State Capacity for School Improvement: A First Look at Agency Resources

With a continued emphasis from the
federal government on accountability for K-12 schools, specifically among the
lowest performers, state education agencies (SEAs) have had to take a more
direct role in school improvement. However, do SEAs have the capacity and
resources necessary to take on this work? A recent
report
from the Center on Reinventing Public Education attempts to tackle
this question by examining functions currently performed by SEAs, how they
distribute their funds to various functions, and whether or not they are
capable of more school improvement work.

To answer these questions CRPE
examined SEAs in eight states: California, Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, New
York, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington, and collected data from each SEA’s
website as well as contacted staffers about financial data. While strict
generalizations cannot be drawn from eight states, it is important to note that
their experiences are reflective of that in many other states and therefore
provide insight for other SEAs, including Ohio’s.

Overall, the current state of
SEAs’ capacities and workloads paints a grim picture in terms of their ability
to be more involved with school improvement. Not surprisingly, almost 50
percent of the staff at SEAs serves in administrative roles (e.g., human
resource, financial management, and technology). On the other hand, the
distribution of personnel for performance and improvement ranges from 7 to 28
percent. Colorado and California dedicate less than 10 percent of SEA personnel
to performance and improvement, while Texas and Tennessee dedicate more than 25
percent of their staff to these functions.

Largely, the investment in school
improvement has been relatively minimal. But many states, via Race to the Top
(RTTT), School Improvement Grants (SIGs), or their own school turnaround plans,
have committed themselves to transforming the worst schools despite facing
budget cuts or being short-staffed. So what can
SEAs do to fulfill these school improvement duties? CRPE suggests that agencies
shift current federally funded positions to school improvement, as well as
contract out these services to consultants.

The Ohio Department of Education
would do well to examine its capacity to lead school improvement efforts. As a
recipient of RTTT and SIG funds it is more important than ever that they take
an internal assessment of their capabilities and re-adjust were necessary to
best serve the school improvement needs of the state. 

The
Capacity for School Improvement:  A First
Look at Agency Resources

Center
for Reinventing Public Education
Patrick
Murphay and Monica Quijdani
August
2011

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