate 88.046%, all white passing rate 83.93%.

      Still note the nearly 20% achievement gap between the black and white passing rates for the “economically disadvantaged” sub group.”

      where would I find this data broken out by race within the economically disadvantaged?

    2. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

      I’m using your tool and not even getting close to your results. Are you looking at one school district? One school? Which subject test? Because using the tool you posted I’m not getting those numbers statewide across all subject areas and grade levels.

      1. I had to fiddle with it… a bit.

        pick something you know the answer to.. then mess with settings.

        pick a school that you can also see at the DOE site for SOL scores..

        on the slice choices you can pick all or you can pick one then add others to it with CNTRL.

      2. Jim Weigand Avatar
        Jim Weigand

        You are correct…MY MISTAKE! Must have keyed the wrong characteristics.

        Black Economically Disadvantage students Statewide average 62.254%…White 75.732%.

        Sorry for my error!!

  13. re: one parent and other cultural issues.

    does it matter if in the end – you fail to educate the child and he/she grows up getting entitlements from your grown-up child?

    the point is there are parents who themselves grew up in families in which their grandparents or great-grandparents did not even have a high school education much less a single person in the entire extended generation of their family ever went to college – period?

    what kind of parental support would you expect from a parent who is themselves functionally illiterate?

    what is your solution to this?

    blame on the appropriate ?

    what is the solution?

    1. Larry, No one is casting blame here. We’re trying to tease out the effect of different variables on educational performance — household income, parental education levels, race, ethnicity, culture, school administration and more.

      You speak of the culture created by children whose parents, grand-parents and ever generation preceding them not have a college education. Virginia’s inner cities have pockets of such cultures. So do mill towns like Martinsville, where (when I lived there 35 years ago), working class people, both black and white, commonly dropped out of high school in 10th or 11th grade so they could work and make money. The same culture exists throughout much of Appalachia, for many of the same reasons.

      Of course, the same could have been said of impoverished Jewish, Italian, Polish and Ukrainian immigrants to the United States. But somehow, their cultures valued education. Uneducated parents worked hard and insisted that their children excel in schools and go to college. Is that same attitude prevalent in Virginia, or is it absent? I think it’s a question worth exploring.

      1. re:

        ” Larry, No one is casting blame here. We’re trying to tease out the effect of different variables on educational performance — household income, parental education levels, race, ethnicity, culture, school administration and more.”

        and we’re already getting comments about race and one parent families as the cause.

        it’s no secret that the anti-pubic school folks start off with these stats… that they use as a basis for blame..

        we have the first half here.. I’ll take a wait and see – to see where it goes.

        “You speak of the culture created by children whose parents, grand-parents and ever generation preceding them not have a college education. Virginia’s inner cities have pockets of such cultures. So do mill towns like Martinsville, where (when I lived there 35 years ago), working class people, both black and white, commonly dropped out of high school in 10th or 11th grade so they could work and make money. The same culture exists throughout much of Appalachia, for many of the same reasons.”

        Agreed. Why do we care about how this came to be?

        “Of course, the same could have been said of impoverished Jewish, Italian, Polish and Ukrainian immigrants to the United States. But somehow, their cultures valued education. Uneducated parents worked hard and insisted that their children excel in schools and go to college. Is that same attitude prevalent in Virginia, or is it absent? I think it’s a question worth exploring.”

        you mean why do poor blacks deal with education compared with poor Pollacks…????

        why do we care that there are percent differences if we can’t change it and we know how to correct it?

        what’s the point of looking at the differences if not to assign blame – and use it as an excuse as to why we excuse the failure to successfully teach that demographic at some school systems while ignoring the fact that other school systems are successful at teaching that demographic?

        why do we keep going back to the schools that fail – to look at race and culture for the failed schools?

        if this was a 100% outcome – no matter what school – we might want to go back and re-look but when we have examples of schools that do succeed – have found the right recipes.. why do we still look at the ones that have not used the known things that work – to re-look at culture and race?

    1. re:

      what is this ? It does not appear to be DOE.

