Category Archives: State Education Policy

Six Lessons on Education Governance from Rhode Island, the Ocean State

Those who govern our schools (e.g., members of elected and appointed school boards) make and enact policies that are local in scope and potentially enormous in impact. They choose how resources are allocated to support staff and implement programs; they weigh in on decisions being made by district and school leaders that drive day-to-day activities; and they ensure the work being done for kids is aligned to federal and state policies and enacted in keeping with local priorities.

We assume boards make a difference for how our districts and schools function and ultimately, how well kids learn and develop. But what do we actually know about the link between board effectiveness and school quality?

Bellwether has conducted some important research on this very connection. In our 2016 study “Charter Boards in the Nation’s Capital,” we described the relationship between board characteristics, practices, and school quality in Washington, DC, one of the most robust charter sectors in the country. In collaboration with Colorado Succeeds, we developed an evidence-based framework for evaluating school board effectiveness. And in 2018, we received a grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation to help leaders at the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) understand if there was a relationship between its different governance models, their practices, and the performance of their schools across the Ocean State.

Rhode Island has six school governance models, described in the table below, which communities may choose from to suit their local contexts and goals. (For more detail on the state’s historical approach to education governance, see this new report from the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council.)

Bellwether’s mixed-methods approach to learning more about these models included researching state code and regulations on governance models, reviewing research on best practices for board governance, conducting interviews with RIDE staff and other state leaders, designing and administering a survey to governing boards and school leaders throughout the state, and analyzing student achievement results. Our findings include feedback from over one-third of the governing board (called “school committees” in Rhode Island) members and superintendents across the state, primarily representing the two largest governing models: traditional districts (52% of respondents) and independent charters (39% of respondents). We had few respondents from the other school types.

Six takeaways from this research, listed below, may provide insights for state education agencies, school boards, and charter boards both inside and outside Rhode Island about why people serve on boards, how governance is consistent and how it is different across districts and charters, and why observing boards in practice may be critical to understanding links between their decisions and consequences for families and children: Continue reading

Should Indianapolis Be Our Ninth City?

While we were doing research for our Eight Cities project, I was frequently asked which cities we’d be including. To take the temperature of the sector, I’d turn the question into a nerdy parlor game and ask people to guess which cities they thought made the list.

Indianapolis frequently came up, but it’s not one of our eight cities. Now I’m starting to have second thoughts. Here’s why.

The criteria for being one of the eight cities in our publication was that there was a strategy put in place based on the beliefs and pillars below — and saltatory gains in achievement and reductions in gaps.

Eight Cities Beliefs and Strategic PillarsIndianapolis scores high on the first criterion. They have a school performance framework, unified enrollment system, influential quarterback organization, broad (but not universal) citywide school choice, and a high-quality authorizer.

On the academic front, things are a bit more complicated.

Indianapolis Public Schools’ (IPS) scores on the state’s iStep test have declined from 29 percent in 2014 to 23 percent in 2018. This isn’t good news for the state’s largest school district, but the city’s families are fortunate to be able to choose one of the city’s 35 charter or 20 Innovation Schools (IPS schools with charter-like autonomies).

Indy’s charter school sector, which enrolls 28 percent of students, has performed well for years in large part because the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office is an effective authorizer. For instance, in 2017, the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office had “the greatest percentage of A and B schools within their portfolio, and the lowest percentage of D and F schools” compared to other authorizers in the state. Continue reading

Why Aren’t We Talking About the Lack of Faculty of Color in Schools of Education?

Headlines about teacher diversity issues often neglect to tell an equally important story: the significant dearth of faculty of color in schools of education. Indeed, there is a large racial gap between the 80 percent of white teachers that make up the educator workforce and the over 45 percent minority student population in America’s public schools, where teacher candidates at schools of education are presumably aiming to teach.

For our new publication out yesterday, Max Marchitello and I spoke with a number of faculty and staff from minority serving institutions (MSIs) on the topic of teacher preparation. These conversations and a comprehensive literature review pointed us to a few key ways that teacher preparation in this country can improve, such as building teacher candidates’ cultural awareness, ensuring candidates engage with diverse students and contexts through well-designed field experiences, and increasing diversity in the teacher candidate pool.

However, without a critical mass of faculty of color in these programs, it will be difficult to implement these recommendations. Diverse faculty can make the institution more inclusive for students of color and help disrupt white dominance that leads future educators to be ignorant of the communities they will likely serve.

Over the past thirty years, we have focused on K-12 educator diversity and seen some gains, but we are not seeing reciprocal change in the faculty of schools of education. According to a recent Inside Higher Ed report, the percentage of underrepresented groups as full-time faculty has not changed much over the past two decades. In 2015, African Americans accounted for six percent of full-time faculty in all U.S. universities, whereas African Americans made up 14 percent of the student population in all U.S. universities. Similarly, Hispanic faculty made up five percent of full-time faculty members compared to the 17 percent of Hispanic students in higher education. While there has been progress in the number of minority faculty, significant gaps persist.

