Balancing Support and Compliance

Over the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve spent a lot of time through Mass Insight Education’s State Development Network learning from state education agencies (SEAs) across the country as they work to transform low-performing districts and schools. This work looks different in almost every state. Some focus more on setting district-level conditions that better support school improvement, while others have a strong presence within the schools themselves, focusing on instruction, leadership, and data. Regardless of the approach, the majority of the SEAs I have spoken to struggle to find the right balance between support and compliance. And it makes sense: Oftentimes various offices within an SEA will have competing priorities or messages, and it makes it tough to create a cohesive culture across the organization for support to schools.

According to last week’s USDE’s Progress blog, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) has tapped into a method of support that is starting to work for both the SEA and the districts and schools it supports. According to the post, RIDE shifted its school improvement support strategies closer to the support end of the spectrum by moving beyond simply monitoring and pushing a school to meet goals. The SEA has added additional touch points throughout the year and now collaborates with the school and provides additional support when necessary to help the school meet identified goals. In order to identify internal capacity to make this work, RIDE tapped into federal funding such as SIG and Race to the Top and also leveraged its ESEA waiver, which provides additional intervention options to low-achieving schools. RIDE also encourages schools to use their improvement plans as living documents, readjusting activities when necessary to ensure resources are allocated to the strategies that will have a high return on student achievement.

While this may not be a feasible strategy for larger states, it’s worth looking at RIDE’s school improvement support strategy and considering how other SEAs might learn from RIDE’s practice.