Just where does all the money go in ‘financially troubled’ school districts?

If you live in DC or Philadelphia, a huge chunk of the school system’s budget goes to consultants. I submit that just like with the banking and insurance industries, the huge sums paid to the top school officers and to their friends consultants is a large part of the reason why many school systems are approaching bankruptcy.

For example, in Philadelphia, one such firm, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), is earning an enormous bundle: it ALONE earned nearly $12 million from the Philly school district. (Just the initials BCG make one suspect the company is involved with giving the kids in Philadelphia a horrible case of tuberculosis. I don’t think they are curing anybody!)

Think I’m exaggerating? No.

(except for the bitter jest about TB.)

To quote from an article in Education week,

“At the moment, Boston Consulting Group has a limited presence in the district; funds to support the firm’s $230,000 per week price tag ran out June 11.”

If you multiply this $230,000 per week ‘price tag’ times 52 weeks in a year, you should get $11,960,000, which is essentially twelve million dollars. It’s kind of sad that all these high-powered ex-TFA whiz kids come to office claiming they can fix everything — but they turn around and hire consultants to tell them what to do — because, you see, they soon realize they don’t know squat about running schools. This company, as the article shows, have been acting as a shadow management in Philly for some years. For 4 years, the BCG  fees add up to almost $50 million — for ONE consulting firm! And there are undoubtedly many other firms, even if they don’t all charge as much as this one does.

No wonder the Philadelphia public schools are going to go into debt!

You can read some of my own prior posts on the costs of consultants in Washington, DC public schools. Or just do a search for “consultants” in the little search window in the upper right-hand corner of this window. What I found is that during the ’09-’10 school year, the District of Columbia spent, on the average, 40% of their total purchases on what appeared to me to be consulting fees. Only about 34% of the contracted purchases were for things that were probably school-related, such as textbooks, desks, school-related supplies, and computers. [And of those latter purchases, we don’t know how much actually went out into the classrooms for student use, and how much stayed in administrative offices!] Here is my original table: read it and weep.

Published in: on July 12, 2012 at 11:43 am  Comments (4)  
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Where does DCPS spend its cash? On Consultants

Someone leaked to me a list of all the contracts awarded by DCPS from August 2009 through May 2010. These go to textbooks, uniforms, school equipment, supplies, computers, hiring consultants, purchasing cleaning supplies for the janitors, and much, much more. It does not include salaries, office rent for DCPS headquarters, electricity, heat, or other things. But it seems to include a LOT of other things.

I was astonished at the enormous fraction of these funds that goes into the category “consultants”. Out of roughly $97 million spent on all of these various items, about $47 million went to consultants – nearly half of the money spent by DCPS. And, if you look carefully, a lot of those general ‘consulting’ funds go to Rhee’s former companies: Teach for America and the New Teacher Project. So, no wonder MR could claim she’s quadrupled funding for staff development. She did it by hiring her friends with little experience in actual classroom teaching, to ‘teach’ to the rest of us.

And notice the very small part of all of this that actually gets into the classroom for school-related supplies, equipment, books, computers, and so on: just about exactly one-third (33.7%).

Will this continue under interim chancellor Henderson, and Vincent Gray?

Here is the summary table I made. Read it and weep.


Published in: on January 3, 2011 at 7:32 pm  Comments (9)  
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Staff Development in DCPS

It has been stated that under Michelle Rhee, funding for staff development in DCPS quadrupled.

I suspect that is possible that this might be true in the very narrowest sense, but only if you pick the comparison times very, very carefully.

During Michelle Rhee’s first two years in DCPS, there was almost no real staff development worth the name.

I recently retired (June 2009) after over 30 years of teaching math in DC public schools. (Among other things, I coached a number of DC JHS and MS math teams to state championships, usually beating many or all of the other MathCounts teams from all other DC public, private, parochial, and charter schools.) I endured two full years of Michelle Rhee’s misguided leadership before leaving the classroom.

In the two-year period August 2007 through June 2009, I can honestly say that we had the very fewest system-wide content-specific or methods-specific staff development sessions that I can ever recall in my three decades in DCPS. At least that was the case in mathematics. Years ago, I recall attending numerous staff development sessions on teaching math, and on other topics, at my local school and at various DCPS or outside buildings, run either by DCPS teachers and staff, or else by outside experts. (I won’t say they were all wonderful, because some were not. But some were in fact great, and some of those good ones were run by other DCPS teachers.) I ran a few of such session, myself, sometimes for free, sometimes for a small stipend. (I hope that the sessions I ran were useful and not too boring, but will let others judge their quality.)

The only such PD session that I recall DCPS running in my subject (math) from fall 2007 through spring 2009, was introductory sessions on using graphing calculators.

Sorry, but that is a joke.

No person should be placed into a classroom and be asked to teach math as a subject if they have never used a graphing calculator before and needs such a course. If there are one or two such people in the system due to some unforeseen disaster, then they should be personally summoned for a one- or two-hour session on the topic, or someone should go to them and show them. By contrast, just about every mathematics teacher I know in DCPS could in fact TEACH either an introductory, an intermediate, or an advanced class or series of classes on using graphing calculators.

However, a couple of months ago, someone showed me where one could find the recent DCPS budgets for special purchases. I soon discovered that during SY 2009-2010, many millions of dollars have been spent under Rhee and Kamras on consultants for staff development. From what I understand, almost all of these sessions are run by relatively inexperienced, so-called ‘master teachers’ (often graduates of “Teach For Awhile”) who tell the rest of the teachers what they must do in order to measure up under the IMPACT measurement scheme. And, it appears, there are lots of such sessions. What’s more, judging by the figures I saw being paid to TFA and NTP and NLNS, these consultants are being remunerated at very, very generous levels.

So, four times what? Compared to when? And, if you simply pay the same consultants four times as much for the same work, is that really even germane?

Does this current type of staff development actually work to improve teaching?

Or, as George W. Bush might have said, “Is the children learning more good?”

Time will tell.

It is certainly instructive that after all this hugely increased emphasis on teaching to IMPACT during the last full school year, DC-CAS scores in DCPS abruptly plummeted after rising for several straight years.It might be obvious from the tenor of my comments that from what I hear, the current funds for staff development are mainly being used to browbeat teachers, not really to improve teaching.

And, what’s more, it would be better if teachers had:

* some say in what sort of staff development sessions they could attend, and

* had more freedom to craft their own good lessons.

Guy Brandenburg, Washington, DC


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