Tag Archives: ESSA

What’s Really Driving Leadership Turnover in Education?

Image by Alachua County via Flickr

Image by Alachua County via Flickr

When DC Mayor Muriel Bowser recently announced she was nominating Oakland, CA Superintendent Antwan Wilson to succeed Kaya Henderson as DC Public Schools’ Chancellor (after an anxious public search), the San Francisco Chronicle responded with a scathing op-ed accusing Wilson of disloyalty and self-serving ambition. The Chronicle also took a few shots at San Francisco’s former superintendent Richard Carranza, now working in Houston, and generally railed against urban superintendents who “come in, do enough to raise hopes, then move on to a higher paying job.”

High turnover in educational leadership is alarming, but to paraphrase the advice columnist Dan Savage, if you have a long string of dramatic, failed relationships, the common denominator is you. I’m not just picking on the Bay Area — the average urban superintendent stays in his or her role just 3.2 years, and state education chiefs turn over at an even faster rate. These dismal numbers are likely not the sole product of individual ambition, but it remains unclear what actually drives this churn. When experienced, qualified school system leaders across the country leave their posts much earlier than expected, should we blame the individuals, or take a closer look at the jobs?

What is clear is that state and district executive leadership roles have become more challenging in recent years. Federal education policies put myriad new responsibilities and choices in the hands of state and district central offices to measure teacher and school performance, increase student achievement, and close achievement gaps for disadvantaged  groups of students. For example, a new publication on teacher evaluation by my colleagues Kaitlin Pennington and Sara Mead uncovers a minefield of choices facing state and district leaders — and that is just one policy area out of many. Leaders are figuring out these new responsibilities in an increasingly polarized and politicized educational environment.

Holding our school systems and their leaders accountable for providing an excellent education to every student is absolutely the right thing to do, but we also should recognize that educational bureaucracies were not designed to be agile performance managers orchestrating school turnarounds. They were mostly built to disburse various funding streams down to schools, and collect documentation that the conditions of that funding and other legislative mandates have been met. Those compliance responsibilities remain in place even as new performance goals are added, and on top of that, many agency budgets are being slashed by their state legislatures. Untangling the messes of red tape, budgetary crises, and misaligned priorities takes time and support that most superintendents are not afforded by their school boards or by their communities.

Even the best leaders can be hamstrung by the political, legal, and bureaucratic contexts in which they operate. Instead of looking for more selfless miracle workers to lead dysfunctional systems, envision a school system where great leaders (or maybe good-enough leaders!) could do their best work. How would it be organized? How would it be accountable to the community and work in the best interests of students? What are the conditions that enable that kind of school system to exist and succeed? I don’t have all the answers, but legislators, governors, mayors, and school boards will need to think bigger to disrupt the current cycle of leadership churn, and these big questions are one place to start.

Election Reflections

Plenty is being said about what the presidential election means and what it says about America’s values. At Bellwether, we deeply value inclusion, equity, and tolerance alongside other democratic values, including liberty and freedom. For us, the election did not change our deep commitment to these values, which is as strong today as it was prior to Election Day.

Something else that hasn’t changed since November 8th? Across America, children are getting up each morning and going to school. They’re still counting on their schools to help them learn and cultivate the knowledge and skills they need to navigate adulthood and lead a happy, fulfilled life full of choices and opportunities. Some of their schools go above and beyond in delivering on this promise. Too many others fall far short especially for students in underserved communities. Addressing these deep and persistent inequities is at the core of what we do at Bellwether.

The election matters, of course, but leaders at the state and local level are still rolling up their sleeves and ready to continue doing the challenging work of expanding education equity. They’re trying to sort out the opportunities and challenges the Every Student Succeeds Act creates and continuing or launching their own initiatives to improve schooling.

Helping them is a primary reason Bellwether exists. And students need our support now more than ever. That’s why we’re staying focused on continuing our work with and alongside state and local organizations and agencies on the ground working for kids. Across our strategy, talent, and policy teams, we offer more than 50 professionals committed to the vision of a world in which race and income are no longer predictors of life outcomes for students. We all work towards an American education system that affords every individual the opportunity to determine their own path and to lead a productive and fulfilling life.

If your work aligns with these values and we can support what you do, we’d like to hear from you. Please contact us.

Donald Trump, Public Education, and the Rise of the (New) New Federalists

donald-trump-1818950_1280Many of you might have woken up on November 9 (and perhaps each day thereafter) thinking to yourself “but Donald Trump can’t actually do that, can he?” As far as education goes, the answer is mostly “no, he can’t.” The federal executive branch cannot make binding education policy: it can only offer states funds in exchange for adopting preferred policies.

