Category Archives: Student Data

Media: “Everyone’s job but no one’s responsibility” in The Hechinger Report

Some of our country’s most vulnerable students get too little from too many people. Read more from me and Kelly Robson over at The Hechinger Report:

Approximately five million students who are served by public care agencies have multiple official adults in their lives — judges, lawyers, therapists, volunteers, teachers, counselors, case managers, social workers and more — people paid to support them when they experience significant life circumstances like homelessness, foster care or incarceration.

That five million does not include those students who experience instability resulting from uncounted experiences like evictions, parental arrests, prolonged family medical crises, migrant work and other major life disruptions. These are generally not students who are “falling through the cracks” and being served by no one. Quite the opposite — they are instead being served by everyone.

Bellwether is currently partnering with California’s El Dorado County to address education fragmentation. Our Hechinger piece is a great story about the folks we’ve been working with and the impact this work can have. For more context, check out our recent report: “Continuity Counts: Coordinated Education Systems for Students in Transition.”

Key Lessons for Effective School Boards

This is the second post in a series about Bellwether’s recent work on school governance and school board effectiveness. The first post can be read here.

The members of elected and appointed school boards play an important role in governing schools and allocating resources. But beyond these practical responsibilities, a growing body of research suggests that what school board members believe, know, and do can set the conditions for effective classroom instruction and higher levels of student achievement.

For some recent projects, Bellwether reviewed the evidence base on school board effectiveness. Research indicates that effective school boards focus on student learning, make decisions informed by data, and build strong relationships with leadership and the community. Based on this evidence, important practices for effective school boards emerge across five domains.

  1. Beliefs and priorities: Research shows that it is important for boards to hold beliefs and priorities that focus on student learning rather than school management. In addition, a 2006 meta-analysis of 27 studies found that districts with higher levels of student achievement had boards, districts, and schools that were clearly aligned in their efforts to support non-negotiable goals. This further underscores that it is important for boards to clearly codify their beliefs and priorities.
  2. Data use: Boards in districts experiencing academic improvement tend to use more data more often to inform their decisions. For example, a notable study by the Iowa Association of School Boards found that board members in improving districts received data about exemplary programs and practices, test scores, dropout rates, and other measures on a regular basis from superintendents, curriculum directors, principals, and teachers, as well as sources outside the district.
  3. Strategic planning and goals: Effective boards craft strategic plans that are clear and reflect district and community input, and they hold themselves accountable for meeting goals and improving student learning. For example, a study of 10 school boards in British Columbia found that boards in districts with higher levels of student achievement and lower costs were more knowledgeable about district programs and practices and had a clearer sense of their goals. In addition, these districts shared firm values and beliefs about students and learning, and also deliberately articulated and discussed these values and beliefs among themselves and with their communities, suggesting that strategic planning must work in concert with board practices in other domains in order to be most effective.
  4. Communications and community engagement: Research has found that effective boards often have strong community partnerships and cooperative relationships between staff and the community. They also have strong structures in place to ensure clear communication with stakeholders like teachers, parents, and the media. In addition, case studies of school boards from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation found that business leaders, in particular, can play a critical role in supporting effective school board governance and reforms that improve student achievement.
  5. Effective relationships with district or school leadership: Strong working relationships between school boards and superintendents are important for district and student success. For example, a study of 10 districts across five states found that “strong, collaborative leadership by local school boards and school superintendents is a key cornerstone of the foundation for high student achievement,” and a study of Texas school districts suggests that there is a link between improved student achievement and high levels of trust between the superintendent and school board. Additionally, multiple studies have shown that stable leadership is correlated positively with student achievement. However, research from the Brookings Institution found that superintendents have relatively little influence on student achievement, and that student achievement does not improve with the longevity of superintendent service, suggesting that some turnover among board members and superintendents may be healthy and lead to more effective policies.

Research shows that effective school boards can play an important role in overall school quality. This research has informed Bellwether’s recent work, including developing a framework for evaluating school board effectiveness with Colorado Succeeds, as well as surveying school board members in Washington, DC and Rhode Island. As they look for ways to improve student learning, districts and charters alike should ensure that school boards are using effective practices and prioritize supplying adequate training and support for board members.

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.

We Are Not a “Model Minority”: The Need for Better Education Data About AAPIs

This post is by Bellwether intern Truc Vo. Read more about Truc here.

Growing up, I went to a relatively diverse high school, with over 60% of the student population being students of color and a third of those being Asian American or Pacific Islander (AAPI). Although there was a large Asian-American population, most of them were middle- to upper-middle class and either South or East Asian — there was no Pacific Islander representation.

