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Survey: State Board Members Feel Buoyed By ESSA Authority

A recent survey by the National Association of State Boards of Education shows that state board members are feeling encouraged this year about their role and influence over education policy thanks to more leadership opportunities and the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The survey was conducted earlier this year and recently released to its members.  

During the battles over the Common Core State Standards, state board members were denigrated during very public legislative hearings and town hall meetings for adopting new standards without the public's knowledge, and some states' legislatures dramatically reduced the power of their state boards.  

When ESSA was first passed, I profiled state boards and their members, several of whom said that states having more control over education policy is an opportunity for state board members to reassert their authority. 

From my story: 

State boards of education are seeking to reassert their influence in the advent of the Every Student Succeeds Act, as much of the decisionmaking around standards, assessments, and accountability devolves back from federal to state control.

Yet those boards—many of them a blend of retired educators and business leaders who take office by appointment or election, depending on the state—often find themselves squeezed between local boards, state education departments, and legislatures over who's calling the policy shots.

All those entities are expected to vie for a share of the flexibility under a newly revised federal K-12 law, which gives states greater authority to design school- and teacher-accountability systems as they see fit.

One of the reasons state board members may feel like they have more authority is that, in many instances, they have been around the longest.  Last month, I wrote a story about the shortened tenure of state superintendents and legislators who chair education committees. More than half of the nation's states have new House and Senate chairs this year, and state superintendents have an average tenure of 2 1/2 years.  

State board members, most of whom serve four-year terms, are in many states the most stable body dealing with education policy, a point that NASBE executive director Kristen Amundson continually points out to me.  

In the coming weeks, state boards across the country are set to vote on ESSA plans. 

This week, I wrote a blog post regarding the Council of Chief State School Officers' interpretation of ESSA when it comes to who has the final say. Despite splits between legislators, advocates, and board members over major policy decisions by education departments in several states, Peter Zamora, CCSSO's director of federal relations said, it's the state chiefs who have the final say.  

"Consultation is not the same as approval," Zamora said.

In response to the post, NASBE spokeswoman Renée Rybak Lang had this to say: 

"I think making the argument that the [State Education Agency] is acting as the sole decisionmaker doesn't reflect reality and undermines the meaning of ESSA's 'timely and meaningful consultation with...' requirement," she said. "States must provide assurances stakeholder feedback was taken into account."

She added these two points: 

  • 45 state boards of education have authority over content standards adoption.  
  • 32 states have direct authority over the summative assessments that are part of ESSA plans, and five additional states where the SBE shares authority. 
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