Richmond Schools’ Flawed Data Threatens Federal Funds

by James C. Sherlock

The massive flows of federal and state funding to local school districts are based largely on data reported by the schools to their districts, the districts to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), and VDOE to the U.S. Department of Education.

In Fiscal Year 2018, the U.S. Department of Education sent more than $820 million to Virginia in support of K-12 education. Every dollar was allocated based on data collected and quality assured at the local, state and federal levels. 

The City of Richmond Public Schools (RPS) has massive problems that result in outsized contributions by the federal government. One of those problems — a serious and potentially consequential one — could imperil federal funding.

We will explore a recent event that illustrates that issue.

The federal money. In 2018-19, VDOE reported RPS received $2,273 in federal aid for each pupil in its system on a reported average daily membership of 24,708 students. The total was 0ver $56 million.

The average school district in Virginia received $901 per pupil.

The federal requirements. The federal government, as you would expect, has strict requirements for data quality.

The accountability provisions included in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) significantly increased the urgency for States, local educational agencies (LEAs), and local schools to produce accurate, reliable, high-quality educational data. With determinations of whether or not schools and LEAs make “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) dependent upon their student achievement data, it has never been more important for State and local data systems and reporting processes to produce accurate, reliable information.

“It is vitally important for States and localities to implement the best enhanced management controls possible over the data that are being used to make key judgments about AYP, funding, NCLB accountability, and other State and local education policies.”

Federal guidelines are very clear. Section 5E of those guidelines defines roles and responsibilities for data quality at the individual school, district (LEA), state and federal levels. They have been in effect since 2006.

RPS is the local educational agency (LEA) for the City of Richmond. RPS is required by the federal government, inter alia, to:

  • Establish a data quality team, including the (RPS) chief information officer.
  • Establish an (RPS) schedule for data collection and reporting, based on State-level deadlines.
  • Coordinate staff training on data quality across all schools.
  • Establish a process for error remediation between individual (Richmond) schools and the (RPS).
  • Validate and certify the accuracy of all (RPS)-level data before transmittal to the State.

So what happened? 

I reported the other day from an RPS Reopening Dashboard file on the RPS website that only 21% of 3008 RPS staff had been fully vaccinated as of June 7 (open the “source data – June 7” sheet).

RPS has been collecting and reporting data on school staff vaccinations to VDOE as well. I followed up with VDOE to see how other school divisions were doing.

I received from the VDOE press officer VDOE’s Vaccine Report as of April 26 2021 by LEA. As you will note in that spreadsheet, RPS reported to VDOE in April that 68% of 3901 RPS staff were fully vaccinated.

So, is it 21% of 3008 school staff, 68% of 3901 staffers, or something else? We simply don’t know. But it matters.

A lot.

VDOE is awaiting federal guidance before putting out its own guidelines on vaccination requirements for school staff this fall. If asked for the current vaccination status by the feds, VDOE will get the data from the school districts.

The level of granularity down to the individual school level of the data posted on the RPS website suggests those data are far more likely to approach reality — assuming, and it is a big assumption, that individual schools reported accurately — than what it reported to VDOE in April.

What is absolutely clear is that there is no effective quality assurance of data in RPS.

Consequences. The U.S. Department of Education will not be amused.

Consider, if you will, just two of the federal and state data points — Average Daily Membership and Average Daily Attendance.

Average daily membership (ADM) is determined by dividing the total aggregate daily membership by the number of days school was in session from the first day of the current school year through the last school day in March of the current school year.

Average daily attendance (ADA) is determined by dividing the aggregate number of days of attendance of all students by the number of days school was in session from the first day of the current school year through the last day in March of the current school year.

Anyone want to guess at the accuracy of the RPS data on just these two figures of significant importance in funding? A system that doesn’t have any idea how many of its teachers have been vaccinated?

This incident raises fundamental questions of quality and accountability for the data from which the U.S. DOE sends $56 million and more a year in federal education funds to RPS.

The kids in Richmond desperately need to be taught well in environments conducive to learning. It is clear that the federal money has not helped RPS achieve that outcome. But ignore that for now. Assume better leadership could deploy that money effectively.

Compounding its other failures, RPS puts all of that federal money at risk by not maintaining any semblance of data quality.

