Modernizing the State Education Agency: Different Paths Toward Performance Management

This report analyzes the change from compliance to performance management in eight state education agencies (SEAs). The researchers analyzed these SEAs purposely, because they  are each taking greater responsibility for the education outcomes of students in chronically poor performing schools. The SEAs under analysis were Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.

These states shared some common elements including using data, restructuring their SEAs, use of clear and transparent communication, establishing a sense of urgency, leveraging federal funding threats, and relying on strong leadership. The states differ in their approach to implement the change and, most importantly, how they view the role of local education agencies (LEAs). 

Some other characteristics that determine the state strategy for making dramatic changes  include how the SEA leader  and state boards are selected, if they receive federal money from school improvement or innovation funds and if they have the legislative authority to take over low performing schools.

The SEAs studied have shifted their emphasis from federal regulation monitoring and compliance to organizations focused toward achieving goals and strengthened accountability in troubled LEAS. The researchers group the SEAs’ reform strategies into three descriptors:

  • Some disruption and change (Bounded Disequilibrium): The SEA uses a carrot and stick to move LEAs to implement changes in failing schools. SEAs using this reform include Florida and Tennessee.
  • Acting as a partner with districts (Results Without Rancor): The SEA drives reform by increasing LEA capacity. SEAs using this model include Minnesota and Rhode Island.

Which SEA organization transformations succeed, in the future, is yet to be seen. It will be dependent on their abilities to maintain strong leaders and recruit the human capital able to make significant improvements in the most troubled schools.

SOURCE: Patrick Murphy and Lydia Rainey, Modernizing the State Education Agency: Different Paths Toward Performance Management (Seattle: Center for Reinventing Public Education, September 2012).

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