The below letter to the editor responds to the latest of many criticisms leveled at the Boston Public Schools. Most of the criticism focuses on leadership, especially on the superintendent. But the superintendent is not the only factor in the functioning of the 46,000-student district. The central office directory lists 518 employees besides the superintendent who oversee the 4000-plus teachers and another 4000-plus support staff. It’s a vast bureaucracy, the largest department in the City. Yet there has never been a formal organizational analysis of the structure of the central office. What departments are needed? What staff does each department need? What are the lines of decision-making, communication, accountability?
It’s easy to blame the superintendent–the only school official known to the public–for everything that goes wrong, from late buses to low test scores to turnover in the Office of English Learners. But does the superintendent have an efficient organizational structure beneath and around her? With a new superintendent coming soon, the time is right to bring in someone like McKInsey or Bain or Boston Consulting Group to do a professional analysis of the structure of the central office, so that the new incumbent can assemble a leadership team organized to serve the needs of students, and staffed to carry out policies efficiently. In a large bureaucracy, structure is policy.
The Boston Globe
Friday, April 22, 2022
BPS English learners office is only the latest turnstile
Re the Boston Public Schools’ Office of English Learners “Turnstile spins in BPS English learning office”, Page 1, April 18), the worst part isn’t the turnover. It’s the apparent lack of a BPS policy on the very existence of the office. The story reports, “One factor that may have played a role in the continued instability at the Office of English Learners was Cassellius’ belief early on that the office shouldn’t exist. Cassellius floated the idea of dismantling the department …in the summer of 2019.”
Seventy-four languages are spoken in the BPS. Forty-eight percent of our students’ first language is not English—that’s 22,200 students. Over 30 percent of BPS enrollment is formally classified as EL (English learner) but that does not capture all the students who need language support. The academic performance of these students clearly shows the need for special measures. On the 2021 MCAS, 3 percent of Boston’s English learner 10th- graders scored in the top two levels in English. The rate for the district was 45 percent, while the state hit 64 percent. In math, 3 percent of EL students made the top levels while the district scored 38 percent and the state 52 percent.
Yet we might not have had an Office of English Learners. Dr. Cassellius came from Minnesota, where only 8.5 percent of K-12 students are English learners. They didn’t need an EL office.
The EL office is only the latest revolving door throughout the serially restructured central office. It is an indication of the need for a top-down analysis of central administration structure by an outside consultant like McKinsey, BCG or Bain before we bring on another superintendent who may have his or her own ideas about what administrative units the BPS needs. The City should determine its own school department organizational chart based on the needs of its student population, not on the opinion or prior experience of whoever happens to be superintendent.
Original letter printed in the Globe found here.
Other posts authored by Gary can be found here.
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