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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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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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Tens of thousands of individuals across the United States volunteer their time, energy, and expertise as members of charter school boards. Yet as the charter sector has grown, we’ve learned remarkably little about these individuals who make key operational decisions about their schools and have legal and moral responsibilities for the education of children in their communities.

"Charter School Boards in the Nation’s Capital" is one of the first attempts to use quantitative survey data to explore the relationship between charter boards and school quality. In partnership with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Bellwether authors Juliet Squire and Allison Crean Davis queried charter school board members in Washington, D.C. — a city with one of the highest percentage of public charter school students in the nation — to determine who serves on District charter boards and which board practices are associated with school quality.

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Around the country, a growing number of schools and districts are leveraging personalized learning — an instructional model centered around student needs and customization to meet individual skill levels, learning styles, and interests. Although the approach is gaining traction, efforts to develop high-quality personalized learning models have largely been concentrated in urban schools. For most of the nearly one in five students attending rural schools in America, the schooling experience has yet to embrace these promising innovations in teaching and learning.

This is a missed opportunity for rural areas, where schools face significant challenges — both similar to those in urban contexts and unique to rural communities. Many rural students face bleak postsecondary outcomes, and rural schools frequently confront geographic isolation, human capital shortages, and a rapidly changing economy. Personalized learning could help overcome some of these challenges by increasing student access to highly effective teachers and specialized coursework and by deepening the connections between K-12 schooling and postsecondary opportunities.

This paper, "The Promise of Personalized Learning in Rural America,” explores the application of personalized learning in rural schools, discusses and proposes solutions to the practical and policy barriers to implementation, and shares lessons learned from early adopters, including three case studies from rural communities in different parts of the country. The paper also addresses policy challenges, particularly around testing and accountability structures that may be incompatible with personalized learning, and funding constraints that challenge the transition to a new model.

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In "Grading Schools: How States Should Define ‘School Quality’ Under the Every Student Succeeds Act,” author Chad Aldeman argues that accountability systems are a state’s best tool to signal what it values and how schools should be working to improve.

But if states fail to take advantage of that opportunity, they may not provide sufficient urgency for schools to improve, especially for the disadvantaged students who rely on public schools the most and who have historically been underserved by them.

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Innovation is critical to advancing any sector. It increases the productivity of organizations, tests the merit of new ideas, and phases out practices that no longer work. Innovation-driven economies make current products, services, and organizations better and open up opportunities for new ones to emerge.

Innovation is essential in the education sector too. To reverse the trend of widening achievement gaps, we’ll need new and improved education opportunities — alternatives to the centuries-old model for delivering education that under-performs for millions of high-need students.

Yet compared to other sectors that have relied on continuous invention and improvement as a survival mechanism for decades, innovative policies and practices in the education sector are still nascent.

To modernize education’s approach to innovation, Bellwether created The U.S. Education Innovation Index: Prototype and Report (USEII), the field’s first foray into measuring education innovation at the city level.

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Education is not getting much attention on the presidential campaign trail, but that doesn’t mean the next administration won’t face a variety of opportunities and challenges in the education sector.

In fact, the relative silence is misleading. Given the changes and competing pressures buffeting America’s education system, leaders in the Department of Education will have their hands full with vexing problems and new and emerging issues. Here is just a sampling of the issues policymakers will face:

  • Improving access to early childhood education
  • Expanding choice and school options for parents
  • Addressing student loans and higher education accountability
  • Improving access to early childhood education
  • Making competitive grant programs more effective
  • Tapping technological innovations to help students and teachers
  • Ensuring healthy food for kids in school

16 for 2016: 16 Education Policy Ideas for the Next President offers a set of innovative, provocative, and forward-looking policy ideas addressing different aspects of the education world from thinkers and doers with a range of backgrounds and experiences. To build it, Bellwether Education Partners convened experts, talked with teachers and leaders in the field, and listened to a range of ideas.

The contributors are Democrats, Republicans, and political independents, and the ideas span the ideological spectrum. The authors are a blend of high-profile advocates and analysts, practitioners and policy wonks, education insiders and people whose work only tangentially touches education, and familiar voices along with fresh ones. Featured authors include higher education experts Andrew P. Kelly and Michael Dannenberg, celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, education journalist RiShawn Biddle, entrepreneur Victor Reinoso, innovator Alex Hernandez, alternative school leader and former Reagan administration official Gary Jones, Olympic gold medalist Steve Mesler, Bellwether analysts, and more from inside, around, and outside the education sector. What they share is a commitment to trying new things and making the education system more effective for the people it is designed to serve: students.

This diversity of thought means that at least some recommendations will appeal to the next administration regardless of who wins the election or leads the next president’s education efforts. The collection of policy ideas covers parental empowerment, food and nutrition, human trafficking, early childhood education, career and technical education, school choice, alternative education, and much more.

Click here to read the report.

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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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Nationwide, concerns about teacher shortages and the retention of experienced teachers, particularly in certain subject areas and states, have been growing in recent years. Moreover, in most states, teachers entering the profession are not as racially diverse as the student population; nationally, 44 percent of all public school students are students of color, while only 17 percent of all public school teachers are educators of color.

Given that the contributing factors to and severity of these issues vary widely across the country, it is critical for policymakers to have state-specific data about their teaching workforce in order to design effective solutions. This longitudinal analysis of Illinois educator data can help inform local stakeholders’ conversations about key aspects of state education policy, particularly related to diversity and supply and demand.

In this study, Bellwether Education Partners compiles a portrait of the Illinois school workforce from 2002 to 2012 and explores changing trends over the past decade for policymakers and researchers.

Read more...

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Why aren’t teacher salaries rising?

It’s not for lack of money. Even after adjusting for inflation and rising student enrollment, total school spending is up.

It’s not for lack of money spent on teachers, either. Districts are allocating about the same portion of their budgets to instructional costs—including salaries, wages, and benefits for teachers—as they did 20 years ago.

Overall expenditures are up, but teacher salaries are actually down slightly over the same period.

So what do Pac-Man and pensions have in common?

In our new report, “The Pension Pac-Man: How Pension Debt Eats Away at Teacher Salaries,” we show that, like the proverbial Pac-Man, the rapidly rising costs of teacher retirement and insurance benefits are pushing out money that could be spent on salaries.

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