Saturday, April 30, 2016

MA: How To Gut Schools, Boston Edition

QUEST is an organization that has dogged Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and his reformy friends for quite a while, and they have recently shaken loose, after long attempts via FOIA, the McKinsey BPS Operational Review Steering Committee Working Draft (turns out that when the government buys something with taxpayer dollars, even stamping "Private and Confidential" on it doesn't necessarily keep it under wraps). While a version of this plan was released in December of 2015, the original document is considerably more detailed.

So now, over a full year later, we can see what McKinsey thought the Bostonian Powers That Be should be doing with their school district. McKinsey is one of the biggest management consulting firms in the world, and long intertwined with the education reform movement; Sir Michael Barber was a partner there before he went to run Pearson, and David Coleman worked as a consultant at McKinsey before he spearheaded the Common Core. McKinsey has also plucked some employees from the world of Eli Broad-- a McKinsey manager was in the first class of the Broad Academy. McKinsey actually pre-dated Broad in the practice of embedding their own people in the Los Angeles school district.

Boston itself has been solidly in reformster cross-hairs, with everyone from MA Secretary of Education Jim Peyser to the Center for Reinventing Public Education floating a plan for "remaking" the Boston schools in a new, charterier image.

So what did the super-secret consulting plan have to say?

The plan notes that it is a draft, not a final, exact product. The items are not necessarily for factual true. This is just for starting discussions. My friends and colleagues in Boston will remember all the open, transparent conversations that Mayor Walsh has held about the future of BPS. The plan is over 200 pages long, and I have no intention of dragging us through the whole thing. But just by glancing at the executive summary, I think we can get the gist of their drift.

The overview lists some of the "opportunities" that exist in BPS. They include

Right Sizing the BPS Footprint

If there is ever a doubt that these guys are corporate money guys and not educators, their language choices make it clear. The plan suggests that BPS can right-size by "consolidating" 30-50 schools.

It is so worth noting that this report is dated March of 2015, which would roughly nine months before Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was whining about all the dirty liars accusing him of wanting to close 36 Boston schools-- exactly what the McKinsey plan calls for.

Yay, Inclusion!!

Special education is really expensive (they figure about 11-18% of total BPS budget, depending on how we figure). Also, though they don't quite say it directly, McKinsey appears to believe that there are too many students with special needs and that probably a whole bunch of them aren't special at all. McKinsey sees an opportunity to just stop doing special ed. Inclusion for everybody. Phase in inclusion, mainstream all those students with special needs, outsource some paraprofessional supports, and just generally get rid of the whole expensive business.

Make the Little Buggers Walk

Whenever I encounter a McKinsey report, I'm always impressed at the thoroughness. McKinsey sees an "opportunity" to raise bus stop distances from 0.16 miles to 0.25 miles. They predict a savings of $6 to $19 million per year. Also, students with stronger legs and a hike in regional shoe sales.

Let Them Eat Something Else

"Target meal participation to improve revenues" is the opportunity here. So, more lunch advertising? Force students into the lunch line? Publicly shame brown baggers?

Also, centralize food preparation, which in my experience means cook all the food in one place and then send it out by van to various schools, so that each student has the chance to eat a sort of warmish meal. I'm not sure how this helps you target meal participation.


Subcontract maintenance and night work to an outsourcey company.


This encompasses several "opportunities," and as always, "reorganize" actually means "whack away with a machete." McKinsey sees a chance to cut central office staff, and of course closing all those school buildings will also allow lots of reorganizing.

Trivia and Other Departments

As I said, we're not diving into all 200-and-some pages today, though there are interesting pieces of trivia (21% of BPS teachers have no evaluation on file??!!) as well as data that likely to prove to be counterfactual, like the continued assertion of 93,000 available seats in Boston. The report is certainly worth digesting, but I'm drawn to something at the very beginning.

An Important Gutting Principle

Ultimately, improved student outcomes is the goal of any effort to reduce cost and inefficiency and reallocate those funds where they can do more for students.

Were I inclined to see shifty plans behind these sorts of maneuvers and business plans, I might see this as a pretty clear statement of the ju-jitsu behind a public school system takeover, particularly in a place like Massachusetts where some folks are agitating so very hard for increased charter school numbers.

