Author Archives: Lynne Graziano and Chad Aldeman

Which Outcomes Should Minnesota Hold Its High Schools Responsible For?

Long before the pandemic, schools and communities recognized that a high school diploma is no longer enough. Today, eight in 10 Minnesota students graduate high school, but as more graduates look to a future amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they may question whether their high school has adequately prepared them to succeed in college or career.

Minnesota has taken steps to create programs to prepare students for life beyond high school, as well as collect critical information and data about those efforts. Yet the state has failed to incorporate postsecondary outcomes into the way it evaluates high school performance. It’s time to fix this mismatch.

Minnesota’s Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program, which dates back to 1985, was the first-of-its-kind to help students complete high school and college coursework at the same time. Nearly 250,000 Minnesota students have benefited from this program since its inception, and that number doubles once you include Minnesota’s other dual enrollment programming.

In addition to information on the PSEO program, the state tracks student performance in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, as well as SAT and ACT results. Minnesota also tracks a variety of additional measures on high school graduates, such as postsecondary enrollment and employment outcomes like the number of hours worked, in what industry, and the hourly wages earned. 

Unfortunately, Minnesota’s efforts at data collection result in nice graphs on a website with little effect on student success. What is the point of data collection unless it informs programming, benefits students, and helps ensure all students are given equal opportunities?

High school leaders may think it’s unfair to hold them accountable for what happens outside their walls. But students need to be prepared for the world that awaits them, whether that is a pandemic-ravaged economy or remote college learning, and schools bear significant responsibility to provide that preparation. Continue reading

States Should Keep Pushing for College and Career Readiness, Even Under a Pandemic

As graduation rates have continued to rise across the nation, students increasingly require remediation at the next level. One study found that 50% of two-year college students and 20% of four-year college students required remedial classes, in some cases discouraging those students from persisting in higher education. 

Combined with recent reports of student disengagement during COVID-19 remote learning and concern that high school dropout rates will rise, states must consider how best to provide the support and learning opportunities for their students to graduate college and career ready, even in the midst of a pandemic. Students need to be prepared to pursue economically stable postsecondary pathways in these tenuous times. This demands a variety of opportunities, with the goal of graduation as a starting point for postsecondary success, not simply the finish line of a high school journey. 

In our paper released earlier this month, Chad Aldeman and I look at the data states are collecting around college and career pathways. One encouraging trend is that states have changed their formal high school rating systems beyond graduation rates and test scores to include a host of college- and career-readiness measures. By our count, 34 states plus DC have some form of indicator along these lines. Another 12 states are tracking one of these measures but do not yet hold schools accountable for them. Measuring postsecondary readiness is a crucial step for preparing students to succeed beyond high school and supporting the skills and content knowledge necessary for students so that they don’t require remediation at the next level.

Yet how do you establish high expectations during a pandemic when just getting through the school year seems challenging? One approach might include maintaining a focus on readiness measures, even as graduation criteria shift.

Due to the pandemic, many students in the class of 2020 were permitted to graduate from high school with requirements loosened or waived completely. For example, four midwestern states we reviewed — Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota — eased graduation requirements last spring. These changes are representative of similar measures taken by states across the country. 

Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota all had adjusted cohort graduation rates above 80% in the 2017-18 school year. Presumably, with relaxed standards, their graduation rates for the class of 2020 will be the same or higher. Some of the adjustments they made for easing graduation last spring are noted below: Continue reading

“Making Sure Every Student is Seen and Heard:” A Q&A with Executive Director/Principal Ayanna Gore

Ayanna Gore is the Executive Director/Principal of Summit Sierra High School in Seattle, Washington. We interviewed her as part of our Promise in the Time of Quarantine: Exploring Schools Responses to COVID-19 case studies, released today. Unlike many schools that hoped to open their doors for hybrid schooling this year, Summit Sierra made the early decision to open fully virtually. I spoke with Ayanna about what they learned from virtual school last year and how they’re improving upon it now.

When did you know you would be fully virtual and how did that shape planning for this school year?

