Category Archives: Equity

Women Are Running for President But Gender Gaps in Education Remain

Over the weekend Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) officially announced their bids for the White House in 2020. They join previously announced Senators Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Tulsi Gabbard to comprise the largest pool of female candidates for president in history. And the election is still more than 20 months away.

While women are making significant strides in the political arena, gender equity in the world of education remains elusive, even though it’s a field dominated by women.

For starters, regardless of how you measure it, women in K-12 education earn 92 percent of what men earn for the same work. And even that isn’t the full story. As I demonstrated in a report last year, state teacher pension systems amplify gender-based salary inequities. It is alarming that gender-based pay gaps exist in spite of district-wide salary schedules that should, at least in theory, inoculate teaching from these kinds of inequities.

Read the full report here to learn more about how women earn less retirement benefits.

Little Kids, Big Progress: New York Times’ Head Start Coverage

It’s not often that early childhood stories make the front page of the New York Times. But this week, the paper featured an article by Jason DeParle about Head Start, a federal early childhood program that serves nearly 900,000 low-income children, and how the quality of the program has improved over the past several years.

DeParle’s article is a great example of journalism that moves past the common (and relatively useless) question of “does Head Start work?” and goes deeper into exploring how the program has improved  its practices, including changes related to coaching, teacher preparation and quality, use of data, and the Designation Renewal System (all of which Bellwether has studied and written about previously). This type of reporting contributes to a more productive conversation about how to create high-quality early learning opportunities for all children that can inform changes to early childhood programs beyond Head Start.

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

As DeParle points out and the data clearly show, while there is wide variation between individual programs, overall the quality of teaching in Head Start is improving. But while this trend is undoubtedly positive, it raises some questions: What effect will these changes ultimately have on children’s academic and life outcomes? And what can Head Start programs do to their program content and design to even better serve children?

Next month, Bellwether will release a suite of publications that tries to answer those questions. We identified five Head Start programs that have evidence of better-than-average impact on student learning outcomes and thoroughly examined these programs’ practices to understand how they contributed to their strong performance. I visited each program, conducted in-depth interviews with program leadership and staff, reviewed program documents and data, hosted focus groups with teachers and coaches, and observed classroom quality using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, CLASS (the measure of teaching quality on which DeParle notes Head Start classrooms nationally have shown large quality improvements). By better understanding the factors that drive quality among grantees and identifying effective practices, we hope to help other programs replicate these exemplars’ results and advance an equity agenda.

As the New York Times front page recently declared, Head Start’s progress offers a ray of hope in a dysfunctional federal political landscape. But there is still room for progress. Looking at what high-performing programs do well can help extend the reach and impact of recent changes to produce even stronger outcomes for young children and their families.

Ten Lessons from Eight Cities

Over a year ago, I began an ambitious project to tell the stories of cities that implemented citywide school improvement strategies and saw student achievement increase — and to share these stories as lessons for other system leaders. The result was Eight Cities, a beautiful and information-rich website that does just that. It was a rare project that put my team in the fortunate position of listening to some of the brightest, most committed, and humble education professionals in the country. It’s difficult not to learn a lot under such circumstances.

Legacy Charter school building in Chicago with students and crossing guard outside

Legacy Charter School in Chicago. Photo credit: Alexander Drecun.

While each one of our eight stories provides a deep dive into different cities, there were a lot of macro lessons that emerged. Here are ten that I think are particularly salient for state leaders, mayors, superintendents, board members, charter leaders, and funders interested in exploring a similar approach:

1. Language matters. One of our first challenges was choosing a term that simultaneously described a complex citywide education reform strategy with many local nuances without creating a target for people who wanted to reduce it to a single word. What should we call these systems of public schools which shared central beliefs and strategic pillars and saw schools as the unit of change? These were widely referred to as “portfolio districts” until 2017, when the term was weaponized by opponents who took issue with the approach. The Texas Education Agency has adopted the term “Systems of Great Schools.” While I occasionally use “portfolio” as shorthand, I prefer the term “dynamic systems of schools” because it describes the core mechanism of systemic improvement: high-performing or high-potential schools replacing schools that have failed generations of students. But this phrase hasn’t caught on. After much discussion, the Eight Cities team decided to avoid labels and simply tell the stories we encountered. Whatever term is used, the reality is that language matters in rhetorical and political battles but rarely in the day-to-day work of students and parents.

