Category Archives: Politics of Education

Lessons in Managing the Gut-Wrenching Process of School Closures

“I’ve never felt that way before, walking into a room and just being in total knots and also knowing the right thing to do.” That’s how former Denver Public Schools board member Mary Seawell recalls the night she and the majority of the board voted to close Montbello, an academically failing but popular neighborhood high school. As we interviewed district and community leaders for our Eight Cities project, the subject of school closures elicited a nearly universal response: emotionally draining and gut-wrenching angst.

photo of Mary Seawell, former Denver Public Schools board member, by Alexander Drecun — from EightCities.org

Photo of Mary Seawell by Alexander Drecun, via EightCities.org

While the superintendents and community leaders we spoke to acknowledged school closure as a painful but necessary tool, our interviews also reflected a culture shift: Some districts are no longer forcing closures of low-performing schools in the absence of quality alternatives. Instead many districts have started more carefully planning closures to minimize disruption and prioritize student success. Two recently released reports reinforce the need for districts to mitigate the pain of school closures by ensuring better alternatives already exist. Continue reading

Four Possible Reasons Universal Vouchers Have More Public Support than Charter Schools

Universal vouchers, which provide government funding to families to offset the cost of private school tuition, are generally favored by market-oriented school-choice proponents. So you’d expect charter schools, which tend to enjoy more bipartisan support, to be more widely popular.

According to the latest Education Next poll, in 2019, 55% of the public indicated that they support universal vouchers, an increase of 12 percentage points since 2013. Meanwhile, charter schools only got the support of 48% of the public, a slight decline of 3 percentage points since 2013. 

Source: Education Next, “Trends in the EdNext Survey: Question wording and data over time,” 2019, https://educationnext.org/files/ednext-poll-question-wording-over-time-through-2019.pdf

Here are four key lessons from the Education Next poll that might explain why universal vouchers are tracking ahead of charter schools:

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Media: “A summit of states turned around US education 30 years ago — it’s time for another” in The Hill

Thirty years ago today, former president George H.W. Bush convened the nation’s governors in Charlottesville, VA for the nation’s first, and to date only, education summit. At this summit, the governors agreed to six national education goals. These goals have been the foundation for state and national education reform efforts over the last three decades.

I have a piece in The Hill today that argues it’s time for a second summit:

America’s education outcomes are largely stagnant. Gaps across subgroups remain a challenge. International test scores put American students behind their peers in other developed nations like Australia and the UK. Given this, it’s time for the nation’s governors to reconvene and create a new set of national education goals that reflect what we’ve learned and define where we want to go.

Read the full piece here. You can also learn more about the origins of this summit — and how states have worked to improve their education systems — in our resource on the American South here.

Stop Pitting Personalized Learning Against Academic Rigor: We Need Both

TNTP recently found that in 40% of classrooms serving a majority of students of color, students never received a single grade-level assignment. How can education accelerate learning if grade-appropriate assignments aren’t even being made available?

For several years, education innovators have debated which approach to take in response to this problem: technology-driven learning designed to meet students where they are — or whole-course curriculum that assumes students are already performing at grade-level. To put it more simply: personalized learning versus academic rigor. 

But instead of debating these innovations and their efficacy, the educational equity movement should advance a collective effort to meaningfully lead to equitable outcomes for Black, Latino, and Native students, and students affected by poverty. The reality is that any solution to address learning gaps will require a concerted combination of efforts, not siloed approaches.

Last spring, a team at Bellwether Education Partners deeply researched the shifts that need to occur in the field so that students with significant learning gaps access educational systems, schools, and classrooms that enable rigorous, differentiated learning. 

And in a new resource I co-authored with Lauren Schwartze and Amy Chen Kulesa, we show that there is no silver bullet. It will take time, energy, focus, innovation, and collaborative efforts across the sector that involve: Continue reading

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

As I recently wrote, I’ve spent the last two years leading a body of work here at Bellwether that focuses on the experiences of young people most affected by education fragmentation. These students are served by multiple public systems, change schools frequently, and may not have a single consistent adult to help them navigate a complex web of services and programs. 

Our team has interviewed dozens of people directly impacted by these systems. While existing story collection efforts often require struggling people to be vulnerable in front of powerful strangers — which can sometimes cause unintended harm — we were committed to doing things differently. 

Check out this behind-the-scenes footage to hear more from me on our approach: 

Here are six key strategies we used to collect digital story materials while minimizing the burden on the storytellers:

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