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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.


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


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.



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.



One out of every four dollars that Illinois taxpayers send to Springfield goes toward pensions. The teacher pension system alone makes up over half of the state's pension debt, with a total unfunded liability of $57.9 billion. Legislators have already passed cuts to teacher retirement plans and will need to continue funneling revenue to pay off the debt.


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 ...


Head Start is a valuable program that delivers early childhood education and comprehensive services to over one million children living in poverty, helping prepare them for kindergarten and beyond. But to maximize results for Head Start children and their families, practitioners and federal policymakers must use data in new ways to support ongoing improvement in Head Start programs.

Bellwether worked with three organizations—Results for America, the National Head Start Association, and the Volcker Alliance—to develop a vision for using data, evidence, and evaluation to improve Head Start outcomes. Read more here.


Recently, private school leaders have taken notice of some of the propelling forces behind charter school growth: charter management organizations (CMOs) and education management organizations (EMOs). To achieve sustainability and growth in the private school sector, some private schools have adopted a network model through private school management organizations (PSMOs), which are independent entities that operate or help operate three or more private schools.

In this study, Bellwether's Juliet Squire, Andy Smarick, and Kelly Robson examine the operations of existing PSMOs and define them by typologies. The authors also warn of potential pitfalls, surface questions for future research, and recommend ways to engage with these fledgling organizations.


Over the last generation, Catholic schools have been buffeted by a confluence of winds: changing demographics in the urban neighborhoods where many of their facilities are located, the disappearance of nuns and priests from classrooms, new competition from tuition-free charter schools, and other factors. Enrollments tumbled. 6,000 schools closed. Financial pressures thinned instructional resources.

Yet two million children remain in Catholic schools today. This includes a great many low-income and minority youngsters for whom Catholic schooling is a lifeline in an otherwise dysfunctional neighborhood. And Catholic schools get enormous bang for their educational buck—posting graduation rates, college success patterns, and levels of constructive student behavior that much exceed the performance at counterpart public institutions.


During the past decade, the number of students attending charter schools more than tripled to nearly 3 million, or 6 percent, of students nationally, and charters are playing an even more prominent role in educating students in some of nation’s largest urban communities.

Despite this growing role in U.S. public education, the debate about charter schools continues to be plagued by outdated information, misconceptions, and myths.

A new analysis from Bellwether Education Partners brings together the most recent data on charter schools from a variety of sources to provide a comprehensive picture of the current state of the charter school movement in the United States.



In June 2015, the Federal Register published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the Head Start Performance Standards, the federal regulations governing the operation of Head Start programs. This is the first major revision of the Performance Standards since 1998, and the first complete restructuring since their creation, some 40 years ago.