Washington State Capitol Olympics Seattle Washington
Washington State Capitol Olympics Seattle Washington USA
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The Bottom Line Start with States

We previously wrote on the low standard, our nation’s latest C grade, on Education Week‘s annual “Quality Counts” report. We have a lot of work to do to become one of the top countries in education standards.

However, change cannot come from the top.  As rightly stated by David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, “There’s beginning to be an awakening that Washington [D.C.] isn’t going to come in and help on this issue.”

This is what we at ACTE have been promoting from the beginning–one state has to be the model for the nation. As Don Nielsen states “Educating all our children will only occur if we fundamentally change our present system of public education. That can only happen with changes to state laws.” What we believe is that the catalyst of change is not the district, single school, or federal government, but the state.

Why does change need to start at the state level?  Because the state controls most of the money, as well as who can teach, who can lead, the governance model, the subjects taught, the rate of pay for staff, and the graduation requirements. As Nielsen reminds us, “As in any other organization, if you control the money and the people, then you control the operation.”

How does the needed change take place?  According to Paul Reville, Massachusetts’ Education Commissioner from 2008 to 2013, “Building strong state education systems requires adequate funding, but it also requires setting high standards, enacting strong school-improvement strategies, and determining how to measure and evaluate success.”

But what exactly does “enacting school-improvement strategies” mean? As we have seen with recent efforts (which have not propelled our educational performance above a C grade), persistence is also needed.  Or as Sciarra states, “We’ve learned over the years that you can’t just sit back and say, ‘Well that’s enough. We don’t need to do any more.”

Sciarra is right.  We have not done nearly enough. What we should focus on are the current teaching, leadership, and governance state laws that have handcuffed the complete system. Then we can move forward with innovative strategies which will allow us to improve the system.

As Nielsen summarizes, “Someday, one state is going to take on this task. When that occurs, it will create a template for the transformation of our public school system.” The idea is to focus on states where change is most likely to occur. ACTE is actively engaged to do just that.

Bailey Takacs

Development Program Coordinator, American Center for Transforming Education
Bailey Takacs currently serves as development program coordinator to Discovery Institutes' American Center for Transforming Education and Development team. Bailey has experiences which also include: campaign management and administrative roles with elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels of the government. He holds a B.A. in Politics and Government from Pacific Lutheran University.