2. There’s no one best way to implement a dynamic system of public schools. Washington D.C. and Newark have dual public education systems comprised of traditional district schools and charter schools, yet D.C. is under mayoral control and Newark was under state control but is now governed by an elected school board. Camden has 15,000 students and a neighborhood charter takeover model with relaxed accountability. New York City has 1.1 million students and moved quickly to give autonomy to all its schools and hold them accountable, while phasing out large failing high schools to make room for new small schools of choice. Denver Public Schools saw consistent leadership from an elected school board and single superintendent for a decade. Continue reading

Ideas for Idaho: Fairness for School Facilities Funding

On both state and national tests, Idaho’s public charter school students exceed the academic performance of their district counterparts, including students from traditionally underserved communities. With such strong student achievement results, shouldn’t these schools receive the same amount of money as traditional public schools to build new buildings or rehabilitate old ones? Unfortunately they don’t. On average, in fact, they receive roughly a third of what district schools do, and they are having to come up with creative ways to cover that gap.

Our latest report, Fairness in Facilities: Why Idaho Public Schools Need More Facilities Funding, finds that while district schools receive $1,206 on average per student from state and local funding facility streams, Idaho charter schools receive just $445 in state funding, without any local funding. As Fairness in Facilities details, lower charter school facility funding forces school leaders to make difficult choices, like cutting extracurriculars or support services, or making creative arrangements with other nonprofits to share facilities.

And in Idaho, the nation’s fastest-growing state, the problem is not going away. Enrollment in Idaho public K-12 schools has increased by nearly 50,000 students over the last 15 years. In the charter sector, enrollment has doubled from roughly 11,000 in 2008 to around 22,000 in 2018, with those students attending one of 52 Idaho charter schools. Thousands of students are on Idaho charter school waiting lists, adding to the demand for new facilities.

State- and local-level policy changes are necessary to alleviate this inequity. Fairness in Facilities makes a few concrete charter-specific recommendations: Continue reading

poster for film: “Can We Talk? Difficult Conversations with Underrepresented People of Color: Sense of Belonging and Obstacles to STEM Fields”

“Can We Talk?” What Inclusion Means For Those of Us Who Count As “Diverse”

In many cases, “diversity” has become a code word for hiring or simply acknowledging historically marginalized groups such as people of color or women. This can range from boasting hiring statistics to low-effort activities such as participating in a career fair at a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) when looking to recruit talent. Once the diversity targets are met or there are one or two “diversity success stories,” then that is it. Mission accomplished. And, let’s be honest, people feel great when they can spout off statistics that illustrate the strides their workplace or academic institution has made in the name of “diversity.”

But what does that mean for those of us who are the “diverse” population? Belonging and feeling welcomed is another beast that is often overlooked in diversity efforts. I recently got to watch the documentary “Can We Talk? Difficult Conversations with Underrepresented People of Color,” which examines inclusion in the Science, Technology, Math, and Science (STEM) fields and features raw and unfiltered conversations about the struggles of “diverse” individuals on their paths to success.

While the film focused on the experiences of those in STEM, I think the lessons extend to education organizations generally. As “Can We Talk?” highlighted (and as I have experienced personally), many organizations fall short when they believe that diversity is an end-game in itself. The reality is that this is only the beginning. Being accepted or hired into an organization is one thing, but being accepted (and understood) by your peers is another. The film highlighted several powerful themes in the experiences of people of color who were made to feel as though they did not belong. A couple of moments that stood out to me:

“Oh, this is very well-written. Did you have help?”

Days after completing her qualifying exams, these exact words were spoken to an African-American female student studying Neuroscience by her professor. Whether or not that was his intention, the words made the student feel as though she wasn’t competent. Continue reading