Policy & Politics Blog

Sara Mead's Policy Notebook

Sara Mead was a senior associate with Bellwether Education Partners who wrote about education policy, with particular attention to early childhood education, school reform, and improving educational outcomes for low-income students. This blog is no longer being updated.

Education Opinion William Wong, Teacher, Gabrielino High School, and President, San Gabriel Teachers Association
In the four years I've been writing this series, I've profiled a number of teachers, but no teachers union leaders. Given the critical role teachers unions play in shaping the politics, policy, and day-to-day realities of public education in this country, that seemed problematic. So I'm glad to correct it. William Wong is a high school math teacher and the elected president of the San Gabriel Education Association, in San Gabriel, California. He has spoken on education policy and practice issues to statewide and national audiences. A native of Queens, New York, Wong attended New York City Public Schools and earned an engineering degree from Princeton and masters in education from Claremont Graduate University. He lives with his wife and 11-month old daughter.
Sara Mead, May 27, 2014
8 min read
Education Opinion Elliott Sanchez, Founder and CEO, mSchool
Educators and policymakers are increasingly looking to personalized learning as a strategy to improve student learning and engagement, but designing and implementing effective personalized learning models is challenging, requiring schools to simultaneously tackle issues of technology, human capital, and how they use time. Elliot Sanchez founded mSchool to help schools and community organizations make personalized learning experiences available to students. Launched in fall 2013, mSchool has since grown to serve hundreds of students in schools and community-based settings. Sanchez, 27, was raised in the New Orleans area, attended Loyola University in New Orleans, and began his career teaching in a New Orleans middle school. He lives in New Orleans.
Sara Mead, May 22, 2014
6 min read
Education Opinion Shauntel Poulson, Principal, NewSchools Venture Fund
Personalized learning models combine new technology with ongoing assessment, data use, and changes in how teachers use time and structure the school day, in order to create dramatically more personalized learning experiences for students. Shauntel Poulson is helping to shape this transition. As a principal with NewSchools Venture Fund (for which my Bellwether colleagues recently led a successful CEO search), Polson identifies and makes investments in technology companies and models that are at the cutting edge of developing new personalized learning models with the goal of dramatically improving outcomes for schools and students. A native of Denver, Poulson, 31, earned her degree in chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked as an engineer with Proctor & Gamble before earning masters degrees from Stanford in both business and education. She lives in Oakland, Calif.  
Sara Mead, May 21, 2014
7 min read
Education Opinion Morgan Polikoff, Assistant Professor, University of Southern California
Outside of education researchers, University of Southern California Assistant Professor Morgan Polikoff may be best known for his prolific twitter profile and active participation in online debates about education policy and other topics. But he's also an accomplished researcher whose work on standards and accountability is shaping public policy debates on these issues. Unlike many university-based researchers, Polikoff is not content to focus on obscure academic questions, but conducts research that seeks to answer policy relevant questions on issues like Common Core standards implementation and ESEA waivers. Polikoff, 29, was raised in the Chicago suburbs. A former Jeopardy champion, he earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his Ph.D. in education policy from the University of Pennsylvania. He lives in Los Angeles with his husband and their pet greyhound.
Sara Mead, May 20, 2014
6 min read
Education Opinion Joe Manko, Principal, Liberty Elementary School, Baltimore City Public Schools
After a decade of focus on teacher quality, policymakers and education leaders are increasingly recognizing the critical importance of school leaders to student learning. As principal of Liberty Elementary School, a high-performing, high-poverty elementary school in Northwest Baltimore, Joe Manko has lead his school in implementing innovative strategies to meet students' needs, including using technology in new ways to support student learning and taking over a community center to provide wrap-around and community services. Raised in Southern California, where his first job was selling hot dogs at Disneyland, Manko, 34, came to Baltimore as a Teach for America corps member and has been there ever since. He lives with his girlfriend and cat in Baltimore.
Sara Mead, May 19, 2014
9 min read
Education Funding Opinion Anne Hyslop, Policy Analyst, New America Foundation
Since 2011, ESEA waivers have allowed a fundamental shift in how many states evaluate school performance and report on these results to parents and the public. No one's been paying closer attention to this experiment than New America Foundation Policy Analyst Anne Hyslop, whose analyses of the impacts of ESEA waivers have played a critical role in shaping understanding of these issues in the field. A native of Richmond, Virginia, Hyslop attended the College of William and Mary and started her career working on early childhood issues for the State of Virginia. Hyslop, 29, lives in Washington, D.C., where, having finally secured an apartment with a full kitchen, she enjoys cooking for her roommate and friends.  
Sara Mead, May 16, 2014
12 min read
Education Opinion Madaline Edison, Executive Director, Educators for Excellence Minnesota
Despite widespread agreement in education policy about the importance of teachers, the voices of teachers themselves are often excluded from debates about public policy. As executive director of Educators for Excellence Minnesota, Madaline Edison is one of a growing number of current and former teachers nationally who are working to change that. I first met Madaline when working on a strategic planning project for Educators for Excellence and was impressed by her commitment to education, her nuanced thinking about policy and teacher voice, her leadership skills, and her ability to successfully launch and lead a new Educators for Excellence chapter.  A native of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Edison, 26, earned her bachelor's degree from South Dakota State University and a Master's of Arts in Teaching from Hamline University.  She lives in Minneapolis, Minn., where she recently became a first-time homeowner.
