Category Archives: Early Childhood Education

Back to School: What’s Your “Magic Wand” Education Solution? (Part Four)

Photo courtesy of Pixabay for Pexels

Join Ahead of the Heard for a lively back-to-school series expanding on Andy Rotherham’s original Eduwonk post, What’s Your Magic Wand?, featuring reflections on wish-list education solutions heading into the fall from teachers, school leaders, academics, media types, parents, private sector funders, advocates, Bellwarians…you name it.

At Bellwether, we’re focused on the 2021-22 school year ahead but also on what we’ve collectively endured since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a gross understatement to say that it has been a lot, that mistakes have been made, that many rose to the occasion achieving amazing things for students (while others did not), and that countless lessons were (re)learned. It has been a season where optimism was sometimes elusive and where challenges often seemed insurmountable.

So we thought we’d do something a little different…and try to have some fun.

We turned to contacts across the country in the education sector and asked them this simple, hopeful question. Answers vary as widely as each participant’s background and will be featured over a two-week span.

Teachers, students, and families will enter into a 2021-22 school year unlike any other. If you could wave a magic wand, what’s the one education issue you’d address or solve right now, and why?

Hadley Bachman
Program Manager of Community Development, The Ohio Statewide Family Engagement Center at The Ohio State University

“If I could wave my magic wand and change one thing in education, I would change the ‘old way’ of thinking about family participation. We used to think about family engagement just as mom volunteering at a bake sale, or parents coming in when the principal calls them about a discipline problem. We still hang onto some of these old ideas when we assume families are hard to reach and need to be ‘fixed.’ I’d wave my wand and help school leaders and policymakers see the power of family voice in decision-making, leadership, and evaluation in schools. No one understands what motivates children better; no one sees the barriers in education more clearly; no one feels the effects of implicit bias more poignantly. Without family voice at the table, we stay stuck in outdated and misguided ideas about how to fix educational problems — doing ‘to’ instead of ‘with.’”

Mark Schneiderman
Senior Director, Future of Teaching & Learning

“I’d focus on resilience in schools, specifically on the thing that would radically change education but creates anxiety: the notion of schools addressing extendibility and redundancy. Viewing the classroom and teacher-student interaction as the only way teaching and learning can take place is by definition limiting both systemically and for individual students. Schools need enduring partnerships and to consider themselves a hub but not always the driver. For example, if an AP physics teacher retires, instead of a ‘now what’ moment, what if a school had an ongoing partnership with a non-traditional provider, or with a college physics department, or with an online provider? This is threatening to some, like unions, who view anything non-traditional as privatization of education. However, our colleges are learning that they must adjust or they will be out of business. As schools see families and FTE dollars leave and have to scramble to provide a digital academy option in the pandemic it begs the question: why not think outside the box and lean on those ensuring partnerships?”

Celine Coggins
Executive Director, Grantmakers for Education

“If I could wave a magic wand, I would require vaccine passports for all students over age 12 as well as the teachers and staff that interact with them. Our goal should be access to safe, in-person school for as many students as possible. The past two years have been incredibly disruptive. Students at the secondary level have very limited time left with access to free public education. We know masks, school cancellations due to positive COVID-19 cases, and general uncertainty can deter kids from school and toward other options. We know that the public system lost tens of thousands of older kids prematurely over the past 1.5 years. We cannot risk continuing to accelerate the dropout rate. We cannot risk another year of minimized learning and widening inequality of opportunity. We cannot risk people’s health unnecessarily. 

I recognize that some teachers unions have taken a stand against mandatory vaccinations. I hope they will shift their position and use their bully pulpit as a force for good in the service of public health. We as a society have a long history of supporting vaccination as a condition of school attendance in cases where the risk of spread greatly outweighs the risk of the vaccine. This should be no exception.”

Jared Bigham
Senior Advisor on Workforce & Rural Initiatives, Tennessee Chamber of Commerce; Board Chair, Tennessee Rural Education Association; Active Member, National Rural Education Association

“I always say there are no ‘silver bullets’ in education, but I do believe there is a silver buckshot that could significantly change student success: establishing universal pre-K for all students, with an emphasis on kindergarten readiness. We constantly play a game of catch-up with more than half of our students across the country, when we could change the dynamic significantly by starting students on their K-12 path ready to learn on Day One. Look at kindergarten readiness scores for any feeder pattern, and you’ll see that same percentage play out almost exactly at every milestone marker we track, all the way to postsecondary.”

Brad Allan
K-12 Director, Hanover Research

“I want to address and solve the problem of measuring so-called non-cognitive skills and outcomes. I’ve always been on Team Non-Cogs in the imaginary competition between hard and soft skills, but the availability of measurable outcomes renders the competition moot (as well as imaginary). If we could magically get up and running on non-cognitive skills’ measurement, we could reverse-engineer ways to build them, and thereby equip students with skills that underlie success in life beyond the classroom.”