By the third week of June, we shared with our families that we were planning for a fully virtual online experience. If things changed (due to a vaccine or the governor’s recommendation to reopen), we would set up workstations where families could come in and get in-person support, while learning still occurred virtually. But we committed to a 100% virtual model for consistency.

This meant reshaping our entire new-student and all-student orientation. And for onboarding new faculty, we connected with them a little earlier than we normally do. We had conversations about things like computer/Zoom fatigue, so we built in natural breaks for a schedule that still meets our academic goals. 

It’s about community and making sure every student is seen and heard. That’s how we started our new student orientation. We flipped it from the traditional “here is your schedule, these are your teachers.” We started with every student hearing from our leadership team on our mission and our individual journeys and stories. New and returning students all got interviewed and had time to share their journey and their story. 

Can you share more details of that orientation? Continue reading

Will Newark Schools Continue to Beat the Odds Under Local Control?

As a suburban Jersey girl growing up in the 1970s and early 80s, I knew two things about Newark. It was a city with a fine medical university where I had extensive dental work done, and it had a reputation for terrible schools run, at times, by corrupt leadership. Little did I know then that the city where I literally got my smile would one day have education results worth smiling about.

When Bellwether profiled Newark in 2018 for our Eight Cities project, it was because of the city’s approach to school reform and the remarkable gains in student achievement that came as a result. That story ended with a homegrown Superintendent — Roger León — taking the reins of the district as the state promised their return to local control. As of last week, the process of fully returning Newark schools to control of a locally-elected school board is complete. Now that Newarkers have full control over their schools, they have a new challenge: sustaining and building on the success of recent reforms.

Late last week, MarGrady Research confirmed Newark students continue to outperform peers attending similar schools within the state. Researchers define “beat-the-odds” schools as those that produce better state testing results than other schools in New Jersey with similar racial and socioeconomic characteristics. Compared to demographically similar students in urban schools in New Jersey, Newark students beat-the-odds, or exceed expectation, on their exam achievement outcomes.

Echoing similar results three years ago, Newark continues to lead other cities in the percentage of students enrolled in “beat-the-odds” schools. And it’s not even close: Thirty-five percent of Newark students attend beat-the-odds schools; Boston students are second at 20%. Furthermore, nearly 40% of Newark’s African-American students attend beat-the-odds schools – more than double the rate of Boston, where only 19% of African-American students have that opportunity.

One factor which cannot be understated in driving this success is Newark’s implementation of a universal enrollment system. This system allows parents to choose from a diverse set of high-quality public schools, both traditional and charter. Both sectors provide schools where Newark students can succeed: the MarGrady study found 16% of students in traditional district schools were enrolled in beat-the-odds schools. This is about twice the average rate of all 50 cities studied.

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Bellwether’s Parent-Teachers in the Time of COVID-19

Here at Bellwether, we consider our people a big asset (we even made a video about how much we like working together). We fancy ourselves as a fun, smart, and high-achieving group committed to facing the biggest challenges in education. Many of our team members were classroom teachers prior to entering administrative, policy, evaluation, and strategy roles at Bellwether, so overseeing the education of our own children should come naturally — right?

Toddler on a coach with a laptop, tablet, smartphone, and videogame controller

Photo courtesy the author

Not exactly. Even with the benefits of a work-from-home culture, a core value of flexibility, and myriad other forms of access and privilege, my teammates are struggling. Many of us are now juggling being both a parent and a professional within the same limited hours in a day.

When I asked the Bellwether parents of pre-Kindergarten through high-school-age students to share their experiences, I got a number of candid responses. Even these competent, tech-savvy, education professionals identified palpable struggles managing their time, knowing how to prioritize support of their home learners, and meeting the individual needs of each child.

The Bellwether parents who responded live in eight different states (Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia), and collectively, they have 21 students. Most states were still in the early stages of closure when I conducted these polls, so the experiences below may not reflect improvements schools have made or will make.

What I heard around communications, materials, and processes is both scary and encouraging:

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