Category Archives: Uncategorized

Michigan’s Other, Often Overlooked, School Choice Program

In the weeks following Betsy DeVos’ nomination for Secretary of Education, Michigan’s charter schools have become a topic of heated debate. Our recent report seeks to shed light on this debate, but it also highlights that charter schools aren’t the only form of public school choice in Michigan. The state is home to a robust set of inter-district choice policies which allow students to attend schools outside their home school district. In fact, more Michigan students attend schools of choice through inter-district choice policies than attend charter schools. A total of six percent of Detroit children attend schools in other districts.

Michigan isn’t the only state with inter-district choice options. The Education Commission of the States identifies numerous states with formal inter-district choice policies on the books, although the purposes, features, and extent to which they are used vary. Yet these policies draw far less attention — and controversy — than charter schools, perhaps in part because students who exercise these options are still served by district-run public schools.

There’s also much less research on the impact of inter-district choice than there is on charter schools or private school choice programs. Researchers at Michigan State University have used state data to track patterns in the flow of students through inter-district choice programs in Michigan, and have found that historically underserved students are more likely to take advantage of inter-district choice options — but also more likely to opt out of them. Less is known about the impact of participation in these programs on students’ achievement, how inter-district choice programs affect the behaviors and performance of both sending and receiving districts, or the implications for future policy design.

Inter-district choice could offer one way to expand options for some students in rural areas where other forms of choice are less accessible. Some progressive education analysts who oppose charters do support inter-district choice models that seek to increase diversity or enable racial/ethnic minority students from predominantly minority districts to attend more diverse schools outside their home district. But voucher and private school choice supporters have often shown little interest in these programs: the choice advocacy group Ed Choice, for example, lists inter-district and intra-district choice as a form of school choice on its website, but its reports tracking the presence of choice options in states focuses only on private school choice options.

Given the prominence of inter-district choice in Michigan — not to mention DeVos’ standard line that a student’s ZIP code shouldn’t determine her educational options — it’s worth asking whether incentives for inter-district choice are likely to or should play a role in a future Trump administration school choice agenda. At a minimum, existing inter-district choice programs deserve more attention, analysis, and research.

To read our other coverage of Betsy DeVos, click here.

Choice is Coming – But for Pre-K, It’s Already Here

Betsy DeVos is top-of-mind right now, particularly after her tense confirmation hearing on Tuesday night. Front and center in most of these conversations is DeVos’ strong support for school choice. What’s getting little attention, however, is what DeVos could accomplish on early childhood issues.3969866244_b02e13b9fb_o

We don’t know much about DeVos’ views on early education, but I’m personally hopeful that she takes a lesson from her home state: Michigan has a strong state-funded pre-k program that utilizes “diverse delivery.” “Diverse delivery” is another way of saying “school choice for early childhood.” In this system, parents of young children pick from a range of early childhood providers — including for-profit centers, churches, nonprofit community-based organizations, and school districts — based on whatever factors they deem most important. And in Michigan, unlike many other states, charter schools are included in the pre-k program. That model is something DeVos should bring to the national stage.

Michigan’s state-funded preschool program, the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), is a good example of diverse delivery in action. Funding for the program goes to intermediate school districts (ISDs); ISDs then contract with a variety of providers, all of which must meet a state-determined standard of quality, to actually serve preschool children. GSRP is targeted to families that make less than 250% of the federal poverty level, so if children are eligible to participate, their parents can send them to any GSRP center that has space for them.

And research suggests that Michigan’s program is effective. A 2005 study of five states, including Michigan, showed that children who participated in state-funded preschool had better vocabulary, early math skills, and understanding of print concepts than children who did not attend. GSRP is also growing. Between 2013 and 2015, Gov. Rick Snyder upped the investment in GSRP by $130 million. The program currently serves 32 percent of four-year-olds in the state, more than 35 other states.

And many of those children are served in charter school pre-k programs. Michigan is one of the more hospitable states for charter schools to serve preschoolers. In fact, Michigan has 76 charter schools that serve preschoolers, which is the fourth highest in the country behind California, Florida, and Texas.

This type of charter school/pre-k synergy is rare even though most states already have pre-k systems that incorporate a range of public providers. Diverse delivery may be old news in the early childhood world, but that’s not necessarily the case when it comes to certain providers — specifically charter schools. States that have offered pre-k choice for decades struggle with how to best incorporate charter schools as an early childhood option for parents.

