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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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Fourteen percent of the nation’s population lives in rural communities, and one in five K-12 students attends a rural school — a substantial proportion of America’s school population. Despite increased attention from the national education policy community in recent years, too many rural communities and schools continue to struggle to provide their students with quality educational opportunities. Common approaches to education reform that may work in urban communities often fail to take into account the unique assets and challenges facing rural schools.

"Wide-Open Spaces: Schooling in Rural America Today” provides education policymakers with a factbase on America’s rural schools and communities: the economic and academic challenges they face, their unique assets, and opportunities for improvement. This resource highlights some of the challenges facing schools and students, including limited economic opportunity, poor access to healthcare, and social challenges like drug addiction. It also provides an overview of available data on student outcomes, including National Assessment of Educational Progress data and graduation rates. These data reveal that while rural students appear to be doing better on average than students in some other geographies, there are real gaps among subgroups and barriers to postsecondary opportunities that hinder many rural students from achieving their full academic potential.

Even so, rural communities’ assets provide opportunities to create and sustain meaningful change. Compared with other geographies, rural communities tend to place high value on civic and community engagement and support tight-knit networks among residents. Community members tend to have a deep sense of and commitment to place that dates back generations. And at a state and national level, rural communities represent a powerful political voice.

"Wide-Open Spaces: Schooling in Rural America Today"
aims to equip advocates, decision-makers, and other stakeholders with a shared understanding of rural education to generate a more accurate and nuanced policy response.

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In "Social Security, Teacher Pensions, and the ‘Qualified’ Retirement Plan Test," Aldeman outlines the history of Social Security benefits in the public sector, describes the current rule and how it is intended to work, and then shows its limitations. As a concrete example, he analyzes the retirement plans covering approximately 1.2 million active public school teachers in the 15 states and the District of Columbia that do not offer universal Social Security coverage for teachers. The report concludes with suggestions about how to protect these workers going forward.

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Autonomous District Schools: Lessons From the Field on a Promising Strategy" summarizes Bellwether’s work with San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) over the past 18 months. The district has authorized three networks of autonomous district schools using a law that supports and incentivizes the creation of these schools. Bellwether provided program design support, strategic advice, and capacity building to SAISD’s Network Principal Initiative, and this deck offers an overview of the initiative and the lessons we learned about the launch of autonomous district schools.

This slide deck is accompanied by a tool kit, “Autonomous District Schools: Tools for Planning and Launching," which offers concrete resources for leaders interested in planning an autonomous school or network.

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School Performance Frameworks: Lessons, Cases, and Purposeful Design is a deep dive into how local education leaders can create, implement, and sustain effective SPFs. The report details established, locally focused SPFs in New York City, Chicago, Denver, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C., and draws on research and interviews with SPF experts across the country.

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SchoolPerformanceFrameworks.org is a new website from Bellwether Education Partners designed to help local education leaders design, use, and sustain an effective school performance framework (SPF).

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Unfinished: Insights From Ongoing Work to Accelerate Outcomes for Students With Learning Gaps,” synthesizes a broad body of research on the science of learning in order to inform efforts to help students close gaps and meet grade-level expectations. This deck argues that helping students catch up is not about rigor or personalization — classrooms need both.

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When rural charter schools succeed, what conditions enable their results? “Local Roots Take the Lead: Lessons From Rural Charter Schools” is a new website from Bellwether Education Partners that offers school leaders, funders, and authorizers a starting point to answer this question.
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America’s fleet of roughly 480,000 school buses drives nearly 3.5 billion miles every year transporting students to and from school. About a third of students ride the bus, and more than half of students travel to school in personal vehicles, contributing millions more miles for school transportation.

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In “Intersection Ahead: School Transportation, School Integration, and School Choice,” we identify three school choice models that focus on creating integrated schools, provide case studies for each, and examine their implications for school transportation and offer key recommendations for policymakers and other education leaders include:

Cover of "Intersection Ahead: School Transportation, School Integration, and School Choice" by Bellwether Education Partners, August 2019

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In 1969, more than half of students walked or biked to school, a little more than a third rode on a school bus, and relatively few rode to school in a car. Today, approximately a third of students still rely on a yellow bus, but only one out of 10 walk or bike, and more than half ride in a car.

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