November 15, 2018

Welcoming our Fall 2018 interns!

Bellwether’s Policy and Thought Leadership internship program provides skill- and knowledge-building opportunities to students and professionals developing their careers in education policy and program evaluation. Interns work on substantive projects matched to their skills and interests and are treated as core members of our team.

This fall, we’re happy to have Truc Vo and Armand Demirchyan joining us through the end of the year! Read their bios below, and stay tuned for blogging and research from these two.

Truc Voheadshot of Truc Vo

Background: Truc Vo is an intern with Bellwether Education Partners in the Policy and Thought Leadership team. Truc received her master’s of public policy degree and bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Virginia (UVA). During her time at UVA’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, she further explored her interest in education policy through taking cross-listed classes with the Curry School of Education. For her master’s capstone project, Truc explored ways to increase racial diversity in Teach For America’s teacher corps.

Why I do this work: Growing up Vietnamese American, my family always emphasized the importance and value of education. My educational upbringing was very privileged, growing up in the well-resourced Fairfax County Public Schools and having college-educated parents. However, I know my public school experience was very different from many other minority students, especially other Southeast Asian students, and I want to help all students have equal access and opportunities.

Contacthttps://www.linkedin.com/in/thanh-truc-vo-40ab7013b

Armand Demirchyanheadshot of Armand Demirchyan

Background: Armand Demirchyan is a Policy and Thought Leadership Intern at Bellwether Education Partners, where he has conducted research on race, housing, and education. After college, he served as an Americorps member with Reading Partners in his hometown of Los Angeles,  working on literacy intervention with elementary students. Armand is currently pursuing his master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University and holds dual degrees in Quantitative Economics and African-American Studies from the University of California, Irvine.

Why I do this work: After graduating college, I served as an Americorps member with Reading Partners Los Angeles. My experience gave me a deeper understanding of the inequities at play for low-income and low-resourced schools. However, I believe that with the right amount of support and investment, strong public education has the power to transform lives.

To learn more about Bellwether’s Policy and Thought Leadership internship program or to apply for a future semester, click here.


November 14, 2018

How to Engage Stakeholders: Three Considerations for Expanding Schools

This is the third blog post in our #SGInstitute series, led by our Strategic Advising practice on lessons learned from advising schools, networks, and districts on growth and expansion.

Starting a new school or expanding an existing one requires support and action from many different groups of people, including parents, community members, district leaders, and staff. In our recent Strategic Growth Institute (SGI) cohort, participants talked about how hard it is to inspire support and action from these varied stakeholders given the range of perspectives each might have on growth and the limited time organizational leaders have. We heard about the dangers of under-investing in stakeholder engagement, which could result in a program model that does not reflect your community’s needs, an under-enrolled school, or a failed application for expansion. We also heard about the far-reaching benefits of doing stakeholder engagement work well, such as cases where parents and staff not only understand a growth plan but actively shape and champion it.

Many organizational leaders know that stakeholder engagement is key to the success of a growth plan, but planning for this engagement can be hard to do; there is no one-size-fits-all playbook for effective stakeholder engagement. We use a simple three-part tool to help organizational leaders plan stakeholder engagement, anchored on three questions:

School Growth Stakeholder Engagement Table

The engagement efforts that result from this planning tool will look quite different depending on an organization’s growth strategy and community context. However, we’ve identified important themes to consider during the planning process that apply regardless of the unique situation: Continue reading


November 12, 2018

Straight Talk for City Leaders on Unified Enrollment: A Q&A with Shannon Fitzgerald

In many cities across the country, school application and enrollment processes are built like high-stakes obstacle courses, where families with the most time and resources at their disposal tend to come out on top. A unified enrollment system is one way that cities with broad school choice have tried to level the playing field, and make enrollment processes less burdensome and more equitable for families. In cities like D.C., Denver, and New Orleans that have unified enrollment systems, families submit a single application and rank the charter and district schools of their choice. Then each student is matched to a single school via an enrollment algorithm.

These systems can decrease inequities by making enrollment processes for families easier to accomplish and harder to “game,” maximizing students’ likelihood of getting into their top choice schools. Unified enrollment can also decrease budget instability for schools caused by unexpected enrollment changes in the beginning of the year. For city leaders, data from unified enrollment systems can reveal important lessons about family demand for specific schools or programs. But that does not mean there are no risks, speed bumps, or potential problems. There is a lot that has to happen behind the scenes to create an enrollment system that meets families’ needs and avoids unintended consequences.

Shannon Fitzgerald knows what it takes to implement a lasting unified enrollment system. She was one of the first in the country to do it as the Director of Choice and Enrollment for Denver Public Schools from 2008-2013. Now, as an enrollment systems consultant, she works with other cities and districts who are interested in reforming their enrollment systems. I talked with her recently about the lessons she’s learned along the way and her advice for city leaders.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How do you define a unified enrollment system? What differentiates unified enrollment from other enrollment approaches?

I think about enrollment systems as a spectrum. On one end, you have “wild west” systems. Nothing is coordinated: families have to go all over the place and apply to each school individually, and there are different deadlines. You have students enrolled in multiple schools — who knows where they will show up in September? On the other end, you have truly unified enrollment systems like Denver, Indianapolis, and New Orleans. They include all public schools in the city, district and charter; they have common tools, a common timeline, and a common application; and every student gets matched to a single school of their choice. In between those two ends of the spectrum are about 50,000 different variations.

Continue reading


November 5, 2018

Three Questions About the Bezos Day One Fund

When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced the new Bezos Day One Fund, a $2 billion investment in children and families, people noticed. Love it or hate it, everyone has strong feelings about Amazon, and Bezos is now turning his online sales-fueled largesse toward schools.

Jeff Bezos on May 5, 2016

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

Plenty of details remain to be worked out, but part of the investment will “launch and operate a network of high-quality, full-scholarship, Montessori-inspired preschools in underserved communities.” That’s good news. Research shows that high-quality preschool can lead to increases in children’s learning, particularly for historically underserved groups of children. If even 1 percent of the $2 billion investment goes to preschool, that’s more than Nevada, Missouri, Delaware, Alaska, and Hawaii combined spend on preschool.

Still, the impact of the Day One preschools will come down to complicated and specific program design decisions. So before we really celebrate, here are three questions early education advocates should be asking:

Continue reading


November 1, 2018

How Can Governments Make Change? Go Wide or Go Deep.

Imagine a child who has experienced homelessness and who has had to change schools multiple times due to moving between foster homes, shelters, and the street. Oftentimes a young person like this becomes involved with multiple government agencies, like the Department of Child Welfare, the Department of Juvenile Justice, or the Department of Health, because the work that each of these agencies does tends to be narrowly focused on a solving a specific set of problems. Some agencies aim to keep children safe from abuse and neglect, others seek to rehabilitate youth who have committed crimes, and yet others try to prevent and treat illness and disease.

While each sector can implement its own solutions that may work some of the time for some young people, sustainable social change requires government agencies to collaborate.

But at which level of government (e.g., local, county, state, or federal) should we direct our efforts? The answer lies in the type of change we hope to create. Continue reading