For most of my K-12 education, I fully subscribed to the myth of AAPIs as a “model minority,” assuming we were all high-achieving in both school and work and financially stable. There seemed to be an unspoken rule amongst my Asian friends to take the highest possible class, whether AP or honors, for each subject, and if you didn’t do that, people looked down on you. In this environment, I lumped together all AAPIs and perceived over 30 different ethnic groups as homogenous.

Graphic from report done by Center for American Progress on the educational attainment by Asian national subgroups

via Center for American Progress

When looking at AAPIs as a whole, they do in fact academically outperform whites. On average, they have higher test scores and grades, are more likely to graduate high school and college, and get into more selective schools compared to White Americans and other racial groups. However, some AAPI subgroups are not performing well in school and need more resources in order to succeed.

I didn’t realize that there are ethnic groups under the AAPI umbrella who are not graduating college, let alone high school, and that many of these ethnicities are also much more likely to be impoverished than AAPIs as a whole (according to the U.S. Census). I didn’t realize that as a Vietnamese American with two college-educated parents, one with an advanced degree, I am the exception not the rule. According to Pew Research, in 2015, only 25% of foreign-born Vietnamese Americans over the age of 25 had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

There are over 30 different ethnic groups that fall under the label of Asian American and Pacific Islander, and the “model minority” myth fails to take into account the ethnic and class differences amongst AAPIs. Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders, on average, attain less education compared to East Asians. The Center for American Progress reports that while 49 percent of Asian Americans in 2012 had a bachelor’s degree or higher, fewer than 15% of Hmong, Cambodians, and Laotians and only 19% on average of Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders had a bachelor’s degree or higher. Furthermore, over 30% of Hmong, Cambodian, and Laotian adults over 25 do not have a high school diploma or equivalent. 

Graphic from report done by Center for American Progress on the educational attainment by Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander subgroups

via Center for American Progress

In addition to discrepancies in education attainment, there is also a wide distribution of wealth among AAPIs. Although AAPIs, on average, had a higher median household income in 2015 than the nation’s median income ($73,060 versus $53,600), this masks that Bangladeshi Americans’ median household income was $49,800, Nepalese Americans’ median household income was $43,500, and Burmese Americans’ median household income was $36,000. Pacific Islanders are more likely to live in poverty compared to Asian Americans, with 20.4% of Pacific Islanders in 2012 living in poverty compared to 12.8% of Asian Americans.

Given the statistics, it is clear we need better data disaggregation so that leaders and educators can understand the different experiences of AAPI ethnic groups and identify which groups may need more support. In order for policymakers and educators to change the status quo, they need data-backed evidence of the existing achievement and income gaps.

Several years ago, the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) launched a national campaign called All Students Count to push government agencies at all levels to collect and report disaggregated AAPI data. More recent efforts have centered on state and local governments. For example, California, Minnesota, and Washington all recently passed data disaggregation bills and Massachusetts and New York are currently trying to pass similar ones.

As the fastest growing racial group in America, AAPIs deserve more targeted interventions, especially given that the income gap between AAPI ethnic groups continues to grow. In fact, in 2016, AAPIs had the largest income inequality out of all racial groups. This open letter from educators and leaders offers more information on data disaggregation efforts and addresses common misconceptions. I strongly believe that data disaggregation will lead to more educational equity amongst all AAPIs.

Behind the Scenes on Our New Education-Themed Web Game

Last week, we released Rigged, a choose-your-own-adventure-style game designed to represent the experiences of youth trying to navigate school while experiencing challenges like homelessness, foster care placement, or incarceration. The game is a glimpse into the impossible tradeoffs these students face regularly.

We collaborated with the folks at Filament Games, including the project’s sole engineer, Terra Lauterbach, to create this one-of-a-kind game. Terra has been a game engineer at Filament Games since early 2017, and for Rigged, she engineered the unique card-based mechanics and supported with the game’s user experience and sound design. I chatted with Terra to share more about the process of creating the game.

The interview below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What were the objectives in creating Rigged?
Rigged was envisioned as an interactive way to help players develop increased understanding and empathy towards underserved youth who have spent time in juvenile detention, are on parole, or may simply be struggling to navigate the system. Bellwether wanted players to be able to relate to the characters in the story, putting users in the shoes of underserved individuals in order to promote inclusivity and a greater shared perspective.

How did you approach designing a game around these topics?
We always intended for Rigged to be an open-ended experience. Our team wanted to give players a menu of choices and require them to balance the consequences of their decisions. Bellwether chose five in-game domains for the player to balance: money, relationships, health and wellness, academics, and responsibilities — all things that one must manage in day-to-day life. Each binary choice that the player faces has a non-binary effect on those domains, positively affecting some domains while negatively affecting others depending on what path the player chooses to follow. Having Bellwether’s subject matter experts easily available at all times (they created the actual content) was extremely useful throughout development. Continue reading