November 1, 2017

Supporting Teachers and Leaders in Minnesota and Beyond

Minnesota is a fascinating place when it comes to education. Student populations are increasingly culturally and linguistically diverse, especially in the Twin Cities. Overall child outcomes have been historically high relative to national averages, but wide and persistent achievement gaps reveal unacceptable disparities by race, ethnicity, immigration status, and income. Local education leaders, funders, and advocates are increasingly seeking change in policy and educational programs. In this environment, it’s interesting to zoom in on work happening at a local level, to identify lessons that can be applied elsewhere in Minnesota, and in other schools, states, and cities.

Today we release Supporting Minnesota Educators, a new website from Bellwether Education Partners. This project began by looking at the McKnight Foundation Pathway Schools Initiative, which aimed to improve pre-K to third grade reading outcomes in seven schools in Minnesota’s Twin Cities via formative assessments, educator professional development, and leadership supports for principals. McKnight and its partners began with bold ambitions to support significant improvements in student learning, but those gains haven’t materialized in most participating schools. These results show how complicated school improvement work can be, and also point to how policymakers can better set schools and principals up for success.

In examining evaluation results and speaking with initiative stakeholders, we found three key lessons that can inform future efforts:

  1. Foster stability among educators and leaders to allow for instructional and school culture changes to take hold
  2. Build leadership teams in schools focused on improving teaching and learning
  3. Improve training for educators so they have the knowledge and skills to provide excellent instruction for all students

Supporting Minnesota Educators expands on all three of these lessons, and brings together results from the Initiative with national research and resources. The website will also serve as a home for more resources to come on these topics in the year ahead – you can sign up for updates here. I hope this website will be a helpful resource for leaders, teachers, and advocates and generate conversation about pre-K to third grade and school improvement in Minnesota and elsewhere.


October 31, 2017

Three Education Implications to Consider on the 500th Anniversary of Reformation

According to tradition, today marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the castle church door in Wittenburg, launching the Protestant Reformation. Numerous books, articles, and museum exhibits this year have explored the ways in which this event shaped Western history, Christianity, and the world we live in today. But what does it have to do with education? Here are three things to consider:

1.Martin Luther was an advocate for education. Luther argued for widespread education, including the education of girls. His doctrine of “sola scriptura” (or scripture alone), as well as the argument that believers needed no intermediary between themselves and God, implied that Christians should be able to read the Bible. But Luther didn’t just advocate education for the sake of Bible reading: he advocated a broad education that included languages, history, music, and mathematics. And he advocated such education not only for boys, but also for girls. In a 1524 pamphlet, he encouraged cities in Germany to establish schools for both boys and girls, using an argument that may sound familiar to many today (though other arguments in the pamphlet will not!):

If it is necessary, dear sirs, to expend annually such great sums for firearms, roads, bridges, dams and countless similar items, in order that a city may enjoy temporal peace and prosperity, why should not at least as much be devoted to the poor, needy youth, so that we might engage one or two competent men to teach school?

(Lest one think Luther only believed men should teach, he also wrote a letter encouraging a former nun to become a teacher at a girls’ school he founded in Wittenburg.)

2. Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible played a central role in education in 16th century Germany (and beyond).

3. The Reformation and its legacy is a great example of why schools today need to teach students about religion. The Reformation played a crucial role in shaping both Western history and the world we live in today, and students need to learn about it. And to really learn about it, they need to understand at least a little bit about Christian doctrine. If public schools do not teach children about the religious ideas (from a range of faiths and traditions) that have shaped history and the world we live in today, they’re not equipping them to deal with the challenges we face today.


October 30, 2017

A Day in the Life: Bellwether’s Justin Trinidad

Justin Trinidad joined the Bellwether Policy and Thought Leadership team earlier this year, where he has supported research and data collection on a range of projects, including ones that cover teacher preparation programs and human capital efforts.

We’ve been so excited to get to know Justin and his impressive past experiences, so we’re sharing a little more about him with all of you!

Just in time for Filipino American History month, Justin talks with us about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) and their access to education and public service.

How did you get inspired to work in education after working in broader civil rights issues?

I strongly believe that education and civil rights go hand in hand. In my previous work at OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, I focused on advocating for various educational issues affecting the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, ranging from AAPI data disaggregation in ESSA to providing access to federal financial aid for DACA recipients. I wanted to build on my understanding and expertise in education. Moving into the education policy world seemed like a fitting transition, and it’s important to me that Bellwether especially seeks to help the most underserved students.

You’ve held many roles — both professionally and as a volunteer — in the Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. What from that work continues to inform and shape you today?

One of the main reasons I love working with the AAPI community, in particular AAPI youth, is to help develop the pipeline of youth who enter public service and increase representation in the leadership of government and nonprofits. Growing up, I was unaware of career paths to public service and only learned about such careers later in my college experience.

One of the highlights of my AAPI community experience is developing and planning the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership (CAPAL)’s Scholarship and Internship Program this past summer. I recruited and placed interns in several federal agencies and nonprofits, developed the curriculum, and facilitated workshops for 30 undergraduate and graduate students to educate participants on pathways to public service and the necessary skills to access those pathways.

That’s awesome! Do you have other success stories from your work?

One of the most rewarding projects from my time at the White House Initiative on AAPIs was planning the White House Filipino American History Month, which took place exactly a year ago. The celebration brought together Filipino American federal agency representatives, elected officials, advocates, entrepreneurs, and community members to discuss the most important issues of the Filipino-American community. As a Filipino American, it was incredibly empowering and inspirational to bring my community together in a room, especially one in the White House.

