October 22, 2019

Why Do So Few Kids Walk or Bike to School in My State?

When I was a teacher in Connecticut, most of my students walked to school. I taught just a few blocks from downtown, so that made walking a pretty reasonable option. However, that wasn’t the norm in the rest of New England, and it would be really exceptional in my current home state of Kentucky. In fact, only 3% of students walk or bike to school in the “East South Central” states of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

Walking and biking to school varies by region.

Nationally, about 10% of students walk or bike to school every day, but actual likelihood of walking to school varies significantly by region. Why are students in my region ranked lowest in the country in active forms of transportation, and what are the “Pacific” states of California, Oregon, and Washington, with the highest rates of students walking or biking to school, doing that we aren’t?

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October 17, 2019

Media: “Four lessons I learned from California’s Hollister prep on closing learning gaps” in EdSource

Earlier this year, I got to visit to Hollister Prep, a public charter school in  California which serves a racially and socioeconomically diverse student population and achieves remarkable results, partly through its use of data-driven instruction. You can read about the lessons from my visit in an op-ed published this week in EdSource:

Many schools collect and track data, but too often, there’s a lag between data collection and reporting — or teachers simply don’t know how to use data. At Hollister Prep, data collection and analysis are constant, ongoing, and used to drive near-term instructional decisions.

I watched students complete personalized math lessons via fun online curriculum that included a cute jumping frog. But this rigorous program also provided teachers robust, real-time data (versus the quarterly benchmark reports or laborious exit tickets other teachers might rely on).

The data told teachers what types of problems a student encountered in the session and what scaffolds and supports he needed. Another teacher tracked students’ mastery of the multiplication lesson of the day to know who needed re-teaching during the intervention block.

The full op-ed is available here. You can also the report that my colleagues Gwen Baker and Amy Chen Kulesa and I released last month, “Unfinished: Insights From Ongoing Work to Accelerate Outcomes for Students With Learning Gaps,” which synthesizes research on the science of learning to inform efforts to help students close gaps and meet grade-level expectations.


October 10, 2019

Lessons in Managing the Gut-Wrenching Process of School Closures

“I’ve never felt that way before, walking into a room and just being in total knots and also knowing the right thing to do.” That’s how former Denver Public Schools board member Mary Seawell recalls the night she and the majority of the board voted to close Montbello, an academically failing but popular neighborhood high school. As we interviewed district and community leaders for our Eight Cities project, the subject of school closures elicited a nearly universal response: emotionally draining and gut-wrenching angst.

photo of Mary Seawell, former Denver Public Schools board member, by Alexander Drecun — from EightCities.org

Photo of Mary Seawell by Alexander Drecun, via EightCities.org

While the superintendents and community leaders we spoke to acknowledged school closure as a painful but necessary tool, our interviews also reflected a culture shift: Some districts are no longer forcing closures of low-performing schools in the absence of quality alternatives. Instead many districts have started more carefully planning closures to minimize disruption and prioritize student success. Two recently released reports reinforce the need for districts to mitigate the pain of school closures by ensuring better alternatives already exist. Continue reading


October 8, 2019

Four Possible Reasons Universal Vouchers Have More Public Support than Charter Schools

Universal vouchers, which provide government funding to families to offset the cost of private school tuition, are generally favored by market-oriented school-choice proponents. So you’d expect charter schools, which tend to enjoy more bipartisan support, to be more widely popular.

According to the latest Education Next poll, in 2019, 55% of the public indicated that they support universal vouchers, an increase of 12 percentage points since 2013. Meanwhile, charter schools only got the support of 48% of the public, a slight decline of 3 percentage points since 2013. 

Source: Education Next, “Trends in the EdNext Survey: Question wording and data over time,” 2019, https://educationnext.org/files/ednext-poll-question-wording-over-time-through-2019.pdf

Here are four key lessons from the Education Next poll that might explain why universal vouchers are tracking ahead of charter schools:

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October 3, 2019

What Is a School District Chief Innovation Officer? A Q&A With Margo Roen and David Saenz

Through innovation, organizations can adapt and improve their operations, but in large, complex school districts, who actually defines and pushes innovative efforts forward? 

School districts across the country are increasingly appointing a Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) or similar role to drive transformation in their school systems. What do these leaders actually do? What should superintendents consider before adding a CIO to their leadership team? 

In order to answer these questions, I reached out to Margo Roen, the Principal of Innovative Systems & Schools at Education First, and David Saenz, Senior Officer in Fort Worth (TX) Independent School District’s Office of Innovation and Transformation. (Fort Worth Independent School District is part of Texas’ System of Great Schools Network, which Margo supports, and is a current Bellwether client.)

headshots of Margo Roen, Education First, and David Saenz, Forth Worth Independent School District

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

What is a Chief Innovation Officer? What are the main responsibilities and skills?

Margo Roen: CIOs (or comparable roles) are fundamentally focused on creating more high-quality, best-fit schools for the students they serve, but this can look really different across districts depending on local needs.

CIO’s typically: 1) oversee an annual cycle for using data to assess their district’s strengths and gaps; 2) actively look for options to fill those gaps through internal capacity-building or external partnerships; and 3) formalize these strategic partnerships through performance contracts that clearly lay out expectations, autonomies, and supports for partners. 

David Saenz: The work of a CIO is all about change management. They need the ability to manage various projects at once while also being able to communicate effectively with internal and external partners and stakeholders. A CIO needs to have a working knowledge of most of the major areas of a school district: school management, school finance, personnel management, operations, and grant development.

A diverse array of districts have created CIO roles in the last decade or so. How has the role evolved, if at all, since then? Continue reading