Category Archives: Education Governance

Story-driven Education Reform — That Doesn’t Burden the Storyteller

“I don’t talk to many people about this,” she started. “But if you’re here to make sure this doesn’t happen to someone else, then I want to tell you.” And then this young woman, a student we met through our work on education fragmentation, told us the story of how her stepfather sexually abused her and how her mother pulled her out of school after she reported it to a teacher. Erica (a pseudonym I’m using to protect her privacy) didn’t go back to school until six months later, once she’d moved cities to live with another family member. As far as she knew, her previous school never asked any questions — no one ever called the house or came looking for her.

This student was one of more than a dozen who we spoke to in schools across the country that shared their experiences of major disruptive life events that changed their education trajectories. Erica’s story in particular has stuck with me and makes me wonder: How we can help education systems better meet the needs of students for whom education may be the only consistent through-line in an otherwise chaotic time?

I believe that one of the first steps is to share stories like Erica’s. Many times, the people working to improve systems fragmentation for youth who experience disruptions to their education pathways are themselves removed from the direct impact of this work. Stories help practitioners know why this work matters and better understand the consequences of getting it wrong.

While empathy is a powerful tool for change and is, perhaps, a fundamental precondition for it, how do we account for the cost of sharing a personal story to the storyteller?  Continue reading

Lightfoot Seeks to Change the Chicago Board of Education from Appointed to Elected. Does it Matter?

For most of Chicago’s history, a school board appointed by the mayor has overseen the city’s schools. Then, in the late 1980s, it shifted to an elected board only to revert back to an appointive system in 1995. Now, Chicago’s new mayor Lori Lightfoot wants an elected school board overseeing the Windy City’s schools, but first she had to appoint one while a change to state law is hammered out. Are you following?

While these machinations in the third largest district in the nation might be confusing, the proposed change in governance may not matter.

According to a 2016 Pew Charitable Trust report: “There is no consensus among researchers about whether any particular form of school governance—including state takeovers, mayoral control, or elected local boards—leads to better student performance or fiscal management.”

But that hasn’t stopped lawmakers from trying. Centralizing and decentralizing education governance is a popular American pastime. Continue reading

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

Misinformation About California’s Special Education Systems and Enrollment Trends Won’t Help the Fiscal Crisis

Many California school districts are in financial trouble. Teacher pensions consume an increasing share of K-12 spending, and inflexible collective bargaining agreements and declining enrollments stretch district budgets.

In this strained financial environment, some of the complexity of California’s school finance system is lost, leading to simplified analyses and incomplete solutions. Addressing the financial shortfall requires a comprehensive understanding of the many different ways funding works in the state.

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To that end, we released new issue briefs yesterday that provide needed context and clarity on important issues in the state: special education financing and school enrollment trends and facilities. These issues have become part of the financial policy debate, but there are misunderstandings that unnecessarily fan the flames of tension between traditional and charter schools. For example, misleading analyses of enrollment trends and their impact on district finances make it more difficult to accurately assess facilities needs for districts and charter schools. And, since charter schools often enroll fewer students with disabilities, many can mistakenly believe that they are not contributing their share to special education.

But this isn’t quite right. Our hope is that a sober examination of these systems will point to reforms that can help schools of all types better serve students.

Continue reading

Media: “Everyone’s job but no one’s responsibility” in The Hechinger Report

Some of our country’s most vulnerable students get too little from too many people. Read more from me and Kelly Robson over at The Hechinger Report:

Approximately five million students who are served by public care agencies have multiple official adults in their lives — judges, lawyers, therapists, volunteers, teachers, counselors, case managers, social workers and more — people paid to support them when they experience significant life circumstances like homelessness, foster care or incarceration.

That five million does not include those students who experience instability resulting from uncounted experiences like evictions, parental arrests, prolonged family medical crises, migrant work and other major life disruptions. These are generally not students who are “falling through the cracks” and being served by no one. Quite the opposite — they are instead being served by everyone.

Bellwether is currently partnering with California’s El Dorado County to address education fragmentation. Our Hechinger piece is a great story about the folks we’ve been working with and the impact this work can have. For more context, check out our recent report: “Continuity Counts: Coordinated Education Systems for Students in Transition.”