This is because thankfully there are structural limitations to the president’s power; in high school social studies we called them “checks and balances” and probably thought of them as quaint academic concepts. But these checks and balances — especially the intentional friction between the states and the federal government — will play a big role in education policymaking over the next four years.

Federalism is the name for the concept that the U.S. Constitution grants certain limited powers to the federal government and that all other powers are preserved by the states. Despite the possibly misleading name, it is the philosophy that constrains federal power and it is a fundamental principle of American government. And one of the most visible exercises of that state power is public education. (Others that will likely be very important over the next four years include policing and health care.) Continue reading

As Homeschooling Continues to Grow, Here Are 4 Things You Should Know

With ESSA largely pushing accountability back to the states, the continued growth of the charter sector, increasing backlash against standardized testing, and the recent announcement that school voucher advocate Betsy DeVos is President-Elect Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, it is clear that education policy is trending towards local control and school choice. One overlooked aspect of this shift is the growth of homeschooling.

Earlier this month, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released a report analyzing homeschooling trends in the United States from 1999 to 2012. The practice has become much more popular over the past decade, as the homeschooling rate doubled from 1.7 percent in 1999 to 3.4 percent in 2012. That means there are now roughly 1.8 million students being schooled at home. By comparison, charter schools — which receive much of the education sector’s attention — enroll just under three million students.

So, as the homeschooling sector continues to grow, here are four things you should know: Continue reading

Donald Trump Won. What Does That Mean for Education Policy?

Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. What does that mean for federal education policy? Here are my 11 reflections on what this
donald-j-trump-1342298_960_720means and predictions for what might happen:

  1. Expert opinion didn’t have a very good night. The polls were wrong, the political experts were wrong, and elite newspaper endorsements didn’t seem to affect the outcome. In some cases, voters outright rejected elite consensus. For an education example, the research on Boston charter schools is overwhelmingly positive, and yet Massachusetts voted down a ballot initiative that would have allowed them to expand. This isn’t just an education problem per se, but it does have troubling implications for the sector going forward.
  2. Our country has never been this politically divided across education levels. Donald Trump won non-college-educated voters by huge numbers even as Hillary Clinton became the first Democrat to win college-educated voters in 50 years. If these trends continue, or even accelerate, and political party becomes further associated with education levels, that will turn education itself into a political exercise.
  3. Now that Trump is President-Elect, a lot of Democrats will wish we were still under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Even though many states were operating under waivers from NCLB, and a Trump Administration could have authored their own waivers, NCLB as an underlying law provided stronger protection for minorities and other subgroups of students than what’s now in place under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
  4. As I’ve written before, the Trump transition team has tons of work to do. Given ESSA’s timelines, the new administration faces huge policy and logistical hurdles in their first six to eight months in office. They’ll need to review and approve every state’s accountability plan in that time.
  5. The Obama Administration’s regulations implementing ESSA are in trouble. Again given the timeline here, I don’t expect outright revocation for all of the draft rules, which would take time and formal processes, but I do expect informal “dear colleague” letters weakening the Obama proposals.
  6. In particular, the “supplement not supplant” rule was already on shaky political ground before the election. A Trump Administration is not likely to support it going forward.
  7. The Obama Administration’s legacy on higher education would take time to dismantle. Rules on gainful employment and teacher preparation are now final. For the Trump Administration to revoke either of those, it would take years of formal regulatory processes. If Republicans really want those gone, they’ll go after them through Congress.
  8. Existing grant awards (like the Teacher Incentive Fund or the Charter School Program) are safe. Congressional members will have an interest in funding continuation awards for those existing grants.
  9. Trump can’t do much unilaterally on #CommonCore or school choice. ESSA makes the federal role relatively impotent, no matter the president.
  10. We’re not getting any new money for education anytime soon. That means no federal expansion of pre-k and certainly not “free college.”
  11. I don’t expect a Republican-dominated Congress to take up any large education bills. Their focus will be on policy objectives like the Supreme Court vacancy, immigration, or Obamacare. I don’t think we’ll see a Perkins or Higher Education Act reauthorization, for example. There just isn’t political oxygen for those types of negotiations. Still, we may see some smaller things, like the DC voucher program perhaps, slipped into random must-pass bills.

For more on the Trump victory and the implications for education policy, check out posts from Mike Petrilli and Rick Hess.