Speaking of which, happy Filipino American History Month! Can you tell us a little about your immigration story as it relates to education?

My family and I immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines in the 1990s when I was four years old. One of the main reasons my parents were willing to leave their family behind and start a new life was to provide us with access to opportunities in education that they never had. In the Philippines, the only way to access a high-quality education was to attend the top and most expensive private schools. However, in the U.S., my parents were optimistic that we would be able to study in great public schools and, later, attend the world’s best colleges and universities to increase our chances at tapping into the economic opportunities they never had.

I’d also like to add a little more about Filipino American History Month (FAHM). Filipino Americans were the first Asian Americans to arrive in the U.S. in Morro Bay, California in 1587. FAHM acknowledges and celebrates the many ways that Filipino Americans have contributed significantly to American History ― from serving alongside the U.S. in World War II to strengthening our labor movement in the Delano Grape Strike in the 1960s.

What are some things you wish multiracial education organizations knew about AAPI students?

AAPI students tend to be overlooked in discussions of education equity. Because of the way data is collected, the category “Asian” lumps over 100 ethnic groups into a single demographic and masks the disparities faced by various ethnic groups. Different groups have had vastly different immigration histories, ranging from refugees seeking asylum to those who arrive under the H-1B visa. For example, a number of Southeast Asian American students face higher rates of poverty and lower levels of educational attainment than other Asian American communities. However, when discussions of educational equity are held, the focus is often solely on Hispanic and African American students. It’s vital to collect nuanced data and disaggregate it to fully understand the extent of educational inequities in our country.

Now that you’ve brought your expertise to the Bellwether team, is there anything that stands out for you about the work environment here?

In addition to everyone’s passion and dedication to working on education issues, I am constantly impressed by everyone’s hobbies. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with people with such a diverse group of interests. From beer experts to marathon runners, to avid campers and world travelers, I’ve been inspired to try new things to see what fun I can have out in the world.


October 26, 2017

Three Things to Know about Courts, Schools, and Discipline

About 2.8 million k-12 students are suspended from school in a given year. And about 150,000 are expelled. Both suspension and expulsions are forms of “exclusionary school discipline,” the catch-all term for school discipline policies that remove students from their classrooms or schools.

On this subject, The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges just published a new report: The Intersection of Juvenile Courts and Exclusionary School Discipline. It’s a helpful primer on the history of suspension and expulsion policies coupled with advice for those in schools and in the judiciary working to build partnerships to better support students who misbehave in school.

There are three big takeaways from this report:

  1. Most exclusionary discipline policies can be traced back to 1994’s Gun-Free School Zones Act. That law requires all schools receiving federal funds to develop policies for referring incidents of weapons on campus to law enforcement. Experts cited in this report believe this law has not reduced school violence and has, in fact, made communities less safe.
  2. Exclusionary school discipline costs states millions of dollars a year. Spending even just  30% of that on supportive diversion programs — like community-based intervention or mentoring — cuts costs and keeps kids on track towards productive community participation. (The report provides examples of several successful models.)
  3. In many communities, juvenile court judges have used their credibility and influence to take on leadership roles in supporting schools to minimize the contact that young people — especially students of color and students with disabilities — have with law enforcement and the justice system. Other judges can do this by convening cross-agency teams, promoting alternative approaches, and encouraging policy change.  

While none of these points are major revelations, it’s helpful to see them lined up together in order to better illustrate the complex inter-agency dynamics that continue to hold these harmful policies in place.


October 20, 2017

The Teacher Diversity Funnel Starts in K-12 Schools

EdTrust-NY Report Cover – “See Our Truth”

This week, The Education Trust–New York released a report highlighting the lack of teacher diversity in the state’s schools. Specifically, the report reveals that one-third of all New York state schools have zero Latino or Black teachers. New York State is not alone. Lack of teacher diversity is a national problem. As the EdTrust report details, teacher diversity can improve achievement for students of color. So what can be done to address the problem?

The EdTrust report’s recommendations include, but are not limited to: creating more robust data collection systems and practices, improving recruitment and hiring strategies, and focusing on teacher retention. All of these are smart recommendations, but the focus on shorter-term solutions ignores one key part of the problem: teacher diversity problems start long before college students consider entering the teaching profession.*

The issue begins with the fact that black and Hispanic students graduate high school at lower rates than their white and Asian peers. In New York State, 89 percent of white students and 86 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students graduate high school compared to 68 percent of black students and 68 percent of Hispanic students. When fewer black and Hispanic students graduate high school, there are simply fewer students from these backgrounds entering college to pursue the preparation necessary to become a teacher.

Furthermore—as the Urban Institute explains in a recent report that found this funnel problem to be prevalent across the country—teacher diversity issues are also exacerbated in the next step of the pipeline: getting to and through college. In New York State, 44 percent of white students and 51 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students graduate high school earning a Regents diploma with “advanced designation” – the state’s diploma “recommended for students who plan to attend college after high school.” According to the most recent data, just 10 percent of black students and 14 percent of Hispanic students in New York State graduate with an advanced designation diploma.

In short, until the K-12 education system does a better job of ensuring that black and Hispanic students are college ready, there will continue to be a huge diversity gap between the nation’s public school students and the teachers who educate them – especially in diverse areas like New York State. To be fair, fully addressing teacher diversity will likely require a combination approach with long-term and short-term solutions.  But the importance of K-12 schooling  cannot be forgotten.

* Report authors recognize that New York must to do a better job of educating students of color so that they’re better prepared for college and career. The Education Trust has a plethora of reports detailing this issue.