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The State Education Agency: At the Helm, Not the Oar

Foreword by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli

In recent years, policymakers and reform advocates have viewed State Education Agencies (SEAs) as the lead organizations for implementing sweeping reforms and initiatives in K–12 education—everything from Race to the Top grants and federal waivers to teacher-evaluation systems and online schools. But SEAs were not built—nor are they really competent—to drive such reforms, argue Andy Smarick and Juliet Squire in The State Education Agency: At the Helm, Not the Oar. And despite the best efforts of talented, energetic leaders, SEAs will never be able to deliver the reform results that their states need. This paper from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute suggests a new governance approach, organized around the “4 Cs”:

Control: Return SEAs to their core functions of channeling federal and state dollars to districts; adopting statewide standards and assessments; creating and maintaining data systems; and monitoring compliance with applicable laws.

Contract: Contract with other organizations that are better equipped to accomplish education work, while ensuring that performance agreements with those organizations delineate outcomes and consequences for poor performance.

Cleave: Leave tasks that are well outside SEAs’ core competencies—such as charter-school authorizing and generating educational innovation—to other government entities or nongovernmental organizations.

Create: Encourage state leaders, both inside and outside government, to create new entities to take on much-needed reform work. 

Watch a presentation and discussion of the report event live on April 24 at 10:00 a.m. EDT:

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