It’s Not Enough Just to Reimagine the Education Sector. It’s Time to Rebuild It.
Our education system should serve all young people’s needs in an effective, equitable, responsive, and flexible way. An ideal education system relies on informed debate between diverse, heterodox, and thoughtful leaders who are willing to be bold, a field that wrestles with and responds to evidence, and deep connections across diverse networks.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, the U.S. education sector capsized in a matter of days. Deep inequities once masked by the status quo were laid bare. Since then, we’ve had plenty of politicized calls for boldness, but few honest assessments of why we failed in the first place or discussions of how to build a stronger educational foundation moving forward. While the education sector is in desperate need of fresh ideas, it’s not equipped to develop new ideas, or to absorb, implement, and scale innovation.
Driven by larger political forces, we’ve become polarized on the ideological right and left; admired problems instead of solving them; and kept parents, practitioners, policymakers, and researchers spinning in separate silos. For bold innovations to take root we must develop new ideas and we must address the weak contexts and conditions that have stymied progress.
Here's Why We're Launching Beta
Welcome to Beta by Bellwether
The education sector is stuck. There’s no shortage of people rhetorically “reimagining” and “reinventing” schooling, but too little to show for it. And this at the very moment young people need all hands on deck to address the damage of pandemic-era disruption and policy choices. Instead, students and families are too often caught in culture war theatrics from the right and left, narratives divorced from empirical realities, and the same tired approaches to improve their schools.
At Bellwether, we’re doing our part to change that.
Beta by Bellwether is a crosscutting endeavor to uncover and understand systemic solutions so all young people receive an excellent education; live fulfilling lives; and have access to effective, equitable, and responsive education opportunities. The questions we tackle will change, but our approach to creating enduring solutions, convening diverse experts to examine thorny issues, building an appetite for implementation, and changing contexts and conditions in the sector — honed through our work with more than 600 partners over the last decade — is our North Star.
We’re starting with Assembly — an initiative to create a customized, more equitable way of delivering education. Our publications examine how assembly works in practice now (hint: it’s often for the most affluent). We explore what’s possible and how the bundle of educational services students now receive in schools came about. There’s more to come on Assembly, and soon we’ll share the work we’ve been doing on expanding postsecondary pathways and disrupting redlining in education.
Like many across the sector, we’re curious and hungry to search for new ideas and actionable solutions that support students. Here’s how it works.
Each Beta project has common elements. We identify structural challenges in American education and invite a diverse group of experts to help think through them. We define “expert” broadly and seek varying (often conflicting) perspectives, thoughtful long-term thinking, and different experiences and backgrounds. We promote ideas and perspectives to the field. And we deliver solutions to the local, state, regional, or national entities best positioned to drive them forward, including early-stage capacity building to ensure the handoff sticks. Depending on the idea, that might be community leaders, policymakers, advocates, various service providers, or some combination thereof.
Why Beta by Bellwether?
Since our founding, we’ve been deeply committed to viewpoint diversity, empiricism, debate, and the basic idea that no educational faction has a monopoly on good ideas, morality, or the best way to do things. Some love this ethos and approach; some don’t. We’ve held to these values even when it’s challenging or they’ve been under assault more generally. We’re the best-positioned organization to beta test new ideas and approaches, and to be the flywheel for work anchored in this ethos.
We hope you’ll join us in consuming and using Beta, providing feedback as we go, or participating as an expert or funder. Together, let’s argue for what’s possible and where we can go in the sector.
Co-Founder, Bellwether and External Relations Lead
Together, let’s argue for what’s possible and where we can go in the sector.
Andrew J. Rotherham
Beta by Bellwether is an initiative that jump-starts action by identifying big solutions to big problems.
Through Beta, we’ll develop — and deliver to the field — solutions to some of the sector’s most intractable problems to strengthen the contexts, conditions, and foundations that support enduring sector-wide improvements. Beta moves beyond imagining a new sector and creates the blueprints and tools for leaders across the country to build an education system that better serves all young people, particularly those from systemically marginalized communities, while modeling a new way forward for the sector at large.
Beta Projects and Initiatives
Let’s give young people and families what they need to assemble a K-12 educational experience.
Parent Perception Barometer
The Parent Perception Barometer brings clarity and context to conversations about what parents think about K-12 education. From parents’ high-level perceptions about their kids’ schools to concerns about academic progress and mental health, multiple data sources provide insight into these trends.
Andy Rotherham starts viewpoint-diverse conversations that separate the signal from the noise about the most important issues in education on Eduwonk.com.
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