In the past two years, state education agencies have seen a sudden boost in their authority. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed in 2015, gave states considerably more flexibility and authority in K-12 education than they had under the previous federal education law, No Child Left Behind. The Trump administration and the Republican Congress, meanwhile, moved in 2017 to further loosen federal accountability rules and give states even more control over their school systems.
In a recent report, authors Joanne Weiss and Patrick Guinn explore how this increased power brings increased responsibility to support the improvement of educational outcomes for every student, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Leaders at the helm of state education agencies find themselves in a moment of both great change and great opportunity, as many agencies move away from a predominant focus on compliance with federal regulations and programmatically dictated uses of funds, and toward a broader focus on supporting districts and schools. For many advocates of low-performing students, it is also a moment of potential peril if states fail to embrace their new responsibilities or weaken their commitment to improving educational opportunity and outcomes.