Long ago, it was common practice for shepherds to hang a bell around the neck of one sheep in their flock, thereby designating it the lead sheep. This animal was called the bellwether.
~Mirriam Webster Dictionary
Bellwether Education Partners is one of several nonprofits working with school districts around the country to determine how to address the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act). They recently gave their stamp of approval for Texas to move forward with their plans. They’ve done this for many states. Their reports are often noted in the news. Politico referred to them as “experts.”
In looking at Bellwether’s team, I see individuals who are missing educational degrees and longtime teaching experience in real public schools. Their bios include words like “KIPP, data managers, private school choice, technology-driven innovation, data knowledge sharing, Teach for America, Broad Residency,” and more.
They also call some of the Team members “Principals.” They are principals in that they are leaders at Bellwether, but they are not “school principals.” I think that needs to be clear.
Bellwether is similar to a variety of groups and individuals who proclaim their expertise about children when their real commitment is to corporations and foundations, those who want to remake our public schools into their for-profit vision.
Check out this link which includes a long list of who they work with. The following is just a sample of their real partners:
- Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
- Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice
- K12, Inc.
- Knowledgeworks Foundation
- Summit Public Schools
- Stand for Children
- Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Bellwether reports on everything anti-public education and professional teacher. From evaluating teachers, destroying teacher pensions, to promoting online learning, Bellwether is all about privatization and choice.
Far removed from the classroom, their reports are inadequate and biased. In their review of Texas, they ignore years of scandalous action of denying services to students with disabilities. This omission should have been front and center in their report. Many of us want to hear what Texas is doing to rectify the situation. Bellwether gives little in the way of solutions, but they do support school choice.
Here’s a video from their website where they brag about their team being smart and working well together. Yet, how does Bellwether help the struggling teacher, committed to helping children learn, who faces overcrowded classrooms, in poor schools?
Many smart, successful people do not understand children, and have done crummy things to public schools and teachers. They do this in the name of innovation and reform.
Why should Bellwether and groups like them be permitted to dictate how education policy should be developed?
Our Strategic Advising team members also have experience in top consulting firms including Bain & Company, McKinsey & Company, Deloitte Consulting, and the Boston Consulting Group. Our Policy and Thought Leadership team members have experience in The White House, the U.S. Department of Education, and in state departments of education.
Financials seem to be missing for this group. Who pays them and how much do they receive from corporations and taxpayers?
Also, with groups like Bellwether, what becomes of the role of state workers in education? Bellwether becomes embedded into what should be a democratic process involving educators, parents, and local communities, with guidance and oversight by the state!
Teachers appreciate learning from other teachers, or individuals who study and work with children and their development. They hope for administrators who have been where they have been, in the classroom facing real difficulties and finding good solutions. They appreciate those in other areas who support what they do.
They also rely on parents who know their children best.
Andrew Rotherham is behind Bellwether. Rotherham has his stamp of approval on a lot of groups and programs, but it’s hard to find any real teaching experience for him either. What makes him such an authority on the needs of children? Why is he so anti-public education?
States should rethink who they are listening to when it comes to America’s public schools. They belong to us, the teachers, parents and the local communities who do the heavy lifting when it comes to children and their educational needs.
The Bellwether Team says they try not to take themselves “too seriously.” Well, we shouldn’t either.
Sheila Resseger says
Decades ago I was a graduate student in applied anthropology, doing independent study on the American education system. One gem that I learned at that time that applies to these actually unqualified but highly self-congratulatory groups of people is this: The hardest people to change are the change agents. People who have an entrenched belief that they know what’s best for Other People, without any sensitivity to the lived experience of those Other People, delude themselves into forging ahead with counter-productive measures. Their hubris is unshakeable. Thank you, Nancy, for shining a light on their inexpertise and, as always, Follow the Money.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Sheila. What’s truly amazing is that there are so many of these groups. I’ve made it a habit to search for degrees and experience. I usually come up short which is worrisome. What other profession would this be allowed?
Marcia Edwards-Sealey says
The choice of Bellwether to direct the educational needs of children is consistent with society’s belief in the cult of the guru or messiah. They think that if people are knowledgeable and successful in one field they are qualified to direct any endeavor. Hence, they can tell us what is good for the education of children without having ever experienced teaching or a classroom, nor knowing the variation found there.
