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NEPC Review: The State Education Agency: At the Helm, Not the Oar (Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Bellwether Education Partners, )

This sincere and well-written but methodologically and politically unsophisticated report argues states should step aside from any direct involvement in the reform business and hand it over to an “ecosystem of nonprofit organizations.” The report makes five assertions about State Education Agencies (SEAs): they suffer from a lack of human resources; their procurement practices are cumbersome and time-consuming; they suffer from antiquated rulemaking; they are undermined by statewide politics; and they suffer from “institutional sclerosis.” These claims set the stage for the report’s basic recommendation: “The SEA should not attempt to implement the nuts and bolts of school improvement, but instead create an environment in which a variety of other organizations can fill the void.” In place of expanding the authority of the SEAs, the report suggests a“4Cs” model of operation: control, contract, cleave and create. Drawing on secondary materials, the report’s claims about the failures of the SEAs are strong but unsubstantiated by data independent from advocacy. Privatizing educational reform is an idea whose time has not come, and most likely never will, because it’s an abstraction based on a model of American education disconnected from the democratic ethos that animates public education. Public education is a public good; it is the loom by which citizens together weave the social contract. 

Document Reviewed:

The State Education Agency: At the Helm, Not the Oar

Andy Smarick and Juliet Squire
Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Bellwether Education Partners