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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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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.

Learn more ...

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Many administrators and educators in rural America believe federal education policy is not designed for rural districts, and that consideration of policy’s unique impact on rural districts is not a priority.

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Retirement savings are often described as a three-legged stool: Social Security, employer retirement plans, and personal savings. For many American workers, Social Security is the most consistent portion of the three-legged model, providing a solid plank of retirement savings.


But nationwide, more than 1 million teachers — about 40 percent of all public K–12 teachers — are not covered by Social Security. In Uncovered: Social Security, Retirement Uncertainty, and 1 Million Teachers, Leslie Kan and Chad Aldeman analyze the consequences of this policy choice. Teachers without Social Security coverage face substantial uncertainty and must rely more heavily on their employer retirement plans (state pensions) and personal savings.


Unfortunately, state pension plans leave too many teachers unprotected. According to an analysis of state pension plans’ own assumptions, half of today’s new teachers will not stay in a single pension system long enough to qualify for a pension when they retire. Even for teachers who do qualify, the existing structures offer minimal benefits even to those who stay for 10, 15, or even 20-plus years. The subsequent reality: many teachers not covered by Social Security are left with inadequate retirement savings from their time in the classroom.


At a time when an increasing number of states struggle with teacher recruitment and policymakers are concerned about retirement security more generally, states should look for ways to provide all teachers with secure retirement benefits. Social Security is not sufficient as a stand-alone retirement program. The authors offer case studies from three hypothetical teachers of varying experience levels to show that all teachers, however, would benefit from Social Security coverage as one component of a comprehensive retirement plan.


Download the full report here, or read a condensed PowerPoint version here.

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In 1997, the Buckeye State embraced a new approach to public-education delivery, launching a pilot program of community (charter) schools. Since then, the state's community schools sector has grown tremendously. During the 2013-14 school year, 390 schools served approximately 124,000 students—seven percent of students statewide.

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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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As our nation’s largest preschool program—and the only one exclusively focused on the poorest children—Head Start plays a critical role in our nation’s early earning and development system, and it will continue to do so. As policymakers seek to extend the benefits of quality preschool to more children, improving Head Start must be part of these efforts.

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A new generation of education technology is gaining traction in America’s schools. Yet the most highly touted uses of education technology barely scratch the surface of its potential impact on education. Bellwether Education Partners’ Policy Playbook for Personalized Learning is designed to help state and local policymakers identify the policy changes needed to expand access to quality personalized learning in their states and communities, and to give them the tools to make those changes.

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The implication of the experience in Washington State is that teacher pension systems can be reformed in a way that is attractive to both teachers and states and ensures that significant resources are being set aside for teacher retirements.

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The Detroit News - Exactly 50 years ago this month, President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered the commencement address at the University of Michigan, and for the first time he explained his vision for “The Great Society.” It focused largely on America’s cities and its schools.

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There is a growing belief that students can provide valuable feedback on a teacher’s performance in the classroom. Student perception surveys are increasingly seen as a low-cost and reliable tool for gathering data and feedback on the quality of teaching in individual classrooms. However, incorporating student surveys into formal, high-stakes teacher evaluation and development systems has its challenges. In this paper, Jeff Schulz, Gunjan Sud, and Becky Crowe highlight the experience of states, districts, charter management organizations, and teacher preparation programs that are “early adopters” of student perception surveys.

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