In addition to the above the people who selected them, are influenced by this belief that change must include bells and whistles driven by the use of technology, and it is more change for the sake of change. Thus, they choose people who can be considered to represent the vanguard of change who are assumed to know what to do given their eminence in the field of change, and moreover who share their beliefs. They would not approach the project looking at all the variables affecting education, and which ones are paramount, but they would impose their view of things, and since they are bright, they are assumed to know everything even about things which they do not know, and they will produce the ideal solution to the education problem. But we must remember the cautionary tale of the bright Nobel prize winners and the hedge fund ( Long Term Capital Management) that the feds had to bail out because they were too bright to fail, and the bright fellows left a hole in the financial system consistent with their brilliance. I am always baffled when aliens to a profession have to make decisions about the profession How will they know what questions to ask? Only time will tell how things will materialize, but given past outcomes we need to be skeptical.
Nancy Bailey says
Great points! I love all of this. Especially “They think that if people are knowledgeable and successful in one field they are qualified to direct any endeavor.” I think that explains the arrogance of those corporate CEOs who harshly judge teachers and those in the trenches. They are also far removed from public education and learn from each other. It’s like a club and they fall for the ed. reform notion like dominoes. Yet, they know little and are doing great harm to students, families, and one of the last democratic institutions in America.
You are also right on about tech. The endgame of the school reformers.
Thanks, Marcia, for taking the time to comment.
First they had to discredit teachers unions and Public Education, then convince people that the business model was the only way to save education. From there they could then claim anyone with any degree was an expert as long as they they were not educators.
Nancy Bailey says
I agree. Thank you, Eloise.
John Mountford says
Another blow for common sense. Thank you Nancy.
Here in the UK we have our own education ‘experts’, though as you will read below some of them at least may not be too expert about children and young people. However, this was someone outside the state sector, which might put it into context somewhat.
It also put me in mind of a definition of an expert I heard several years ago. It goes like this – Ex is an unknown quantity and Spert is a drip under pressure. It stretches the language boundaries a little but is worth re-telling I believe.
Regarding where the USA goes, we across the Pond follow, this piece reveals the sad truth that special needs is the Cinderella service here as well. Keep up the good work.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, John. Two very serious articles, and, sadly, yes, similar to what’s happening in the U.S.
We have been pushing our young people, starting in preschool! It’s not just the work, it is the way they are being manipulated by corporations to perform the same on standardized tests.
Which also explains why students with disabilities get pushed out. It saddens me to see the UK does the same bad things as the U.S. when it comes to children with disabilities.
This country pushes children with disabilities into general education and denies them services, even though we have a law against that from happening! Texas was especially guilty placing a “cap” on the number of children who could get services.
Thank you for your comments. I always love hearing what’s happening there from both you and Roger.
NY Science Teacher says
Does anyone realize how many urban schools could have been air conditioned for the money these educational whores continue to drain from the system.
Nancy Bailey says
As someone who taught for a while in a classroom that was NOT air conditioned in Florida, you make a great point! Thank you!
Nancy Flanagan says
Thanks for highlighting this. Bellwether has been around for a long time (under its present and other names) but is virtually unrecognized by the people who most need to know about its work: real educators.
I was once the token teacher in a room with Andrew Rotherham and a small number of other invited educators to discuss policy-making around assessments for the US Dept of Ed. Rotherham came in late and spent most of the meeting scrolling on his phone. Our assigned question was whether ED should take a position on formative assessments–should formative assessments ‘count’ in determining student progress when reporting data to the feds?
Any teacher will tell you that the purpose of formative assessments is to inform the next sequence of instruction. A formative assessment tells the teacher what the student has absorbed, miscontrued, not yet understood–or fully mastered. I said as much–the point of testing frequently is to sample the students’ progress. Not to rank-order or punish.
Rotherham looked up from his phone and said “Yes. Formative assessments count. Not as much as summative, but they have to count.” And then, we went on to the next question. So much for assessment literacy. Bellwether’s opinions are very powerful at ED.
Nancy Bailey says
Thanks for sharing, Nancy. There’s so much arrogance surrounding people like Rotherham who don’t seem to have classroom experience. Has he ever administered any assessment to students whatsoever?
The other day on NPR one of their team members was introduced as a principal. He was never a “school principal” but many in that group are called “principals” as in leaders in the company. I find this deceptive.
But you’re right that more educators need to realize who this group is and what they’re up to.