May 23, 2019

Media: “Education donors ought to give attention, money to rural Georgia” in Atlanta Journal Constitution

Yesterday, my colleagues and I published Education in the American South: Historical Context, Current State, and Future Possibilities. Our hope is that this report sparks a conversation about the need for greater attention to and investment in education in the South, particularly outside of major cities.

In an op-ed published yesterday in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, I look at Georgia’s student enrollment and test score data to argue that funders need to focus on the communities outside of metro Atlanta if they want to improve education for a lot of high-need kids:

Of the 1.8 million students enrolled in Georgia public school districts, just 52,400 of them – less than 3 percent – are enrolled in Atlanta Public Schools. Even throwing in the school systems surrounding APS – Clayton, Cobb, Douglas, DeKalb, and Fulton Counties – accounts for just 439,306 students, or 25% of all students statewide. 

That means that three out of every four public K-12 students in Georgia goes to school outside of metro Atlanta.

And yet policymakers and philanthropists involved in education continue to disproportionately focus on Atlanta. Philanthropic funders spend $453 per person in metro Atlanta, compared to $329 per person in other parts of the state. Students and schools throughout Georgia’s mid-sized cities, small towns, and rural communities aren’t getting the attention they need and deserve. 

For more detail about how this dynamic plays out across the South, take a look at our report here. And you can read my full piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution here.


May 21, 2019

The Perry Preschoolers are All Grown Up and Their Experiences Continue to Guide the Field

If you’ve ever sat through a presentation on education research or early childhood education, you’ve likely heard of the Perry Preschool project. This seminal research study examined 123 preschool children in Ypsilanti, Michigan who were at risk for school failure. The kids were randomly divided into two groups: One group attended a high-quality preschool program and the comparison group received no preschool education. The participants were tracked throughout their lifetimes.

The widely studied long-term positive results of attending the preschool included higher rates of graduating high school, higher employment rates, higher earnings, and fewer teen pregnancies and criminal behavior. As one of the only randomized control trials in early childhood education, the Perry Project remains widely cited.

Even though fifty years have passed since the Perry Preschool program actively served children, the results still offer lessons for the early childhood education field.

Current discussions of early childhood interventions often focus on whether pre-K programs raise children’s readiness for kindergarten or their elementary school test scores. But new research from Nobel prize winning economist James Heckman and co-author Ganesh Karapakula — the first analysis of Perry Preschool participants through mid-life — illustrates the short-sightedness of this approach. Their report demonstrates that high-quality early childhood interventions can have a dramatic impact not only on program participants’ life outcomes but also the life outcomes of their future offspring. Some of their findings: Continue reading


May 16, 2019

Misinformation About California’s Special Education Systems and Enrollment Trends Won’t Help the Fiscal Crisis

Many California school districts are in financial trouble. Teacher pensions consume an increasing share of K-12 spending, and inflexible collective bargaining agreements and declining enrollments stretch district budgets.

In this strained financial environment, some of the complexity of California’s school finance system is lost, leading to simplified analyses and incomplete solutions. Addressing the financial shortfall requires a comprehensive understanding of the many different ways funding works in the state.

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To that end, we released new issue briefs yesterday that provide needed context and clarity on important issues in the state: special education financing and school enrollment trends and facilities. These issues have become part of the financial policy debate, but there are misunderstandings that unnecessarily fan the flames of tension between traditional and charter schools. For example, misleading analyses of enrollment trends and their impact on district finances make it more difficult to accurately assess facilities needs for districts and charter schools. And, since charter schools often enroll fewer students with disabilities, many can mistakenly believe that they are not contributing their share to special education.

But this isn’t quite right. Our hope is that a sober examination of these systems will point to reforms that can help schools of all types better serve students.

Continue reading


May 14, 2019

Learning from a Missed Opportunity in Massachusetts

If current predictions hold, several states will either set new or stand by current limits on charter school growth and expansion. These limits, called charter school caps, place a ceiling on the number of charter schools or students those schools can enroll. In 2016, Massachusetts did the same thing: Voters rejected Ballot Question 2, which would have raised the cap on charter schools in the state. But research released just last week suggests that Massachusetts’ voters made a mistake. The states currently considering similar legislation should pay attention.

In the study I’m referencing, authors Sarah Cohodes, Elizabeth Setren, and Christopher R. Walters examined the effect of a policy that allowed effective charter schools in Boston to replicate their school models at new locations. They found that these new schools produced large achievement gains that were on par with those of their parent campuses. What’s more, the average effectiveness of charter middle schools in the city increased after the policy reform.

This evidence could, perhaps, be dismissed if the sector saw only a marginal increase in the number of schools; that is, if there were only a few additional charter schools that pulled this off. But that’s not the case: Boston’s charter sector produced these results despite a doubling of the charter market share in the city.

This analysis would be a big deal for any charter sector, but it is particularly meaningful for Boston. As Bellwether found in a recent analysis of the charter sector, Boston has the highest performing urban charter sector in the country. The average child who attended Boston charter schools benefited from basically a full year of additional learning compared to students in traditional public schools: 170 additional days of learning in reading and 233 days of learning in math. And the research suggests that Boston charter schools have strong, positive effects on the learning outcomes of students with disabilities and English-language learners, as well. The implication here is that not only did Boston’s charter schools replicate their impact, they replicated some of the most effective charter schools we’ve ever seen, to the benefit of the thousands of students in Boston who are on charter school waitlists.

The states that are poised to double down on charter caps — such as New York, Maine, and California — shouldn’t make the same mistake as Massachusetts did in 2016. New York, in particular, is at risk here: In our analysis earlier this year, we examined the existing evidence on New York and New York City and found that there, too, charters are more effective than traditional public schools. By committing to the cap, the state is refusing thousands of students the opportunity to attend high-quality schools.

To be sure, there are reasons to question the growth of a charter sector other than whether charters can replicate effectiveness across schools. Charter critics cite, for example, concerns about the effect of charter sector growth on traditional public school enrollment. But, particularly during National Charter Schools Week, states should be skeptical of arguments used to support charter school caps that claim charter schools cannot be replicated effectively.


May 13, 2019

Media: “Everyone’s job but no one’s responsibility” in The Hechinger Report

Some of our country’s most vulnerable students get too little from too many people. Read more from me and Kelly Robson over at The Hechinger Report:

Approximately five million students who are served by public care agencies have multiple official adults in their lives — judges, lawyers, therapists, volunteers, teachers, counselors, case managers, social workers and more — people paid to support them when they experience significant life circumstances like homelessness, foster care or incarceration.

That five million does not include those students who experience instability resulting from uncounted experiences like evictions, parental arrests, prolonged family medical crises, migrant work and other major life disruptions. These are generally not students who are “falling through the cracks” and being served by no one. Quite the opposite — they are instead being served by everyone.

Bellwether is currently partnering with California’s El Dorado County to address education fragmentation. Our Hechinger piece is a great story about the folks we’ve been working with and the impact this work can have. For more context, check out our recent report: “Continuity Counts: Coordinated Education Systems for Students in Transition.”