Category Archives: Accountability

How Bellwether Transformed Agencies Supporting Youth in Utah, California, and Louisiana, Part 2: The Utah State Board of Education

As I mentioned in my last post, Bellwether has worked with three partner agencies over the past year to streamline educational supports for high-need students by breaking down the silos that exist between care agencies at the state and local levels. The first example we’ll dive deeper into is Utah, where we helped a team at the State Board of Education develop a shared vision of quality for all of their schools serving students in juvenile courts or the foster care system. 

The Utah State Board of Education’s Youth in Care (YIC) program provides educational services and programs to about 50,000 young people under the age of 21 who are in the custody of the Division of Child and Family Services (the state’s foster care agency) or the Division of Juvenile Justice. YIC does this by contracting with local school districts to operate programs in secure facilities (like juvenile justice or residential treatment facilities), in communities serving kids who live at home or in community-based placements, or in local public schools.

Fragmentation is especially prevalent in Utah, where we found little formal collaboration or communication between the systems that serve youth. This means there is no systematic way to coordinate or hold accountable the service providers working with and for these young people. We found that the type, intensity, and quality of interventions offered varied widely in ways that weren’t responsive to the needs of young people themselves. Ultimately, what we saw was that access to and delivery of services was inequitable across the state, with no clear shared vision for what high-quality services should look like or include.

And the results aren’t good: 43% of students in the care of the Division of Juvenile Justice Services and 24% of students in the care of Child and Family Services are chronically absent, compared to only 12% of students in Utah overall. 

If you don’t go to school, you can’t learn. On average, 44% of all of Utah’s students are proficient in English Language Arts and 47% are proficient in math. But only 7% of youth in juvenile justice system are proficient in English, and a scant 3% are proficient in math. For those in foster care, 17% are proficient in English and 17% are proficient in math.

Stories of some of the youth caught in these systems are captured in this short video, which we filmed inside one of Utah’s secure juvenile facilities:

Utah’s work with Bellwether focused on creating a plan to ensure that all YIC students have access to a high-quality education that prepares them to graduate from high school and access the resources and opportunities similar to students outside of custody. YIC has created a common definition of quality and a corresponding rubric that partners will use to assess all programs. Continue reading

What Are Microschools and Should We Have More of Them?

For our new report, “Working Toward Equitable Access and Affordability: How Private Schools and Microschools Seek to Serve Middle- and Low-Income Students,” we identified almost 200 intentionally small schools, often called “microschools,” across the country. Microschools’ small size — typically between 20 and 150 students across multiple grade levels — allows them the flexibility to implement innovative educational approaches such as multi-age classrooms, highly personalized and student-led learning, blended learning, experiential learning, and teachers as the primary school leaders.

Some proponents see microschools’ intensely relational, customized classrooms as a potential vehicle to improve educational opportunity for low-income students and students of color who are disproportionately underserved in our traditional public system. But is it a good idea to expand the model beyond the private school sector, where it largely lives now?

That question is hard to answer, largely because we don’t yet know enough about the quality and impact of existing microschools. Continue reading

Media: “Teachers Should Design Tests. But They Need to Learn How” in Education Week

I have a new piece out in Education Week that focuses on teacher-designed assessments. In it I argue that while teacher designed assessments can be more beneficial to student learning than commercially prepared assessments, teacher survey data suggests that most teachers don’t feel they have the appropriate skills to design high-quality assessments:

National teacher polling data suggest that I was not alone. A 2016 Gallup poll found that roughly 30 percent of teachers do not feel prepared to develop assessments. Less than 50 percent of teachers in low-income schools reported feeling “very prepared” to interpret assessment results, and less than 50 percent of teachers said they’d received training on how to talk with parents, fellow teachers, and students about assessment results. More alarming is that no state requires teachers to be certified in the basics of assessment development, so it’s likely that many teachers have never had any formal assessment training.

I highlight work underway in New Hampshire and Michigan to make significant investments in assessment literacy training for educators. More states should follow the lead of these exemplars and commit to equipping all educators with the tools to develop high-quality, rigorous assessments.

Read the full piece at Ed Week, and learn more about innovation in state assessment in “The State of Assessment: A Look Forward on Innovation in State Testing Systems,” a new report by my colleague Bonnie O’Keefe and me.

Media: “Better Ways To Measure Student Learning” in GOVERNING Magazine

I have a new piece out in GOVERNING Magazine discussing innovation in state assessments, and why local and state officials should invest in improving their assessment systems instead of cutting back. I highlight work underway in New Hampshire and Louisiana, which have both received waivers from the federal government to do something different with their tests. Just as the piece came out, Georgia and North Carolina got approval from the Department of Education for their own innovative assessment plans. But there’s a lot states can do even without special federal approval.

An excerpt of my op-ed:

“Test” has become a four-letter word in schools, as many states face political pressure to cut, minimize or deemphasize their much-maligned annual standardized assessments of student achievement. The most common complaints are that these tests do little to help teachers do their jobs well and can distract from more important aspects of teaching and learning.

But if standardized state tests aren’t useful in the classroom and aren’t informing instruction, that’s a problem that can be fixed even with current federal law mandating annual tests in math and reading. Instead of indiscriminately cutting back on statewide testing, states need to think about approaching them differently and look beyond typical end-of-year tests. Reducing investment to the barest minimum could leave students and schools worse off, without good information on achievement gaps, student growth, or college and career readiness.

Read the full piece at GOVERNING, and learn more about innovation in state assessment in “The State of Assessment: A Look Forward on Innovation in State Testing Systems,” by my colleague Brandon Lewis and me.

What the Providence Public School District Can Learn from Newark

 

The word “hope” may appear on the Rhode Island state flag, but it’s in short supply in Providence Public Schools. A recent report from researchers at Johns Hopkins University reveals that students are exposed to “an exceptionally low level of academic instruction” and in some cases, they have to attend school in dangerous buildings with lead paint and asbestos. At fault are byzantine rules and convoluted governance arrangements, the authors argue. Piecemeal reform efforts have not been enough to overcome ossified institutions, leaving unsafe buildings, low-quality instruction, and sub-par teachers shuffling between schools in a “dance of the lemons.”

The situation in Providence is dire, but it’s an important moment to make real, lasting changes as the spotlight is aimed on their dysfunction. Leaders in Providence — and Rhode Island at large — must focus on systemic change to provide students with safe learning environments and high-quality, rigorous instruction. Reforming an entire school system is a tall order, but other districts with similar challenges show that change is possible. One such example is just 191 miles down I-95: Newark, New Jersey.

Newark’s school system was in serious distress in ways that mirror Providence today: high poverty, dysfunctional bureaucracy, crumbling school buildings, and abysmal student outcomes. A voluminous report detailing the crisis in Newark’s public schools ultimately led to a state takeover in 1995.

Under state management, Newark’s school system was governed by the New Jersey Continue reading