Today, I have a new op-ed in WIRED about what can be learned from recent programs piloting the use of electric school buses. These buses are better for the environment and students’ health, but currently make up less than one percent of the 480,000 school buses operating in the United States.
Yesterday, WFMJ in Youngstown, Ohio ran a story on local school districts struggling to hire enough bus drivers for the new school year. Reporter Glenn Stevens interviewed me about the need for more state funding to help address these driver shortages. Here’s an excerpt from the television segment:
Is there anything that can be done on the state level to help solve the problem of retaining bus drivers?
National education analyst Phillip Burgoyne-Allen of Bellwether Education Partners said state policymakers need to take steps to help local districts that can’t afford to help themselves.
“States need to step in by increasing overall funding for school transportation. States can help provide more support for districts so they can afford things like raising wages for school bus drivers in order to compete with other sectors,” said Allen.
I have a new op-ed at The 74 on five things you need to know about the ongoing school bus driver shortage. The piece was informed by research from our recent report, “The Challenges and Opportunities in School Transportation Today,” which serves as a fact base for policymakers, industry leaders, and others who want to improve their understanding of the school transportation sector.
An excerpt from my op-ed:
Districts are turning to a variety of strategies to try to meet driver needs. They are hosting job fairs to recruit bus drivers, creating their own driver training programs or increasing driver pay. Some are even attempting to train teachers to become licensed bus drivers. Carmel Clay Schools in Indiana offered teachers $18,000 to get behind the wheel. These efforts are admirable but are not always feasible for cash-strapped districts, and they can distract from schools’ primary mission of educating students.
[…] Addressing school transportation issues like driver shortages will require policy changes. State policymakers should increase funding for school transportation and support investments in new buses and technology than can reduce costs and lead to long-term savings. Without such changes, qualified drivers will continue to choose jobs in other industries, and students and families are the ones who will suffer as a result.
Read the rest of my piece at The 74, and check out the full report here.
Even though school transportation receives little attention in the broader education debate, it actually plays a vitally important role in America’s school system. After all, to access the public education system, students must get to school safely and on time and be ready to learn. But providing transportation services that meet the needs of families continues to be a challenge for districts with limited time and resources.
1. There are nearly 480,000 school buses in operation in the United States, making school transportation the country’s largest form of mass transit.
2. The cost of school transportation is rising. For example, the average per-pupil cost of transporting a student at public expense grew from under $600 in 1980 to nearly $1,000 in 2015. This increase in cost is due in part to the decreasing share of public school students who receive transportation services.Continue reading →
This post is part of a series about Bellwether’s recent work on school governance and school board effectiveness.
The members of elected and appointed school boards play an important role in governing schools and allocating resources. But beyond these practical responsibilities, a growing body of research suggests that what school board members believe, know, and do can set the conditions for effective classroom instruction and higher levels of student achievement.
For some recent projects, Bellwether reviewed the evidence base on school board effectiveness. Research indicates that effective school boards focus on student learning, make decisions informed by data, and build strong relationships with leadership and the community. Based on this evidence, important practices for effective school boards emerge across five domains.
Beliefs and priorities: Research shows that it is important for boards to hold beliefs and priorities that focus on student learning rather than school management. In addition, a 2006 meta-analysis of 27 studies found that districts with higher levels of student achievement had boards, districts, and schools that were clearly aligned in their efforts to support non-negotiable goals. This further underscores that it is important for boards to clearly codify their beliefs and priorities.
Data use: Boards in districts experiencing academic improvement tend to use more data more often to inform their decisions. For example, a notable study by the Iowa Association of School Boards found that board members in improving districts received data about exemplary programs and practices, test scores, dropout rates, and other measures on a regular basis from superintendents, curriculum directors, principals, and teachers, as well as sources outside the district.
Strategic planning and goals: Effective boards craft strategic plans that are clear and reflect district and community input, and they hold themselves accountable for meeting goals and improving student learning. For example, a study of 10 school boards in British Columbia found that boards in districts with higher levels of student achievement and lower costs were more knowledgeable about district programs and practices and had a clearer sense of their goals. In addition, these districts shared firm values and beliefs about students and learning, and also deliberately articulated and discussed these values and beliefs among themselves and with their communities, suggesting that strategic planning must work in concert with board practices in other domains in order to be most effective.
Communications and community engagement: Research has found that effective boards often have strong community partnerships and cooperative relationships between staff and the community. They also have strong structures in place to ensure clear communication with stakeholders like teachers, parents, and the media. In addition, case studies of school boards from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation found that business leaders, in particular, can play a critical role in supporting effective school board governance and reforms that improve student achievement.
Effective relationships with district or school leadership: Strong working relationships between school boards and superintendents are important for district and student success. For example, a study of 10 districts across five states found that “strong, collaborative leadership by local school boards and school superintendents is a key cornerstone of the foundation for high student achievement,” and a study of Texas school districts suggests that there is a link between improved student achievement and high levels of trust between the superintendent and school board. Additionally, multiplestudieshave shown that stable leadership is correlated positively with student achievement. However, research from the Brookings Institution found that superintendents have relatively little influence on student achievement, and that student achievement does not improve with the longevity of superintendent service, suggesting that some turnover among board members and superintendents may be healthy and lead to more effective policies.
Research shows that effective school boards can play an important role in overall school quality. This research has informed Bellwether’s recent work, including developing a framework for evaluating school board effectiveness with Colorado Succeeds, as well as surveying school board members in Washington, DC and Rhode Island. As they look for ways to improve student learning, districts and charters alike should ensure that school boards are using effective practices and prioritize supplying adequate training and support for board members.