Even so, early childhood is already more supportive of choice in ways that are controversial in K-12 — as evidenced by Tuesday’s hearing . In a column for U.S. News earlier this month, Andy Rotherham astutely noted that with Betsy DeVos at the helm of the country’s education agenda, “More choice is coming to education — it’s a question of when and how rather than if.” DeVos should take a cue from Michigan and start by expanding choice in early childhood.

To read our other coverage of Betsy DeVos, click here.

New Year, New Look

Bellwether was founded in 2009 with the vision of a world in which race, ethnicity, and income no longer predict life outcomes for students. There were four of us here at the beginning, education leaders with expertise in strategy, policy, and talent. We wanted to bring those skills to help education organizations in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors dramatically accelerate results for underserved students.

We believed then — as we do now — that the only way to ensure that all children have access to high-quality schools is to take a holistic approach to education’s most pressing challenges. And we sought to build a nonprofit where we’d all be proud to work.

Fast forward eight years to 2017: Our staff has grown from four to over fifty, and we’ve served over 325 clients and counting! While a lot has happened in that time, what hasn’t changed are our core values and commitment to quality, cutting-edge solutions to the most longstanding and complicated problems facing the education sector.

Bellwether has grown in people power, experience, and sophistication, and we wanted that to show on the outside, too. To mark our eighth year — and to honor our founding vision — we’ve refreshed our brand. See for yourself:

Before

Before

After

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You might be asking yourself, why bellwether? Here’s a definition:

\‘BEL-‚weth- r\ noun; A leader of a movement or activity; also, a leading indicator of future trends.

Our new logo is just that: a leading indicator, with a compass dial symbolizing our work as trailblazers, guides, and trusted advisers. We’re moving the needle forward.

We’re excited to debut this new look for the new year, and look forward to rolling up our sleeves with so many inspiring organizations who share our commitment to serving students — in 2017 and beyond.

PaidLeave4DC is Good for Children and Families but Hardly “Generous”

Earlier this week, the DC Council passed “one of the nation’s most generous” paid family leave policies. As I’ve written previously, these policies improve a child’s cognitive, social, and emotional development, which in turn improves a child’s lifelong academic achievement. Paid leave also increases infant health since it increases the likelihood of early childhood checkups and immunizations.

But DC’s policy can hardly be viewed as an adequate amount of time to best foster child development. While DC’s policy marks important progress for the District’s children, the policy can only be deemed one of the country’s most generous because American policies are anachronistic and backwards.

We are the only industrialized nation with no federal law mandating parental leave — other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries offer an average of thirty six weeks. It’s easy for any new policy passed by a US municipality or state to be deemed “generous,” “cutting edge,” or “revolutionary.” At this rate, a state mandating a week of paid family leave could be deemed generous — even though such a policy would have minimal impact on young children and their families.

The original DC proposal would have offered sixteen weeks paid parental leave and was therefore viewed as groundbreaking. The Council ultimately passed a bill providing only eight weeks of leave, but despite this, news coverage nonetheless focuses on the generosity of the plan. Sure, the eight weeks provided by the DC bill is more than the six weeks passed by the San Francisco board of supervisors in April (which was also deemed at the time the “most generous family leave law”) or the four weeks provided in Rhode Island. And the 90% of pay provided under the DC plan (capped at $1,000 a week) is more generous than New York State’s plan to provide 67% of an employee’s pay.

Others view DC’s plan as generous because it offers leave to parents of both genders, as opposed to, for example, the six weeks offered to pregnant mothers in PEOTUS Donald Trump’s proposed child care plan. But all of these offerings are less than the amount of time recommended by doctors — at least twelve weeks, but preferably twenty four weeks. And they pale in comparison to international norms. Parents in Korea are offered 52 weeks of paid leave. Parents in at least 16 countries receive such generous leave policies they can be measured in a larger metric: a year.

How did the US come to be so backwards when it comes to leave policies?  By World War II, almost all developed countries offered working women some form of paid maternity leave. The US remained an outlier. For decades, Democrats sought to pass a paid parental leave bill. In 1993, they settled for the Family and Medical Leave (FMLA), which provides up to 12 weeks unpaid family leave for employees to care for seriously ill family members or the arrival of a child. This federal law only applies to employees who work at companies with 50 employees, and on top of that, many workers are unable to take advantage of the law because they cannot afford to do so. Family leave advocates viewed the FMLA as a starting point but have been unable to expand the law in the intervening fifteen years. As a result, paid family leave has come to be viewed as a political pipe dream.

But in the last few years, at the local and state level, things have begun to change. One reason for this — besides the lack of a workable federal approach — is an Obama Administration Department of Labor program which provided federal grants to help cities design paid family leave proposals.

