Category Archives: State Education Policy

School Board Demographics Don’t Match Student Demographics  — And That’s a Problem

This post is part of a series about Bellwether’s recent work on school governance and school board effectiveness.

Today’s average public school board member is a white male with a family income of over $100K a year. 

The majority of today’s public schools students, on the other hand, are female, students of color, and very likely to be from low-income families. Many are first-generation Americans navigating their own lives while also serving as de facto interpreters for their parents. 

If school board members don’t look like the students they represent, how can boards understand and value the needs of our most underserved students — and make decisions through an equity lens?

Bellwether recently completed research on Rhode Island’s governance practices, including how  school boards operate. Similar to the findings of a 2018 National School Boards Association report, we found that more than 60% of board members in Rhode Island are white and have advanced degrees, while fewer than 6% grew up in poverty or received special education or English language learning support. In contrast, 49% of Rhode Island’s public schools’ students are people of color: 31% are Hispanic/Latinx and close to 10% are Black/African American. 40% of these students are from low-income families, almost 20% are identified as having a disability, and almost 10% are English language learners.

Rhode Island is not alone. A recent study of Ohio’s school boards illustrates how lack of representation and understanding hurts underserved students. In the case of Ohio, citizens from more affluent areas run for school board and are elected, and then amplify the voices of families from their neighborhoods. As a result, affluent students and their schools receive greater resources.

For more equitable school board decision making, here are three suggestions for state departments of education, school boards, and leaders:

Continue reading

Three Lessons From Our New Briefs on School Transportation and Safety, Choice, and the Environment

Safe, reliable, and equitable school transportation is essential for a strong education system. But too often transportation is sidelined in education policy discussions.

yellow sign reading "SCHOOL BUS STOP AHEAD"

This is a major oversight. Here’s why:

  1. Strong school transportation systems are absolutely essential for equitable access to schools. The average distance between students and schools has grown since the days of walking uphill both ways to school, and we know that low-income families are less likely to have access to a car or the scheduling flexibility to accompany students to and from school every day. Without safe, reliable school transportation solutions — whether that’s the bus, walking, biking, public transit, or something else — low-income students are more likely to be absent or late from school, spend more time on school commutes, or be put in unsafe situations.
  2. Building strong school transportation systems will require new kinds of collaboration that go outside of schools’ typical partners. For example, the success of electric school bus pilots so far has depended on extensive collaboration among willing schools and districts, bus vendors, transportation operators, and public utilities. And for safe walking and biking routes to school to thrive, infrastructure investments from local leaders and public works agencies are essential. Forging these new partnerships will extend school transportation opportunities, but might also add more to schools’ plates.
  3. New technologies and methods, like alternatively fueled buses and data-driven methods for mapping school commutes, show a great deal of potential. However, some of the most effective solutions are also costly, and the resources available for school transportation in many states and communities are simply insufficient to bring promising innovations to scale without compromising on educational essentials. Ultimately, substantial, focused investment will be necessary to bring about real innovations in the world of school transportation.

This week, Bellwether releases three new policy briefs to make sure school transportation gets the attention it deserves in wider education policy conversations: Continue reading

How Bellwether Transformed Agencies Supporting Youth in Utah, California, and Louisiana, Part 3: The Orleans Parish School Board’s Youth Opportunity Center

Last week, you read about Bellwether’s work in Utah, where we helped a team at the State Board of Education develop a shared vision of quality for all their schools serving students in juvenile courts or the foster care system. Today I’ll provide more information about our work in New Orleans, where we supported the Youth Opportunity Center, part of the Orleans Parish School Board, to create an 18-month strategy to evolve from being a direct services provider to becoming a community leader.

Social workers employed by the Youth Opportunity Center provide intensive case management services for some of the highest need youth and families in the city of New Orleans. While the Youth Opportunity Center has historically provided direct service work, their goal is to build the capacity of other city partners and ultimately become a strong community voice, magnifying their reach and impact by positioning other agencies, nonprofits, and community-based organizations to provide aligned supports for young people in a coherent way.

In New Orleans, the poverty rate is twice the national average, and in the last school year, 25 percent of students were chronically absent — up from 21 percent the year before. Staff at the Youth Opportunity Center see that students and families struggle to re-engage in their education because of significant barriers to accessing social services (e.g., transportation, illiteracy, and/or negative prior experiences with government or law enforcement). Because of New Orleans’ decentralized education system, schools vary in their capacity to support the highest need students without resorting to exclusionary disciplinary practices that lead students to further disengage.

The video below is from Buffy, a lifetime New Orleans resident who struggled to succeed in school herself and who is now trying to ensure that her child has a better experience than she did.

The work that the Youth Opportunity Center did with Bellwether resulted in the creation of an 18-month plan focused on three goals: Continue reading

Media: “Valley school bus driver shortage continues” on WFMJ

Yesterday, WFMJ in Youngstown, Ohio ran a story on local school districts struggling to hire enough bus drivers for the new school year. Reporter Glenn Stevens interviewed me about the need for more state funding to help address these driver shortages. Here’s an excerpt from the television segment:

Is there anything that can be done on the state level to help solve the problem of retaining bus drivers?

National education analyst Phillip Burgoyne-Allen of Bellwether Education Partners said state policymakers need to take steps to help local districts that can’t afford to help themselves.

“States need to step in by increasing overall funding for school transportation. States can help provide more support for districts so they can afford things like raising wages for school bus drivers in order to compete with other sectors,” said Allen.

Watch the full video on WFMJ, and check out our recent report, “The Challenges and Opportunities in School Transportation Today,” to learn more about driver shortages and the school transportation sector.

Media: “5 Things to Know About America’s School Bus Driver Shortage — What States Can Do About It” in The 74

I have a new op-ed at The 74 on five things you need to know about the ongoing school bus driver shortage. The piece was informed by research from our recent report, “The Challenges and Opportunities in School Transportation Today,” which serves as a fact base for policymakers, industry leaders, and others who want to improve their understanding of the school transportation sector.

An excerpt from my op-ed:

Districts are turning to a variety of strategies to try to meet driver needs. They are hosting job fairs to recruit bus drivers, creating their own driver training programs or increasing driver pay. Some are even attempting to train teachers to become licensed bus drivers. Carmel Clay Schools in Indiana offered teachers $18,000 to get behind the wheel. These efforts are admirable but are not always feasible for cash-strapped districts, and they can distract from schools’ primary mission of educating students.

[…] Addressing school transportation issues like driver shortages will require policy changes. State policymakers should increase funding for school transportation and support investments in new buses and technology than can reduce costs and lead to long-term savings. Without such changes, qualified drivers will continue to choose jobs in other industries, and students and families are the ones who will suffer as a result.

Read the rest of my piece at The 74, and check out the full report here.