Category Archives: Equity

Best of Bellwether 2019: Our Most-Read Publications and Posts

2019 was a busy year at Bellwether and across education in general, and we’re excited to round up our most-read blog posts and publications from the past 12 months. They cover a number of topics, including how school leaders can improve school culture (and reclaim their own time), how to improve the quality of early childhood education, and how to better bridge research and practice. This list also reflects your wide-ranging interests in the myriad issues that Bellwether experts work on across policy and practice. 

For the top posts on our sister site TeacherPensions.org, click here.

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Top Ten Blog Posts from Ahead of the Heard in 2019

1.) 3 Things Head Start Programs Can Do Right Now to Improve Their Practice

by Ashley LiBetti Continue reading

Lessons from Chicago Public Schools on Meeting the Needs of English Language Learners

Chicago Public Schools serves over 360,000 students, 18.7% of whom are English language learners (ELL). The Spanish-speaking student population, in particular, makes up about 35% of the total student population. I spoke with Felicia Butts, Director of Teacher Residencies at Chicago Public Schools, about their growing bilingual teacher residency program.

headshot for Felicia Butts, Chicago Public Schools

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Could you tell us about Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) residency programs focused on preparing educators to work in bilingual classrooms?

The bilingual residency program provides an accelerated two-year master’s degree in which graduates receive a master’s degree, professional educator’s license, and an endorsement in bilingual education and English as a Second Language (ESL). We have two bilingual residency program tracks: one focused on early childhood education and the other focused on elementary education. Our residents undergo a suite of carefully curated professional development modules that include support from the Office of Language and Cultural Education. Residents receive support in teaching in bilingual and dual-language classrooms while working in specific grade bands. They also receive professional development in cultural competence and social emotional learning.

During the first year, residents are matched with carefully vetted mentors and placed in training sites. We facilitate a matching process where [incoming residents] get to choose who would be the best fit for them to work with. Teacher residents spend a full year in the training site side by side with the mentor teacher to get training and support, guidance, and coaching. During this first year, residents work in a full-time position where they receive a $35K salary with benefits. In the second year, residents are hired as teachers of record in their own classroom, earning a full teacher’s salary, while they work on the bilingual and ESL endorsement.

How many teacher candidates did you serve last year, and do you hope to see the program grow?

Last year we had 11 bilingual elementary residents. This year, we have 21 bilingual elementary residents, and nine early childhood bilingual residents. We recently opened up our recruitment cycle and are hoping to grow. Our recruiting targets are 25 for each of the program tracks for the 2020-2021 cohort. (The overall size of the residency program, which includes special education and STEM teachers, is 90 people this year.)

For the early childhood education cohort, we have to do significant outreach. The interest is there, but there are many systemic barriers for candidates to overcome, including culturally and linguistically limited tests such as the ACT, TAP, and SAT. Recently, the governor provided some reprieve, eliminating these tests as program entry requirements. We’re looking forward to being able to get candidates enrolled with fewer barriers.

Which languages do you currently serve?

We are currently serving Spanish, the most commonly spoken home language in CPS other than English. We’re hoping to expand to the top five most spoken languages in Chicago: Arabic, Urdu, Cantonese, and Polish. In order to train a group of teachers bilingually in one of the other top four languages, it would require a classroom with that language as a main mode of instruction. With the cohort model being a critical part of our residency program, it would be challenging for a resident to be in a program with predominantly Spanish language speakers. Continue reading

GreatSchools Ratings Have a Lot in Common with State and Local Ratings — for Better or Worse

Last Thursday the education world was all a-twitter about an article and analysis on GreatSchools, a widely used nonprofit school rating organization whose 1-10 ratings often show up at the top of search results and on popular real estate websites. Their ratings are known to sway families’ decisions on where to live and send their kids to school.

Photo via Justine Warrington on Flickr

The main thrust of Matt Barnum and Gabrielle LaMarr LeMee’s piece in Chalkbeat is that GreatSchools’ substantial reliance on test score proficiency as a measure of school quality favors schools whose students enter already performing at a higher level. Since these students are more likely to be white and high-income, they argue the GreatSchools ratings may end up exacerbating segregation by influencing families’ housing and school decisions. 

These very same criticisms often come up in debates about local or state school ratings and how best to use test scores in general. In the conversation below, the authors of Bellwether’s recent report and website on school performance frameworks (SPFs) discuss the findings of the GreatSchools report, and how the strengths and weaknesses of GreatSchools’ approach compares to state and local school ratings.

