Author Archives: Jennifer Schiess

Building a School Performance Framework for System Management and Accountability? Lessons From Washington, D.C.

At its core, a school performance framework (SPF) is a data-based tool to support local decision making. An SPF designed for system management and accountability provides data and information about system-wide goals to district- or city-level leaders overseeing multiple schools, helps leaders hold schools accountable for student outcomes, allows leaders to understand which schools are performing well and which are not, and informs system-wide improvement strategies and the equitable allocation of resources. 

Our recent publication “School Performance Frameworks: Lessons, Cases, and Purposeful Design,” a website and report available at SchoolPerformanceFrameworks.org, identifies system management and accountability as one of three primary “use cases” that can shape SPF design decisions. A “use case” (a concept borrowed from the field of technology and design) helps designers think through their end users’ needs. Our work imagines local leaders as designers and considers how the choices they make can meet the needs of different end users, including parents, school principals, and district leaders. Among the five long-standing SPFs we looked at in detail for our project, four prioritized the use case of system management and accountability in their SFP design. 

We also found that too many SPFs try to fulfill multiple uses at once, without clearly thinking through priorities and potential tradeoffs. This post is the third in a series that looks at SPFs through the lens of each use case to highlight design considerations and relevant examples.

SPFs built for system management and accountability can inform consequential decisions made at the district level about which schools should be rewarded, replicated, or expanded, and which ones require improvement, intervention, and possibly closure. These SPFs get the most attention when the data they produce result in school closures or other highly visible consequences. While closures may grab headlines and garner resentment for SPFs, a well-designed SPF can actually inject transparency, equity, and fairness into even the most challenging decisions and increase opportunities for students and families by highlighting success and supporting the expansion of quality school options. 

An SPF created for system management and accountability should include:

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Media: “Budget veto presents chance to revisit a missed opportunity: Investment in early childhood education” in EdNC

In an op-ed published yesterday at EdNC, I call for the North Carolina General Assembly to revisit pre-K funding as it rewrites the recently vetoed state budget bill. The state could and should more fully leverage this valuable asset to drive improved outcomes for North Carolina’s children.

An excerpt from the piece:

Gov. Roy Cooper recently vetoed North Carolina’s state budget plan. As lawmakers go back to the drawing board on critical issues like Medicaid expansion, the General Assembly would be wise to revisit a missed opportunity in its public education budget: investment in early childhood.

The challenge in North Carolina is not the quality of NC Pre-K, our state pre-kindergarten program. The challenge is that far too few children can access it. 

Read the rest of this piece at EdNC. Learn more about educational, economic, and social conditions in the American South and strategies southern states have pursued in early childhood and across the education continuum in Education in the American South: Historical Context, Current State, and Future Possibilities.

School Principals Aren’t Quitting En Masse, But These Factors Affect Their Satisfaction

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This post is part of a week-long series about educator and leader pipelines. Read the rest of the series here.

An often-cited 2012 MetLife survey indicated that 1 in 3 principals was very likely to leave their role. According to EdWeek coverage at the time: “Nearly half of principals surveyed indicated that they ‘feel under great stress several days a week.’ And job satisfaction among principals has decreased notably…” After the survey’s release, the education community echoed concerns about increasingly frustrated principals.

But a new report indicates that while some principals may be as unsatisfied as they were in 2012, they are not in fact fleeing the job in droves.

This past July, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) published findings on principal attrition and mobility from the 2016-17 Principal Follow-up Survey.

The overall results show that principals stay in the profession at high rates. Among the 2015-16 cohort, 88 percent were still principals in 2016-17, with 82 percent of them in the same school. More than half had served as principals in the same school for three or more years, and nearly 70 percent had served as a principal in any school for three or more years.

The report separates the survey sample into “stayers” (serving as principal in the same school as the base year), “movers” (serving as a principal in another school), “leavers” (not serving as a principal), or “other.” Digging into the attrition data more deeply reveals that the percentage of stayers, movers, and leavers holds fairly consistently across various characteristics, but there are some differences. While small — often just a few percentage points — a few of these differences stand out, potentially warranting monitoring over time to see if new trends emerge:

  1. A higher proportion of charter school principals leave the profession compared to district school principals. The difference in the percent of leavers is less than four percentage points (13.8 percent compared to 9.4 percent), but the 2016-17 results are the first to show this difference. Results from the two previous versions showed differences less than one percentage point between the two groups. We can only speculate what factors may be driving the change, and only time will tell if it represents and emerging trend or a one-time blip.
  2. Having less experience as a principal does not appear to affect attrition rates, but experience as a teacher prior to becoming a principal may. The percentage of leavers across years of experience as a principal is fairly stable except for the highest levels of experience. Higher “leaver rates” among the most experienced principals is expected because of the impact of retirement. However, a slightly higher proportion of principals reporting less than five years experience as a teacher prior to becoming a principal left the profession, suggesting that either total experience, total experience in education, or specific experience as a teacher may influence how long a principal stays in the profession.
  3. A slightly higher proportion of principals who served in lower-income schools leave the profession compared to wealthier schools. The difference in the proportions between these two groups is only 3 percentage points (11 percent compared to 8 percent). It is also worth noting that the proportion of leavers serving in schools with a lower percentage of free and reduced-price lunch participation (between 25-49 percent) is about the same as that in schools with the highest participation rates. In short, student population doesn’t seem to largely affect principals’ decision-making.
  4. Even principals who indicate a high level of dissatisfaction in their work mostly stay in their roles. The vast majority of principals surveyed indicated that they find their jobs satisfying, and a sizable proportion indicate plans to remain in the profession as long as they are able or at least until retirement. Even among the subset expressing agreement with negative statements such as “I don’t seem to have as much enthusiasm now as I did when I began this job” (29 percent of respondents), “I think about staying home from school because I’m just too tired to go” (13 percent),  or “The stress and disappointments involved in being a principal in this school aren’t really worth it” (16 percent), more than three-quarters of them stayed in their roles at their same schools.

