Community and advocacy stakeholders should play an important role in state education policymaking. In fact, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires that state education agencies proactively involve stakeholders in the development of each state’s education accountability and improvement plan.
But did states actually reach out in a meaningful way? Did groups take advantage of the opportunity? Did they stay engaged after the initial outreach? What did they find most important? Did state policymakers act on the feedback they received?
With every state’s ESSA plan now approved by the U.S. Department of Education, the Collaborative for Student Success (CSS) recently collected survey responses from nearly 400 ESSA stakeholders to help answer these questions.
What we found will surprise some skeptics. We learned that:
- Across the country, state policymakers listened to and valued stakeholder feedback on how to improve education in the state;
- Not only did the stakeholders appreciate the opportunity to participate, many came prepared to contribute in robust conversations with their states; and
- Perhaps most promising, stakeholders and policymakers have largely continued to collaborate more than a year after their initial partnership.
CSS conducted the first – and perhaps the only – national survey of ESSA stakeholders. Here is how we did it:
- Reviewed all 51 plans (50 states + DC) to determine which local organizations were engaged in their state’s ESSA plan writing.
- Identified individuals (nearly 2,000 total) at each of those organizations who were personally involved in their state’s ESSA plan. Using emails, automated, and personalized calls, we reached out to as many of the individuals for which we could find contact information and asked them to participate in a short, confidential survey.
- Nearly 400 stakeholders participated and completed the survey. To preserve anonymity, we asked only to indicate which state they worked in.
- Among the 50 states, 36 had five or more responses, which we felt was enough to draw some general conclusions about their state’s process. We recognize, however, that we may not have heard from participants with particularly strong views – either positive or negative – about the in-state process.
- First, we asked stakeholders to rate their opportunity to provide feedback: 81% of total responses from the nearly 400 stakeholders said they had great or some opportunity to provide feedback, and only 11% said they had little or no opportunity. Of the 36 states that had ample survey participation (5 or more responses), all 36 reported that they either had a “great opportunity” or “some opportunity” to provide feedback on their state’s plan.
- We also asked stakeholders to evaluate their own engagement: Of the total responses, 82% of stakeholders said they were either “very engaged” or “somewhat engaged,” and of those states with large enough sample sizes, all 36 said they were either “very engaged” or “somewhat engaged.”
- To evaluate their continued partnership following the initial period, we asked stakeholders if they received follow-up after their state plan was submitted. Among all responses from the nearly 400 stakeholders, 75% said that they had received follow-up information from state officials after the plan was submitted. Of the 36 states with ample responses, 32 said they had received follow-up, suggesting an acknowledgement of the importance of these partnerships by state policymakers.
- Next, we queried stakeholders on what elements of the plan they participated in. Among the 14 options, none received more than 50% agreement or less than 24%, but the top choices were standards and assessments (50%), academic indicators (48%), long-term improvement goals (46%), and measuring student growth (45%).
- Finally, we asked stakeholders what elements they wished to stay informed about. In this case, nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) agreed that measuring student growth was the most important topic. Six other elements scored near 50%.
The results of this survey complement our current “Promise to Practice” initiative. They provide a sense of how states did with engagement during plan development and after. Perhaps most important, the results indicate the subject areas where stakeholders want to stay engaged going forward. Nearly 50% of respondents reported that staying engaged on identifying low-performing schools, interventions, resources, and supports for these schools is important to them.
Most survey participants affirmed that states were diligent and successful in maintaining a line of communications with their organizations. Given the daunting task of pursuing educational improvement, we are hopeful that states will continue this trend.
Jim Cowen is the Executive Director of the Collaborative for Student Success