To Take the Helm, State Ed Agencies Need a Navigator

Ashley Jochim:

Today the Fordham Institute added to a growing stack of reports about what states can do to support dramatic improvements in K-12 education. It’s important to think hard about states, which have constitutional authority over K-12 and provide most of the money, but historically have done little to drive reform efforts.

Enter our friend and colleague Andy Smarick, whose latest report with Juliet Squires suggests state education agencies can play an effective leadership role if they become smaller, and get most of their work done via contracts and partnerships with independent organizations. These ideas, adapted from the pioneering work of Osborne and Gaebler on reinventing government, suggest SEAs need to develop the capacity to steer rather than row.

While Andy and Juliet’s take on the state role is clarifying, it leaves three nagging questions: First, how will states find the independent providers they need to perform key functions, including providing technical assistance to low-performing schools? Second, how will the SEA attract high-level staff capable of overseeing key contractors? Finally, how will the SEA get the political backup to act decisively?