      I’m not able to use it to produce the desired information – i.e.

      economically disadvantaged by racial subgroup per district and per school in the district.

      In other words – all racial in the ED subgroup and for each school in the district.

      but I’m fascinated that this tool exists – and it’s not on the DOE website much less the county schools website.

      and thanks!

    2. awesome tool!

      I’m getting this for Spotsylvania Economically Disadvantaged for Reading pass rate (I think).

      black 57.59
      Hispanic 41.28
      white 40.00

      if this is true.. what does it mean when the district wide all groups
      show this:

      black 60.
      Hispanic 64
      white 80

      the pass rate for blacks in the general population is the same pass rate as blacks that are classified as economically disadvantaged while the white show 40 vs 80 for the same criteria.

      Jim Bacon should be happy with this tool!

      again thank you

  14. Jim Weigand Avatar
    Jim Weigand

    You can plug in individual schools as well.

    1. taken me a bit to fiddle with it but it’s a tool that Jim Bacon should go ape-crap over!

  15. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    So, judging just by what you’ve displayed here it’s clear that when black kids and white kids are forced into schools together because there’s no other options the performance gap shrinks tremendously.

    So, obvious solution number one is to bring back busing. Ideally we’d be allowed to bus across county/city lines, but that’s never going to happen.

    Part of the problem, though, is that we still haven’t addressed what teachers are and what we expect them to be.

    The other part of the problem is that we don’t have any really systems in place to address the results of poverty. Is it that a kid can’t read because they’re not being read to at home? Do they need glasses? Are they dyslexic?

    Schools should be transformed into centers of the community where there’s room on campus for regular visits from doctors, dentists, social workers and therapists. This would close the racial gap by dint of ameliorating effects of poverty and improve the quality of life for everyone.

    1. actually – you are looking at this more holistically which is more than commendable but beyond the reach of many on the right.

      but keeping people healthy and more community connected won’t fix the lack of education and it does not change the cycle of dependency on others to improve your own life -rather than you having that responsibility.

      I have the values of the right – in terms of why none of us should be relying on the government but instead our own selves – but I’m not willing to walk away from the problems because – that degrades all of our lives – as we have to continue to pay entitlements and incarcerate people who are basically imprisoned because they’re educations were so crippled they could not make a living except through illegal means.

      and It’s so ironic that the police have gotten so good at scooping up the young and dumb while our schools have gotten so much worse at equipping them for life – so they won’t go to prison.

      The problem with the right – is that they want to walk away from these problems … they do not want to take responsibility for them.. it’s no their fault that bad stuff happens to others.. so walk away. Never mind that they have to live behind walls and gates and worry about crime when they venture beyond their gates.

      1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

        I honestly don’t care what’s beyond the reach of many on the right. They either want solutions or they don’t.

        Giving children access to proper physical and mental healthcare as well as nutrition isn’t going to teach them to be dependent on others, it’s going to ensure that they get what they need to perform as well at school as their peers who had the good sense to choose better parents. If a kid is failing because their folks can’t afford the trip to the optometrist to find out they need glasses then keeping that sort of help away from the child is punishing them for their parents perceived mistakes. If a kid is failing because there is violence in their house or ‘hood and there are no professionals to help them to deal with the trauma and concomitant stress then keeping that sort of help away from them is punishing them for living in an environment they did not choose.

        You cannot educate a hungry child. You cannot educate a child who can’t see the board. You cannot educate a child whose hippocampus has been damaged by long-term exposure to raised cortisol levels.

        You can have the best teachers in the world, but if students come in without being in the physical or mental state to learn the outcome is still going to be lack of an education.

        And let’s be clear, the neoliberal notion that self-improvement can come solely from within as the fruit of the individual’s labor and their labor alone is nonsense, and it always has been. We are all connected and anything you do within an established society to improve yourself is going to come from government assistance. Using public roads or the library or the education system or the Internet or anything means you are getting assistance from the government. I see only a difference in degree between using the community college system to get certified for a job and sending doctors into schools to make sure poor kids are healthy enough to learn.

