December 6, 2016

Election Reflections

Plenty is being said about what the presidential election means and what it says about America’s values. At Bellwether, we deeply value inclusion, equity, and tolerance alongside other democratic values, including liberty and freedom. For us, the election did not change our deep commitment to these values, which is as strong today as it was prior to Election Day.

Something else that hasn’t changed since November 8th? Across America, children are getting up each morning and going to school. They’re still counting on their schools to help them learn and cultivate the knowledge and skills they need to navigate adulthood and lead a happy, fulfilled life full of choices and opportunities. Some of their schools go above and beyond in delivering on this promise. Too many others fall far short especially for students in underserved communities. Addressing these deep and persistent inequities is at the core of what we do at Bellwether.

The election matters, of course, but leaders at the state and local level are still rolling up their sleeves and ready to continue doing the challenging work of expanding education equity. They’re trying to sort out the opportunities and challenges the Every Student Succeeds Act creates and continuing or launching their own initiatives to improve schooling.

Helping them is a primary reason Bellwether exists. And students need our support now more than ever. That’s why we’re staying focused on continuing our work with and alongside state and local organizations and agencies on the ground working for kids. Across our strategy, talent, and policy teams, we offer more than 50 professionals committed to the vision of a world in which race and income are no longer predictors of life outcomes for students, an American education system that affords every individual the opportunity to determine their own path and to lead a productive and fulfilling life.

If your work aligns with these values and we can support what you do we’d like to hear from you, please contact us.

December 2, 2016

Donald Trump, Public Education, and the Rise of the (New) New Federalists

donald-trump-1818950_1280Many of you might have woken up on November 9 (and perhaps each day thereafter) thinking to yourself “but Donald Trump can’t actually do that, can he?” As far as education goes, the answer is mostly “no, he can’t.” The federal executive branch cannot make binding education policy: it can only offer states funds in exchange for adopting preferred policies.

This is because thankfully there are structural limitations to the president’s power; in high school social studies we called them “checks and balances” and probably thought of them as quaint academic concepts. But these checks and balances — especially the intentional friction between the states and the federal government — will play a big role in education policymaking over the next four years.

Federalism is the name for the concept that the U.S. Constitution grants certain limited powers to the federal government and that all other powers are preserved by the states. Despite the possibly misleading name, it is the philosophy that constrains federal power and it is a fundamental principle of American government. And one of the most visible exercises of that state power is public education. (Others that will likely be very important over the next four years include policing and health care.) Continue reading

December 1, 2016

Education Funding is a Potential Rural-Urban Partnership Despite Post-Election Divisions

Donald Trump’s election made clear that the division between rural and urban communities is widening. Although social media and other technologies connect us more than ever before, rural and urban communities increasingly feel that they are misunderstood by the other. Trump further polarized this divide. Since people living in cities and those in small towns and rural areas have such starkly different experiences and views about what direction the country should take, it is hard to imagine finding common ground.

But on the issue of school funding, rural and urban communities are natural allies. In fact, students and families in cities and rural areas have far more in common than their voting patterns might suggest.

Both rural and urban communities often lack the resources necessary to provide their students with a high-quality education. Students in rural and urban communities are disproportionately low-income, and as a result, these students frequently face significant barriers to academic success. For example, students in both areas experience high rates of poverty. Like many urban schools, schools in rural communities and small towns also typically have less access to effective teachers, advanced curricula, and many of the other hallmarks of a good education.

Inequitable school funding undergirds each of these disparities. The simple fact is that compared with suburban districts, rural and urban communities just don’t get their fair share of school funding despite serving high concentrations of disadvantaged students. In most cases this is due to how states and school districts fund their schools. The majority of state funding formulas are regressive or flat. In other words, they’ve got it backward. They provide as much or more funding to schools that are already more affluent. The United States is one of the few modernized countries in the world that provides fewer educational resources to lower-income students than more affluent ones.  

At the district level the problem is compounded.

In most school districts, school funding is based largely on local property taxes. Places with low property values such as rural communities typically lack the wealth necessary to generate sufficient education funds on their own. And while some property-wealthy places such as cities have a much greater property tax base, many still cannot generate enough revenue to adequately fund their schools due to their relatively low incomes.

This is not to say that all states and districts refuse to adjust their formulas to better meet the needs of their students. On the contrary, places like New Jersey and Boston, Massachusetts restructured how they fund their schools to significantly benefit low-income and other disadvantaged students. Unfortunately, these places are the rare exception and not the rule.

Despite both suffering from school finance inequity, rural and urban districts rarely work together to address their shared problems. This is because they are often pitted against each other when states are restructuring their funding formulas. Education dollars are treated as a zero sum game: if urban districts win more funding, it must come at the expense of rural districts. And vice versa.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Continue reading

November 30, 2016

As Homeschooling Continues to Grow, Here Are 4 Things You Should Know

With ESSA largely pushing accountability back to the states, the continued growth of the charter sector, increasing backlash against standardized testing, and the recent announcement that school voucher advocate Betsy DeVos is President-Elect Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, it is clear that education policy is trending towards local control and school choice. One overlooked aspect of this shift is the growth of homeschooling.

Earlier this month, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released a report analyzing homeschooling trends in the United States from 1999 to 2012. The practice has become much more popular over the past decade, as the homeschooling rate doubled from 1.7 percent in 1999 to 3.4 percent in 2012. That means there are now roughly 1.8 million students being schooled at home. By comparison, charter schools — which receive much of the education sector’s attention — enroll just under three million students.

So, as the homeschooling sector continues to grow, here are four things you should know: Continue reading

November 29, 2016

Applications Now Open for February 2017 Better Blogging Session

This year’s education landscape is as heated as ever — there have been debates about the NewSchools Venture Fund Summit, the passage of ESSA, and just recently, the controversial office-581131_640Department of Education Trump appointee. But that doesn’t mean all the education conversations online have been informed, inclusive, and respectful.

In an interview with Education Pioneers earlier this year, I argued that education debates sometimes suffer from “name-calling, misinformation, and vitriol,” and that “nuanced and thoughtful voices, and those that reflect underrepresented viewpoints and experiences, have trouble standing out amidst all the noise.”

That’s where Bellwether’s Better Blogging training comes in. Through hands-on workshops and coaching, our participants improve their ability to express and promote important ideas in the education landscape. Our sessions are led by accomplished coaches, including Pulitzer Prize winners, editors at leading national publications, and social media professionals with deep experience in marketing. Better Blogging alumni consistently rate Bellwether’s training as one of the most effective professional development opportunities they’ve ever attended.

So what are you waiting for? If you want to attend the February 22-23, 2017 session in Washington, D.C., apply today! Applications are due December 12, 2016. Our trainings are supported by a generous grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, so stay tuned for the July 2017 session if you can’t attend in February.