March 24, 2020

Reground, Prioritize, Plan, Connect: Bellwether’s Tool for Education Leaders During COVID-19

Over the last two weeks, education leaders across the country have had to make a flood of challenging and unfamiliar decisions: Should we close our school doors, and for how long? How do we quickly and radically change our operations and instruction to support kids and families, possibly indefinitely?

Education leaders typically make hundreds of decisions a day under extreme pressure, but the past weeks’ events could leave even the best decision-makers feeling overwhelmed. The uncertainty of how the next several months will unfold only makes it harder for leaders. One leader we spoke to shared: “There is a knee-jerk reaction to do everything right now.” Direct-service providers and nonprofits are similarly facing knotty challenges. We empathize deeply with leaders on the ground.

If you’re a school or nonprofit leader, strategic planning might be the last thing on your mind during this current crisis. Certainly, it has been an unimaginable few weeks for us, as we think through the real needs of students and families. However, moments like these are when it is, in fact, most important to take a moment to breathe, reground yourself in your mission and values, and make a simple, yet flexible plan. 

To cut through the noise and focus limited time, energy, and resources, we recommend the following four-step approach:

Continue reading


March 19, 2020

Media: “Question for the Democratic Presidential Hopefuls — Why Are Government-Funded Nonprofits Fine for Pre-K but Not for K-12?” in The 74

Why do Bernie Sanders and some of his primary rivals think it’s good for government to fund community-based, nonprofit organizations to educate two-year-olds but suddenly an enormous problem when children turn five and start kindergarten?

Read my op-ed in The 74. 


March 17, 2020

COVID-19: Pro Bono Advising Available Now

Like many nonprofits, Bellwether’s operations are impacted by COVID-19. In particular, the academic advising, strategic planning, and evaluation work we do inside schools is paused, and we’ve shut down team member travel.

Short term, this means we have unexpected surplus capacity which we’d like to make available, pro bono, to school districts and charter school networks that are figuring out how to address a variety of issues related to operations, strategy and decision-making, state and federal policy guidance, curriculum and instruction, and financial planning.

Across our team of more than 60 full-time professionals, we have former school leaders, nonprofit leaders, media professionals, and experienced strategy consultants. Our team members have worked at the Department of Education, The White House, top-tier management consulting firms, and state education agencies around the country. Three-quarters of our staff have worked in the classroom, and some still teach part-time now.

To learn more, please tell us about your district or network and what you need. We cannot service all requests but will take on as many as possible and farm others out to peers as we are able.

If you’d like to share this news with someone in your network, we also posted this update on LinkedIn.


March 12, 2020

Education in Juvenile Detention Centers: A Q&A with School Leader Randy Farmer

Earlier this week, we released a publication looking at the education opportunities provided to the thousands of young people detained in juvenile detention each year. We found that as a general rule, the poor quality of education provided in most of these institutions makes it even harder for young people to get back on track.

That said, we acknowledge the serious research limitations surrounding juvenile facilities, including little survey data and outdated information. We could not even determine conclusively how many young people are sent to juvenile detention centers each year. So it is extremely difficult to understand any one young person’s education experience in these centers, and nearly impossible to confidently identify those detention centers that are providing high-quality services to young people and achieving positive outcomes.

We spoke with Randy Farmer, a long-time educator working in a juvenile detention facility, to paint a more complete picture of what happens in these centers and identify the good work going on that cannot be captured in a national aggregate analysis. (We also spoke with Randy in January of 2018.) There are many educators and school leaders deeply devoted to serving this population of students, and they too are frustrated by the limitations and challenges to providing high-quality education in detention centers.

Randy Farmer quote: "that for most youth in detention, the traditional classroom setting simply wasn’t working. We need to provide them with a different kind of support that then opens up the possibility of meaningful educational experiences and future success in a typical classroom."

The conversation below has been edited for length and clarity.

Hailly: What is your high-level reaction to our newest report?

Randy: Generally speaking, the points you raise are spot on, but it’s really hard to talk about this very complicated issue, especially with an audience that might not be familiar with some of the challenges we face. There are important details that can be hard to see without working in a detention center and with these young people day in and day out. For example, it is not as though these young people just show up ready to learn and jump right back into a traditional school. They come with complex, often traumatic, personal histories, and many of them haven’t been going to school for years. Continue reading


March 10, 2020

Media: “Kids Who Aren’t Well-Served in Traditional Settings Aren’t Troublemakers, They’re the Key to Real Change” at Education Post

There are almost three million kids in alternative schools, secure facilities, or simply out of school and out of work — but they’re often the last thing on anyone’s mind. In a piece for Education Post, Andy Rotherham and I argue that “the opportunity to change the life trajectory for kids whose statistical chances are vanishingly small is also arguably the best bet in education reform that no one is making.”

We also have three big ideas for how philanthropists, people who care about equity, and innovators can change things tomorrow:

We should do better by these students because it’s the right thing to do to help them have a chance at a life with choices, purpose and self-determination. But there is a practical reason as well: Ignoring these students is an enormous missed opportunity because kids who aren’t well-served in traditional settings are not troublemakers, they’re the key to real change and a place to learn lessons that we can apply to the whole system.

Read the whole thing at Education Post.