We should continue to celebrate any and all state and local efforts to guarantee paid family leave. But conversations about our country’s progress must consistently acknowledge the truly antiquated nature of our current approach to parental leave. Only 12% of workers in the U.S. have paid family leave, and less than half of US companies offer paid leave. Access is largely determined by income.

You know who actually provides the most “generous,” “cutting edge,” and “revolutionary” family leave policies? Tech companies such as Adobe, Amazon, Google, Etsy, Microsoft, Netflix, Spotify, and Twitter; the credit card company AmEx; and the Swedish-based company Ikea. Netflix offers up to a year of leave. In March, Etsy announced a plan offering twenty six weeks of paid leave to parents of either gender. A week ago, AmEx announced that it will offer twenty weeks of paid leave to parents of either gender. Earlier this month, Ikea announced that it will offer sixteen weeks paid parental leave to American employees of either gender. Ikea’s policy is notable because it provides the same benefits to salaried and hourly workers, whereas most corporate policies only apply to high-skilled employees. This inequality is exactly why we need government laws to mandate paid family leave.

If the policy goes into effect (Congress can override it), DC will be one of the few “states” to offer both paid leave for employees and universal pre-k to all three and four year olds — demonstrating a true commitment to serving young children and their families. Together these two critical early childhood policies could improve the academic achievement and life outcomes of an entire generation of children.

Best of Bellwether 2016

new-years-day-1054594_960_720 (1)Here at Bellwether, we’ve grappled with a lot of tough questions in 2016: Why did the Movement for Black Lives’ education platform reject charter schools? What does Donald Trump’s win mean for education policy? Why is talking about diversity in educational organizations not enough? Could personalized learning transform rural education? How should schools be graded under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)?

From a range of different topics, we pulled our most-read writing of 2016. Below are your favorite Ahead of the Heard blog posts and Bellwether publications of the year. (To read the top posts from our sister site, TeacherPensions.org, click here.)

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and keeping up with our work in 2016! Stay tuned for more in 2017, including reports on modernizing student transportation, the Head Start workforce, and rural education in Oklahoma.

Top Ten Blog Posts from Ahead of the Heard in 2016

1.) 2016 FAFSA Completion Rates By State
By Chad Aldeman

2.) Donald Trump Won. What Does That Mean for Education Policy?
By Chad Aldeman

3.) Updated: There’s A Huge Flaw in the “Teacher Shortage” Data
By Chad Aldeman

4.) State Legislatures Attack Student Growth in Teacher Evaluation
By Kaitlin Pennington

5.) Movers & Shakers at Bellwether
By Mary K. Wells

6.) There’s a Reason the Movement for Black Lives’ Education Platform Rejects Charter Schools
By Max Marchitello

7.) New Proposed Head Start Performance Standards Released Today
By Sara Mead

8.) What Does it Mean to “Raise the Bar” for Entry Into the Teaching Profession?
By Chad Aldeman

9.) Diversity: Necessary (But Insufficient)
By Xiomara Padamsee

10.) Education Innovation is Everything, Nothing, Beautiful
By Jason Weeby

Top Ten Publications from Bellwether in 2016

1.) 16 for 2016: 16 Education Policy Ideas for the Next President
Edited by Andrew J. Rotherham and Jennifer O’Neal Schiess

2.) Peering Around the Corner / No Guarantees
By Chad Aldeman and Ashley LiBetti Mitchel

3.) The U.S. Education Innovation Index: Prototype and Report
By Jason Weeby, Kelly Robson, and George Mu

4.) A New Agenda: Research to Build a Better Teacher Preparation Program
By Ashley LiBetti Mitchel and Melissa Steel King

5.) Grading Schools: How States Should Define “School Quality” Under the Every Student Succeeds Act
By Chad Aldeman

6.) The Promise of Personalized Learning in Rural America
By Jennifer Schiess and Carolyn Chuong

7.) Moneyball for Head Start: Using Data, Evidence, and Evaluation to Improve Outcomes for Children and Families
By Sara Mead and Ashley LiBetti Mitchel

8.) For Good Measure? Teacher Evaluation Policy in the ESSA Era
By Kaitlin Pennington and Sara Mead

9.) Who’s Teaching Our Kids: Changes to Illinois’ Educator Workforce Since 2002
By Melissa Steel King, Leslie Kan, and Chad Aldeman

10.) The Learning Landscape: A Broad View of the U.S. Public School System
By Jennifer Schiess, Kelly Robson, Carolyn Chuong, and Kaitlin Pennington