Category Archives: State Education Policy

Media: “Education donors ought to give attention, money to rural Georgia” in Atlanta Journal Constitution

Yesterday, my colleagues and I published Education in the American South: Historical Context, Current State, and Future Possibilities. Our hope is that this report sparks a conversation about the need for greater attention to and investment in education in the South, particularly outside of major cities.

In an op-ed published yesterday in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, I look at Georgia’s student enrollment and test score data to argue that funders need to focus on the communities outside of metro Atlanta if they want to improve education for a lot of high-need kids:

Of the 1.8 million students enrolled in Georgia public school districts, just 52,400 of them – less than 3 percent – are enrolled in Atlanta Public Schools. Even throwing in the school systems surrounding APS – Clayton, Cobb, Douglas, DeKalb, and Fulton Counties – accounts for just 439,306 students, or 25% of all students statewide. 

That means that three out of every four public K-12 students in Georgia goes to school outside of metro Atlanta.

And yet policymakers and philanthropists involved in education continue to disproportionately focus on Atlanta. Philanthropic funders spend $453 per person in metro Atlanta, compared to $329 per person in other parts of the state. Students and schools throughout Georgia’s mid-sized cities, small towns, and rural communities aren’t getting the attention they need and deserve. 

For more detail about how this dynamic plays out across the South, take a look at our report here. And you can read my full piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution here.

Learning from a Missed Opportunity in Massachusetts

If current predictions hold, several states will either set new or stand by current limits on charter school growth and expansion. These limits, called charter school caps, place a ceiling on the number of charter schools or students those schools can enroll. In 2016, Massachusetts did the same thing: Voters rejected Ballot Question 2, which would have raised the cap on charter schools in the state. But research released just last week suggests that Massachusetts’ voters made a mistake. The states currently considering similar legislation should pay attention.

In the study I’m referencing, authors Sarah Cohodes, Elizabeth Setren, and Christopher R. Walters examined the effect of a policy that allowed effective charter schools in Boston to replicate their school models at new locations. They found that these new schools produced large achievement gains that were on par with those of their parent campuses. What’s more, the average effectiveness of charter middle schools in the city increased after the policy reform.

This evidence could, perhaps, be dismissed if the sector saw only a marginal increase in the number of schools; that is, if there were only a few additional charter schools that pulled this off. But that’s not the case: Boston’s charter sector produced these results despite a doubling of the charter market share in the city.

This analysis would be a big deal for any charter sector, but it is particularly meaningful for Boston. As Bellwether found in a recent analysis of the charter sector, Boston has the highest performing urban charter sector in the country. The average child who attended Boston charter schools benefited from basically a full year of additional learning compared to students in traditional public schools: 170 additional days of learning in reading and 233 days of learning in math. And the research suggests that Boston charter schools have strong, positive effects on the learning outcomes of students with disabilities and English-language learners, as well. The implication here is that not only did Boston’s charter schools replicate their impact, they replicated some of the most effective charter schools we’ve ever seen, to the benefit of the thousands of students in Boston who are on charter school waitlists.

The states that are poised to double down on charter caps — such as New York, Maine, and California — shouldn’t make the same mistake as Massachusetts did in 2016. New York, in particular, is at risk here: In our analysis earlier this year, we examined the existing evidence on New York and New York City and found that there, too, charters are more effective than traditional public schools. By committing to the cap, the state is refusing thousands of students the opportunity to attend high-quality schools.

To be sure, there are reasons to question the growth of a charter sector other than whether charters can replicate effectiveness across schools. Charter critics cite, for example, concerns about the effect of charter sector growth on traditional public school enrollment. But, particularly during National Charter Schools Week, states should be skeptical of arguments used to support charter school caps that claim charter schools cannot be replicated effectively.

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.