State Education Governance + Relationship with US/ED

While education is primarily a state and local responsibility in our country, we have a federal partner, too. Our modern Department of Education began life in the "Office of Education" in 1867. And though its name has changed several times and it has grown and evolved over 150 years, it hasn't strayed far from its original idea to collect data about education and share it with teachers and education policymakers.*

President Carter appointed the first Secretary of Education in 1979 and Congress established the Department of Education (ED) as a Cabinet-level agency in 1980. Every year since, the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) has invited each ED Secretary to a spring legislative conference: as a policy-driven organization, NASBE has a goal of working with anyone who occupies the office of ED Secretary—supporting them when they support NASBE's policies, pointing out their differences when they don't. Conferences provide State Boards of Education with an opportunity to engage with ED senior officials, members of Congress, and other prominent national education community stakeholders about their concerns for federal legislative and regulatory activities.

For thirty-seven years, each ED Secretary has agreed to attend and engage with NASBE members to clarify federal education initiatives and to respond to questions. Late last week, however, Secretary DeVos informed NASBE that she would attend this year's Legislative Conference "to make brief remarks and not take questions".

I find it odd that the Secretary of Education won't take questions from State Boards of Education, because it's reasonable that they might have a few:
  • For the past fifteen months, and with a first deadline for State ESSA plans quickly approaching on April 3, States have been focused on implementing ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965).
  • Many major decisions have been made about assessment and accountability systems relative to the new law.
  • Under a new White House administration, several changes have been made with a direct bearing on State and local education governance, including:
    • A harsh travel ban on immigrant people, including fearful deportation practices and processes;
    • A Joint ED/Department of Justice rescission of an Executive Order providing certain rights for transgender students;
    • Under the Congressional Review Act, the Senate voted to block the Obama-Era accountability rule (though the ESSA statute and its requirements remain);
    • Extreme changes in healthcare, including dramatic changes in Medicaid, general healthcare coverage for part-time employees, mental health coverage, and more. 
State education governance varies widely, but all State Boards of Education are structured to serve students and systems supporting them, their educators, schools, and districts. As a lay body over State education, State Boards of Education are intended to serve as an "unbiased broker for education decisionmaking", with a focus on the big picture, articulating the long-term vision and needs of public education, and making policy based on the best interests of the public and young people. Because they (generally) are not experts in assessment and other matters, State Boards of Education require guidance and technical support for answers to a range of questions before casting an informed vote, be it on the adoption of new systems or to complete and implement high-quality ESSA plans that support all students and comply with the law.

State Boards of Education are integral to the governance of public education in this country. This year's #NASBELegCon attendees will be among the first to hear from Secretary DeVos. It's most disappointing that she won't hear our questions or respond to them, but the loss is most certainly hers.

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* Expansion of the Office at the end of the 19th century benefited colleges and universities in the form of land grants. In the early 20th century, it was gathering data on vocational education; by mid-century, it was collecting data for high school students about agricultural and industrial education, as well as home economics. With new laws on anti-poverty and civil rights in the 60s and 70s, federal efforts shifted to providing "equal access" to education across the nation. I found it an interesting read, HERE.