Consultants Apparently Decrying Small Schools Heartily Recommend Them to All (but DCPS?)

A study taxpayers cannot see explains, we are told, why DC Public Schools must close 15 schools and how — all evidence to the contrary — those closures will benefit the school system. The still elusive “District Resource Analysis” has been referenced several times by DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson as support for her Consolidation Plan. Henderson shared a few snippets in her presentation to the DC Council on Jan. 23, but she has not released the report to the public. (The Washington Post’s FOIA request is pending.)

We cannot see the report decrying small schools — the one DCPS apparently paid Educational Resource Strategies (ERS) to produce — but many ERS publications are freely available. And these have much to say about school size “by design” and the need to reconsider how school systems manage resources. In addition, they offer some pertinent notes on equity (below, along with map of proposed closures.)

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“By Design Not Default”

One Vision, Seven Strategies: School Systems for the Information Age (2012)

  • “Most systems will need to adjust the way they allocate resources to schools, giving the most support to schools and students with greatest need, and give resources to schools in ways that best support their school designs. Many systems may also need to adjust their school portfolio to ensure that the mix of school grade levels, sizes and programs are appropriate to meet student needs cost-effectively.”
  • “School systems have an important role to play to help accelerate or ‘scale’ high-potential models by developing innovative templates for staffing, scheduling, and professional development to serve different numbers and combinations of students with specialized learning needs (such as special education or English Language Learners).”

School Design: Leveraging Talent, Time and Money (2010)

  • “We see multiple examples of district operations and practices that perpetuate traditional school structures, creating barriers to the vision of excellent and innovative schools designed to meet the unique needs of their particular students. These misalignments are anything but intentional, but they require a deliberate, focused effort to identify the size of
    the problem and to correct it.”
  • “Next, you should determine whether district staffing or other policies are unintentionally raising the cost of small or specialty schools and whether changing policies and
    practices will allow these schools to deliver the same quality of instruction for less cost.
    Finally, you should evaluate whether the additional cost to operate these schools is the best
    investment of scarce dollars or whether you should reconsider using these dollars in other
    ways to serve the same students.”

By Design Not Default: Optimizing District Spending on Small High Schools (2009)

  • Successful small schools require district leaders to: “Create or adopt an overall school design or set of designs (governing size, structure, and instructional vision) for small schools that when fully implemented are viable within a specified expense level.”
  • Successful small schools require district leaders to: “Ensure that schools have flexibility to allocate resources in ways that make sense.”
  • “District leaders can also make thoughtful decisions about what is within budget limitations—how many small schools they can support, what school designs are affordable, etc. Although this paper focuses solely on small high schools, the overarching principles and lessons apply to all small schools.”

Strategic Design: Lessons from Leading Edge Small Urban High Schools (2009)

  • “These schools stand apart from most high schools across the country because they create high-performing organizational structures — or Strategic Designs — that deliberately organize people, time, and money to advance their specific instructional model (the decisions a school makes about how it organizes and delivers instruction).”
  • “What distinguishes Leading Edge Schools from other schools is the deliberate and active use of multiple data sources to inform school-based academic support, family and external support, and student self-monitoring. The abundant collaboration opportunities at Leading Edge Schools for teachers allow them to continually monitor student progress against content benchmarks and other essential skills and to appropriately target support based on student needs.”

“Boundaries should not be barriers”

One Vision, Seven Strategies: School Systems for the Information Age offers this thought about equity:

We need structures designed to deliver educational quality across the board. It is not enough to have a few successful schools scattered through a city. There are natural geographic boundaries in communities, but those boundaries should not be barriers to high quality schools and programs. A commitment to educate all children well is both philosophical and pragmatic. Americans believe in and support the opportunity for everyone to be educated—and to expect an equitable return on their investment.

Consider, in this context, the location of closing schools. Red flags on this map represent the “first draft” proposed closings (November 2012). Three most western red flagged schools were “saved” from closing, in the January 2013 “final” plan, along with one in far Northeast and one in far Southeast. Map prepared by Empower DC.



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