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Publications

Ideas matter. In addition to our work with clients, Bellwether Education Partners generates and gathers ideas and policy solutions, analyzes ongoing reform efforts, and writes about and discusses education and education reform. We believe that the work we do to improve education for all students benefits from thought leadership, analysis, and thoughtful discourse around emerging ideas, in order to help challenge leaders and leading organizations to think differently and improve, to coordinate efforts where possible, to inform policymakers and improve the political and policy context, and to share successful approaches with the public education field at large.

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Following the first ESSA plan submissions to the U.S. Department of Education in April 2017, Bellwether Education Partners — in partnership with the Collaborative for Student Success — convened a group of 30 education experts to independently review 17 state accountability plans. During the review, the experts, who represented national and state perspectives from both sides of the aisle, identified best practices in providing a strong statewide accountability system that will help ensure a high-quality education for all students.

Because the first round of reviews was designed to help provide important context for the remaining state plans being submitted in September 2017, we conducted interim reviews of draft plans released by California and New York, using the same rubric and a process that closely mirrored our first set of reviews. We recognize that these pre-reviews represent a snapshot in time and that the states may make revisions prior to formally submitting their plans to the U.S. Department of Education. Given the size of California and New York’s diverse student populations, as well as their geographic diversity, we felt that feedback on their draft plans was important in not only strengthening these state’s final submissions, but also in providing information for other states still writing their plans.

We intend to conduct full reviews of all second-round states following their final submissions in September.

Read our reviews of the draft California and New York state plans here.

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What effect does teacher pension spending have on school funding equity? In our new report, “Illinois’ Teacher Pension Plans Deepen School Funding Inequities,” we analyze 10 years of Illinois’ educator and school demographic data to track changes in funding equity.

Our analysis shows that pension funding is yet another way in which states and districts invest fewer resources in the education of low-income students and students of color.

Among our findings, the most alarming is that pension spending increases existing poverty-based inequities by over 200 percent, and race-based inequities by over 250 percent. These disparities are the product of Illinois’ pension system and cannot be fixed by pouring more money into the funds. In fact, the greater the contribution rate, the larger the inequities become.

Given the magnitude of the effect, pension spending should be included in analyses of state school finance equity. Otherwise an important source of disparities can be masked, and efforts to make school funding fairer may be undermined.

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The 2015 passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) ushered in a new era for state accountability systems. ESSA provided states an opportunity to help all students succeed by rethinking both how they identify schools that need to improve, and how those schools might be improved. The law requires states to submit a formal plan to the Department of Education for peer review and then begin implementing that plan in the 2017-18 school year. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia submitted their plans this past April, and the remainder will do so in September.

Keeping student success at the heart of these plans is paramount. That’s why Bellwether Education Partners, in partnership with the Collaborative for Student Success, convened an objective, independent peer review of state accountability plans in order to look beyond mere compliance with the federal process, encourage all states to adopt high-quality plans, and provide a resource for state leaders working to help all students succeed.

Read our executive summary of strengths and weaknesses across the 17 first-round states.

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Every day, nearly 25 million students ride a big yellow bus to school. These iconic vehicles are so entrenched in American school culture that their likeness is the predominant symbol for education.

There’s good reason for this. Since the yellow school bus came on the scene decades ago, almost nothing has changed about the vehicles or how school systems use them to transport students.

But do school transportation systems still meet the needs of current students, families, and schools? In "Miles to Go: Bringing School Transportation into the 21st Century,” we analyze school transportation on a national scale through multiple lens.

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With nearly one in three students statewide attending a rural school, rural education must be a top priority for Oklahoma’s state policymakers. Students deserve a high-quality education, and the economy depends on it. Unfortunately, data suggest that many of Oklahoma’s rural schools are not providing their students with the academic and non-academic skills necessary for them to be successful in their next steps after high school.

Over the years, Oklahoma’s policymakers have implemented a number of measures to address the challenges facing rural schools. But what is often missing from conversations about how to fix these problems are the voices of the students, parents, community members, and business leaders living in these communities and experiencing the problems firsthand.

In our new report, “Voices from Rural Oklahoma: Where’s Education Headed on the Plain?”, we seek to raise the collective voices of rural community members and convey their thoughts and perspectives to policymakers in the state capital.

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In 2007, Congress and then-President George W. Bush set out to improve Head Start by passing a law that made significant changes to the program. These changes included a requirement that half of all Head Start teachers hold a bachelor’s degree with training in early childhood education by 2013.

We examined the impact of the 2007 law and the current state of the Head Start workforce with the goal of informing both future efforts to improve the quality of Head Start teaching and broader efforts to strengthen the early childhood workforce. In our new paper, "The Best Teachers for Our Littlest Learners? Lessons from Head Start’s Last Decade," we trace the evolution of Head Start Workforce policies over 50 years and detail how shifts in the broader early childhood landscape, especially state-funded pre-k programs, have influenced these policies.

Read more.>>

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President Donald Trump’s nomination of philanthropist and education advocate Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education thrust Michigan education into the national spotlight. Because DeVos doesn’t have a track record as a government official or school system leader, her work in Michigan on education issues provides some of the only information about her track record and what she might do as Secretary. Yet, DeVos’ critics and her boosters alike are making a variety of claims about Michigan that are confusing and contradictory.

To help clarify some of these questions, a new analysis from Bellwether Education Partners provides a comprehensive look at the education policy landscape in Michigan.

Read the full report here.

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Currently, about 6,000 Idaho students are on waitlists for charter schools. And the state is expected to add nearly 22,000 new prek-12 students by fall 2022. The charter sector can help ensure these students have access to a high-quality school, but only if it is able to grow and expand. Unfortunately, future growth in the charter sector is stymied by its limited access to facilities financing.

In "Building Excellence: How Helping Charters Access Facilities Can Improve Opportunity for Idaho Kids,” we use survey data we collected from Idaho’s charter school leaders to quantify the stark discrepancy in access to state and local facilities funding sources between district and charter schools.

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In 2012, as states and districts were in the trenches changing teacher evaluation policy, Bellwether Education Partners released The Hangover, a report that warned how teacher evaluation policies could undermine the impact of recently passed laws or prevent future innovation in instruction and teacher evaluation.

Our new report, For Good Measure?, builds on the findings from The Hangover and aims to inform states and districts as they consider changes to teacher evaluation systems after the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

For Good Measure? transcends the polarizing politics and ideology of teacher evaluation to demonstrate the risks policymakers face in the ESSA era and advise on how to mitigate those risks.

Read more.

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Every year, new teachers collectively spend about $4.8 billion on their training requirements, nearly all of which goes to teacher preparation programs. Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether that is money well-spent.

In "A New Agenda: Research to Build a Better Teacher Preparation Program," we argue that a new approach — focused on rigorous, actionable research — is critical to driving improvement in teacher preparation. To create that body of research, the field needs:

  • systems that link completer performance data to preparation programs, make those data publicly accessible, and maintain individual privacy;
  • research methods that use those data to produce actionable strategies and effective practices to improve program design; and
  • policies that incentivize programs to evaluate the effectiveness of their model and adopt new, evidence-based practices.



The end result should be a body of rigorous research that explores a multitude of possible improvement strategies, testing which components of program design are effective, for whom, and under what circumstances. Until those pieces are in place, the quality of teacher preparation will remain stagnant. America’s teachers and students deserve better.

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