Author Archives: Tanya Paperny

Bellwarians React: Is P.E. Class Terrible?

Last week, Atlantic staff writer Alia Wong lifted the lid on the often-satirized state of physical education. Despite all the gym class parodies, Wong points to a real problem: sometimes gym class is so bad that kids skip school to avoid it.

So I asked our team: what are some of your most salient P.E. memories? (As a place that champions ideological diversity and doesn’t take organizational positions, Bellwether encourages staff to share — and to disagree.)

Here are a few quick takes from across the Bellwether team:

Alyssa Schwenk, director of development:

P.E. at my high school was designed as a student-herder: you basically got dropped into whatever class worked with the rest of your schedule. One-seventh of the school was in P.E. at any given period, and this meant that a.) it was an enormous group of kids, and b.) you were probably friends with very, very few of them. It was democratizing and bewildering and generally barely tolerated.

Once all 200 kids were in the gym complex, you selected a couple of sub-units for the semester, like yoga, volleyball, or Billy Blanks videos. At some point I selected “aerobic activity,” which consisted of lapping the indoor track and keeping your heart rate above a certain level. But the heart-rate monitors were calibrated based on your age and weight, not fitness levels…and I was on the swim team. And had been since I was seven.

So while the true purpose of signing up was to walk and talk with the people you knew, I suddenly realized I would need to be running sub-eight minute miles for forty minutes every other day to pass. I hated running then (like, really hated running) but was simultaneously terrified that I would get a C in gym and wreck my GPA, therefore ruining any and all chances at getting into college.

Eventually I managed to wheedle and cajole enough that I was allowed to participate without the heart-rate monitor, and everyone involved agreed that I was getting “aerobic activity” via swimming three hours a day after school. GPA disaster averted. Continue reading

Best of Bellwether 2018: Our Most-Read Publications and Posts

Below are the most-read posts from Ahead of the Heard and our most-read publications in 2018! (To read the top posts from our sister site TeacherPensions.org, click here.)

Top Ten Blog Posts from Ahead of the Heard in 2018

1.) Moving Away from Magical Thinking: Understanding the Current State of Pre-K Research
Marnie Kaplan

2.) What I Learned About Retaining Teachers From Having Done It Badly as a New Principal
Tresha Ward

3.) Three Questions About the Bezos Day One Fund
Ashley LiBetti

4.) Two Graphs on Teacher Turnover Rates
Chad Aldeman Continue reading

Bellwarians React: Michael Bloomberg’s $1.8 Billion Donation to Johns Hopkins University

photograph of Michael BloombergEarlier this month, Michael Bloomberg announced a $1.8 billion donation to his alma mater of Johns Hopkins University (JHU) to officially make the university “need-blind” forever. The largest donation to an individual college in history, the funds will also support other policies to make the campus more affordable for low- and middle-income families.

Internet and social media erupted with reactions, ranging from excited to skeptical to angry. Bellwarians, including two JHU alumni, took to Salesforce Chatter, our internal social media and collaboration tool, to weigh in. As a place that champions ideological diversity and doesn’t take organizational positions, Bellwether encourages staff to share — and to disagree. (More broadly, by maintaining an environment where divergent perspectives are freely expressed, we are able to generate creative solutions to our clients’ problems without falling into pre-baked camps or agendas. It’s something we’re proud of.)

Here are a few quick takes from across the Bellwether team:

Starr Aaron, executive & business systems assistant:

I am pleased to see these efforts. When I was at Hopkins, it was not known as particularly generous with financial aid. Some of the skepticism I’ve witnessed is from classmates who wonder if the money will reach those who need it. Others wonder if Bloomberg is running for President (maybe he is, but he’s been generous a long time). Some are smirking while they remember the time he gave a relatively small amount to “upgrade” all the walkways on campus to brick paths and how the university hopped right to it.

The current tuition is eye-poppingly high — I’ve already warned my own children that if they feel Hopkins-bound, well, good luck with that!

