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A Vision for Partnership Between Districts and States

A Case Study of Illinois

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), state education agencies are in the driver's seat in myriad ways. 

In the past, states often focused on distributing funds and ensuring compliance with state and federal mandates. But they now have an oppportunity to create a new vision for partnership with districts. That means using their funding and regulatory powers alongside the power to convene leaders, promote best practice, distribute meaningful data, and intervene in struggling districts.

At the request of the nonprofit organization Advance Illinois, Education Resource Strategies undertook a case study of how Illinois could better help districts use their resources - including people, time, and money - to ensure every student really does succeed. We interviewed Illinois superintendents, analyzed resource data and state statutes, and drew on our experiences working with state and district leaders in New York, Georgia, Michigan, Tennessee, and California. What emerged was a portrait of three key state roles. The state can:

  • Allocate funding to ensure adequacy, equity, flexibility, and predictability
  • Catalyze district improvement through innovation and collaboration
  • Regulate to empower districts and create accountability for student success

Within each bucket, we share examples of how Illinois' current practice sets up districts for success and how it could be improved. But this analysis is relevant to other states as well, who face similar challenges such as low funding levels, a desire to promote peer collaboration among districts, a glut of potentially-useful data, and deep questions about regulation related to teacher evaluations, graduation requirements, and more.

Our schools need to transform how they maximize their people, time, and money, with a focus on recruiting, supporting and retaining excellent teachers, as well as using school time to meet student needs and allow teachers to collaborate. State education agencies can have a powerful role in supporting that work and freeing districts to innovate.


More resources related to states and districts:

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