Tag Archives: state education policy

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. We all work towards 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.

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

States Need to Get Real on Testing Tradeoffs Before Making Another Big Switch

risksignJust a few years ago, it seemed like most of the country was heading towards common state assessments in math and reading. Two groups of states won federal grant funds to create higher-quality tests; these became the PARCC and Smarter Balanced test consortia. Now, despite the demonstrated rigor and academic quality of those tests, the testing landscape is almost as fractured as it was before, with states pursuing a variety of assessment strategies. Some states in the consortia are still waffling. Others that have left are already scrapping the tests they made on their own with no idea of what they’ll do next.

States should think carefully before going it alone or introducing a new testing overhaul without strong justification. There are some big tradeoffs at play in the testing world, and a state might spend millions on an “innovative” new test from an eager-to-please vendor only to find that it has the same, or worse, issues as the “next generation” tests they tossed aside.

Continue reading

Immigration is an Education Issue

Read more live coverage of #EDlection2016 via Bellwether and The 74’s Convention Live Blog.

The DNC kicked off Monday night with two parallel stories of immigration that are meaningful, especially for those closely watching education issues. Karla Ortiz a 10-year-old American citizen spoke along with her mother, Francisca Ortiz, who is undocumented.

Another speaker, Astrid Silva identified on the schedule simply as “DREAMer” is the organizing director at the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. She is also undocumented. Although these speakers highlighted the importance education played in their personal stories, it might not be immediately obvious that momentum around immigration reform in the federal executive office is explicitly connected to our schools.

The appearance of these speakers on night one suggests that the Clinton campaign intends to bring renewed energy to passing the DREAM Act, now more than six years old. And while this statute is a federal immigration law, it has enormous implications for state education programs.  Since 1982, undocumented students have been entitled to attend a public K-12 school; they also cannot be excluded from public college or university. But what they still can’t do is qualify for in-state tuition or get federal grants or loans to pay for it. Some states have taken up the cause and created their own state funding opportunities but programs vary wildly with different eligibility requirements and benefits available.

By leading with two stories that are about both immigration and education, the DNC sets the stage for some high-level ideological and policy friction between the federal government and the states. Immigration policy belongs to the federal government alone (even though we’ve seen lots of states try to assert their power and lose). Education policy is primarily a state responsibility, even though the federal government can offer incentives for states to adopt preferred policies or practices. But the recent passage of ESSA shifts even more decision-making power to the states, while still providing them with federal dollars.

There’s also the matter of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals): a separate federal executive action that applies to this same category of undocumented people: young people ages 15-31 who are enrolled in, or recently graduated from, high school. DACA acts as an interim measure while the DREAM Act winds its way through Congress, protecting eligible students’ continued U.S. residency by allowing them to apply for a two-year reprieve from the threat of deportation.

The success of DACA, however, rests on our public K-12 schools.

In order to qualify for DACA protection, students must prove that they are attending (or have graduated from) a U.S. high school. That requirement means more than just gathering the paperwork, it also means that we’re trusting our schools have the capacity to support these students through high school.

Threading the needle not only on immigration and education, but also state and federal authority is going to be a tricky task. But the Clinton campaign seems to be gearing up for it.  We’ve gotten a lot of the “why” now I think we’re all ready to hear the “how.”

When Soundbites are Technically True but Terribly Misleading [UPDATED]

UPDATE [May 20, 2016, 10:29 a.m.]: On May 18, Governor Wolf vetoed the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act.

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Earlier this week, the Pennsylvania state legislature passed a bill, the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act, which would base teacher layoffs on performance rather than seniority. The bill isn’t going any further, because Governor Wolf pledged to veto it, but that hasn’t stopped proponents and opponents from dropping not-quite-accurate-but-very-quotable soundbites.

Sen. Dave Reed says that the current seniority-based policy “forces schools and districts to lay off teachers based solely on date of hire,” and that the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act would give districts the ability to “hire and keep the best teachers.”

But Wythe Keever, a Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman, says the bill would do the exact opposite: “Experience in education has been demonstrated through years of research to have a correlation with students’ academic achievement.”

So…which is it? Would this bill help or hurt the teaching force?

The answer is both and neither. Reed and Keever’s comments are technically true, but also terribly misleading.

Despite what Sen. Reed suggests, the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act wouldn’t ensure that only the best teachers stay in the classroom. In 2013-14, only 1.8 percent of Pennsylvania teachers—220 teachers in all—were rated unsatisfactory. This bill could allow districts to fire every unsatisfactory teacher, and yet the overall teaching force would remain largely the same.

Wythe Keever isn’t right, either. On average, teachers with decades of experience are better than teachers with no experience, but they’re only slightly better than teachers with a handful of years of experience. And there’s significant variation within and across every experience level. That’s a very different conclusion than what he—and the current layoff policy—suggests, which is that more experienced teachers are always better than less experienced teachers.

Indignant soundbites are much more fun than the full truth, but as I’ve said before, context and nuance are crucial for any real policy decision.