Bonnie O’Keefe, associate partner:

I think the skepticism and anger come from two places. One, a frustration that so many public and private institutions depend on the largesse of billionaires to fulfill what should be essential parts of their mission. Second, the idea that so much money is going to an elite institution where a billionaire has a personal connection — an institution that doesn’t serve the most at-risk students and could operate a lot more equitably with the resources it already has. (Full disclosure: I went to Hopkins for grad school and my husband worked there for several years).

All things being equal, I agree with Michael Bloomberg that alumni should direct donations to financial aid. Especially at highly selective and expensive schools, this seems much more urgent than rec centers or fancy buildings. And Bloomberg has done plenty in education outside JHU, so I don’t think he could be credibly accused of focusing only on his own alma mater. The backlash seems more symbolic of where elite colleges and billionaire philanthropy sit today than anything specifically bad about this particular donation.

Cara Jackson, associate partner:

Students who gain admission to JHU are probably going to succeed in life regardless of which college they choose to attend. And if Bloomberg wanted to target resources to help low-income students access higher education, he’d spend the money at a community college or cover the living expenses of low-income students attending public universities. My (admittedly skeptical) take is that this mainly benefits JHU…which is not to say that Bloomberg wasn’t well-intentioned.

Hailly Korman, senior associate partner:

I think it’s complex and I don’t disagree with anything that folks have raised so far, but it also makes me think about how Bloomberg got so much money in the first place. If we look under the hood, what are the links between the policies and systems that support that kind of wealth accumulation and the things that make low-income families low-income to begin with?

Welcoming our Fall 2018 interns!

Bellwether’s Policy and Thought Leadership internship program provides skill- and knowledge-building opportunities to students and professionals developing their careers in education policy and program evaluation. Interns work on substantive projects matched to their skills and interests and are treated as core members of our team.

This fall, we’re happy to have Truc Vo and Armand Demirchyan joining us through the end of the year! Read their bios below, and stay tuned for blogging and research from these two.

Truc Voheadshot of Truc Vo

Background: Truc Vo is an intern with Bellwether Education Partners in the Policy and Thought Leadership team. Truc received her master’s of public policy degree and bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Virginia (UVA). During her time at UVA’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, she further explored her interest in education policy through taking cross-listed classes with the Curry School of Education. For her master’s capstone project, Truc explored ways to increase racial diversity in Teach For America’s teacher corps.

Why I do this work: Growing up Vietnamese American, my family always emphasized the importance and value of education. My educational upbringing was very privileged, growing up in the well-resourced Fairfax County Public Schools and having college-educated parents. However, I know my public school experience was very different from many other minority students, especially other Southeast Asian students, and I want to help all students have equal access and opportunities.

Contacthttps://www.linkedin.com/in/thanh-truc-vo-40ab7013b

Armand Demirchyanheadshot of Armand Demirchyan

Background: Armand Demirchyan is a Policy and Thought Leadership Intern at Bellwether Education Partners, where he has conducted research on race, housing, and education. After college, he served as an Americorps member with Reading Partners in his hometown of Los Angeles,  working on literacy intervention with elementary students. Armand is currently pursuing his master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University and holds dual degrees in Quantitative Economics and African-American Studies from the University of California, Irvine.

Why I do this work: After graduating college, I served as an Americorps member with Reading Partners Los Angeles. My experience gave me a deeper understanding of the inequities at play for low-income and low-resourced schools. However, I believe that with the right amount of support and investment, strong public education has the power to transform lives.

To learn more about Bellwether’s Policy and Thought Leadership internship program or to apply for a future semester, click here.

ICYMI: #BWTalksTalent Week

Ten bloggers. Nine posts. One week.

At Bellwether, we spent last week talking about teachers and school leaders for our #BWTalksTalent series.  We shared insights from staff who’ve led classrooms, schools, and organizations. And we shared opinions, research, and personal experiences on how to create a robust ecosystem of adults to better serve students.

Topics ranged from trauma-informed teaching, to principal satisfaction, to retaining teachers of color.

If you missed it, here’s a recap of our conversation:

You can read the whole series here!