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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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School districts across the country are reporting difficulties in hiring high-quality teachers, and states are being asked to respond. Our new slide deck, "Teacher Supply and Demand: How States Track Shortage Areas," surveys the landscape of how states track information on teacher supply and demand.

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Delving into findings from a local initiative to align and improve pre-K to third grade education reveals broadly applicable lessons on supporting teachers and leaders, in Minnesota and beyond.

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Years of irresponsible budgeting practices have left the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana (TRSL) almost $12 billion in debt. Without significant reforms, Louisiana’s pension problems are likely to get worse, with further negative consequences for workers and 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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To ensure that the public education system delivers on its promise of great outcomes for all kids, we need a shared understanding of the facts to help us assess the system, identify challenges, and develop viable solutions.

The Learning Landscape presents a balanced assessment of the status of education in the United States by aggregating high quality research and data from numerous credible sources.

Each chapter describes the context and the current state of play in each focus area and highlights key policy issues and trends affecting public education now and in the future.

Browse by chapter below, or visit www.thelearninglandscape for more.

Chapter 1: Student Achievement
Chapter 2: Accountability, Standards, & Assessment
Chapter 3: School Finance
Chapter 4: Teacher Effectiveness
Chapter 5: Charter Schools
Chapter 6: Philanthropy

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Schools increasingly rely on new teachers to staff their classrooms. A generation ago, the modal teacher had 15 years teaching experience, meaning that, if you asked teachers how many years they had taught the most likely answer would be 15. Today, the answer would be five years of experience. And the proportion of teachers who are new to the field will increase as the Baby Boom generation retires: Some estimates forecast half the nation’s teachers could retire in the next ten years.

This demand for new teachers creates some obvious challenges for the education field, but it also means that states have a unique opportunity to leverage their authority over teacher preparation and certification to raise the overall level of teacher quality and effectiveness.

To that end, Bellwether has produced two new reports:

* Peering Around the Corner, analyzes 11 states that have made substantial progress in linking teachers to the preparation programs that prepared them. For each state, we review the technical and practical decisions they made — like determining which outcomes to measure and how to define them, identifying the right sample size, and deciding if and how to use the data for accountability. We also take a more general look at the challenges states can expect to face, and the tradeoffs they’ll have to make, as they take on this work.

* Policymakers are still looking for the right way to identify effective teacher preparation and predict who will be an effective teacher. Nothing tried so far can guarantee effective teachers. In No Guarantees, we recommend an alternative approach that relies on the best available evidence to date: initial teaching effectiveness has promise for predicting future effectiveness.

Read more ...

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After years of cuts to the teaching workforce, California districts are beginning to hire again. This positive change is offset, however, by the fact that teacher preparation programs are producing fewer graduates than the state’s schools and districts want to hire. As a growing number of districts face teacher shortages, or the prospect of them, California needs new strategies to improve both the supply and the quality of new teachers prepared in the state.


California lacks a coherent strategy to grow the supply of high-quality teachers. A variety of organizations have identified weaknesses in the state’s teacher preparation programs and policies, but many of their recommendations would impose new requirements that lack research support and could further reduce the number and diversity of teacher candidates. The Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which oversees teacher preparation, is initiating reforms designed to reduce the focus on inputs in teacher preparation and increase attention to outcomes—but they may not go far enough. And none of these proposals would address the state’s most fundamental teacher preparation problems: a highly fragmented approach to preparation and an excessive focus on credential type, rather than on actual classroom effectiveness, as the sole measure of teacher quality.


Improving the quality of teacher preparation in California will require a profound shift in the way that key players in the system—districts and charter schools, preparation programs, state regulators, and candidates themselves—think about their roles in teacher hiring and recruitment. Districts and charter schools need to take on a greater role in cultivating their own teacher supply. Preparation programs need to reframe the focus of their work around meeting the needs of K-12 schools and candidates—the consumers of teacher preparation. This will require both a wider variety of preparation programs and real, robust local partnerships between districts or charter schools and the programs that prepare their teachers. State policies can encourage and support these partnerships, while also providing greater flexibility for them to customize preparation to candidate and local needs.

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Over the past 15 years, Teach For America has grown to a scale, and at a pace, that is virtually unprecedented in education and the domestic nonprofit sector more generally. From 2000 to 2014, the number of Teach for America corps members rose nearly tenfold, the number of alumni increased even more rapidly, and the organization expanded from a handful of communities to 50 cities and rural areas nationally. In the process, it became both the nation’s largest source of new teachers and the largest single recipient of philanthropic funding for K-12 education. Even as it grew, however, Teach For America also sought to increase the impact of its corps members and alumni by improving its approach to corps member recruitment, selection, preparation, and support, and by supporting alumni to take on increased leadership in education.

The strategies Teach For America used to both grow in scale and improve in quality offer numerous lessons for other education organizations seeking to increase their impact on education, as well as for policymakers, funders, and nonprofits outside of education.

In a new report, Bellwether’s Sara Mead, Carolyn Chuong, and Caroline Goodson describe the history of Teach For America’s growth over the past 15 years, the challenges and opportunities it has faced, the strategies it has adopted in response to those challenges and opportunities, and the lessons it has learned.

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Over the last four years, states implemented remarkable changes to their teacher evaluation systems. Rather than rating all educators as either “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory,” school districts use new multi-tiered evaluation systems to identify their best (and weakest) teachers. States now require districts to incorporate measurements of student academic growth and rubrics from higher-quality classroom observations into their ratings of teachers and principals. And teachers and principals are starting to receive financial incentives or face potential consequences based on these evaluation results.

But after the initial rush of reforms, progress stalled. The rollout of new evaluation policies slowed down as districts faced implementation challenges and increasing public backlash against teacher evaluation reforms.

In "Teacher Evaluations in an Era of Rapid Change: From 'Unsatisfactory' to 'Needs Improvement,'" Chad Aldeman and Carolyn Chuong examine the ongoing effort to revamp teacher evaluations. After collecting and synthesizing data from 17 states and the District of Columbia, they provide five major lessons for policymakers.

To read about the new evaluation systems and the preliminary lessons for policymakers, download the full report here.

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