Revisiting School District Design: A Stream-based Approach

Karen Smilowitz, James N. and Margie M. Krebs Professor in Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences, McCormick School of Engineering; Professor of Operations, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University


Operations research methods have been used to improve operations in public school systems for over fifty years.  The talk will explore connections between evolving issues in public education and advances in optimization, computing and geographic information systems, beginning with early work motivated by Supreme Court decisions to desegregate schools.  The talk will focus specifically on the school district design problem. We introduce a new compact formulation that incorporates multiple assignment decisions simultaneously by assigning students in small geographic units to sets of schools (e.g., elementary, middle, high school) and programs (e.g., bilingual education) with single composite variables, referred to as “streams”. This compact formulation incorporates advances in district design modeling from the literature and extends the decision-making capabilities of such models. We tie these extensions to education literature and policies at specific school districts. This new formulation is computationally efficient, easily reconfigurable for evolving problem specifications, and facilitates improved communication with stakeholders.  To illustrate these capabilities, we present a case study from a partnership focused on district redesign to address historic inequities in access to education.


Dr. Karen Smilowitz is the James N. and Margie M. Krebs Professor in Industrial Engineering and Management Science at Northwestern University, with a joint appointment in the Operations group at the Kellogg School of Management.  Dr. Smilowitz is an expert in modeling and solution approaches for logistics and transportation systems in both commercial and nonprofit applications.  She has been instrumental in promoting the use of operations research within the humanitarian and nonprofit sectors through the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Academy of Engineering, as well as various media outlets.  Dr. Smilowitz is the Editor-in-Chief of Transportation Science and a Fellow of the INFORMS society.