Faculty diversity is important to teacher preparation for a few key reasons. First, more diverse faculty helps recruit more diverse teacher candidates, as studies show that students find security in sharing a background or experience with faculty. Second, diverse faculty are important to the issue of helping teacher candidates unpack their own biases and understand the points of view of educators of color. For instance, in a 2008 study, a researcher observed a teacher preparation program’s classroom discussion of bilingualism with a classroom of majority Latino teacher candidates. Initially, white candidates focused on the economic downsides of bilingualism, but then shifted to the moral necessity of dual-language teachers when discussing the topic with Latino classmates. In addition, faculty of color’s research focus and what they incorporate into classes likely will vary from white professors, which will help train all teacher candidates, and offer different, more complete perspectives on classroom management, student discipline, and more.

In order to address faculty diversity, schools of education need to interrogate their hiring practices and eliminate sources of bias. Institutional leadership must carefully examine where disruptions occur for prospective candidates of color in the faculty pipeline. For instance, when the Rowan University College of Education refocused on creating a culture that embraces social justice and equity, leadership began prioritizing hiring faculty specifically embedded in this work.

Without acknowledging that the quality of teacher preparation is inextricably linked to the inclusion of historically underrepresented groups in faculty, teachers will remain insufficiently prepared to educate diverse students. Diversifying faculty, like other changes to long-standing institutions, is undoubtedly a difficult challenge, but it is an incredibly important stride towards educational equity.

1.3 Million Students Are Homeless. What’s the Good News?

Federal data released earlier this month indicate that more than 1.3 million students enrolled in public schools during the 2016-17 school year were homeless. This represents a 7 percent increase in the number of homeless students over a three-year period and a 70 percent spike in the last decade.

These numbers are troubling for many reasons: Homelessness is associated with a host of challenging life outcomes, including difficulty staying in and graduating from school.

But there’s some potentially good news here. First, though tough economic conditions, high housing costs, and other factors likely led to real increases in the number of students experiencing homelessness, it’s likely that some of the increase is due to school districts simply getting better at identifying their homeless students. That’s a good thing. Schools can’t support students experiencing homelessness if they don’t know who they are.

Second, the data captured in this report only include those students who are enrolled in public schools. That means that all of the 1.3 million homeless students are still enrolled in school. Their attendance may well be spotty, but they haven’t dropped out. They are known to a set of adults who work in a system that can provide them with the academic support they need and can connect them to other services. That’s hugely important.

As my colleague and I have written, the education system can be a powerful through-line for young people experiencing homelessness or any other destabilizing life event. As the place where the vast majority of children go every day and interact with adults, schools provide a natural central point for connecting services that can support a child’s education and meet their other needs.

Want to learn more? We’ve written about the human-centered design policies and methods that take into account the real needs of students who experience disruptions to their educational trajectories. We’ve also addressed the promise of technology to support students in transition and launched a game to help build empathy and understanding about the challenges young people face as they navigate destabilizing events like homelessness, incarceration, or foster care placement.

The Traditional Public and Charter School Sectors Aren’t as Separate as You Might Think

The recent strike by the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), which ended after negotiations around teacher pay and class sizes, is but the latest in a long list of tensions between traditional public and charter schools. UTLA expressed opposition to the city’s growing charter sector, so the school board has agreed to put forward a non-binding resolution calling on the state of California to cap the growth of charter schools in the district while the state studies policy changes. This strike, in part, highlights the fact that charter schools compete for students and resources, which can cause pain for traditional public schools.

While it often seems that charter schools and traditional public schools are adversaries, in many places the two sectors are not as separate as one might think. Nationwide, nearly 90 percent of charter school authorizers (the legal entities that grant charters and oversee charter schools) are actually school districts themselves, according to data requested from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). This means that school districts around the country are often the ones making decisions about when charter schools open and close and what expectations they have to meet.

Source: National Association of Charter School Authorizers

Source: National Association of Charter School Authorizers

However, NACSA’s data also show that school districts only authorize roughly 51 percent of all charter schools, as they tend to oversee fewer schools than other types of authorizers. As we show in our new publication, “The State of the Charter Sector,” the average school district authorizes only about four schools. Meanwhile, independent chartering boards (statewide bodies set up for the purpose of granting charters and overseeing charter schools) authorize an average of 51 schools, and state education agencies, typically housed in state departments of education, authorize an average of more than 87 schools.

This unequal distribution of authorizers and authorized schools is due in part to the fact that independent chartering boards and state education agencies are both statewide entities, overseeing a much larger number of students and schools than a single district. It is also affected by the structure of state charter school laws. While 44 states allow charter schools, only 23 states allow charter applicants to apply directly to non-district authorizers. In the other 21 states, applicants must apply to school districts for authorization of their charter. However, in many states, the denial of a charter school application by a school district may then be appealed to a non-district authorizer.

In some places, like in Los Angeles, competition for enrollment and resources is pitting school districts against a growing number of charter schools. But in many more places, charter schools are being overseen by local districts and comprise a much smaller share of overall district enrollment. This means that traditional public and charter schools often need to function as one cohesive sector. In these cases, school districts should ensure they are using strong authorizing practices, such as the list of “essential practices” proposed by NACSA.

Our new slide deck, “The State of the Charter Sector,” provides more of the latest available information on charter schools across the country and analyses of the challenges that charter schools face.