Independent Assessment of NYC Department of Education School Support Structure Finds Evolving Successes and Key Areas to Develop

Nov 11, 2013, 16:23 ET from The Parthenon Group

NEW YORK, Nov. 11, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The Parthenon Group's Education Practice today released an independent assessment of the New York City Department of Education's structure for school support, based on months of stakeholder input and analytical research.  As the current administration reflects on where its reforms to school support leave the system, the report identifies the "core values" of the current system most worthy of preserving, and prioritizes areas where school support can be most improved. 

The assessment considered both the progress and challenges of the last 12 years of reform, rejecting "a false decision between today's network model and the traditional district structure." Examining the detailed benefits and tradeoffs of the current support model, it establishes a pathway to ensure a tailored model of school support that works in a system of New York City's scale, includes adequate controls to protect the best interests of schools and students, and supports key areas of autonomy for school leaders and teachers who know their students best.

At the center of The Parthenon Group's assessment is recognition of the unique challenges of school support in New York City, given its scale and diversity. With roughly 1,800 schools and more than 95,000 school-based employees, the complexity of supporting schools in New York City is different from any other district nationally. In fact, twenty-eight of the 50 states have fewer schools to oversee than does the New York City DOE itself.   

"This is an ideal moment to assess where reforms to the school support structure leave the system today, and how they can be built upon to the benefit of the city's one million-plus students," said Christopher Librizzi, a partner in The Parthenon Group's Education Practice and lead author of the report.

The Parthenon Group interviewed more than 100 city stakeholders, including DOE leadership and staff, principals, parents, non-profit partners and community representatives. The team also received unfettered access to data from the DOE, and analyzed metrics related to principal satisfaction, teacher and student surveys, network composition (school and staffing), school performance, and spending related to school support.  The research, which began in May of this year, was commissioned by DOE and paid for with private philanthropic funds provided by the Fund for Public Schools.

The research focuses on the DOE's current network structure, in which principals can choose to join one of approximately 60 networks, which provide both instructional and operational support to groups of about 25-35 schools each. Among the key findings that informed Parthenon's conclusions:

  • Based on data from the past six years, schools prefer to collaborate with a much broader range of their peers than the old district or regional structures allowed
  • A sense of shared values and network effectiveness is the most important driver for schools in selecting their network
  • Choice has led to greater satisfaction from Principals, and over time stronger networks have gained schools
  • Between fiscal years 2005 and 2011, the DOE managed to reduce spending on school support by 32%, freeing up $85M in resources that were redirected to schools

From its research, The Parthenon Group team articulated four "core values" of the current school support structure that its research suggested are most important to understand and preserve:

  1. Schools should be able to choose support that works for them based on their unique needs
  2. The support system should protect the autonomy of schools to make decisions regarding hiring, budgets, and curriculum
  3. Certain key operational support functions – like budget and HR – are necessarily linked with instructional support to enable school improvement
  4. The support structure should be as lean as possible to ensure that resources flow to the school and classroom level

"The composition of support networks today represents the accumulation of choices of the city's school leaders themselves, rather than any top-down system. The basic notion that those providing school support are accountable in part to the schools they serve, rather than to a large central office or a local board, is a powerful impetus to change a culture over time," Librizzi noted.

At the same time, the report identifies four broad issue areas for improvement in the current system – talent, differentiation, community, and time.  The report offers specific observations and options for consideration within each of these areas:

Talent: The current support model features some strong and innovative networks, but also some networks whose leaders and teams cannot effectively manage the complexity of the job.
Differentiation: The DOE can provide more intensive and directive support to the most struggling schools, while maintaining autonomy for those schools that are ready to use it well.
Community: The current model makes it challenging for those supporting schools to respond to and connect to local communities, especially in the case of struggling schools and students.
Time: Perhaps the most powerful support the DOE can provide for schools would be to relieve the numerous demands on a principal's time.

"Our research included conversations with many of the most vocal critics of the current network structure, and we considered all questions and critiques. We believe that the issues our report highlights would be important to address regardless of the potential transition in leadership of the Department," said Librizzi.

The report also reflects on the time and attention to detail required to change the culture of school support in a system as vast as New York City's, and notes the risk of overreaching in an attempt to correct for some of the challenges that the report surfaces. 

"Impatience to improve school support going forward is understandable and correct given the urgent timeframe for the children in schools today, but it is also true that organizational change on a massive scale requires consistent fine-tuning and a measure of stability rather than repeated overhaul," commented Librizzi.  "The question of how best to support a school system as broad and diverse as New York City's defies easy answers or simple solutions, and we hope that this assessment is useful in continuing to improve the effectiveness of schools across the city."

About The Parthenon Group
The Parthenon Group is a leading advisory firm focused on strategy consulting with offices in Boston, London, Mumbai, San Francisco, and Shanghai. Since its inception in 1991, the firm has embraced a unique approach to strategic advisory services built on long-term client relationships, a willingness to share risk, an entrepreneurial spirit, and customized insights.

Parthenon has served the education sector since its founding. Parthenon's Education Practice – the first of its kind across management consulting firms – has a mission and vision to be the leading advisor to the global education sector. To achieve this, Parthenon invests significantly in dedicated management and team resources to ensure that our global expertise extends across public sector and non-profit education providers, foundations, companies and service providers, and investors. Within the US K-12 portion of our practice, Parthenon has supported more than 20 urban school districts, as well as ten state education agencies, leading charter management organizations, and numerous local school support non-profits.

Contact: Olivia Goodman/Agata Porter;,, 212.220.4444; Kerry Erwin,, 617.478.4687 

SOURCE The Parthenon Group