"Computers can solve your problem. You may not like the answer," writes the Boston Globe. Slashdot reader sandbagger explains:
"Boston Public Schools asked MIT graduate students Sebastien Martin and Arthur Delarue to build an algorithm that could do the enormously complicated work of changing start times at dozens of schools -- and re-routing the hundreds of buses that serve them. In theory this would also help with student alertness...." MIT also reported that "Approximately 50 superfluous routes could be eliminated using the new method, saving the school district between $3 million and $5 million annually."
The Globe reports:
They took to the new project with gusto, working 14- and 15-hour days to meet a tight deadline -- and occasionally waking up in the middle of the night to feed new information to a sprawling MIT data center. The machine they constructed was a marvel. Sorting through 1 novemtrigintillion options -- that's 1 followed by 120 zeroes -- the algorithm landed on a plan that would trim the district's $100 million-plus transportation budget while shifting the overwhelming majority of high school students into later start times.... But no one anticipated the crush of opposition that followed. Angry parents signed an online petition and filled the school committee chamber, turning the plan into one of the biggest crises of Mayor Marty Walsh's tenure. The city summarily dropped it. The failure would eventually play a role in the superintendent's resignation...
Big districts stagger their start times so a single fleet of buses can serve every school: dropping off high school students early in the morning, then circling back to get the elementary and middle school kids. If you're going to push high school start times back, then you've probably got to move a lot of elementary and middle schools into earlier time slots. The district knew that going in, and officials dutifully quizzed thousands of parents and teachers at every grade level about their preferred start times. But they never directly confronted constituents with the sort of dramatic change the algorithm would eventually propose -- shifting school start times at some elementary schools by as much as two hours. Even more... Hundreds of families were facing a 9:30 to 7:15 a.m. shift. And for many, that was intolerable. They'd have to make major changes to work schedules or even quit their jobs...
Nearly 85% of the district had ended up with a new start time, and "In the end, the school start time quandary was more political than technical... This was a fundamentally human conflict, and all the computing power in the world couldn't solve it."
But will the whole drama play out again? "Last year, even after everything went sideways in Boston, some 80 school districts from around the country reached out to the whiz kids from MIT, eager for the algorithm to solve their problems."
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