        And it’s not ironic and it’s not a mistake that the cops have gotten better at snatching up (mostly black and brown) kids while the schools have been made worse at educating them, it’s called the school-to-prison pipeline and it’s the end result of a system that makes more money off imprisoning people than educating them. The “kids for cash” scandal that came out of Wilkes-Barre, PA is just the most blatant example.

        We’re either going to address the effects of poverty or we’re not. We’re either going to address the historical reality of why black people in this country are more and more frequently impoverished than their white counterparts or we’re not.

        Until we do we’re just going to be throwing time and money into one harebrained trend after another (high stakes testing! virtual classrooms! vouchers! charters! merit pay!) that isn’t going to significantly change a thing.

        1. I can’t really disagree with helping the kids … to grow up.

  16. Looking at the data I see that kids with two parents in the home do about the same regardless of race. Thus it might not be poverty or race or whatever if the kid comes from a culture, white or black or hispanic, where there is a mom and dad in the household. It also makes a difference in family income as one might expect.
    We cannot address critical culture issues with tests, federal aid,, size of classes etc. We must deal with the fundamental issue.

    1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

      Alright, so, how do we end up single-parent homes?

      Three ways: Parental death, divorce and unintended pregnancies.

      Parental death is probably the least common of the three, but who is more likely to pre-decease their children? The poor.

      Divorce is up next, and there are two really strong predictors of who is going to divorce: younger couples that cohabitate before marriage and low-income couples. And couples that are younger when they start cohabitating tend to be less well off (thus the need to pool resources) . Also, people whose parents divorced when they were children are likely to get divorced themselves, and since we already know who the most likely groups to get divorced are…

      Last up is unintended pregnancies, and again, the most likely group to experience this are low-income women. The reasons why are pretty simple: limited access to birth control, limited access to adequate sex education, limited access to abortion.

      So, the kids mostly likely to come from two-family homes – across racial lines – are of course kids more likely to come from homes not below the poverty line.

      But I’m curious, what programs would you implement to deal with the fundamental issue of single-parent homes?

  17. the reality is – more than half the kids come from homes where Mom and Dad are divorced and these days – quite frequently – the kid is with the Grand Parents…

    the question is not what we do about these issues in the future –

    the question is what do you do with the kids right now.

    we’re not going to tell the kids right now that they’re in a bad family situation so we cannot educate them, too bad.

    We do not deny healthcare and education to kids who did not cause their own adverse circumstances.

    1. Dont’ forget about households with a parent in jail or prison.

      1. either way – you pick your characteristic – how does it not end up having the same effect across schools?

  18. Cville Resident Avatar
    Cville Resident

    Sorry to be late to the party, but here are some random thoughts on the topic:

    1. I know some folks are looking into this, but I believe Charlottesville is the first city school system in the South that went from majority white pre-integration to majority black after integration and is now back to majority white.

    2. I think this is due to the effects of segregation wearing off….I don’t think it’s just Cville where whites are starting to return to city schools systems. I think you see a lot more young couples who are affluent and well educated willing to send their kids to public schools in the cities than say the 80s or 90s. For instance, a white couple that we know in Lynchburg in their 30s is sending both kids to public schools in the city and are super enthusiastic about it. He an IT manager and she is a physician’s assistant. 30 years ago, it’s hard to imagine such a couple would have sent their kids to public schools and been so enthusiastic about it.

    3. But what’s leading to the large racial disparity in these cities is: where you live. The truth is that you can go to a lot of Virginia cities (Roanoke, Lynchburg, Charlottesville) and see that while these affluent young couples are now sending kids to public schools, they all live in the same neighborhoods which “turns” their local elementary into a very white enclave. As more and more affluent couples create these very high achieving public elementary schools, the heavily black elementary schools appear to perform “worse” in racial comparisons, b/c until recently, most of the “whites” in public elementary schools in cities in Virginia were those who weren’t affluent enough to move to the suburbs or go to private schools. That’s changed pretty radically in the last 5 years. You’re seeing more and more yuppie white couples choose public school rather than private in cities. Maybe it’s due to the recession?

