Sunday, March 28, 2010

Modeling Academics

There is a common practice that seems to be a pattern that takes on mythical significance. And that is that last year's school budget expenditures with the exception of co-incidental changes dictate next year's curriculum and budget make-up.

Furthermore, next year's budget is considered flat when it entirely accommodates the slope of increases in staff salary and benefits. So it is not unusual to hear Board members euphemistically say the the budget stays the same from this year to next or it doesn't cost us any more. In fact the unconscionable increases in salary not only increase costs, they compound the cost year over year assuming there's no intervention.

But given the economic environment, suburban schools in CT need to get smarter about school. In other words, we need to begin modeling every school every year. That means that the tight coupling of curriculum to spreadsheet budgets needs to be decoupled.

Based on the local fiscal tea leaves, communities need to determine what they can afford and settle on a figure that is fair to the average taxpayer.  That's the budget part.

Whatever this sum, the skeleton key to creating next year's academic infrastructure needs to be a school model of what's important to the school.

A Captain Obvious list of necessities includes:

  • bare bones services mandated by law
  • mandated curriculum offerings
  • fixed and inevitable costs (heat, water, fuel, books, supplies, consumables)
  • core sports costs
  • bare bones enrichment curriculum offerings
  • bare bones administrative costs
A second tier of expenses might include near and dear offerings and special programs that are successful and unique.  Also included may be periodic offerings such as a bi-annual AP course in an esoteric subject.

The final component might be:

  • non-core sports
  • supplemental courses
  • poorly performing courses or departments
  • vanity offerings or department silos that can be pruned without a loss of fundamental mission
This kind of modeling ensures that the quality of the school's academic offering can degrade gracefully in terms of cost without affecting the quality or integrity of the school's mission.

Schools that are growing can scale up intelligently and scale back equally intelligently.  This is different but related to strategic planning.  Modeling is about generating cost effective education and agile academic year-to-year continuity so that curriculum stay s fresh and vital.


roslyn.h.fitch said...

Your comments on budget-cutting would be a lot more compelling if you could specify what constitutes a "vanity" or "supplemental" course. That is the real rub, isn't it? It's easy to cry "pork," but harder to cite specifics and defend those charges with statistics on student enrollment, student performance, relevance to college or trade school admission, and so forth. Perhaps you can translate your ease with pontificating on budget-cuts to some concrete examples of EOS courses that are unneccesary and

The Caretaker said...

You are quite the charmer.

The process described is how a committee would go about determining the possible solution sets available to a given school. As usual, all some people are interested in are easy answers or scape-goats.

I'm not interested in starting food fights that leave nasty recriminations floating around.

EO is bloated. With smaller classes have followed lower test scores - start there.

roslyn.h.fitch said...

Charmer, eh? That's a good one, coming from someone who thinks Hitler parodies are amusing.

So..... you don't want to be the one to say which classes have to go? This could cause a "food fight." Figures. Now if this isn't a B of Ed members job, then whose is it?

And by the way.... why do you say at the top of your blog that this is a sandbox of ideas.. meant to promote discussion... when what you REALLY mean is that you only want to hear from people who agree with you!?

Is "monoblog" a word?

No matter. I now understand why you have a history of 0 comments. And don't worry, I won't be reading your "newsletter" and bothering you with attempts at clarification again.

The Caretaker said...

Actually I can identify classes that are worth examining for budget cutting at UConn.

When students don't have to show up for class but simply memorize information given in powerpoint slides, something is wrong.

As a taxpayer I think the professor should be shown the door.