Getting better

On Education Weak, Tough Love praises corporate consultants who restructured business practices for St. Louis schools, saving $79 million and balancing the budget.

Last year, the St. Louis Public Schools were on the brink of bankruptcy, facing an astonishing $75 million year-end deficit and a near-term $99 million cash shortfall. The district was spending more than $11,000 every year for each of its approximately 40,000 students – out of a total budget of $450 million. While the district had the highest rate of per-student spending in the state, just over $6,000 per student actually found its way to the classroom.

Tens of thousands of dollars were squandered to insure vehicles the school district no longer owned. Money went toward maintaining buildings and facilities that had long been abandoned. Books and supplies were ordered, but then sat in warehouses, while teachers reported scrounging at yard sales for used books.

Competition is working in Philadelphia, which tripled the number of schools meeting federal standards for progress. Philadelphia schools showed significantly higher gains in test scores than the state average, writes Lisa Snell.

The gain rates achieved in Philadelphia are among the highest of any of the nation’s largest school districts, according to the Council of Great City Schools.

Moreover, the gains in student achievement occurred in both contracted “partner” schools and in traditional public schools, providing the first substantial evidence that the city’s public-private school management experiment — to turn around the district’s lowest performing schools — is working.

Edison says its schools posted the largest gains of any of the district’s major school management partners.

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Comments

  1. Meanwhile in the Paris of the Midwest – that would be Detroit for those unfamiliar with our illustrious history – schools are employing novel strategies to deal with that pesky problem, accountability:

    evidently, the comment software isn’t too big on href tags…..

    http://www.detnews.com/2004/editorial/0408/31/a08-258539.htm

  2. Mike in Texas says:

    Who is responsible for the mess the financial mess the schools were in? Its amazing that only half the money was making it to the classroom.

  3. Nature of the beast, Mike.

    Even in private enterprise where waste and inefficiency can result in the extinction of the organization there’s still plenty of it.

    The public sector, not under the requirement to return profits to investors and under vastly less threat of bankruptcy, is naturally less inclined to wring waste out of the system.

  4. Walter E. Wallis says:

    And nobody ever gets fired.

    Life was different in the mills.

  5. http://www.sppsr.ucla.edu/calpolicy/Ouchi1.pdf

    I don’t think mills did a better job, they were exported right? It was a rush to international child labor. Did you ever live in a mill town?

    When a parent, a high school graduate, can raise their child’s test scores and behavior through home schooling how hard can it be to claim success. So the cheapest solution should be to send all those learning disabled kids home and pay their parents to teach them.

  6. Richard Brandshaft says:

    OK, OK, let’s remember that a lot of charter schools became financial flops too.

    Hypothesis about the root cause: The basic mechanics of running a business are harder than they look. Qwest, my phone company, hasn’t mastered them. I’ve heard a computer programmer and a couple of gunsmiths make similar complaints: what they really want to do is [insert occupation/avocation]; what takes up a disproportionate amount of their time is the mechanics of running a business. As the organization gets bigger, the complexity is worse than linear, because there are not only more details but all the ways the details — like what the teachers are buying and what’s already in the warehouse — can interact with each other.

    Anyone who has tried to debug even a modest size computer program has stories about “separate” pieces not being consistent.

    When a publicly funded organization flubs badly, it becomes an argument for the private sector. Qwest is a private organization; you won’t be hearing anything about things like Qwest and my ISDN line — there must literally millions of similar stories — from the American Enterprise Institute any time soon.

  7. “When a publicly funded organization flubs badly, it becomes an argument for the private sector. Qwest is a private organization; you won’t be hearing anything about things like Qwest and my ISDN line — there must literally millions of similar stories — from the American Enterprise Institute any time soon.”

    Though I think you make a good point about the difference in coverage between public and private flubs, I also think there’s a good reason. In the private sector, there are built in consequences of flubs, e.g. loss of business, while in the public sector, organizations which flub badly, even outright fail, are propped up without any incentive for improvement.

    As for your experience with Qwest, their position in the market, i.e. limited competition, or in cases none at all, removes the selection pressure on Qwest to get it right. In fact, that’s my theory about the deplorable state of service with all the baby-bell phone companies. But that’s an imperfection of the market as it exists, and it’s something that can, and should, be fixed, while the natural state of stagnation public organizations tend to wallow in is far harder to root out.