Bonnie O’Keefe:

GreatSchools’ data comes from states, and their metrics and methods aren’t too dissimilar from what we see in many local school performance frameworks, state ESSA ratings, and the No Child Left Behind ratings that came before. Much like many states and districts, GreatSchools has changed their rating system over time as more, better data became available. So the idea that ratings based even in part on proficiency disadvantage schools serving higher-need students isn’t unique to GreatSchools. In fact, a nearly identical critique sunk Los Angeles’ proposed school ratings before they were even created. What is unique is how widely used, influential, and maybe misunderstood GreatSchools’ ratings are among families. 

Brandon Lewis:

The biggest difference I see between the GreatSchools’ school rating system and the local school performance frameworks (SPFs) we profiled for our project is that they have different goals and purposes. GreatSchools is a widely viewed public-facing tool designed to communicate that organization’s particular perspective on school quality. Unlike local SPFs, GreatSchools’ ratings are not tied to any specific goals for students or schools and cannot be used to make any district-level decisions. 

Continue reading

On National Special Education Day, I Remember My Sister-in-Law Laurie

When I married my husband John in 1987, I said “I do” to three people: John, his mother Sophie, and his sister Laurie. John was the caregiver, household manager, driver, and grocery purveyor for his mother, who had several health issues at the age of 68, and his younger sister, who was born with Marfan Syndrome, a disorder of the connective tissue resulting in a host of physical challenges. Laurie also experienced oxygen deprivation at birth. As a result, she never cognitively developed past the age of 7 or 8.

photo courtesy the author

Neither Laurie or Sophie are with us today, but in honor of National Special Education Day, I want to elevate Laurie’s education story, however fragmented it was. Laurie was provided transportation to an elementary school building starting in kindergarten, but there was no grade designation, no Individualized Education Program (IEP), and no social supports. She learned some very rudimentary skills, like how to count from 1 to 10 and write her first name. We know very little of what she experienced at school, but my husband remembers the taunts of “retard” thrown her way by neighborhood and school bullies. By middle school, she no longer attended school.

Like most parents, neither Sophie nor her husband were prepared for a child with special needs. Sophie was very private, but I gathered a few pieces of her story over the years we lived together. A child of Polish immigrants, Sophie’s education didn’t advance much past middle school. During the Great Depression, kids did whatever they could to keep their families from starving, and while she shared very few Depression-era memories, standing in bread lines was often her job. I regret not knowing her full story — she held many secrets — but the best we could cobble together was that her teen years were akin to sooty Cinderella, providing domestic labor until she met her real-life prince in the form of John’s father, the appliance repairman she married.

The fact that they advocated for any schooling, including transportation services, for Laurie is a tribute to the doggedness of their own backgrounds. The gaps in Laurie’s education were representative of that era, and I am glad we have moved to a point where we recognize National Special Education Day and the importance of serving all students. 

People often tell me how much they admire what John and I did, caring for Laurie and Sophie in our home as we raised our own family. But Sophie deserves the credit for standing up for her daughter in an era when mothers were shamed for having a special needs child. And Laurie faced many of her physical and cognitive challenges as an adult: She eventually learned to read with Hooked on Phonics, and learned to laugh again, thanks to the antics of her two nieces and one nephew. 

So much has improved in the special education field since Laurie’s experience in the 1960s, but there is still more to be done. These experiences tie me closely to Bellwether’s mission, and remind me of our commitment to improving education and life outcomes for underserved students, including those in special education.

“Quiet Rooms” and Other Forms of Exclusionary Discipline Are Not Evidence-Based Practices

Every time a reformer proposes a new idea in education, critics and skeptics demand evidence. Our state and federal laws prefer evidence-based practices and reward the adoption of practices backed by valid and reliable research. But when defending the status quo, no one ever seems interested in the evidence. 

Last week’s Chicago Tribune piece on the disturbing use of “quiet rooms” as a behavior management strategy indicated that these euphemistically named rooms are in use across the state of Illinois. Children are routinely placed into isolation when they misbehave, under the pretense of behavior management or time to reflect. These rooms are isolation masquerading as quasi-in-school suspension, and there is, of course, no evidence to support them. In fact, the evidence runs in the opposite direction: “time-outs” actively harm children. That doesn’t seem to stop schools from using them.

A student in Utah sits alone outside his classroom

A student in Utah sits alone outside his classroom. From Bellwether’s Rigged series.

Beyond the extreme example of Illinois’ “quiet rooms,” isolation and other exclusionary discipline practices are pervasive and, for many, noncontroversial. This includes suspensions and expulsions, which enjoy mainstream support from teachers and policymakers. Stories of suspension and expulsion don’t carry the same visceral horror as these examples from Illinois, but they’re all based on the same fundamentally flawed premise: that you can compel any individual to behave well by demanding obedience through force and deprivation.

The problem with our easy comfort with exclusionary discipline is that it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in schools — and it doesn’t work in any other context either.  Continue reading