State Education Agencies: The Next Frontier

Gone are the days when the state education agencies (SEAs) served only as financial pass-throughs and compliance monitoring entities.  From the passage of NCLB, to the revision of the SIG program, and now to the ESEA waiver, there is no doubt that the SEA’s role is now more important than ever before.  Today these agencies are responsible for influencing education reform policy, developing intervention strategies, and—most notably— providing intensive support to their lowest-performing districts and schools.

This past fall, the STG and EducationCounsel launched the State Development Network as a way to help identify the systems, infrastructures, policies, and strategies needed at the state level to advance their school turnaround efforts.  SDN members benefit from consulting support, knowledge-sharing, and in-person networking opportunities.

Our most recent in-person convening took place in Atlanta, where turnaround leaders from our eight participating SEAs – Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island – spent two full days strategizing, brainstorming, networking, and of course, socializing.  During the convening, the state teams tackled two big topics: 1) how to build capacity for turnaround in their high-need districts, and 2) how to create ideal conditions for turnaround.

Of the many takeaways from the SDN convening, here are a few that stand out:

  • Building district capacity to support and sustain turnaround is critical, especially in states that have several hundred low-performing schools.
  • Creating proof points is also critical.  States should identify a small number of district leaders who are willing to do whatever it takes to prove that school turnaround can be done.
  • Communications and advocacy support for turnaround are essential, but they’re not necessarily the SEA’s responsibility; turnaround leaders should look to partner with external organizations to help spread accurate messages about turnaround.
  • SEAs need a spectrum of levers, including incentives, sanctions, and technical assistance to advance their turnaround strategies; just using one of these levers is insufficient to move chronically low-performing schools and districts forward.
  • SEAs must play a role in building a marketplace of Lead Partners, whether they are external organizations or internal units of district central offices.

The SDN doesn’t pretend to have all the answers to the challenging questions inherent in school turnaround, but the leaders in these eight states are working tirelessly to find them.

To learn more about the SDN, please visit our website.