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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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Five million children and youth are cared for by our nation’s social service agencies because they’re experiencing homelessness, foster care placement, incarceration, or other challenges. And all of these young people will also show up in our schools while juggling other competing priorities.

Can you put yourself in the shoes of one of these young people? Can you successfully navigate the kinds of circumstances they regularly face, like juggling schoolwork and childcare, preparing for the G.E.D. while employed full-time, or meeting the demands of a probation officer while trying to finish a high school diploma?

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What effect does spending on educator benefits, such as pensions and healthcare, have on district and state K-12 education budgets? In a new report, “Benefits Take Larger Bite out of District K-12 Education Budgets,” we track ten years of spending data in nearly 14,000 districts across the country. The results are alarming.

Our analysis shows that nationally benefit spending consumes a greater share of K-12 spending overall in 2014 than it did in 2005. Nationally, 19 percent of K-12 spending goes toward benefits, an increase of more than 3 percentage points. At the low end, some states devote as little as 8 percent of their spending toward employee benefits, whereas at the high end, some states devote more than 30 percent of their K-12 budgets toward benefits. All but three states saw the share of their spending dedicated to benefits increase in the window of our analysis.

Overall, state education budgets increased only 1.6 percent from 2005 to 2014, after adjusting for inflation. In contrast, over the same period benefit spending increased 22 percent. This pattern holds in many states. In fact, 23 states effectively sent less money to the classrooms in 2014 than they did in 2005 due to the combination of stagnant or decreasing investments in K-12 education and burgeoning benefit costs.

This should worry teachers and legislators alike. Indeed, a considerable amount of benefit spending goes to pay down debt rather than for current employee benefits. That is, the higher spending is not translating into more valuable pensions or more generous healthcare benefits. And legislators may be frustrated that their investments in K-12 education are not reaching classrooms.

The problem of rising benefit costs will continue and likely grow for the foreseeable future. There are no easy fixes to these problems, but it will be critical for legislators to find solutions that balance paying down past obligations with contributing to the education of current students.
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Historically, new teachers have received limited exposure to life in the classroom. “Trading Coursework for Classroom: Realizing the Potential of Teacher Residencies” outlines a promising deviation from this structure.
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Design Methods for Education Policy is a new website that curates 54 human-centered research methods from organizations like IDEO, Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, and Nesta that are particularly well-suited to education policy work.

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How can multiple systems and services effectively serve young people experiencing homelessness, foster care placement, incarceration, or unmet mental or physical health needs?

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Teachers’ unions are a powerful force in local, state, and federal politics, but Janus vs. the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) could change that. At the heart of this case is a key source of union revenue: agency fees. This analysis offers an accurate and objective set of information to those wanting to inform their understanding of this historic case.
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Every two years, the Office for Civil Rights, a division of the U.S. Department of Education, conducts a civil rights data collection that includes information about school demographics, course enrollment, discipline, and other measures of school-based experience. In 2013, the office collected data from schools identified as juvenile justice schools for the first time. These schools serve only students placed in secure facilities by law enforcement or courts, and there are approximately 50,000 young people across the country in these on any given day.

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As school districts across the country report various kinds of teacher shortages, how to retain teachers has emerged as a key area of interest for district leaders and policymakers. There are a variety of incentives and strategies to keep teachers in the profession, but which ones are most effective? Asking teachers themselves yields answers, some of which cut against the grain of conventional wisdom in the education community.

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A new profile highlights the co-teaching approach for dual language learners (DLLs) at Community of Peace Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota. The school’s approach holds lessons for other Minnesota schools and for teacher preparation policies in the state at large.

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This report makes the case that the education system can serve as an effective through-line for children and youth experiencing traumatic life experiences by using two key levers for change: continuity of people and continuity of information.

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