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RELEASE: State Education Agencies as Agents of Change

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Contact: Laura Pereyra
Phone: 202.741.6258

Read the report

Washington, D.C.—Today the Center for American Progress and Frederick M. Hess and Daniel Lautzenheiser of the American Enterprise Institute released a joint report titled “State Education Agencies as Agents of Change,” which found that despite being responsible for administering state and federal aid and charged with driving state level reforms, state education agencies have gone almost entirely unnoticed by policymakers and advocates. SEA chiefs find themselves in the limelight due to reforms of the past decade and heightened attention to issues such as turning around low-performing schools, fixing state data systems, and improving teacher evaluations. According to the report, SEAs are overly focused on compliance, lack transparency, and limit the way in which federal funding can be spent.

“Action is needed on both the federal and state level to ensure that state education agencies and their leaders are equipped for their demanding roles as leaders in education reform” said Cynthia G. Brown, VP for Education Policy at the Center for American Progress.

“Today’s reform efforts place unprecedented weight on state education agencies and yet we know little or nothing about whether they’re up to the challenge, or what it would take for them to be effective agents of improvement,” said co-author and AEI’s Director of Education Policy Studies Frederick M. Hess. “In this report we seek to take a look at the state of SEAs and what some of the nation’s most dynamic state chiefs have to say about the job and what it takes to succeed in it.”

Recommendations in the report include:

  • States should grant SEAs more flexibility on hiring, staffing, and salary decisions, and the authority to take over abysmally performing schools and school districts.
  • The federal government should provide political cover to states seeking to drive improvement, grant flexibility around federal strictures, and scrutinize how federal demands shape culture and practices in SEAs.
  • SEA chiefs need to approach their job with the attitude that they’ll find a way to alter routines, regard themselves as political operators, and build and deploy their political capital in smart ways.
  • SEA chiefs need to do a better job of making basic operating information about their agencies publicly accessible.

To speak with the authors of this report, please contact Laura Pereyra at or 202.203.8689 or Jenna Schuette at jenna.schuette@aei.orgor 202.862.5809.


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