First, start with a premise that many of us have asserted over and over again in the face of people who argue that we can offer charters and choice for, basically, no extra cost:

Premise: You cannot effectively run two, three, four, or more schools for the same money you spent on one.

Step One: Open a bunch of charter schools.

Step Two: Watch as many schools collapse and fail because they lack sufficient resources to do the job.

Step Three: Declare loudly, "Why, this is terribly inefficient, and some of these schools are doing a lousy job. Let's reduce cost and inefficiency, and let's reallocate those funds to where they will do the most good."

Step Four: Close the "bad" schools. You may have to sacrifice a few charters, but mostly the public schools will be the failing ones. Close them in the name of educational efficiency. (Note: you can build some charter cushion here by rounding up investors and contributors for your charters to tide them over until their public competition is shut down and they can have the market to themselves).

I'm not saying that this plan is for factual true. But we can certainly use it for discussion purposes. Good luck, Boston.


  1. It's interesting that McKinsey is about cutting to the bone --- chiseling on kids lunches and bus routes --- but also recommends bringing the charter school chain KIPP to Boston to open schools.

    Coincidentally, the "Center for Media and Democracy" has just released an expose on KIPP's expenditures. This report includes information that KIPP made a request to redact (a request that then-Arne-Duncan-led U.S. DOE grated.)

    Let's just see how KIPP spends taxpayers' money:

    Some of what KIPP hides, with complicity from the U.S. DOE (from the article):

    --- "the federal government's Office of Innovation and Improvement redacted information about KIPP's revenue and expenditures on the basis of an unsupportable assertion that such information was exempt under the Freedom of Information Act as proprietary, confidential, or privileged even though it is not.

    "Here are some of the key details from KIPP's 2013 tax filings (uploaded below):

    "KIPP received more than $18 million in grants from American tax dollars and more than $43 million from other sources, primarily other foundations;

    "KIPP spent nearly $14 million on compensation, including more than $1.2 million on nine executives who received six-figure salaries, and nearly $2 million more on retirement and other benefits;

    "KIPP also spent over $416,000 on advertising and a whopping $4.8 million on travel; it paid more than $1.2 to the Walt Disney World Swan and Resort;
    It also paid $1.2 million to Mathematica for its data analysis; that's the firm that was used to try to rebut concerns about KIPP's performance and attrition rates"

    --- "KIPP's revenue and spending in 2014 were similar, but there are some additional interesting details (uploaded below):

    "KIPP received more than $21 million in grants from American tax dollars and more than $38 million from other sources, primarily other foundations;

    "KIPP spent nearly $18 million on compensation and nearly $2 million more on retirement and other benefits;

    "KIPP paid its co-founder, David Levin, more than $450,000 in total compensation, and its CEO, Richard Barth, more than $425,000 in total compensation, in addition to six-figure salaries for eight other executives;

    "KIPP also spent over $467,000 on advertising and more than $5 million on travel;

    "It also paid nearly $1 million to Mathematica for its data analysis.

    "In that tax year, which covers the 2013-2014 school year, as traditional public schools faced budget cuts across the country, KIPP spent more than $3.5 million on "lodging and hospitality," including more than $1.8 million alone at the posh Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

    "Since its revenue from taxpayers is commingled with its revenues from wealthy charter school advocates and the foundations they control, there is no way to sort out how much of taxpayer money has directly gone into luxurious trips for KIPP employees versus how much having revenue from taxes helps subsidize such largesse.

    "But, there is no public school district in the country that would be allowed such travel or advertising expenditures for its executives or teachers if the voters knew about it or had a say in it.

    "Perhaps it should be no surprise that KIPP would want the grant-makers at the U.S. Department of Education to redact the amount of its expenditures for personnel, facilities, transportation, and "other uses"—especially with extravagant expenditures like its transportation and lodging at fabulous resorts, as opposed to transportation for kids to school—but why would the federal agency charged with oversight go along with redacting information about how much KIPP was projecting to spend in those categories?