The good news is that on average, principals appear to be a fairly stable group: they stay in their roles over time, and when that stability is matched with quality leadership, good things will happen for students and schools. But it is critical to continue working to ensure that educators have the supports and resources they need to be successful so that every school has an inspired leader at the helm.

Better Buses: Three Ways to Improve School Transportation, in Under 3 Minutes

When I was a high school teacher, my sophomore and junior students routinely told a tired joke: What’s big, yellow, and full of freshmen? The school bus. There was a stigma attached to riding the school bus. For students who fancied themselves on the cusp of adulthood, the school bus was a vestige of childhood, and they avoided it if they could.

That attitude contrasts with the reverence my own elementary school-aged children have for the bus. All things transit fascinate them, but the school bus holds a special status. It is as magical as Ms. Frizzle, and the bus driver is a superhero. She arrives each day with a big smile and a wave, greeting her tiny charges with their oversized backpacks, and maneuvering her iconic vehicle down darkened city streets.

These conflicting views of school buses symbolize a conflict in school transportation. School buses and school transportation are at once a nostalgic and iconic symbol of American education and a challenged system that often fails to serve students, schools, and communities as well as it could.

Today we release “Better Buses: Three Ways to Improve School Transportation, in Under 3 Minutes,” a short animated video that encapsulates the challenges and complex considerations we must grapple with to improve our school transportation systems so that they meet the needs of students, families, schools, and communities. Watch it below:

This video pairs well with Miles to Go: Bringing School Transportation into the 21st Century, our 2016 paper which dug into the structure, function, successes, and challenges of school transportation systems across the country.

In spite of dramatic changes in transportation (e.g., Uber, Hybrids and electric vehicles, and self-driving cars?) and in schools themselves, school transportation systems haven’t changed much in decades. Addressing school transportation challenges isn’t simple, though. These systems must balance competing, important priorities and interests like student safety, cost, equity, environmental impact, and other factors.

Please watch, enjoy, and share. And Magic School Bus fans should look for the subtle homage to Ms. Frizzle’s world.

Join Us May 2nd at Union Station (with a Yellow Bus!)

The largest system of mass transit in the U.S. isn’t the airline industry. Nor is it trains, or city buses, or even all those things combined. The largest mass transit system in America is made up of the nearly 500,000 school buses transporting students to and from school each day.

Despite innovations in technology, developments in clean fuels, and big changes to the way schools work in many communities, in most places, school transportation operates much as it has for decades.

But should it?

On May 2nd, Bellwether will host a discussion of the role of transportation in education, its many challenges, and some innovations and possible solutions. We hope you’ll join us at Union Station in Washington, D.C. for a light breakfast at 8:45, followed by a lively discussion. At the end of the event, for that dose of nostalgia, we’ll even take you back to work on a yellow school bus!

Seating limited, RSVP today.

The discussion, moderated by Bellwether’s Andy Rotherham, will feature:

  • Cindy Stuart, District 3 representative on the Hillsborough County, Florida school board since 2012, and current board chair. She also represents the school board as a voting member of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization, the federally-established transportation planning body for the Tampa metropolitan area. This cooperative relationship between the school district and the broader regional transportation planning infrastructure is unique across the country and holds promise for a more coordinated approach to meeting the needs of communities and schools.
  • Mike Hughes, Assistant Director of Transportation at Boston Public Schools (BPS). BPS provides transportation to district, charter, and private schools in the Boston area — navigating a complex cross-sector system of education. Facing escalating costs and other pressures, the district has taken innovative steps to address significant challenges.
  • Joel Weaver, Director of the Chief Tahgee Elementary Academy (CTEA), a charter school located on the Fort Hall Reservation, owned by the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, in rural southeastern Idaho. CTEA serves students dispersed over a large geographic area, representative of the challenges many rural schools face in transporting students in safe, efficient, and cost-effective ways.
  • Kristin Blagg, a research associate in the Income and Benefits Policy Center at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC, where she focuses on education policy. She recently co-authored “Student Transportation and Educational Access” with Senior Fellow Matthew Chingos, a paper that explores the role of student transportation in school choice, profiling five choice-rich cities.

We rarely discuss school transportation, but its impact reverberates through the entire school system — raising issues of educational equity, student safety, cost-effectiveness, and environmental impact. Please join us as we explore these issues.