    4. Obvious solution would be busing, but SCOTUS has all but done away with that with 2 recent decisions.

    1. Cville, You’re right, we need to do a better job of helping kids in poverty. The question is how do we do that? Do we do it by dumping more money in schools? Or do we do it by mobilizing existing resources — social services and not-for-profits — to provide a support structure that will help the specific needs that specific kids have. I recommend the “Communities in Schools” program, which does precisely that.

      1. I do not think you even know WHAT to do UNTIL you understand why there are such big disparities between schools in the same counties school districts.

        you have the same economically disadvantaged – poverty – in multiple school districts but huge differences in pass/fail rates.

        here’s 3 in Henrico:

  19. Interesting observation about the gentrification not only of city neighborhoods but of city schools. Previously, gentrification tended to be led by gays, singles, childless couples and maybe couples who were OK with sending their kids to private schools. Now the movement has widened.

    Before: You had inner-city schools with 99% black and Hispanic kids… in other words, a segregated school. Now: you have a “high performing” inner-city school, say, with 40% minority kids. Those mostly poor minority kids get the benefit of exposure to all those middle-class white kids and the higher expectations for the school set by their parents. That’s a good thing, right?

    1. When you look at school districts -and specifically the individual schools within school districts – just the economically disadvantaged – blacks and whites -you see disparities – between whites and blacks

      but you also see disparities with pass/fail rates that vary quite widely between schools inside the same districts – for blacks.

      that would seem to rule out anything that has to do with culture or one parent families… you’d think those two things would express themselves in a fairly equalized way.

      you cannot get there by just looking at gentrification…

      We need to WANT TO KNOW – why different school disparities exist – regardless of gentrification.

      In Cville – you have people who can choose to live in Cville itself or a short distance away in Albemarle.

      notice the difference between Albemarle High and Charlottesville High which are 2 miles apart as the crow flies. Notice the percent of economically disadvantaged and percent of inexperienced teachers.

      1. I get an error message for that link ,too.

        1. Jim – Here is a small cut (of some schools) for illustration – I can do larger cuts

          Henrico Cnty Arthur Ashe Jr. Elem Black English:read 58.93%
          Henrico Cnty Arthur Ashe Jr. Elem White English:read

          Henrico Cnty Cashell Donahoe Elem Black English:read 49.64%
          Henrico Cnty Cashell Donahoe Elem White English:read 77.36%

          Henrico Cnty Chamberlayne Elem Black English:read 61.08%
          Henrico Cnty Chamberlayne Elem White English:read 61.90%

          Henrico Cnty Charles M. Johnson Elem Black English:read 49.15%
          Henrico Cnty Charles M. Johnson Elem White English:read 65.31%

          the questions here are why these disparities between schools?

          does it make any sense to say that more single black parents live in some elementary school districts than others?

          or perhaps economically disadvantaged blacks but not whites in the same district?

          Not sure where these schools are located geographically – but how would you explain these disparities between schools for blacks?

          1. I would hypothesize that the variations in performance between blacks (and whites as well) can be explained in part by variations in household income and education. That hypothesis can be tested by correlating test scores with the percentage of students qualifying for the school lunch program.

            Another hypothesis is that the quality of the schools varies. When you’re talking about individual schools, a dynamic principal can make a big difference. Another possibility — one that you raise — is the percentage of inexperienced teachers.

          2. re: ” That hypothesis can be tested by correlating test scores with the percentage of students qualifying for the school lunch program.”

            if you compare different schools just on economically disadvantaged and the pass rates are different?


        2. try this link – I did a retrieve on the DOE database.. saved it to PDF then put it in the cloud with a link.. see if you can click the link and see the file.

    2. Cville Resident Avatar
      Cville Resident

      You make some good points about non-profits. As someone who has volunteered for schools, I would make this point: While no one wants to see the state expand where it doesn’t have to….I think the answer in this question is for schools to standardize training for tutor volunteers. If you ever do this type of service, you’ll see what I mean. It’s kind of ad hoc.

