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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kansas City School Board Votes to Shutter Half the Schools

This story broke tonight as I started to wind down my day. The Kansas City School Board votes 5-4 to shut down 29 or 61 schools. There will be massive job loss too as 700 of 3000 positions, including 285 teachers, will be eliminated. As the superintendent explained, they have used their reserves and they no longer will be receiving desegregation funding. The district believed that by 2011 they would be in the red and something had to be done.

It must have taken a lot of bravery on the part of those 5 board members to vote for such a dramatic change, despite its total necessity. I'm not sure what is Orthonomic about this post. But I'm just trying to comprehend this collapse. Talk about a changing landscape. Sure, nearly half the students have switched to other schools, including charter schools. But talk about a changed landscape.

Update (Hat Tip: Ari): Read this Cato Institute Policy report on the school district. Anyone interested in education issues will find the report horrifying and fascinating.l


Ari said...

Here's some background on the whole desegregation ruling:

This definitely has some orthonomic relevance...

tdr said...

What is it? While we're on the subject of schools closing.... there has been some discussion of Catholic schools on this blog (ie how can they charge so little and educate so well?). The Baltimore diocese is closing a whole slew of Catholic schools next year. They simply cannot sustain them all.

Orthonomics said...

Thanks for the link Ari. Incredible policy piece. That's right, throwing money doesn't equal improvements in education.

tdr-Correct, you simply can't sustain them all.

Lion of Zion said...

new york catholic schools also closing

Shoshana Z. said...

This is simply and excellent example of how things can change in a minute and leave people gasping and grasping for solutions. But the truth is, there is no way this could have come out of left field with no warning. People there who are surprised must have had their eyes closed to reality for a long time. The same thing is happening in the Jewish world. When day schools are finally forced to close, people will act as if they are very surprised as well. Luckily for everyone who reads this blog, the shock won't be as hard.

JLan said...

SL- this is an incredibly Orthonomic post, as it reflects one of the major things you've discussed in a number of posts.

Note the numbers:

1) 29 of 61 schools (consolidating schools, while not something you regularly advocate), does mean increases in efficiency.

2) Of the 700 positions cut, only 258 are teachers. This goes along with what you advocate all the time- consolidating support staffs and administrations. Day schools could stand to do this, finding ways to consolidate support and administrative positions while only cutting a few teachers (and those are probably underutilized teachers).

Anonymous said...

Here's another way to make it orthonimcs.

With all these empty schools and qualified teachers it's a great place to start a yeshiva.

The cost of living is 47% lower than new york city while salaries are only 17% lower. source:

There are already 3 kosher restaurants there. source:

Anonymous said...

Most of the Orthodox Schools in their current form will not last much longer (perhaps 5 years).

The financial realities are catchinh up fast.

Miami Al said...

Public schools consolidating, diocese shutting down schools, there is a much to control costs in the education sector. The recent flap over the school that was so fed up with their union's refusal to improve things they fired the entire staff... changes are afoot.

We spend plenty of money on education in America, and we get a mediocre product. The fact that the Day Schools put out a worse product than the public schools, comparable to the Catholic schools that are half the cost, and atrocious compared to the slightly more expensive prep schools in a true tragedy. President Bush attacked the "soft bigotry of low expectations" in failing schools, but is our Day School culture terribly different? Sen. McCain, in his nomination acceptance speech called education the Civil Rights issue of the 21st Century, and he's right, the single biggest determining factor in someone's financial picture is education... everyone can point to exceptions, but better education has a direct relationship with better earning power. The second biggest determining factor? Your parents level of education -- that matters more than your parents earnings/wealth, even though those are correlated factors.

If you want to preserve 21st Century Jewish education, you need to encourage the experimentation necessary to build a Jewish education model for the information age, not hold on to an industrial age knock off.

Cost containment is critical, we need to get performance for our dollars.

The best determining factor in education quality is the quality of instructor, getting better teachers is key.

My list of proposed Reforms:

1. Integrated Administration - a school should have two heads, one business/financial, one academic, there should be no split between secular and Judaics, managing teachers is managing teachers.

2. Integrated Scheduling - students should have faculty schedule classes, not work around artificial rules about morning/afternoon.

3. Healthy Diet -- a good breakfast is key to a successful day, that's why poor kids are entitled to a hot breakfast, there is no reason that we send kids to school hungry so they can have a minyan at school and eat cereal/doughnuts. Either go to minyan before school and have breakfast, or have a real breakfast through the school cafeteria.

4. "Diocese level boards" that oversee education in the area. The schools may be autonomous, but the Catholic school system accomplishes education at half the cost because resources are pooled. This might mean that 6 schools share 3 full-time music teachers, that work on one campus in the morning, the other in the afternoon.

5. Co-ed Schools / Single Sex Schools -- no more nonsense like splitting up here or there. If you want single sex education, use single sex schools. It's a big cost driver to have to over staff for part of the day because you are doubling up certain periods.

6. Break nursery away from the schools. They are staff/resource intensive, and the Day School structure makes them cost twice as much as private Child Care options for fewer days.

7. No more "tuition breaks" for staff, you can pay tax-free via a 125 plan, but stop creating a hidden scholarship/employment network for unqualified community members.

8. Encourage/support alternative programs: Co-ops, charters, etc. They may be "inferior," but you are going to need to have different options for people at different income ranges. Expecting everyone to use the same schools results in managing up to the expectations of the wealthy and expecting everyone to carry the poor, that simply isn't possible.

Miami Al said...

All of this is focused on moving to a full-time only teaching model. A "half day" teacher at one of these schools doesn't work a second "half day," they are all on the same schedule. As a result, the "savings" in having part time teachers result in inferior teachers. Even if the hourly rate is comparable, a professional teacher can't earn a quality living in these schools, which pushes the quality teachers to other areas for employment.

We must improve quality and lower costs, and that requires compromises. When the option is A OR B, we can't keep choosing both and hoping someone else will pay for it.

Dave said...

The single biggest factor for income is parental income.


Education is a strong magnifier, but someone from the top quintile who doesn't get a college degree is more likely to end up in the top quintile as an adult than someone from the bottom quintile with a college degree.

Honestly Frum said...

they have the oposite problem from many yeshivos. They have too many facilities and a dwindling population while we have a growing population and not enough capacity. they should be comended for doing what was needed and not keeping these schools alive to satisfy some union boss.

Miami Al said...


No, parental income, when you regress the correlations out, usually end up with parental income around 3rd. When you do the mobility analysis, in normally doesn't normalize for other correlated factors like race and gender.

Someone in a lower income is likely to stay roughly near there. HOWEVER, someone in a lower income bracket is less likely to have a college degree, and if they have one, less like to have it from a good University, etc.

Family income matters a LOT, it just isn't #1 when you normalize the data.

However, a VERY close #2 after years of education is parental years of education. Depending on which correlated variables you separate out in the regression, sometimes the parental education looks MORE important.

tdr said...

On the subject of out how to improve education:

I read it last week and immediately sent it to the principals of my kids' school.