Leslye A. Arsht
Co-Founder and Board Chair, StandardsWork; Former Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Education in Iraq

“I would have all high schools offer 10th graders* the opportunity to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery to help students identify career areas of interest. Then, expand their Career Exploration programs (including dual enrollment arrangements with colleges and universities) with two goals in mind: 1) helping students identify career opportunities they are interested in and good at, and 2) introducing a wide array of mastery-based instructional approaches to keep 12th graders engaged in learning, especially for high-demand careers that don’t require a 4-year degree. 

*The U.S. Department of Defense would have to agree they ‘own’ the tests, and they can’t recruit students in 10th grade (they can identify high-performing students for recruiting in 11th and 12th grades). Currently, the test is offered by guidance counselors to students they think should (or want to) consider the military. But many students (especially ones who have little exposure in life to the countless kinds of career options that exist) would be so much better prepared to make education and life choices with access to these tools.”

Meredith Olson
President, VELA Education Fund

“The magic wand I would wave would allow students freedom to combine the settings, methods, and social arrangements (people) for their learning in novel ways. That would mean greater flexibility of time and place, and more opportunities for solo learning (getting lost in a book!), mixed-age learning, engagement with adults and family members, participation in community organizations, and enrichment opportunities. Less homework, less stress and deeper, more meaningful experiences and family time.”

Stay tuned for more in our “Magic Wand” series and join the conversation on Twitter @bellwethered.

(Editorial note: Some organizations listed in this series may include past or present clients or funders of Bellwether.)

We’re missing a staggering amount of information around early care and education – here’s why that needs to change

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

This guest post is in response to a new series of briefs from Bellwether, From Pandemic to Progress, which puts forth eight ambitious but achievable pathways that leaders and policymakers can follow to rebuild education – and student learning and well-being – as the country begins to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As Ashley LiBetti explains in her brief in From Pandemic to Progress, millions of families use home-based child care (HBCC). But even though home-based child care represents a substantial portion of the early care and education market, we lack important information about HBCC. If we are going to get serious about supporting and improving HBCC, we need to collect better information — and then make sure state governments know how to actually use that information. 

Home-based child care is critical for families — especially for households with immigrant and dual-language children, rural populations, families with non-standard work hours, and other communities that are more likely to have a hard time finding the care they need. But while there are millions of children receiving HBCC, we don’t do a good job of keeping track of who these children are, what services they receive, and what happens to them when they enter the K-12 system. 

We also lack information about HBCC providers. We do know that HBCC settings are diverse; they include both licensed and license-exempt providers, as well as family, friend, and neighbor care (FFN). We also know that many FFN providers enter the system to serve a particular child or group of children, not to make a career of it. In all likelihood the cost-benefit analysis of tracking FFN providers who care for only one or two children isn’t worth it — especially given privacy concerns and FFN providers’ limited capacity. 

But there is more we can do to track the experiences and outcomes of non-FFN HBCC providers. Better data is critical to developing effective strategies for improving HBCC circumstances, and ultimately child outcomes. Early care and education is a complex market in which “supply” and “demand” are not well understood. States often think of “supply” in terms of publicly-funded slots — which is far from the entire market, particularly when it comes to HBCC. Indeed, in many instances the services parents want aren’t actually available, or are extremely hard to find.  

Of course, even non-FFN HBCC providers are small and have limited capacity. These providers are also justifiably concerned about the burden of information collection imposed on them by states and cities. This is particularly true when collection requirements are dictated by statutes or regulations that do not adequately account for the realities of HBCC businesses. Any efforts at data collection must be sensitive to these issues.

But there is a real need to collect that data, and a potential benefit to the providers in delivering it. As long as states don’t understand the dynamics of the early childhood market, they are likely to continue enacting requirements that make it difficult for non-FFN HBCC businesses to operate. Policy choices states make with regard to state-funded preschool and subsidized child care can have a major impact on HBCC businesses. If states don’t know enough about how HBCC businesses operate, they are likely to make decisions that don’t take proper account of their role in the market. 

Even when states have decent information, they struggle to maintain the analytic capacity needed to make sense of the data they collect. And whatever child care data governments have usually can’t be linked to data about preschool, K-12, or federally-funded Head Start programs. States need to build integrated data systems that allow them to actually capture the role of HBCC in the market, and then develop the capacity to make sense of that data. Then they can make decisions and provide supports that will help HBCC providers thrive.

Improving what we know about home-based child care can help us better understand the critical role it plays in state early childhood systems, and provide important context for any proposals to improve HBCC. Without that context, even the best ideas may amount to a shot in the dark. 

Elliot Regenstein is Partner at Foresight Law + Policy, and Chris Strausz-Clark is Principal at 3Si.

From Pandemic to Progress: Eight Bellwether briefs set long-term visions for education policy and practice

Today, we and several of our Bellwether colleagues released From Pandemic to Progress: Eight Education Pathways for COVID-19 Recovery, making the case for the the education sector to recenter and rebuild after the disruptions caused by COVID-19. At some point — hopefully soon — vaccines will become broadly available and students and teachers everywhere will return to full-time, in-person learning. School, system, and sector leaders will pause and take a breath. Then they quickly will turn their attention back to many of the questions that have simmered in the background for the past year, but that are quickly coming back to a boil.

