Once upon a time I ran a news site, now I just have opinions on the news. 

Good morning, RVA: SOL cheating, pipeline photos, and less affordable housing

Good morning, RVA! It's 72 °F, and, what’s this? A chance of thunderstorms? You don’t say! Expect highs in the mid 80s and a decent opportunity for some rain later this afternoon and through the evening.

Water cooler

Richmond Police are reporting a murder that took place on Sunday evening. At 11:47 PM, officers were called to the 3100 block of Meadowbridge Road and found Joseph Lewis, III, 19, shot to death.

Yesterday, the Virginia Department of Education released their final report about the teachers cheating on SOLs at Carver Elementary (PDF). It is a fascinating, compelling, and, as Superintendent Kamras said in a letter to Richmonders, a deeply troubling document. Students and teachers both are on the record explaining exactly how testing procedures were violated, with the teachers administering the tests reading questions aloud to students who had trouble, prompting students to check their work if they had the incorrect answer, and encouraging them to move on if they had it right. The test data (which is all digital) supports this as well: Many students across many grades and many teachers switched incorrect responses on tests to correct responses. Like, at a super concerning rate—check out this table from the Grade 5 Science SOL. The problems go beyond in-room cheating, though, with staff complaining of an “inner circle” of teachers who were the only ones allowed to administer SOLs and received “benefits and privileges” from the principal. Additionally, once the jig was up, apparently some teachers made in-home visits to convince parents to opt their students out of retests (with some data to support that, as well). This is bad, bad, bad, and a huge disservice to the students at Carver. Again, there’s solid data that shows students from Carver moved on to middle school unprepared. For example, a single cohort of students left Carver with a Grade 5 Reading SOL pass rate of 100%. That same cohort had a 63.2% fail rate on the Grade 6 Reading SOL. Like I said, it’s real bad, and most likely has been going on for awhile: Take a look at these charts plotting Carver’s pass rates on various SOL tests over the last six years against the city- and state-wide rates. Most show significant spikes during the 2013-2014 school year—so this is likely not a new phenomenon. Moving forward, the state has drawn up some actions RPS must implement (p. 28), including helping students with additional instructional support; making sure district staff know SOL policies and procedures; and, ominously, requesting that the Superintendent refer to the section of state code dealing with the revocation of teaching licenses. What a disaster for the entire district. To quote Kamras at length: “To be blunt: too many people thought, ‘How could Carver, which serves nearly 100% low-income students and students of color, have such high scores? There must be something going on.’ With those suspicions now confirmed, corrosive biases about our students, as well as the inequities that flow from them, have the potential to become even more ingrained in our city. We can’t let that happen. To the entire City of Richmond, I want to say this as clearly as I possibly can: High achievement at every one of our high-poverty schools is unequivocally possible.”

Next up on the Richmond Public Schools beat, Justin Mattingly at the Richmond Times-Dispatch recaps some of yesterday’s Education Compact meeting. I love that these meetings exist, and I love that they include breakout groups between our elected officials to get them face-to-face thinking about and working on the issues facing our schools. Sounds like this week they focused on how the State chronically underfunds education. I may be a naive optimist guy, but demanding the State pay a larger PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes, since all of their buildings downtown are property-tax free) is a clear issue that lots of regular folks would be down to angrily advocate for.

Ned Oliver at the Virginia Mercury has a bunch of really excellent photos of what exactly the Mountain Valley Pipeline looks like—both up close and zoomed way out from a drone’s eye view. Aside: Thank you to the Virginia Mercury for just putting the photos on a page and not making me jump through some dumb pageview-generating hoops to see them all.

Blerg. Thus ends the possibility for the Quality Inn on Broad Street to become affordable housing. Jonathan Spiers at Richmond BizSense says local developer Louis Salomonsky has bought the building from the Better Housing Coalition. You’re not going to catch me complaining about an abandoned building adjacent to transit becoming actual, livable housing—no way—but it would have been nice to have an on-the-ground example of affordable, transit-oriented development.

I must to link to this list of locally produced podcasts in Richmond Magazine. Because I love podcasts, yes, but also because I have two podcasts on this list!


  • Squirrels take on the New Hampshire Fisher Cats tonight at 7:05 PM.
  • Nats face the Mets tonight at 7:05 PM.

This morning's longread

The Healing Potential of Turning Vacant Lots Green

Whoa, this is wild. Living near green space can have a measurable impact on your mental health.

A total of 347 randomly chosen residents living near those lots were surveyed 18 months before the intervention and 18 months after, and asked to rate how often they felt things like anxiety, hopelessness, worthlessness, and depression—based on a tool for screening the prevalence of serious mental illness in a community. None were told the survey had anything to do with the revitalization of vacant lots. What they found was that in neighborhoods below the poverty line, greening interventions decreased residents’ feelings of depression by more than 68 percent. Meanwhile, residents near lots that only had trash removed saw little improvement. That difference, according to South, strengthened the researchers’ confidence in their findings.

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Good morning, RVA: Bike share bummer, Stone bistro update, and Libbie Mill upgrades

Good morning, RVA: Police training, new housing, and bike-related adventures