Andy Smarick and Juliet Square recently published a report arguing that state education agencies, or SEAs, lack the expertise needed to implement today’s education reforms. Federal policymakers expected SEAs to be “compliance examiners,” focused on monitoring districts’ use of federal education funds, they wrote. The authors argue that many of SEAs’ successes are limited to compliance and that SEAs are not capable of meeting the additional demands of educational innovation and reform. In a related blog post by Smarick, he refers to compliance and monitoring as being in the SEA’s “DNA structure.”
If compliance is really in SEAs’ DNA, did the federal government get the gene sequencing wrong?
Today, the Center for American Progress released three reports about the ways in which SEAs work within the current education governance system. The reports identify innovative approaches to changing the genetic code of SEAs given current demands for far-reaching education reforms. We argue that despite barriers, real or perceived, there are more effective ways for states to meet these demands—and that both federal policymakers and state leaders have roles to play.
As education policy researcher Patrick Murphy describes in his report, federal education regulations often have adverse impacts on states. Each federal fund comes with different strings attached. As a consequence, SEA leaders often silo their agencies by federal fund in order to make sure they meet compliance requirements. For example, staff working on projects funded by Title I are contained within...