The fish rots from the head down

Well, that was interesting.

City Council Education Chair and good guy Tito Jackson called for a hearing today on charter school discipline practices and attrition rates. The most riveting testimony came from parents of kids in charter schools and the kids who had been pushed out of charter schools. They testified about their children being suspended multiple times for minor infractions like not having the right number of pencils or turning their head when they should be tracking the teacher. One woman testified that her 5 year old had been suspended 10 times this school year.

Notably, Councilor Flaherty was incredibly comfortable with the idea of disciplining children in this manner likening it to Catholic schools. He even stated that there are some children he would not want in the same classroom as his kids and what are you supposed to do with a child like that?

photo Chris Farone

But of the greatest interest to me was the panel from Boston Public Schools. Now considering that BPS has been suffering a multi-million dollar deficit year after year, and considering that they are responsible for educating the children who come back traumatized from charters, you might think they  would have some interest in conveying the reality of the situation to the city councilors at this public hearing.

But you would be wrong.

Councilor Jackson started off the questioning by asking about the budget deficit in relation to charter reimbursements. But the woman on the panel took this opportunity to relay Mayor Walsh’s support of charters and talk about his desire to raise the cap on charter schools. Note, this was not at all responsive to the question. She would reiterate Marty Walsh’s support of charters three times during this conversation apropos of nothing.

Because the panel had been identified as a BPS panel, I thought she was from the BPS office. Her testimony caused me to tweet a string of profanities at the superintendent and the mayor, both of whom, I assume, have my Twitter handle on mute.

She later identified herself as being a city hall employee not a BPS employee so I’m not sure what she was doing on that panel.

BPS administrators were then asked some basic demographic questions such as how many ELL students and how many SPED students is BPS responsible for and they could not answer the question. They were at a public hearing representing BPS, and they did not have the most basic of knowledge about the school district even though there had been parent testimony on those numbers ½ an hour before. When asked for the charter to public migration numbers, the BPS admins stated that BPS is not tracking that number.

Councilors Flaherty and McCarthy then asked BPS about per pupil spending and the BPS officials repeatedly stated that they spend $20,000 per pupil without giving any information about what the number meant.

They left it to Karen Kast-McBride to explain in a later panel that the $20,000 was an average, and that BPS spends between 5,000 and 8,000 for a general ed non-ELL student. And that BPS most certainly did not spend $20,000 per student.

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 10.19.52 PM
The ACTUAL number BPS is spending on a general ed student

Time and time again, it has been up to the parents to defend their schools and their school district, BPS officials being MIA when we need them the most. If BPS cannot advocate for itself, it should at least be willing to provide accurate data to city officials when asked. And it has left me to wonder, who exactly, has been put in charge of our school district, when BPS administrators are incapable or unwilling to answer direct questions and give a factual account of our school district.

Or, as one of my wise twitter followers had said, the fish rots from the head down.


2 thoughts on “The fish rots from the head down

  1. I haven’t watched the full hearing, but I’ve seen quite a bit of it. That discussion about BPS spending $20,000 versus charter tuition being $15,000 was certainly frustrating to me, for a couple of reasons.

    First, there was general acknowledgment that it wasn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, in part because of transportation, but as far as I can tell, no one ever actually made an attempt to adjust the numbers to account for transportation. Instead, they just left it out there as something that should be taken into account, without actually ever doing so. Why not tell us what the per-pupil spending is without transportation costs included at all? Why not try to take charter transportation costs, remove them from BPS’s per-pupil spending, and add them to the charter tuition figure? Why not tell us whether BPS and charter school per-pupil transportation costs are comparable (I’m under the impression that they’re not).

    Even still, it seems likely to me that the average charter tuition in Boston is a bit lower than BPS’s average per-pupil spending. It seemed like this was considered by some to be evidence that charter schools are a relative bargain when compared to BPS: the logic seemed to be that they’re using less money per student, and If we can get more students into charter schools we’ll save money. But that’s not how charter school funding works – each charter school student’s tuition is calculated by starting with foundation funding for that student (which takes need into account) and scaling it up by however much BPS overspends its own foundation budget figure. That is, if BPS and charter school students had, on average, the same level of need, BPS per-pupil spending and average charter school tuition would be exactly the same once you take into account weird things like transportation costs. The fact that charter school tuition is lower than BPS’s per-pupil spending is actually direct evidence that charters are serving, on average, students with a lower level of need, not that they can educate any given child at a lower cost than BPS.

    As for how much BPS really is spending per student, it’s more complicated than just looking at the weighted student funding figure, I think. BPS has many services that, for better or worse, are funded out of the central budget rather than WSF. I haven’t looked into it recently enough to fully recall where Boston stands on this, but I believe that some district expenditures – whether they are funded centrally or from an individual school’s budget – are considered to be part of “Net School Spending” and others aren’t. My impression is that the easiest way to get a feel for how much the district is spending per-pupil on education costs would actually be to look at NSS rather than WSF funding rates.

    Liked by 1 person

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