State Education Plans Should Be More Than Technical Exercises

Dec 12, 2017 12:00:00 AM

by Jim Cowen

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was a big win for states—shifting much of the authority for public education vision and goals from the federal government to state policymakers, leaders and educators. ESSA doubles down on the notion that, given flexibility, states will find innovative methods for strengthening their plans to prepare all students for college and careers. But an independent peer review of 51 state plans facilitated by the Collaborative for Student Success, in partnership with Bellwether Education Partners, finds that numerous states are not taking advantage of ESSA’s flexibility. Many are failing to adequately set, measure and address those educational goals for their public schools, particularly when it comes to addressing equity and school improvement. The review flagged some troubling themes and omissions in the plans. For example, 41 states do not incorporate “subgroup” performance into ratings for all schools, which can mask how well schools are serving all its students. Twenty-four states do not require failing schools to demonstrate a certain level of improvement before they can exit that status and avoid corrective-action requirements. Fifteen states lack easy-to-understand ratings for how a school is performing. And only two states explain how they intend use all available funds for school improvement, leaving the opportunity on the table to align those funds to state priorities. For sure, [pullquote position="right"]there is no one-size-fits-all method to accountability.[/pullquote] Rather, each state will reflect the unique aspects and approaches that it believes will best advance student outcomes. It is for this very reason that we assembled this 45-member group of education policy experts—including former state chiefs, teachers and experts—from around the country to look at each state plan and note both the highlights and the areas that fall short. The group’s widely varying politics and ideologies forced serious discussions about each state’s plan. Contrary to the larger trend, some states did stand out. In this most recent round, looking at the 34 states that submitted their plans to the U.S. Department of Education in September, five states were praised for implementing high standards and aligned assessments, three more for their plans to support struggling schools, one for its plans to measure student proficiency and growth and one for the rigorous criteria it has in place for how schools exit corrective-action or improvement status. Should we expect these accountability plans to be a perfect blueprint for improving student outcomes? Of course not. But [pullquote position="left"]these plans matter[/pullquote] because they punctuate a state’s commitment to its students and they set the vision and rhythm for educational success. Learn more about our independent peer review of state accountability plans at
For more on the Collaborative for Student Success and Bellwether Education Partners' review of state accountability plans, check out Max Marchitello and Kaitlin Pennington's post, State ESSA Plans Are Weak Tea, But Here Are 3 Things We Can Do Right Now

Jim Cowen

Jim Cowen is the executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising educational standards as an important next step in ensuring that all students are prepared to succeed at college level work. Jim has more than 20 years of experience in outreach and marketing, media relations and strategic communications, coupled with knowledge of the Homeland Security, government exercises and U.S. defense landscape. He has led a range of outreach efforts for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Veterans Affairs. Jim served 10 years of active duty as an officer in the United States Navy where his assignments included deputy public affairs officer for the chief of naval operations and congressional director for the secretary of the navy. Prior to these assignments, he was fire control officer onboard the guided missile destroyer USS STOUT (DDG 55). Jim is a graduate of Marquette University and holds a master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University. He is also a graduate of Oxford University’s international management graduate business program.

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