What to do? It is the dual responsibility of the Inspectors General of the U.S. Department of Education and of Virginia to investigate VDOE’s performance of its data quality oversight, training, collection and reporting responsibilities.

It is VDOE’s responsibility to investigate RPS in this matter.

I can give the investigators a head start. The federal guidelines require the RPS data quality team to be led by the RPS Chief Information Officer. RPS has no CIO position and none that reasonably replicates the usual qualifications, position in the management hierarchy or responsibilities of Chief Information Officers.

We look forward to their reports.

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12 responses to “Richmond Schools’ Flawed Data Threatens Federal Funds”

  1. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    The Feds can kiss off. Their “rules” need to be modified and/or just ignored based on Equity. Like Kenya Gibson has said Black women are in charge now and they will do as they please. And I’m pretty sure that goes for Xiden too.

  2. WayneS Avatar

    “The federal guidelines require the RPS data quality team to be led by the RPS Chief Information Officer. RPS has no CIO position…”

    Well, there you go. It’s not their fault!


  3. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Federal funds? Mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money…

    1. WayneS Avatar

      Belly up to the trough!

  4. Super Brain Avatar
    Super Brain

    The Feds have been wavering or deferring grant financial and information requirements due to COVID. RPS can get a pass with a reasonable cause request. That is assuming anyone at RPS know how to do it.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      You are correct they have given COVID reporting passes. But the ineptitude at RPS long predates COVID.

      I have worked with RPS directly and praised a couple of their initiatives, but bottom line RPS is by far the worst performing school district in Virginia. Many of the kids who show up at school bright eyed at six years old are never given a real chance to learn.

      Doing things like organizing the headquarters to block and tackle, like appointing a CIO and enforcing data quality, and generally straightening out the things over which they have more direct control than classroom teaching, might over time change the climate of failure there.

      As for data, RPS headquarters itself can’t manage if it cannot get consistent and accurate reporting from its principals. The Superintendent needs to examine whether the RPS rewards system is aligned with those goals.

      Fire one principal over bad reporting and that problem, assuming it exists, would fix itself.

  5. DJRippert Avatar

    Richmond Public Schools have an annual operating budget of almost half a billion dollars. They have 24,000 students. They must have over 1,000 employees (although that number is hard to find).

    How do they not have a CIO?

    This is from the Alfred E Neumann, errr …. I mean Ralph Northam school of management.

    Who needs any stinkin’ computers or people to manage the stinkin’ computers.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      “How do they not have a CIO?”
      DJ, you ask a question for the ages.

  6. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Jim, I commend you for your reporting on the failure of Richmond schools. You are right–the children deserve so much better.

    I have long marveled at how the Richmond city government could not seem to get right the most basic, simple aspects of government. Basic things like collecting fines on overdue parking tickets and ensuring that the street department communicates with the utilities department when gas has to be shut off in a neighborhood due to construction.

    The incapacity to perform basic governing management actions says a lot about the government’s ability to perform overall. From what you have reported, it seems that that the school administration suffers from this same malady.

    I have asked people whose judgment I trust about this failure to be able to carry out basic governmental functions. They respond that it is not the fault of the line personnel, in whose ranks there are some good people, but of middle and upper management. I am not close enough to it to be able to judge the accuracy of this point of view, but something needs to be done.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I honestly don’t know how to turn this ship around either, Dick.

      The left is focused on policy, not execution – narratives rather than the hard work of government. They reject merit and objectivity. So what you and I see is the result.

      I spend nearly all of my research focus on the schools now. Our grandchildren’s generation is being put at severe risk by the inability of their parents to control an anti-Enlightenment, anti-Judeo-Christian tradition takeover of the heights of the culture.

      That part of the left rejects the family as the primary building block of civilization in favor of government.

      Those parents appear to have awoken, but it will be a very long slog. Higher education is lost for now. The battleground is K-12.

      1. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
        Baconator with extra cheese

        RVA is a glimpse of the world when we hire for Equity and not Merit. Also add in the fact governments won’t fire employees unless they are white and say something racist or kill someone.
        RVA politics are a popularity contest/ battle of intersectionality and as far as management goes, no one in their right mind would work there unless it was strictly for the pay check and/or the only option.
        I work with their management professionally. They really are clowns and it is very very sad.

      2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        This is not a question of the “left”. It has been the case with Richmond for many years, before the “left” were voted into the majority.

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