Wednesday, January 15, 2003

GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT

GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT

Posted By on Wed, Jan 15, 2003 at 4:00 AM

The massive $575,000 MGT of America consultants’ study of the Memphis City Schools flunks the most basic test. The report’s demographic description of the system is wildly inaccurate and based, in part, on 1997-1998 data even though current -- and accurate -- numbers are readily available from the MCS communications staff, the Internet, and the Tennessee Department of Education. In Section 2 of the 15-section report, MGT benchmarks Memphis against four other urban school systems. Going back five years to dredge up 1997-1998 figures -- and inaccurate ones at that -- this section of the report says the MCS student population is 71.4 percent minority and that 34.3 percent of the students are in poverty. The correct numbers, according to MCS, are 91 percent minority and 74 percent in poverty, meaning they are eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch program based on household income. The purported 1997-1998 figures were way off even then. Five years ago MCS was 87 percent minority and 70 percent in poverty, according to the MCS Office of Research and Evaluation. The MGT report, citing 2000-2001 data, also says the total enrollment is 113,730. The MCS office says the correct enrollment figure is 117,916. That discrepancy is apparently due to the fact that MCS counts some 4,200 students who are in the Adult Basic Education program working on their G.E.D. Adding to the confusion, the MGT report is inconsistent. In the executive summary, it says the system is 91 percent minority, 69.8 percent in poverty, and puts the enrollment at 118,200. The flagrant errors apparently were not caught by school board members or MCS staff when they received a draft of the report December 12, 2002, or last Thursday, when copies were given to the school board. The board met Monday night for five hours but did not discuss it. It appears at least one other key section of the report may also include false or misleading assumptions. A total of $69 million of the widely reported $114 million in potential savings (60 percent) over the next five years in the study comes from converting to “multitrack” schools. “This figure is based upon extremely conservative estimates of $16 million for each of three elementary schools and $21 million for one middle school that would not be built during the 2003-2004 through 2006-2007 period,” the report says. It does not say whether multitrack schools would be used for longer hours during the day and evening, with a second shift of students after the first shift leaves, or during the summer months when most schools are closed. Caldwell Elementary and Rozelle Elementary are already on a so-called year-round calendar, but the term is misleading. Students attend the state-mandated 180 days of class, no more and no less; but the school days and vacation periods are spread out over 11 months instead of the 10 months in the traditional school calendar. There is little if any savings in such year-round schools. The same number of students are served. At some schools enrollment declined after the new schedule was adopted because students and parents preferred the traditional school calendar that runs from mid-August to late May. If schools were actually open all year, teachers, principals, bus drivers, and custodians would have to be paid more to run them. The cost of this is not projected in the report.

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