Who Calls the Shots?
There is a new law in town. It is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and it replaces No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Some things are totally gone; others are still in place but changed to protect the innocent. Who’s in charge depends a lot on the particular state and how involved in education politicians want to be.
ESSA requires that the state department of education consults with legislators before sending the state plan onto the federal Education Department. If the plan requires additional funding, the legislature would need to be involved since it holds the purse strings. In recent years, many state legislatures have reduced the independence of state boards of education. It is also legislators who feel the sting at the ballot box for increased taxes or too much testing going on in public schools.
Once approved by the state board of education, governors have 30 days to review the plan before sending it on to the legislature. It is doubtful that this review will be the first time the governor has seen or provided input to the plan. Governors in many states appoint the state board of education. In some states, they also appoint the secretary of education and/or the state superintendent of education. Maryland does not have a secretary of education. This means that the State Superintendent of Schools attends cabinet meetings only at the largess of the Governor. In Maryland, the State Board of Education negotiates the contract with the candidate for State Superintendent and that individual reports to the State Board of Education. However, the Governor of Maryland presently has appointed the majority of the members of the State Board.
The State Board of Education in Maryland is a fully appointed Board, unlike many states where the State Board is elected. The Board is the final sign-off before the plan is sent to the Governor. It is also the responsibility of the Board to set education policy for the state. Many of the key areas of flexibility that exist in ESSA (that were delineated in NCLB) will need to be specified in the state plan. Boards will need to determine how the state will set learning standards and accountability systems. Teacher evaluation systems will need to be revamped and that will involve individual school districts negotiating with teachers' unions under the framework laid out by the State Board.
The genesis of the plans is with the state schools' chief and his/her staff. Whatever begins at the staff level and comes out at the legislature level and then is approved by the U.S. Office of Education must be implemented by the state schools’ chief and the staff as the plan comes full circle.
There are so many cooks in this pot that it will be very difficult to fix blame if it all goes downhill. Politicians and bureaucrats love that. On the other hand, there will be plenty of folk taking credit if things go well. You can’t get much better than that. The shots are being called by everyone and no one. Who doesn’t like that? Maybe the new Secretary of Education on the federal level?