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Partners Needed at the State Level to Effect Long-Term Change

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By Gayle Manchin, President of the National Association of State Boards of Education (Manchin is also a member of the West Virginia State Board of Education)

As we move through this dynamic period of education reform, it is critical that no one be left out of the equation when we search for new ideas and methodologies that can raise student achievement even as we implement more rigorous standards nationwide. Only in linking with others can we find solutions to the challenge of improving education outcomes for all students. And we see many partnerships and innovations explored in programs nationwide — but mainly at the local level. Those partnerships play important roles in the lives of specific schools and classrooms, but I cannot help but think that there is more that can be done in this regard.

That is, partnerships should be sought, developed, and embraced at every level of the education continuum. Of course, measuring the impact of national partnerships can be problematic. However, forging third-party alliances at the state level with state boards of education and agencies can have effects that are both significant and long-lasting.

These partnerships cannot be limited to the traditional network of state boards and departments of education, non-profits, and academics. Rather, all stakeholder groups need to be brought into the fold because — let's face it — you'd be hard pressed to find many groups unaffected by public education. And when I say all stakeholder groups, that most definitely includes those businesses and industries that will eventually hire (and be led by) our students.

Taking this concept a step further, it is also important that these voices be represented within state boards themselves. To that end, I hope we will see more business leaders become members of state boards of education. These leaders often view issues through a different lens than others on the board, and their participation in the policymaking process can help bridge the gaps that sometimes hamper the development of public/private partnerships.

In 2009, I had the privilege of serving on the NASBE study group on School-Community Partnerships, which addressed the opportunities and possibilities of these collaborations. After months of hearing presentations and reviewing data, we reached a conclusion we believed would help states arrive at sound policies regarding partnerships, starting with the suggestion: "Leverage the role of the state board of education to promote the importance of school-community partnerships."

How would this be possible? As policymakers, there are several ways in which we can facilitate such partnerships. Perhaps none is more important than our ability to lead by example. We can achieve this by directly developing and supporting partnerships that link state boards and/or local boards to workforce development agencies, higher education, business associations, and other stakeholders. The lessons we can learn from each other are invaluable, and so much of what we want to accomplish is directly affected by other influences.

How else? We can galvanize stakeholders by communicating how school and community issues are inexorably entwined and how everyone can be involved in some way. If we cannot effectively communicate the reasons and goals for our efforts to students, parents, and others, any proposal will be met with confusion or resistance, thus hampering the prospects for long-term change.

Finally and perhaps most obviously, as state boards we have the authority and ability to create policies that encourage and sustain partnerships from the state level down.

True, policymakers can accomplish many things, but we also need willing partners to also reach out to us to help effect change at the policy level. Join us, won't you?

Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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