August 03, 2023


Design Challenge Winning Proposals

Chad Aldeman, Founder and Principal, Aldeman Education LLC 

Chad Aldeman is the Founder and Principal of Aldeman Education, LLC. He is a recognized national expert on education policy, including school finance; teacher compensation; and standards, assessment, and accountability. Chad has worked at the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University, Bellwether Education, and the U.S. Department of Education. He has published reports on K-12 and higher education accountability systems; school choice; and teacher preparation, teacher evaluations, and teacher compensation. He also served as the founding editor for and created the Read Not Guess program to help parents work with their children on early reading skills. Chad's work has been featured in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa and a master’s of public policy degree from the College of William and Mary.  

Proposal Summary

Each spring, about 25 million elementary, middle, and high school students nationwide sit down for state exams in reading, math, and science. If parents and educators get the state test results back quickly, they can act on it. Parents could invest in extra learning supports or even consider a different school for their child. Teachers could use the summer to review their students’ performance and adjust their lesson plans. Principals could use the results to assign students in need of extra support to their best teachers.   

Unfortunately, none of these use cases are possible with the current slow pace that states release their results. This piece This proposal argues that Congress should amend the federal testing rule to require states to send preliminary results to caregivers and educators within two weeks of a test’s administration. States could take more time to produce vetted results for public accountability purposes, but the preliminary results would provide immediate, actionable information to the people in the best positions to act. A quick return of state test results should be the standard operating practice across the country, and that will only happen with congressional action.  

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Representing Aurora Institute

Laurie Gagnon, CompetencyWorks Program Director, Aurora Institute 

Laurie Gagnon is the CompetencyWorks Program Director at the Aurora Institute. In this position, Laurie leads the CompetencyWorks initiative–sharing promising practices shaping the future of K-12 personalized, competency-based education; identifying trends; conducting and facilitating research answering critical questions facing the field; and disseminating those findings widely. Previously, Laurie led education design and partnerships at reDesign, an education design lab focused on learner-centered design, change, leadership, and adult development. Laurie also previously served as Director of the Quality Performance Assessment Program (QPA) at the Center for Collaborative Education where she was a key designer of the QPA model and led the program’s expansion from a research and development pilot to a program that is now being used in schools and districts across the country to take educators through the process of creating valid and reliable performance assessments. Laurie began her career teaching English in Japan on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, and soon after returning to the U.S. became a high school history teacher. Laurie earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology-anthropology at Middlebury College, her master’s degree in law and diplomacy from Tufts University, and holds a nonprofit management and leadership certificate from Boston University.

Proposal Summary

The Aurora Institute proposes that America move away from an assessment and accountability system that focuses on ranking and sorting students and schools and towards a system that is rooted in metrics defined by the local community and what its members value most in an education system. Building this system would require communities to engage in conversations around the purpose of education, develop a Profile of a Graduate, and then identify metrics that would enable continuous improvement. Designing effective, future-focused accountability systems will require making space to pilot and innovate new approaches that are rooted in more meaningful and modern definitions of student success.

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Dr. Jing Liu, Assistant Professor, Education Policy, University of Maryland College Park  

Jing Liu is an assistant professor in education policy at the University of Maryland College Park and a research affiliate at the IZA Institute of Labor Economics. ABeing named as a National Academy of Education Sciences/Spencer Dissertation Fellow, he earned his Ph.D. in Economics of Education from Stanford University and completed a two-year postdoc at Brown University’s Annenberg Institute. His work broadly engages with critical policy issues in K-12 education, including student absenteeism, exclusionary discipline, educators’ labor market, school reform, and the use of artificial intelligence to improve teaching and learning. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, among other funders. He has published his research in top peer-reviewed journals in economics, education, and public policy. 

Proposal Summary

Numerous studies have found that school absenteeism reduces student achievement, grades, and even the likelihood of graduating from high school and enrolling in college. In recent years, chronic absenteeism rates have been widely used as a “measure of school quality” under the Every Student Succeeds Act. However, similar to test scores, chronic absenteeism rates are highly correlated with student demographics, family backgrounds, and other factors that schools cannot control. Thus, raw absenteeism measures do not gauge a school’s performance in combating absenteeism and can be misleading for decisions to reward or punish a school.      

Based on findings from a study we conducted in 2022, we propose a value-added approach to measure schools’ contribution to student attendance. Schools’ value-added to attendance barely correlates with their raw attendance rates, is highly stable over time, and positively correlates with students’ perceptions of school climate such as school safety. There is also suggestive evidence that students attending schools with higher value-added to attendance are more likely to attend college. Adding a value-added measure of schools' contribution to attendance to accountability systems can complement the existing use of chronic absenteeism rates and help empower and reward schools that develop strategies to reduce absenteeism.  

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Elliot Regenstein, Partner, Foresight Law + Policy  

Elliot Regenstein is a Chicago-based partner at Foresight Law + Policy. Elliot has extensive experience in state-level policy and advocacy, with a particular focus on early learning; he has also consulted with more than two dozen states on a wide range of education policy topics. Much of his work focuses on how decision-making occurs in state education and early education systems: who is responsible for which decisions, what information they have to support those decisions, and what incentives are acting on key stakeholders. He is a frequent author and speaker on topics including accountability, governance, state data systems, and the connections between early learning and K-12. 

Proposal Summary

Accountability Restated  

State education accountability systems are the method by which states define what constitutes success in the education system — but for too long, they have focused too heavily on the years after third grade. Right now, if a cohort of students is a year behind at the end of second grade, only 15% of school districts can get that cohort caught up by the end of high school. Unfortunately, many children are a year or more behind very early in their academic careers, and those children are disproportionately likely to come from families with lower incomes.  Accountability systems need to not only drive improvement from third grade on, but they also need to keep a focus on the all-important early years.  

