Tag Archives: Elementary and Secondary Education Act

Back to School: What’s Your “Magic Wand” Education Solution? (Part Five)

Photo courtesy of Pixabay for Pexels

Join Ahead of the Heard for a lively back-to-school series expanding on Andy Rotherham’s original Eduwonk post, What’s Your Magic Wand?, featuring reflections on wish-list education solutions heading into the fall from teachers, school leaders, academics, media types, parents, private sector funders, advocates, Bellwarians…you name it.

At Bellwether, we’re focused on the 2021-22 school year ahead but also on what we’ve collectively endured since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a gross understatement to say that it has been a lot, that mistakes have been made, that many rose to the occasion achieving amazing things for students (while others did not), and that countless lessons were (re)learned. It has been a season where optimism was sometimes elusive and where challenges often seemed insurmountable.

So we thought we’d do something a little different…and try to have some fun.

We turned to contacts across the country in the education sector and asked them this simple, hopeful question. Answers vary as widely as each participant’s background and have been featured over a two-week span on our blog. This final installment includes reflections from Bellwarians and our social media followers. 

Teachers, students, and families will enter into a 2021-22 school year unlike any other. If you could wave a magic wand, what’s the one education issue you’d address or solve right now, and why?

Lynne Graziano
Senior Analyst in the Policy and Evaluation practice area, Bellwether Education Partners

I would wave a magic wand and put a teacher in every elementary level classroom who understands the science of reading and learning, and is trained to teach young children the methods and magic of reading. Some of my earliest education sector work was researching proficiency rates and I still get depressed every time I pull numbers. With all the things we as a society get riled up about, why aren’t we angrier about how few students are prepared to read to learn by the fourth grade?”

Christine Wade
Associate Partner in the Strategic Advising practice area, Bellwether Education Partners

“I’d ensure every school has a strong school leader who can effectively support and inspire students and staff.”

Paul Beach
Senior Analyst in the Policy and Evaluation practice area, Bellwether Education Partners

“I would dramatically reframe the professional incentives for educational researchers, particularly those in academic settings. Researchers in academic settings are promoted through the ranks by publishing in peer-reviewed journals. Other criteria have to be met, to be sure, but rarely do professors achieve tenure without a strong publication record.

This ‘publish or perish’ culture creates very little incentive for researchers to a) translate key research findings into concrete steps for practitioners and policymakers or b) devote significant time to support quality implementation. This has led to a massive disconnect between researchers and the broader field. Countless wonderful programs and important research findings live in peer-reviewed journals that few people have actually read and even fewer people have done anything with.

We need more creative partnerships between researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. As just one example, researchers should be rewarded for not only designing and demonstrating the efficacy of a program, but also for supporting implementation and working with practitioners to continuously improve and sustain that program. The number of papers published on said program should not be the only marker of success. Rather, success should be measured primarily by the impact the program has on students. Universities need more complex, adaptable promotion systems that incentivize researchers to demonstrate impact to tenure committees rather than peer reviewers. In reality, the entire research enterprise must be transformed to reframe the professional incentives for academic researchers.”

Click here for more in our “Magic Wand” series and join the conversation on Twitter @bellwethered.

(Editorial note: Some organizations listed in this series may include past or present clients or funders of Bellwether.)

The Peril of Teacher Evaluation Policy under ESSA

It’s official. Teacher evaluation policy in most states and districts is in trouble. Big trouble. After overwhelmingly passing the House this week, a similar outcome predicted in the Senate, and support from the White House, it looks very likely that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will be reauthorized very, very soon. The new bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, strips all federal requirements on teacher quality issues.

The main theme of ESSA is state flexibility. This hasn’t always worked so well with school accountability. History suggests that states back away from accountability when they’re not forced into it by the feds. And there’s no reason to think it will be any different for teacher quality policy. Especially teacher evaluation.

Sure, as of today 43 states require that student growth and achievement be considered in teacher evaluations and 40 of those states have it written into state law (three states have teacher evaluation policy existing only in ESEA waivers, which will be eliminated). But many of these states have yet to produce a year’s worth of results on the new evaluation systems, let alone connecting those results to other personnel decisions. Only seven states tie evaluation ratings to compensation. Less than half of states have policies in place where teachers are eligible for dismissal based on evaluation ratings. Just nine states use evaluation to determine licensure.

Besides, while state law matters, it’s also vulnerable to the sway of powerful special interest groups. Continue reading

The Not-So-Secret Recipe for ESEA Reauthorization

It’s been 50 years since President Johnson first signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) into law. Tomorrow also happens to mark the 13th birthday of the last reauthorization of the law, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). As NCLB moves into its teenage years, and as the edu-intelligentsia anxiously anticipates another attempt at updating the law, it’s worth revisiting how we got our last reauthorization. A 2003 article by Andrew Rudalevige for Education Next provides a great historical overview. If you care about federal education sausage-making, go re-read the whole thing.

The article presents a nice comparison to today, and it makes clear that a reauthorization isn’t just some magical act of one or two people. It takes a whole group of people and conditions to fall into place. Namely:

1. The President. George W. Bush campaigned on his vision for the federal education law, Bill Clinton had personally fought for education reform as Arkansas governor, and the law’s original sponsor, Lyndon Johnson, had personally been a teacher and champion of education. President Obama released his own vision for ESEA 5 years ago, but K-12 education hasn’t been at the forefront of his thinking lately.

2. Moderates. Any big piece of legislation requires moderates to take tough votes to enact it. This was no different in 2001-2, when a coalition of moderate Democrats and Republicans helped push the bill to completion.

3. Bi-partisanship. This could be considered a subset of #2 above, but the EdNext piece does a thorough job of explaining all the things that the bill’s sponsors wanted but didn’t get out of the final bill. That compromise was essential in ensuring a wide majority supported the bill.

4. Time. A complicated piece of legislation takes time to enact. Even after President Bush was elected specifically championing education reform, it took a bi-partisan Congress until January 2002, a full year after inauguration, to send him a final bill.

5. Money. In order to grease the skids and encourage broader support, the bill expanded the total amount of federal money spent on education, and it created new programs devoted to pet causes of various congressional groups.

Go read the full piece. I don’t present it here as a perfect comparison to today’s world–a reauthorization could pass without these factors in place–but they do present a nice check-list of things to consider as we evaluate the prospects for this year’s reauthorization attempts. By my scorecard, the current talks fail on all five of these factors.