      It would be much better if the school systems or Board of Ed could develop an effective program for tutors/volunteers. I think the will is out there, but it’s hard to be effective without some organization and structure.

      1. RE: ” It would be much better if the school systems or Board of Ed could develop an effective program for tutors/volunteers. I think the will is out there, but it’s hard to be effective without some organization and structure”

        In our area – we have para-educators and volunteers who usually get their instructions from the classroom teacher – as opposed to following a district standard – and that’s because there is no rigid standard for teachers either.

        Teachers have latitude – in which principles have a strong role – and new teachers are given what amounts to “on the job training” ….but there’s still a good measure of Ad Hoc to it in part because if they have a split class where some have to go to a Title 1 type class – the one’s left cannot be taught material that those sent out also need to cover – so some of what is taught and when is determined by things like when the time slice for Title 1 is available for a given classroom – lunch, recreation, i.e. logistics.

        Not all Paras are created equal either – some are essentially qualified reading and math specialists – and some are just minimum standard.

        It’s hard to see how a private or voucher school would have such a comprehensive array of credentialed and qualified resources.. to manage unless the state required it and also required SOLs – which they do not.

        In fact, while 10% of kids are schooled outside of public schools for k-5 – they start to return to the public school system in MS and HS and when they do – the schools have to test them comprehensively to see what they know and what they don’t know – and if they are on grade level and capable of passing that grade level SOLs.

  20. I would start with smaller classes so students get to know their teachers and more important teachers get to know their students…on a one to one basis. (And fewer support staff.)
    I know of a friend whose son was enrolled in algebra in a well-known NV high school. The boy did okay (C+) but not great. The class had 37 students/pupils and it was like a factory. Then the mother went back to work and the son was transferred to a modest prep school where his algebra II class size was 12 and the teachers made a lot less than Fairfax schools paid but they liked the opportunity to get to know their pupils.
    The boy went on to get masters in engineering and is a high tech guy now.
    Most of the research I have seen indicates that small class size has a dramatic impact on student learning.
    And I remember going to a one room school the first 3 grades which had a total of 21 pupils in the one room. But the teacher knew each and every pupil and that made a difference.
    But I know I am whistling Dixie.

    1. One of the things that needs more recognition is that not all classes need small class sizes but some are critical. It’s not one class size fits all.

      K-3 class sizes are critical and if there are kids that are at-risk and/or behind – they need to have an additional small-size class with a Title 1 specialist. Both the Feds and the State recognize the need for this as the State essentially has it’s own Title 1 type grants. Unfortunately these are match grants and the money does not have strings to limit spending to only true – qualified specialists.

      Elective courses in high school … and non-core academic classes with self-motivated kids, don’t have the same Criticality. Some courses can actually be done as distance learning to the Universities or Community colleges.

      and of course I’m sure some here will remember their first couple of years in college where you basically sat in an auditorium and listened to a thick-accented graduate assistant instructor! No class size concern there!

      In my view – there is nothing as important as K-3 reading and math because they form the foundations for much of the rest of K-12 and kids that are weak in reading and math – don’t do well in High School and if they leave elementary with a stunted reading and math proficiency – they’re going to fall off any potential college track in Middle School and by the time they hit high school – at that point – the school is trying to keep them from dropping out.

      So when I see 3rd grade SOL scores that show a third to a half (or more) of the kids – failing to pass the SOLs – it’s disturbing… not only because of the amount of resources the schools are going to have to devote to trying to re-mediate them in the higher grades (or warehouse them) – but what happens when they leave school and end up needing TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and MediAid and then go and have kids as single parents – repeating the cycle.

      we have to move on past blame for this. In a perfect world – we’d not have new less skilled teachers and single parents – but this is not a perfect world and we are not allowed to assume the “see no evil” monkey position.

  21. Hill City Jim Avatar
    Hill City Jim

    Some of your screens list all characteristics, LEP, Homeless, etc. Do you mean to do this?

