The Robots Are Going to Kill Us All …

I’m just going to come right out and say it:

This Boston Public School time situation is a disaster. DISASTER.

From the Boston Globe: 

The Boston School Committee on Wednesday approved a new policy that would change the start and end times at many schools across the city for next fall, and officials planned to disclose what the new hours of operation would be at individual schools Thursday.

Officials spoke only in broad terms prior to the meeting about what the proposed policy calls for — having more high schools start after 8 a.m. and having more elementary schools dismiss students before 4 p.m.

So let me get this straight.

The Boston Public Schools went to the School Committee and said,

“We need to change school times because we read three studies that say we should let the teenagers start later and it may or may not save us some transportation dollars. We’re not what “later” means exactly or if we’re going to really be saving any money, but we’re going to take a guess and then blow up the schedule of every family in Boston according to what these two dudes from MIT are able to hammer out later tonight. Cool?”

And the Boston School Committee said, “Yeah, sure. Sounds good.”


School Superintendent Tommy Chang said as soon as the School Committee votes — and assuming the board passes the new policy — the MIT research team will run final scenarios and make any tweaks based on changes to the proposed policy by the committee.

“They are going to be working all evening to get this done,” Chang said before the meeting.

So instead of “running the final scenarios” so they could be presented to the school committee for consideration and the potential to opening up for public comment to gauge support for the plan, the school committee voted on the abstract concept of adjusting the times and will just force the policy change on families?

Who thought THAT was a good idea?

Now we have a gigantic hot mess on our hands. And don’t take my word for it — as we speak, parents are already organizing and have started their own petition to block the move.

As of this writing, more than 1,000 parents have signed in protest. And they’re flooding my EduMom inbox:

“My son’s school in JP is changing from 9:30-4:10 to 7:15-1:55… these new times are very hard on young kids and working families.  Forget about it if your kids takes the bus – that means a 6yo at the bus stop at 6am?”

“Are you going to write about this? It’s OUTRAGEOUS.”

“Changes like this should be made based on community input and not an MIT algorithm and that the education of our children be based on what is healthy for them, not what is healthy for the bus budget.”

The backlash that is coming from all parts of the city makes one thing crystal clear: Not enough parents were engaged.

From what we can see in from the BPS presentation to the school committee this week — meetings with community groups (not necessarily parent groups) only happened over the last month to six weeks:

(And seriously, ONE meeting in East Boston? Come on, guys …)


And the working group? Only two parents — one of whom also works for BPS.

(The last names and schools of the student members have been dedacted.)

One of the easiest ways to tell is the suggestion of as early as 1:15pm as the end of school day at some elementary schools.

I literally talk to thousands of parents on a regular basis about issues of safety and education — and I don’t know very many parents who think letting kids out of school at 1:15pm is a good idea. That’s not a full day of school, it’s a half day. And with all of the effort we’ve spent hammering into the heads of parents that we need more classroom time — this just doesn’t ring true.

In addition, families in Boston need wrap around care for their children in order to keep a roof over their heads. So while maybe you’re saving a buck for the school district, you are passing along huge daycare/aftercare/activities costs to families, the Commonwealth, etc. For some families, it means kids will be on their own. All afternoon. Getting into trouble. We know this.

In addition, we now think it’s appropriate to get elementary age children up and out of bed at 5:30am so they can make it to school by 7:15am? How long until we see the first study telling us that THIS idea is total crap, too?

How this could have been done better:

Individual schools could have directly engaged parents in surveys (with at least 50% participation) to determine what the correct start time should be for the school. That information should have been communicated to the district to determine viability within the transportation schedule, then communication and negotiation should have happened with the school if adjustments needed to be made in collaboration and with buy in from families. Then, once the schedule had been hammered out across the district, THEN it should have been presented to the Boston School Committee for approval of the new plan.

I mean seriously, what the hell did the Boston School Committee even VOTE ON?

The concept of moving school times?

From the BPS Proposal to the School Committee:

And who are these two people from MIT who now have been empowered to make these kind of life-changing decisions for all of these families in Boston?

In a conference room Wednesday evening, two of the MIT researchers — Arthur Delarue and Sebastien Martin — were ready to get going on the final calculations. Their two laptops were connected to about 100 other computers, allowing them to run 100 different scenarios through an algorithm for start and end times for the district’s 125 schools. The algorithm takes between an hour and 90 minutes to run. It also generates new bus routes at the same time.

Those bus routes, however, would need to be adjusted over the summer based on updated enrollments for the schools.

“Maybe it will please everyone, but that is unlikely,” Delarue said.


Well, gee THANKS, Arthur …

Who is Arthur accountable to if this whole thing is a hot mess? And isn’t math and technology supposed to be a tool to help us guide our decisions — not the decision maker?

Looks like unless this parent movement is successful, we’re set to allow the robots to kill us all … or at least make the lives of families in Boston a hell of alot more difficult next year.



What do you think?

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