Good day, Happy Holidays, and Merry Christmas to you and your family.
Don’t forget the children’s holiday party on Tuesday, December 29 from 12-2 at the BTU. Email us or call the office at 617-288-2000 for more information. The BTU office will be open through tomorrow, Wednesday, December 23 and closed on Thursday and Friday, December 24 and 25. The RTC office will be closed on Wednesday, December 23, and Wednesday, December 30. Again, Happy Holidays to all.
This week the city released a report from McKinsey & Company, which had been embargoed since April 2015. McKinsey is a global outfit that is “transforming the way businesses make decisions.” As such it has performed an operational review of the Boston School Department and concluded that there are too many excess seats, too many schools, too many teachers and non-teachers (especially paraprofessionals.) The report is worth a read as it indicates what may be on the horizon.
Among the more startling and incorrect conclusions the report makes is that there is a surplus capacity of approximately 40,000 seats in the BPS. From this piece of misinformation come a series of the conclusions to close schools, to lay off teachers, and so on. It’s not too difficult to figure out the flaws in the report’s methodology.
As an illustrative example, take the Broad Academy School with 20 regular education classrooms, each with 30 seats. Instead of 600 students (20 times 30), the school has only 425 students. McKinsey would conclude that there is a “surplus capacity” of 175 seats, or the difference between 600 and 425. Add up all the “175s” throughout the city, and it totals 40,000, give or take. Broad Academy may have room for more students (three in this classroom, five on another) — but it is also missing needed and appropriate spaces.
There’s no gymnasium or library at Broad, and nine teachers float into classrooms that are not their own. The art teacher moves her materials on a cart, and the Speech and Language Pathologist works in a closet (though it’s a large closet). The psychologist does her testing in a converted supply area near the cafeteria, and she has to find another place during lunch time — it’s just too loud. The social worker who comes a few times per week doesn’t have a space, so she walks the corridor until she finds an open space. The teachers’ room is 8×12′ and is noisy, with the copying machine and all that. Besides, not everyone can fit in. If teachers have to conference, they have to hint for space.
Conservatively, the school could use an additional six or seven classrooms to optimize learning and teaching, four conference areas, plus a gymnasium and a library. Yet the Broad Academy School, according to the methodology used by McKinsey, has a “surplus capacity” of 175. Keep this in mind when reviewing what the McKinsey group calls Potential Opportunities:
Key McKinsey “Facts” (taken from page 7 of the report):
- BPS enrollment down 17% over last 20 years and 50% since 1970
- BPS currently has approximately 93,000 total physical seats with only approximately 54,000 seats filled
- The system is overextended with declining dollars stretched over the same number of buildings and declining student count
- Consolidating schools could reduce annual spend by ~$1.7 to $2.2 million per school consolidated (~$700K from non-teaching changes)
- Building sales could bring additional one-time approximately $4 million per school consolidated while avoiding additional, unneeded CapExor could generate substantial ongoing income from leasing redundant properties
- A right-sized system would concentrate more dollars in fewer schools, improving quality and breadth of student resources
The report also concludes that our schools are overstaffed with teachers, support staff, and paraprofessionals. In comparing teacher/student ratios, McKinsey selects a “peer” group and declares that the Boston schools have a teacher/student ratio that is 29% higher than the peer average. Who’s in the peer group? Chelsea, Revere, Omaha, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Wichita, to mention a few of the districts used for comparison. (See page 9 of the report). Why these districts? We are scratching our heads.
The report seems predisposed to conclude that running a successful urban school system takes a good deal of resources. It does. It should. Rather than looking at this as a problem, McKinsey should have reviewed how well our schools perform nationally to see if our outstanding performance is the result of some of the factors the report decries: small schools, good support services, and reasonable staff ratios. Our performance on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) test is superior to comparable urban districts. We are proud of our track record, just as we are proud of our commitment to teaching and welcoming all students who enter our schools. And if this effort requires a better teacher/student ratio than it does in Wichita, we’re fine with that.
Memo to McKinsey and policy makers: We’re not a business. Educational decisions require that we do what’s right for our students, not what’s right for the bottom line.