    1. I think one or two of the last ones did.. so probably need to go back but from earlier results I don’t think those characteristics significantly affect the data.

      I was getting some schools that did not have both white and black economically disadvantaged and though I was running into an error but after playing around a bit – I think that some schools have economically disadvantaged blacks but no economically disadvantaged whites.

      but I’see been through enough of the data using different characteristics to know that there are disparities between schools for just black economically disadvantaged as well as general population blacks – .. (also some disparities between schools and whites – but not as great differences as the blacks.

      I am told by some teacher friends that you don’t “fix” economically disadvantaged by getting them up on grade level and then let them go.

      For reasons, not yet understood – if you take away the extra resources once they are on grade level – many will fall back.

      Some teachers KNOW that homework to economically disadvantaged – won’t get done – for instance.

      here’s the same Henrico data with the other characteristics turned off:

  22. Posted on behalf of Jim Weigand:

    Jim Bacon’s post Plumbing the SOL Racial Gap along with a comparison of black and white SOL test passing percentages provoked many comments. Perhaps the most thought provoking was Jim’s question “Does the SOL performance gap reflect inequalities in the distribution of resources in Virginia school systems?” Better asked would have been “Does the state’s funding of these poorer performing divisions reflect the higher costs of educating those students that need the most help.”

    As a follower of the Commission on Local Government’s annual Fiscal Stress Reports, it has become very obvious to me that the urban centers or cities consistently rank among the highest stressed in the Commonwealth. To be sure, cities offer a multitude of extra cost services that residents demand and are willing to pay the additional costs to receive.

    But something as basic as the cost of providing a core service, public education, should not unto itself cause additional fiscal stress to the locality. Yes I know some divisions choose to offer programs above and beyond what is required or even that of their neighboring localities.

    But funding for education, unless fully funded by the state, is a major cause of higher stress and higher extraction rates for the cities. Period! To analyze this funding discrepancy one needs to look at how the state funds programs, specifically those programs that address those children that are the most in need. From the pre-K initiative, to the K-3 class size reduction programs, to the At-risk program, funding is distributed to localities based upon the need, and the division’s ability to pay.

    While the state tells us we should be glad to be getting help for these shared cost programs, the fact is that urban centers are required to raise taxes higher than non-urban centers just to pay their share of the costs for these programs strictly because cities have more children, as a percentage of the student population, requiring additional help.

    Last year I looked at a comparison of Lynchburg and Bedford County’s local share costs to provide the above 3 mentioned programs and because Lynchburg has so many more children requiring additional help, city residents paid a real estate tax rate 6 cents higher while Bedford’s increase was only 2 cents, offering the same programs but with fewer children needing the extra help.

    Until the state funds these programs categorically, 100%, and not on a shared-cost basis, cities will continue to have higher taxes, stress and extraction rates than their counterparts in the counties.

    1. disparities between schools – both urban and suburban imply that some choices are being made with respect to prioritization and allocation of funding but because most school systems do not disclose what they spend the beyond-required local funding for – we have no real insight much less accountability.

      the disparities between different schools should be (in my view) a red flag if the schools are not going to disclose funding and staffing levels.

      The big flaw No Child left behind is it requires disclosure of academic performance per school but not funding and staffing which then leads to speculation about “culture” and marital status.

      the fact that some schools do exceptionally well compared to other schools as well as not near the race gap should – at the least – ask how that school did so much better than the others both on gross academic performance but also much reduced racial disparities.

      do we have any idea? to what would we attribute the success – to a “better” culture or less out-of-wedlock births?

      we seem, to me, to be a bit too willing to engage in racial stereotypes and at the same time ignore the schools that don’t seem to have those issues.

      Finally – when we DO HAVE some schools that perform very well – and ought to be best practices models – we still end up asking what the answers are – as if the good school does not exist.

      and I have to ask – why is it the Feds and States have to fund ? Does this imply that local school systems would choose to spend even less local money on the problem if allowed to?

      I look to the people who say that “liberal values” and more money are not the answer but what do they suggest? that we have to find out more – even when schools that succeed exist in plain sight?

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