To do that, accountability systems should do two major things. First, they should use student growth scores to more clearly distinguish among schools with low student proficiency. In schools with low proficiency but strong growth scores, the ceiling on how much more the school can accomplish from third grade up may be low; the improvement approach in these schools may need to focus on early learning. Second, an external review of school processes and practices – similar to the reviews used in some early childhood accountability -— could yield actionable information for school improvement, including in the years before third grade. 

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Representing the Edunomics Lab

Dr. Marguerite Roza, Research Professor, Georgetown University  

Dr. Marguerite Roza is Research Professor at Georgetown University and Director of the Edunomics Lab, a research center exploring and modeling complex education finance decisions to inform policy and practice. She leads the McCourt School of Public Policy's Certificate in Education Finance, which equips participants with practical skills in strategic fiscal management, policy analysis, and leadership. 

Dr. Roza’s research traces the effects of fiscal policies at the federal, state, and district levels for their implications on resources at the school and classroom levels. She is author of the highly regarded education finance book, Educational Economics: Where Do School Funds Go? Previously, Dr. Roza was a Senior Economic Advisor to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Earlier, she served as a Lieutenant in the US Navy teaching thermodynamics at the Naval Nuclear Power School. She earned a PhD in Education from the University of Washington and a BS from Duke University, and studied at the London School of Economics and the University of Amsterdam. 

Proposal Summary

How Public Education Can Use Productivity Metrics to Drive Continuous Improvement  

In contrast to most other sectors, education systems rarely monitor progress using productivity metrics. Because education is so bound by routine, we believe the system needs an external stimulus to shift standard operating procedures such that leaders use productivity data as they are making spending decisions. We propose a set of policies designed to disrupt business-as-usual routines in school districts (like developing and passing an annual district budget) by getting leaders to use productivity data—that is, data that pairs spending with existing data on outcomes at each school. Doing so would prompt the system to seek ways to leverage every dollar to drive measurable improvements for students.     

Once the spending and outcomes metrics are used in budgeting, it makes sense to engage all levels of the system (schools, districts, states) in using them in a continuous improvement process. Research tells us that how districts spend their money explains very little of the variation in student outcomes. Rather, what seems to matter more are the motivations of those leading these systems and working with students. As such, the productivity lens has the power to shape behavior, enabling teachers, principals, parents and students to do their part to drive improvement. Cultivating a productivity mindset inside the system makes productivity an orienting principle that can be opportunistically embedded in existing policies and practices that could use new insights on what investments are—and are not—delivering results for students. In our view, the future of data in K-12 education is all about getting people to use it.

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Representing Technology Access Foundation

Trish Dziko, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Technology Access Foundation 

Trish Millines Dziko is the cofounder, Executive Director, visionary and strategist behind the Technology Access Foundation – one of the leading education non-profits educating children of color to their full potential.  As a change agent, mentor, and advocate for children of color, Trish decided in 1996 to leave her successful 17-year career in the tech industry to ensure students of color had the same opportunities she had. In addition to leading TAF and raising four children with her spouse, Trish is a committed, proactive leader serving on boards of organizations that focus on children, community, and education. 

Dr. Heather Lechner, Executive Director of Education, Technology Access Foundation  

Heather Lechner is the Executive Director of Education for the Technology Access Foundation. She and her team ensure students in underserved communities’ access rigorous and relevant learning experiences connected to the STEM field; and the support, development and retention of teachers and leaders of color through the Network for EdWork. Previously, Heather was a Director of Special Services and a founding school leader in two Type 5 turnaround charter schools in New Orleans, LA. Heather holds a Doctorate in Education and M.Ed. from Teachers College at Columbia University, an M.F.A. from Wayne State University, and a B.A. from Lewis and Clark College. 

Denise McLean, Director of Professional Learning, Technology Access Foundation 

Denise McLean is the Director of Professional Learning at Technology Access Foundation, a non-profit centering racial equity in educational spaces. Passionate about student-centered classrooms and transformative learning, she began as a student teacher in Vermont, teaching 8th-grade American History. Once a Houston transplant, now living in Seattle, Denise taught college readiness and Pre-AP World Geography to first-generation college-bound students. As a certified National Board Teacher, she contributed to TAF Academy, teaching Humanities and STEM Research. Denise holds a BA and MAT in Social Studies Education and plans to pursue an EdD in Curriculum and Instruction. 

Proposal Summary

The Technology Access Foundation (TAF) advocates for a transformation in K-12 assessments, focusing on reducing bias and the negative consequences of high-stakes testing. Our proposal highlights the limitations of standardized tests, which fail to consider the diverse backgrounds, learning styles, and cultures of students. It emphasizes the need for a more holistic approach to assessment, such as portfolio-based assessments, that provide a comprehensive view of student abilities and strengths. These assessments would involve students reflecting on their own learning process, identifying their strengths and weaknesses, and showcasing their progress over time. The proposal also suggests the integration of project-based learning and interdisciplinary connections to promote real-world application of knowledge and the development of collaborative skills and the construction of a national database of standards aligned and engaging project samples for states, districts, and schools. By shifting to portfolio-based assessments, we aim to create a more equitable and inclusive educational environment. We emphasize the importance of valuing diverse forms of knowledge and allowing students to demonstrate their understanding through various mediums. Additionally, portfolio-based assessments can foster collaboration, engagement, and a positive learning community among students. The proposal highlights the benefits of this approach in preparing students for post-secondary education and civic participation by nurturing independent and critical thinking skills, fostering a sense of civic responsibility, and promoting self-discovery as learners while increasing transparency for families and the community. As a result of a change in practices, students will have the requisite skills and experiences to be the leaders and creators of the future.

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