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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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Every two years the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights conducts the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), which includes information about school demographics, course enrollment, discipline, and other measures of school quality. For the first time in 2013-14 and again in 2015-16, the CRDC included juvenile justice schools, which serve approximately 50,000 adjudicated youth placed in secure facilities across the country.

Students’ educational experiences in juvenile justice facilities have historically gone unnoticed. Due to the unique and relatively small population they serve, these schools are typically exempt from traditional state and federal data collection. The two most recent surveys from the CRDC offer limited insight, leading our team to analyze only 18 states in 2013-14 and 15 states in 2015-16. Our analysis includes a comparison of student access to critical math and science courses disaggregated by race and ethnicity.

In “Patterns and Trends in Educational Opportunity for Students in Juvenile Justice Schools: Updates and New Insights,” we found that juvenile justice facilities fail to provide adjudicated youth with sufficient access to the courses they need to graduate high school. For example, students in juvenile justice facilities are 25 percent less likely to have access to Algebra I, a foundational class required for graduation. Moreover, these facilities offer only limited access to credit recovery programs, which are critical to helping students recoup course credits that they missed or failed to complete earlier in their academic careers.

A closer look at the data reveals that while all youth in juvenile justice facilities experience inadequate access to important classes, no group of students has less access than Native American youth. Only 63% of Native youth in juvenile justice schools have access to Algebra I compared with 79% of white students. This pattern persists in the sciences. Forty-seven percent of Native students have access to biology compared with 70% of white students. Indeed, among all groups of students in juvenile justice facilities, Native students have the lowest access to math and science courses.

These alarming statistics make clear that juvenile justice systems must do a better job providing incarcerated youth with the educational opportunities they need to get back on track. Improving the quality of data about students’ educational experiences in juvenile justice facilities is a critical first step. States — which typically run these schools — can then use improved data to increase resources to these facilities and ensure students are enrolled in the proper classes. These steps will help juvenile justice facilities perform their rehabilitative functions rather than further punishing youth by severely limiting their educational opportunities.
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In "Toward Equitable Access and Affordability: How Private Schools and Microschools Seek to Serve Middle- and Low-Income Students," we sought to understand the landscape of private schools working to provide an affordable education by looking at the approaches they are taking and how they are revisiting traditional operating models. We profile a variety of strategies used by schools to improve access for middle- and low-income families. Some schools rely on reducing the costs to families (i.e., tuition) by providing significant financial aid or partnering with scholarship programs, some have found inventive new revenue streams, and some have streamlined operations and leveraged technology to reduce their per-pupil expenditures.
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In this slide deck, "The Challenges and Opportunities in School Transportation Today," we examine the scope and importance of the school transportation sector, analyze the challenges that districts and contractors face when providing transportation services, highlight the critical decisions system leaders must make in allocating limited resources, and identify opportunities for improving service and reducing costs.

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In this brief, we identify states actively working to improve their assessments and shift their role beyond end-of-year math and reading tests. We also identify trailblazing states that are making big, public reforms around innovation in assessment. These include states applying to federal innovative assessment pilot programs and committing significant resources to new assessment ideas and methods.

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In Bellwether’s new report, "Teacher Pension Reform: Lessons and Warnings From West Virginia" we modeled the wealth accumulation for teachers in the pension fund, before and after the reform, as well as the intervening DC plan. We found that all of the plans were poorly constructed from the outset and fail to provide a significant retirement benefit to a majority of West Virginia’s educators.

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Fed up with stagnant salaries, teachers have gone on strike all across the country over the past few years. Meanwhile, education spending is hitting all-time highs — but, by and large, the money isn’t going to teacher salaries.

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Addressing the needs of students in this region requires deeper understanding and nuanced solutions that respond to the diversity of populations, geographies, urbanicity, and resources at work. "Education in the American South: Historical Context, Current State, and Future Possibilities", a comprehensive slide deck, aims to kick-start this discussion.

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"California's Special Education Funding System Creates Challenges and Opportunities for District and Charter Schools" looks at several features of California’s special education funding system which make it difficult for districts to serve students with disabilities and limit the ability of some charter schools to make decisions about the programs and services they offer for students with disabilities. Title image for Bellwether publication

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In our new report, "Changing Enrollment, Fiscal Strain, and Facilities Challenges in California’s Urban Schools" we analyzed enrollment trend data for district and charter schools in six of California’s urban centers: Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Fresno. In particular, we looked at how declines in district enrollment compared to growth in charter school enrollment within these communities.

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Insufficient: How State Pension Plans Leave Teachers With Inadequate Retirement Savings” establishes a framework to compare teacher retirement plans against an “adequate” annual retirement savings threshold. After defining those thresholds, the paper measures how the typical defined benefit (DB) plan covering public school teachers stacks up.

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