Friday, November 25, 2011

Charts and more charts

The Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School folk forwarded me an interesting chart this week.
It didn't convert well to GoogleDocs, but I've posted the .xlsx document there anyway.
As the rallies continued before a board meeting Thursday, this document is being circulated.
If I've interpreted its aim correctly -- and I didn't ask for clarification -- the idea here is to shift the closure of a Peterborough school between the options available to the school-closure review committee and trustees as the latter chose an administrative recommendation to axe PCVS.
Shift which school closes and the numbers change.
Play with the number of students -- and from what the chart shows only one such survey has been conducted -- that might leave the Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB and go to the Catholic system (which from what I can tell has no comparable arts program) and the numbers on the rest of the chart change. Play with the numbers from the Catholic system that have chosen PCVS' arts program in the past and the numbers change.
Why? My guess is they're trying to show a belief that closing PCVS and moving the arts programming to another school equals a loss of students to the KPRDSB.
Interestingly, though it takes these from the board-provided stats, the number that never changes is the projected student populations.
As wary as some might be to depend on projections, they're usually quite solid for high schools. The students who will attend high school in five years already exist-- they're in Grade 3 or 4 right now. Heck, the students in Grade 1 today will be in high school starting in 2019. With some variables (such as population shift/migration) to take into account, these numbers won't dramatically change. Boards also know the average number of credits taken by a high school student (since these schools are funded on figure based on the provincial average number of credits taken by a high school student). They also know, after more than five years, the average rate of Grade 12 students who return for a fifth year of high school. For most Ontario boards that I've heard of, that figure is around a 30% to 35% return rate.
Looking at the chart, 2009-10 enrolment at five schools is 4,099 FTE. In 2014-15, it's predicted to be 3,238. That's 800 fewer FTE, which in many boards across the province is larger than the average high school's population.
That's a number that shouldn't be forgotten and that won't be growing enough to change the rationale for why the review was started in the first place.
Don't trust the board numbers? OK. Let's look at the most recent census stats available from 2006 (to be updated in March 2012 from the 2011 census). You used to be able to embed the chart, but it's here.
Accounting for the five-year difference, for our purposes we take the 10-14 age cohort as the 15-19 cohort today. In 2006, there were 4,490. Going five years down the age range, it drops to 3,650. Hitting the age group that will be in high school towards the end of the date range from the board figures, the number in 2006 was 3,345. That's a difference of 1,145 to split between all the city's high schools.
My point here is you can chart and chart and chart, but nothing changes the reality that there will be far fewer high school students in five-to-10 years than there are today. In addition to other factors such as facility condition, etc., this is what drives the entire process.
With the board appearing to be committed to the survival of the arts programs at PCVS, it does seem, again, like we're talking about buildings instead of programs and people.


Mark Woolley said...

Thanks once again, Hugo, for paying attention to the situation with the KPRDSB. And thanks also for trying the Enrolment Modeller spreadsheet and graphs that I created. I too found you can't run it in GoogleDocs but a user can download it to their machine by clicking your link and then choosing Download Original from the File menu. It opens in Excel (need a viewer?

You seem to have found many of the things that the modeller can do but I would suggest it goes even further. A user can try different combinations of values and explore toward the edge situations - trying to find solutions that are extreme in some way (us computer folks love the outer reaches because they inform what's possible/impossible). You can actually show that there only certain combinations that could be applied in 2012 that would lead to a solution that still works in 2014. Works can be defined using the minimum acceptable underutilization for any school within the model - if you consider it a problem if a school goes below 75% and want to flag that - set the parameter. The model is limited to the year 2012-2014 by the board data that underlies it. I'll gladly extend it if more data becomes available.

I include a sample scenario that shows that under a best case (read, edge) combination of values that there is no way the board decision will actually solve the problem. While the model doesn't show system wide underutilization, focusing on the detail school level instead, one of the other documents I shared with you shows that we are currently at 71% utilization across the 4 ARC schools (and this has triggered an ARC). The board's decision is guaranteed to takes us back to 71% by 2014 (best case)... another ARC, another school.

It can also show that only a subset of the schools included in the ARC could be closed to accomplish the ARC goals, using the numbers the board provided at the start of the ARC process, which suggests to me that the direction to the committee was fundamentally analytically flawed, beyond the butchering of the process documented in the Review application (BTW, we totally understand it is not an appeal). This means either the administration who provided those numbers didn't understand their own projection implications or if they did, knowingly setup the baffling situation that has unfolded.

Obviously there are goals that have not been stated but are being pursued. Perhaps absolute minimum underutilization is the target based on projections beyond what have been released. This would certainly earn a gold star for the board and administration. But it would set us up with little room for any future growth (we are a designated Places to Grow community), increased busing, weakened programs and a damaged downtown. If our school board and its administration get their accolades it may attract more families looking for the quality education they provide. At what point does overcrowding of our remaining schools occur? We don't know because we can't make sense of what they are doing and we can't see a successful future from the path they are on and in that state of confusion we can do nothing but fight fiercely to maintain what makes sense. If any of this is true and was effectively and transparently explained and supported by the community there might be peace. But the way it is being done is evil.

I don't know how to crystal ball all of this far enough into the future to make informed decisions? But I do want the short term problem fixed for more than a couple of years and I do want some wiggle room in the system so the board has room to make adjustments they might desire in future. That may not get a gold star but it might be sustainable.

Mark Woolley said...

Thanks, Hugo, for trying out the Enrolment Modeller and also providing a link to it from your blog. You commented that it will not run in GoogleDocs - this is true but a user may follow your link and then run it on their own computer by choosing Original Document from the File menu. The user needs Excel but Microsoft provides a free viewer if needed:

Mark Woolley said...

One interesting thing that a model can do is help a user explore the outer limits of various scenarios. You can see if a particular set of value results in some measure of success. Schools that are pushed over capacity or below a threshold percentage of capacity are flagged (yellow squares, red diamonds) in the graph and in the number grid - it's important to check both because exceeding the range by a couple of students is not the same as exceeding it by hundreds.

The threshold value can be varied and argued about! I've looked at the raw data and worked out some average values in the ARC year (thinking that coming back here would be bad) and also for the final year (because presumably we don't ever want to get there). What's a reasonable value for how full a school is before alarm and ARC start ringing? One of the schools is below 50% this year, while the average is is closer to 70%. The measure of the average including all city schools in 2014 is just below 65%. Numbers in that range seem like plausible values.

Another approach would be to set up a scenario and then adjust the percentage of capacity value until problems appear - the value is a measure of how good/bad that plan is.

You mentioned the Arts Program which the board is planning to move intact as part of the accommodation - the model allows you to define the move of any such block of students from one school to another before the percentage redistribution of the rest. If ASCVI closed there would be a French Immersion group that would presumably be relocated as a block. PCVS has an ESL group that could be moved with the Arts Program (add their numbers) but the model doesn't presently allow two blocks to move independently - it could be extended if that were deemed important.

The final item of information on the graph is the blue line across the top. It shows total capacity and will drop at 2012 demonstrating the size of the school being closed. The space between the blue line and the top of the solid colour areas representing the schools is the system underutilization for the 4 ARC schools.

Education Reporter said...

Thanks for the clarifications and additional explanations Mark.

Interesting that if 65% is a board threshold and numbers would dip below that anyway, the closure of one school doesn't appear to help with the pupil-place vacancies elsewhere in the long run. A second school could come under consideration in five years, or the board might just readjust its target from percentage to an outright body count, since it can and is encouraged to use space co-operatively with other public-sector and publicly funded agencies.