District Partner 1999-2001; 2004-2008; 2009-2010; 2013-2014; 2015-2016; 2016-2017
ERS has been partnering with Boston Public Schools (BPS) for over a decade, in projects covering professional development (PD) spending, comprehensive resource mapping and analysis, turnaround school strategy, the role of autonomy across schools, and advising the incoming superintendent on his first 100 day plan. See how BPS is addressing what we call the "triple squeeze"—a set of challenges they inherited and that require sustained, strategic action and political will to address.
"ERS’s level of empathy, respect, and understanding of a school district’s complexities lead to a more productive outcome."
-Erika Giampietro, Special Assistant to the Superintendent, Boston Public Schools
With about 54,000 students, Boston Public Schools (BPS) is the largest district in Massachusetts and the oldest public school district in the country. BPS serves a high-need population, with about 78% of students eligible for free-and-reduced-price lunch, and nearly 30% classified as English Language Learners. Compared to similar districts, BPS' student proficiency is slightly above average, and yet the district knows it still has far to go. BPS has relatively high per-pupil funding, which it distributes through a weighted student formula, and nearly one third of schools operate under some kind of “autonomy” structure.
- School Design: Work with Boston Public Schools to support the school design planning process for 39 schools that are implementing Expanded Learning Time (ELT). The work falls into three streams: Individualized Coaching with 6 schools, whole group learning and design sessions with all 39 schools, and capacity building for BPS Central Office
- Transition Team Support: Co-facilitated transition team meetings for incoming Superintendent Tommy Chang, providing local context from past experience. Created a database of findings from the transition team and the district’s “Listening and Learning” tour, which was used as essential background in Sup. Chang’s 100 day plan.
- School System 20/20 Analysis: Conducted interviews and analyzed data from budget, staffing, course schedule, and student demographics using our School System 20/20 framework, to help the district understand exactly how their resources of people, time, and money are currently being used, as well as to highlight how their policies and practices shape that resource use.
- Resource Mapping: Using our Resource Map methodology, create a clear picture of BPS’ spending patterns, and spending over time, to inform the district’s 5 year sustainability
- School-based Autonomy: Conducted research and analysis and facilitated working-group sessions to examine school autonomy in BPS and develop a vision for the future; this was part of a broader initiative with the Center for Collaborative Education, funded by The Boston Foundation
- Resource Mapping: Quantify and map use of existing resources with a focus on identifying ways to fundamentally change the ongoing cost structure in response to the looming budget deficit, while ensuring resources align with the district’s overall transformation strategy
- Gates “Small Schools” Project: Collaborate with BPS in a study of small, high-performing high schools, funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to analyze school and district reform practices that help create equitable, excellent, personalized high schools
- High School Design: Conduct in-depth analysis, in partnership with the Boston Plan for Excellence, of use of people, time, and money at four BPS high schools that are changing practices to better support struggling learners
- Weighted Student Funding: Facilitate an early-stage district-level design team to analyze spending differences across schools and students, and to develop funding system principles which serve as a guidepost for the implementation of the system in 2010
- Professional Development Analysis: Perform two in-depth analyses in partnership with the Boston Plan for Excellence (first study, 1999; follow up in 2001) of BPS’ PD spending to help Boston create a strategy that aligns with the district’s instructional goals and Whole School Change plans
Findings and Outcomes
- Professional Development: ERS and the Boston Plan for Excellence published a joint report that found that most PD funds were spent on fragmented courses and programs, and which included recommendations to enhance the quality of PD. A follow-up study revealed that BPS had responded to the recommendations and was using PD resources in much more focused, integrated ways to support the district’s PD strategy. And, because BPS was able to describe a clear system-wide strategy for professional development, leaders were able to raise total spending on PD by 50%. This refocusing and prioritization of a system-wide professional development strategy contributed to the district ultimately winning the Broad prize for urban school districts.
- Small High Schools: Based on its analysis and case studies of Boston high schools, ERS identified important ways that small high schools effectively use resources to improve instruction and performance. ERS also highlighted the critical importance of flexibility. The financial analysis led to changes in high school allocations that promoted equity and served as an early foundation for BPS’ implementation of Weighted Student Funding 5 years later.
- Weighted Student Funding: ERS created principles that guided the implementation and continuous improvement of BPS’ Weighted Student Funding System.
- Budget Reallocation and Communication: Created analysis and communication materials used by CFO John McDonough to help School Committee understand the critical need for making bold changes to the cost structure and facilitate district transformation. This work has been shared widely at a national level through the Council of Great City Schools and the Aspen Institute for Urban School Superintendents.
- School-based Autonomy Report: ERS facilitated a cross-functional team - half principals, half central office staff - which examined school autonomy in BPS. This entailed gathering data on how autonomy was currently working, as well as developing recommendations for a new vision. The process was called “exceptionally well-done” even when the team had to confront “elephants in the room” In partnership with the Center for Collaborative Education, ERS released The Path Forward, which offered seven recommendations for expanding autonomy in a strategic way. Called a “game changer” and a “historic moment” by principals and board members, this report was a call to action for how BPS can develop a system of schools that empower each school to meet the needs of its students, while the central office serves as strategic partner. Some findings and recommendations include:
- At least half of school leaders surveyed want more flexibility in 25 different areas
- Autonomy must be accompanied by accountability and support for school leaders
- Transition Team: ERS worked with a small team of advisors to help incoming Superintendent Tommy Chang plan and facilitate meetings of the “transition team”—a group of about 30 stakeholders, including principals, central office staff, and community members. The transition team planned the Listening and Learning tour, which generated a database of more than 1,000 suggestions and recommendations from teachers, parents, students, and community advocates. The ERS team summarized and organized the material into themes to inform Dr. Chang’s 100-day plan for BPS—and drew on our long experience with Boston to add knowledge of the local context. Some of the themes in the 100 day plan were:
- Creating a culture of “we” throughout the district, in which the district serves schools
- A focus on long-term financial planning (which ERS supported by offering a financial planning model used in several other districts)
- Implementing extended learning time in more schools (Which ties into analysis we did in 2014’s autonomy report)
- Resource Map, Financial Analysis: ERS' findings were used to inform Boston Public School (BPS)’s 5-year financial model and the strategic planning process. Our analysis of BPS’s School Year 2015-2016 budget data provided a clear account of:
- How dollars are spent
- How the spending compares to that of other large urban districts across the country
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