Sara Mead, May 15, 2014
7 min read
Education Opinion New NIEER Report Rates DC #1 in Pre-k Access
Yesterday the National Institute for Early Education Research released their annual "State Pre-K Yearbook," which profiles pre-k programs, policies, enrollment, and funding across the 50 states and Washington, D.C. I'll say more about the overall findings later, but for now I wanted to flag the report's coverage of pre-k programs in Washington, D.C. Although NIEER has described D.C.'s preschool policies in this past, this year is the first time the yearbook has treated D.C. as a state. When compared to other states, Washington, D.C. ranks first in the country in pre-k enrollment for both 3- and 4-year-olds. 
Sara Mead, May 14, 2014
2 min read
Education Opinion Dan Carroll, Founder and COO, Clever, Inc.
Schools are making increased use of technology to support student learning and assess students' progress, often combining a variety of different offerings to meet their students' and schools' unique needs. Many of these technology applications have real potential to make teachers' jobs easier or more efficient by generating data on student progress or streamlining assessment creation or data analysis tasks. But if these different offerings aren't effectively integrated, teachers may not experience these benefits in practice. Dan Carroll founded Clever to address these challenges and make it easier for schools and teachers to use technology-based solutions and track and use the data from them. Raised in Ohio, Carroll 27, graduated from Harvard University, taught in Denver, Colo., as a Teach for America corps member, and served as a school technology director before launching Clever. While in Colorado, he became and avid skier and craft beer snob and, after losing a bet with a student, wore his hair briefly in a faux hawk. He currently lives in San Francisco
Sara Mead, May 14, 2014
4 min read
Education Opinion Nine People Who Will Shape Education in the Next 10 Years
Four the past three years on this blog, I've profiled young leaders whose work in education is likely to have a transformative impact on their communities or the broader field in the next 10-20 years. These individuals have included teachers, charter school leaders, non-profit leaders, advocates, policy wonks, researchers, and tech entrepreneurs. Many of them have  gone on to do amazing things in the few short years since I first profiled them. Profiling these individuals has also been a great blessing for me; they've challenged my thinking in numerous ways and I've learned a great deal from them. 
Sara Mead, May 13, 2014
2 min read
Education Opinion What If We Built a Voucher Program and No One Came?
The Nashville Tennessean reports that  Vanderbilt University researchers find limited appetite for or space in Tennessee private schools to take on students who receive vouchers from a voucher program proposed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. This, to my mind, has always been the greatest weakness of voucher programs--they can move a marginal number of children around spaces in existing schools, but don't actually adress the greater problem: A shortage of high-quality school slots, period. This is also why I've always found charters, which provide a mechanism for the creation of new organizations and new high-performing school slots, so much more compelling than vouchers as a strategy for expanding educational choice or creating options for children stuck in low-performing schools. The Tennessean also touches on another under-acknowledged issue: The complex impact of vouchers on the economics of participating private schools. 
Sara Mead, April 8, 2014
1 min read
Education Opinion How K-12 Education Policy Contributes to Graduate Student Debt
Loads of interesting stuff in this new New America Foundation report on graduate student debt--a major and underacknowledged contributor to sky-hight national student debt levels. But what strikes me is that a lot of the growth in this sort of graduate debt is directly related to public and licensure policies. Consider: Fully 16% of graduate student debt holders hold a master's degree in education--many as a direct result of certification policies that require individuals to earn such credentials to become teachers through alternative route programs and/or to earn a certain number of graduate credentials every so many years in order to keep their credential. (This is also true for other rapidly growing professional master's degrees, such as social work) Others earn masters degrees because of the incentive to do so embedded in most teacher collective bargaining agreements.The crazy thing is, research suggests most of these master's degrees aren't doing anything to improve their receipients' actual skills or effectiveness as educators! Change the policies and we could reduce the number of  people taking on debt to enter or stay in the teaching profession, while also boosting many young teachers' free time and discretionary income at no cost to the public. And there's no reason to believe this would harm kids. In fact, by freeing up teachers' time, as well as PD and compensation resources to focus on more effective PD strategies (such as job embedded coaching) or reward factors more directly connected to student learning, we could probably serve students better. Sounds like a win-win. So let's scrap state requirements tying advanced coursework and master's degrees to certification. 
Sara Mead, March 26, 2014
1 min read
Education Opinion How to Make Head Start Better
Robert Gordon and I have a new article about Head Start up at The New Republic today. We argue that Head Start works better than many of its critics--and many K-12 education wonks--realize, but that it could--and must--do a much better job of preparing our nation's poorest kids for school. We also offer some suggestions for how to make Head Start better. Read the whole thing here
Sara Mead, March 24, 2014
1 min read