RPS needs data

My friend and fellow academic Craig Larson published an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch earlier this month. His simple claim is that Richmond Public Schools administrators are missing something essential when educating the city's kids: data. According to Larson:

What is needed are good intentions based on knowledge — knowledge of what works (and what hasn’t worked) — and this can’t be accomplished without research.

Earlier in the year, I pointed out to a School Board member that Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Dana Bedden’s Academic Improvement Plan (AIP) did not appear to be based on any research. The superintendent’s office ultimately sent us both a list of bullet points and notes culled from various educational experts — but with no data or analysis. With a $271 million annual budget, RPS should be doing more substantial research.

Coincidentally, the day after Craig's op-ed was published, the Mayor came out and essentially blamed the City Council for breaking the city's budget by throwing money at schools. By shifting money for hiring to schools instead, Jones argued, the city is now having trouble with basic services like trash pick-up. Council member Chris Hilbert called it a "manufactured crisis," and of course Jones should not be pointing fingers about finances considering the city's recent track record. But it raises the question how RPS is using the money, and whether the school system has any idea of what best practice might be.

One of the best -- and ONLY -- sources of data we have on RPS is John Butcher's Cranky Taxpayer blog. Butcher has been doing this for a while (see this 2011 Style Weekly profile), but he seems as ignored as ever. I don't necessarily agree with Butcher's assumptions or approach. He emphasizes test scores too much for my liking (see here for a few million reasons why that's a problem). But in his defense, that's the data we have, and at least Butcher is looking at it. Of course, his results aren't good for Richmond's schools.

So RPS needs more data. This is exactly the kind of opportunity that a smart academic -- or academic center -- could take advantage of, because it's the kind of thing we do well. There are experts in education and education practice that could conduct this research - or even just disseminate the research from other localities that might seem applicable. (I'd ask for the job myself, but my gig is politics.)

Richmond's Website a Mess?

Local activist Rick Tatnall has a piece in this week's Style Weekly about the sad state of the City of Richmond's website. This is a follow-up to a March SW article that reported on how outdated some of the city's online information was.

It's not quite as bad as Tatnall makes it out to be. If you go to the city's homepage, there is actually a ton of new and updated information. For every example that Tatnall gives of a Human Services site stuck in 2010, you can find a complete list of 2014 events at the 17th Street Farmer's Market.

The City's continual response is that individual departments handle updating their own info. As a relatively overworked college professor who is responsible for my own department's webpages, I can tell you how hard it can be to find time to add updates. (My college is currently going through a major web overhaul, partially because we had so much outdated information.)

Still, Tatnall's overall point is true: the city has a responsibility to do better. More importantly, the website updates give a clue to administration priorities. How important to the Mayor is his anti-poverty commission if the website for it was last updated in 2012?