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Jennifer O’Neal Schiess

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Jennifer O’Neal Schiess
Partner
Policy and Evaluation

Background: Jennifer O'Neal Schiess is a partner on the Policy and Evaluation team. Since 2014, she has worked with a range of clients, including national and state advocacy organizations, nonprofits, policy think tanks, and foundations. She advises clients on state and national education policy, covering a range of topics. Jennifer has led work on personalized learning, school finance, school transportation, rural education, and governance. Prior to joining Bellwether, she worked with the Texas Legislature for a decade in a non-partisan role, serving as a senior adviser on the public education budget, school finance, and the fiscal and policy implications of a range of other public education issues including standards, assessment, and accountability; educator quality, compensation, and benefits; and charter schools and school choice policy. She also worked in university and governmental relations for Vanderbilt University and taught English in a public high school in Nashville. Jennifer holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Duke University, a master’s degree in education from Vanderbilt University, and a master’s degree in public policy from Duke University.

Experience at Bellwether: policy and strategy advising, research

Client segments served: policy research and advocacy organizations, think tanks, nonprofits, foundations, policymakers 

Sample clients: Stand for Children, TNTP, Alliance for Excellent Education, the Walton Family Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Why I do this work: I benefited from a high-quality public school experience that prepared me well for my college and career goals, and I believe it is our duty and obligation to ensure that all children have equitable access to the education and support they need to prepare them for success.

Recent Media

Publication
Alex Spurrier
Chad Aldeman
Jennifer O'Neal Schiess
Andrew J. Rotherham

For nearly two decades, state and federal policymakers have built standards-based accountability systems as a way to improve educational outcomes and to ensure that all students are held to the same rigorous standards. While the standards-based reform era has not fully lived up to the lofty goals of its early proponents, it has demonstrated some successes. Achievement scores and graduation rates have risen since the implementation of standards-based accountability systems, particularly for the most disadvantaged students, and we have much more information on school performance than we did prior to adoption of these policies, particularly for traditionally underserved students.

Yet those results have come with trade-offs. Imposing state standards limits teacher autonomy. Testing all students every year takes time out of the school day and costs money. And criticisms of standardized tests and their limitations as measures of quality, as well as pushback against how the data is used to drive decisions that affect schools, educators, and students have mounted over time. As federal accountability requirements have placed more pressure on states and schools, support for accountability has eroded on both the left and right ends of the political spectrum.

As a global pandemic interrupted purposefully designed systems of testing and accountability, we are left with critical questions: How does the underlying theory of standards-based accountability and its foundational goals of equity and transparency hold up decades later? What do key stakeholders need from these systems now? Given what we’ve learned from decades of successes and failures, how should these systems continue to evolve in the face of mounting political opposition?