    "KIPP did request that budget information about how much it or its affiliates paid the executive directors for individual charters, principals, accountants, grant managers, community coordinators, and IT teams be kept from the public, under a claim that such information is proprietary."

    --- " 'regional leadership' expenses that total nearly $5 million of the projected budget for the grant. There is no indication how much taxpayers are directly or indirectly subsidizing the six-figure salaries of its executive suite including the nearly half-million in total compensation for each of KIPP's two highest paid employees. (This grant application only pertains to one source of federal and state grants that annually provide revenue to KIPP.) "

    --- "how it spends tax-exempt funding and how many KIPP students make it to high school graduation or college, it also sought to redact information "KIPP Student Attrition" by region and "by subgroup" and "KIPP Student Performance" on state exams on "Math and Reading."

    "KIPP is a taxpayer-subsidized school franchise that pays no taxes on its revenue and provides a tax-deductible vehicle for uber-wealthy families to promote the school "choice" agenda.

    "And, the fact that taxpayer money is going to a group spending millions on luxury trips to resorts in Las Vegas is mind-boggling in an age of austerity when many public schools are going without basic necessities.

    "With each new fact that comes out, the charter school industry is looking more like the military defense industry with the scandals of the 1980s with the infamous $600 toilet seat. There's no indication of fraud by KIPP.

    "But from an optics standpoint some might consider a $600 plastic seat small change, compared with a "public school" spending more than a million to go to Disney World in one year, even if only one-third of KIPP's funding comes from taxpayers directly and the remainder comes at taxpayer expense due to CEOs writing off donations to foundations that help underwrite KIPP."

    --- "information about its revenues and other significant matters is "proprietary" and should be redacted from materials it provides to that agency to justify the expenditure of federal tax dollars, before its application is made publicly available."

    --- "a chart about how much money would be spent on personnel, facilities, transportation, and "other uses" under the proposed grant. KIPP also sought to redact the amount of private funding it was projecting."

  3. Thanks, Peter, for shining the spotlight on the shenanigans in the Hub of the universe, that city on a hill. Sunshine being the best disinfectant and all!

    Christine Langhoff

  4. Lots of interesting things going on in that school district. It appears enrollment dropped 50% over the last forty years, down 17% over the last 20 years, and the number of schools has, if anything, gone up over that time. The estimate is that closing redundant schools would result in ongoing savings of $35 million that could be used to enhance the education of students in the district and a one time revenue increase of $120 million from the sale of the redundant schools.

    One of the reasons special education is so expensive is that BPS pays about $37 million a year in private placement tuition for the special needs students that live in the district but can not get an appropriate education from district schools.

    One does have to think a bit about why there are no SPED students in 35 of the BPS schools and only SPED students in 14 of the BPS schools.

    Staffing per student has also increased, going from 5.5 students per FTE just 7 years ago to 5.0 students per FTE today.

    1. TE - you know what they say: garbage in, garbage out. McKinsey scored $660,000 for putting their garbage out on the sidewalk. Ain't gonna fly.

    2. Peter,

      Is it that I am simply not allowed to respond?

      How would you suggest that a school district that went from 96,000 students to 62,000 students should respond to the 1/3 drop in the student population?

  5. Is there any way to find out which McKinseyites collaborated on this Machiavellian document? As you probably know,here in RI our Governor, Gina Raimondo, is the wife of First Gentleman, Andy Moffit:
    "Andy is the Director of Industry Learning for McKinsey & Company, a leading management consulting firm. He is a member of the Firm Learning leadership team, which is responsible for learning programs and capability-building opportunities for over 10,000 consultants globally. Prior to this role, he was a consultant for 13 years, during which he co-founded McKinsey's Global Education Practice and served clients in K-12 and higher education.
    "Andy is an Adjunct Lecturer at Brown University and Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he teaches a course "Strategic Management for School System Excellence" that he developed. His book, Deliverology 101: A Field Guide for School System Leaders (2010), co-written with former colleagues Michael Barber and Paul Kihn, describes how school systems can deliver results from their strategic improvement efforts."" Just wondering if he had anything to do with this.

  6. Paul Kihn recently left the School District of Philadelphia to go to the Broad Academy.