Policy Analysis Workshop – School Improvement

Clubhouse– Education Policy Club on THU, Jun 3, 8:30 PM (EDT) 

Topic: 📚 🏫  Policy Analysis Workshop – School Improvement

Speakers: Maria Worthen-Founder & Principal Consultant, Education Policy Strategies 

Dr. Berthena Nabaa-McKinney- CEO, Nabaa Consulting, LLC 

Christine M. T. Pitts– Portland Public Schools, Education Policy Leader 

Dr. Cathy Owen-Oliver-Leadership Coach and Educational Consultant 

Overview: How do you know what policy to advocate for? Using the example of K12 school improvement, we’ll define the policy problem, ID root causes, challenges, and opportunities, and zero in on policy levers at the local, state, and federal levels. 

Policy Analysis Framework from the Local Perspective: 

Christine Pitts started the conversation by sharing the policy analysis framework through her experience implementing local education policy. 

  • Define the Problem: be specific about the problem definition, know the stakeholders. When you have defined your problem, you should ask yourself, what is the political will to accomplish this policy objective? Who has political power and capital? Locally it would be the school board. Consider, what do the board members and influential stakeholders think? 
  • Root Cause Analysis: Once you have your problem, step back and gather data. Examine the data, unpacking, and understand why this is a problem. Be specific and use qualitative and quantitative evidence to explain. Think about policy solutions that are feasible and will address the root causes problem 
  • Advocacy to action: share your message with the relevant stakeholders 

Policy Analysis Framework from the State Perspective: 

Dr. Berthena Nabaa-McKinney explained some crucial considerations for state-level education policy, which in her experience, can be a tool to help students in a powerful way. 

  • Sound policy is sustainable: It’s vital to consider how states will build sustainable education policies. Challenges can include securing funding long-term and leadership turnover. 
  • Examine the policy from the ground up: consider the background and underlying principles, who came up with the policy, and how it will play out during implementation.

Dr. Cathy Owens-Oliver discussed her experience working with policy leaders across all 50 states, sharing insights for analyzing education policy at the state level.

  • Think regionally: think about the states in regions since they often follow what their neighbors do. For example, Maryland wanted to increase reading scores, and one policy solution they adopted was requiring additional courses on reading instruction for pre-service teachers. Fellow Mid-Atlantic states Delaware and Virginia followed suit. 
  • Good intentions aren’t enough: without a sound analysis, they can lead to ineffective policy. For example, when Virginia began requiring that all students complete a personal finance course, they did not put it in the pre-service teacher curriculum, so there is a shortage of qualified teachers for this subject.

Policy Analysis Framework from the Federal Perspective: 

Maria Worthen discussed her federal education policy expertise through the policy analysis framework. She explained how to think through the example question- Why aren’t students getting the desired opportunities and academic outcomes? Consider the federal education policy ESSA, which was reauthorized in 2015. An ESSA provision mandates that states must assess students in certain grades on their proficiency in math, English, college readiness, and sometimes science. This data is used to determine if schools are identified as needing improvement. Despite decades of reform, we do not see the improvement we want. Why? 

  • Define the Problem:  Our nation’s school improvement policies are not effective.  
  • Root Cause Analysis: Use data to back up your problem
    • Some % of students are not reading on grade level and are not thriving.  
  • For every root cause, ask yourself why? Ask why 5 times, digging deeper each time to understand the underlying issue. Use data to explain, Maria shared her whys. 
    • 1st why– the focus is on moving the needle for a narrow outcome, assessments  
    • 2nd why– subject-level achievement is significant, but it’s not everything. 
    • 3rd why– success in life is multifaceted; you need many different skills. 
    • 4th why– we are not cogs; students have basic needs that are not being met. 
    • 5th why– why do we have these disparities and students have unmet needs? 
  • Context: This a brain dump of what we know, current policies, what could be done. 
    • What are the opportunities and challenges, what does the research tell us? 
  • Identify Policy Levers: do a power analysis; who is in charge of this policy? 
    • Lawmakers can be convinced when you have deep analysis and research.
    • Short-term vs. long-term: you could add something small to a moving bill but also consider long-term, more comprehensive reforms. 

The workshop broke out for questions, comments, and collaboration from everyone. Audience members provided questions or comments, moderators and other listeners gave their insights. 

Q: As teachers in the trenches, how do we advocate for policies and get involved? 

A: In each district, someone wants to hear from teachers and translate that information and data to policymaking. Ask around to find that person. Connect directly with your congressional/state official, tell your story. 

Q: What are specific resources to stay up to date on state policy news? 

A: All state board meetings are public and are currently online due to COVID-19.

Q: Wants more thoughtful policy and conversation on addressing racial/ethnic inequities, specifically Black people and Black men. 

A: federal policy is lagging behind the needs of communities; we need more people like you advocating for change to policymakers. Consider running for office!

Q: How do we inspire the future? How can states use discretionary funding innovatively? 

A: with COVID-19 assessment waivers, we see some states use the flexibility to rethink their assessment strategy and be creative. Short-term funding should be more flexible; we cannot address all of the systemic issues quickly without a clear plan and approach it with a growth mindset. We should look at federal funding as autonomy for districts; districts need to change their mindset to revolutionize processes with these funds. 

We see fewer POC students enter the teaching profession, impacting students of color in many long-term ways. We need to disrupt and pay teachers appropriately.

Black students are over identified as Special Ed, need culturally relevant policies. 

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