In the wake of COVID-19, leaders and policymakers will need ambitious but achievable pathways to re-engage in complex policy questions and rebuild education. From Pandemic to Progress draws on the breadth of Bellwether’s expertise and a diversity of viewpoints across our team in a series of briefs — each with a take on what we will need in the years ahead to create a sector that can provide students with the high-quality education and supports they need and deserve to be successful.

Here are the issues and areas where we believe the sector should not go back to normal:

Redesigning Accountability: Bonnie O’Keefe grounds the debates on assessment and accountability back in core principles and practicalities. She doubles down on the need for transparent data and subgroup reporting, but also challenges policymakers to create systems that are aligned to the realities of classroom instruction and school-based decision making.

Supporting a Diverse Choice Ecosystem From the Bottom Up: Alex Spurrier lays out a vision for fostering choice and enabling a diversity of educational approaches, by seeding consortia of assessments, similar to Advanced Placement, that ensure the quality but not the homogeneity of options.

Prioritizing Equity in School Funding: Jennifer O’Neal Schiess pinpoints the inequities in school funding and explains why it should be decoupled from the real estate market, with local property taxes playing a minimal or vastly different role in the funding of schools.

Establishing Coherent Systems for Vulnerable Students: Hailly T.N. Korman and Melissa Steel King stay laser-focused on students who have experienced homelessness, foster care, pregnancy, or other disruptions to their education and call on public agencies to address the confusing fragmentation of social services so students can receive comprehensive and streamlined support.

Creating an Institute for Education Improvement: Allison Crean Davis makes a case for changing the way we change, calling for a standalone entity that can champion and support the education sector in rigorous, data-driven approaches to continuous improvement.

Diversifying the Teacher Workforce: Indira Dammu reminds us of the research that links a diverse teacher workforce to improved student outcomes, and makes recommendations for how policymakers can support the recruitment and retention of teachers of color.

Building on the Charter Sector’s Many Paths to Impact: Juliet Squire acknowledges headwinds facing charter school growth, but reminds policymakers and practitioners of the many ways — beyond increasing enrollment — that charter schools can expand their impact.

Bringing Home-Based Child Care Providers Into the Fold: Ashley LiBetti shines a spotlight on the critical role that home-based child care providers play in caring for the country’s youngest children, a role that the pandemic further dramatized; she makes the case for policies that address the important role that home-based child care plays in the early childhood ecosystem.

Whether addressing a long-standing issue that has shaped the education reform debates for decades, or an issue that has yet to garner the attention it deserves, each brief lays out a long-term vision for success and pathways to get there.

The education sector is far too familiar with the cycle of faddish policies and knee-jerk reactions when reforms don’t immediately produce increases in student proficiency. And certainly the last year has rightfully concentrated attention and resources on addressing the most urgent and basic student needs. But when the crisis subsides, education policymakers and practitioners will need a point on the horizon to aim for. We hope these briefs inspire and inform long-term visions for serving America’s kids.

 

 

ICYMI: Is There or Isn’t There a Looming Fiscal Cliff for Education?

Throughout the past month, Bellwether has weighed in on the financial health of schools in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, with different reactions, resources, and recommendations from across our team. In case you missed it, here’s a quick recap: 

You can read all the posts in the series here, and we welcome your reactions! Thanks for following along.

An Underused Path for Rescuing Early Care Providers

This is our latest post in “The Looming Financial Crisis?” series. Read the rest here.

Even in the best of times, the community-based organizations, nonprofits, and schools that run early childhood programs in this country operate on extremely thin margins.

Because of COVID-19, they’re in crisis. Many are waiting desperately for families willing to sign up for in-person care or for the federal government to pass another stimulus bill. In a July survey, 40 percent of current early childhood providers said that without additional public assistance, they would close permanently. In that scenario, thousands of early educators would lose their primary source of income. The resulting loss would also have dire implications for parents and caregivers trying to go back to work — and for the economy. 

Outside of direct financial assistance, there’s another — and largely unexplored — route to help shore up the finances of existing early childhood providers and support the creation of new providers: state legislators should create flexibility from regulations that govern the facilities where early childhood operators can work.

Right now, for example, early childhood providers spend valuable money and limited staff time thinking about things like building individual “cubbies” within classrooms with individual hooks and ensuring an “adequate supply of blocks in varied sizes” that is “organized and labeled.” Facilities regulations can also prevent potential providers from ever opening. For example, in order to serve preschoolers, charter schools often must retrofit their existing classrooms to meet early childhood regulations, which can be a prohibitively expensive endeavor. 

There is no argument that children need safety, and that operators need to be compelled — through a combination of oversight, law, and agency guidance — to make the safest spaces for kids to play and learn. But states across the country have taken things a step too far, adding burdensome hoops that don’t actually do anything to ensure quality, safety, or rigor.

Loosening these regulations would ease the financial pressure on existing providers, allowing them to spend funds elsewhere, like on public health measures, staff salaries, or rent. Depending on the regulation, providers may even be able to reconfigure their existing space to enroll more students while still meeting COVID health and safety standards. And in the best case scenario, providers that have not previously offered child care due to facilities restrictions could begin to do so. 

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