Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Engaging Diverse Stakeholders to Strengthen Policy

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Engaging Diverse Stakeholders to Strengthen Policy

Article excerpt

California, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Vermont have brought multiple stakeholders into their reform processes. What can we learn from their example?

In education, stakeholders include any individuals or groups with an interest in the success of schools, districts, or the larger public education system. This diverse group includes students and families, teachers and administrators and their unions, business leaders, civil rights organizations, and the public more broadly. Our research suggests that early, systematic, and ongoing engagement with diverse stakeholders is essential for strengthening the design of and fostering broad support for ambitious educational policies (Bae & Stosich, 2018).

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), state and local leaders have greater responsibility for and flexibility in designing educational policies than was granted under No Child Left Behind (Darling-Hammond et al., 2016). This increased flexibility could foster policy design that is better matched to local needs and aspirations, but, ultimately, it is up to state leaders to determine the degree to which policy making is an open process that encourages direct input and participation from the public (Louis et al., 2008).

Whether and how educational leaders will leverage this opportunity to design truly innovative educational policies is yet to be seen, but lessons may be drawn from four states--California, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Vermont--that took significant steps in redesigning their educational systems prior to the introduction of ESSA.

Who influences policy?

California, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Vermont were all members of the Innovation Lab Network (ILN), a working group of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). States in the network committed to taking action to identify and implement student-centered approaches to learning, such as the use of performance-based assessments, school quality reviews, multiple measures of accountability, and building teacher instructional capacity. Thus, even prior to ESSA, these states were actively working to redesign or create bold new educational policies to better support student learning.

These four states had each tackled a unique policy issue: in California, creating a more equitable and streamlined school funding system; in Iowa, improving teachers' professional learning, retention, and career pathways; in New Hampshire, redesigning assessment for competency-based learning; and in Vermont, revising school standards to support more equitable and meaningful learning. Additionally, these states were geographically and politically diverse and included the most populous state in the country as well as two of the least. Despite these differences, educational leaders in all four states found stakeholder engagement to be critical for strengthening both policy design and implementation.

To understand the process better, we interviewed 42 educational leaders who represented a diverse array of positions and organizations and each of whom had intimate knowledge of their state's education policy-making process. These leaders included state chiefs, deputies, directors of accountability in state education agencies (SEAs), directors of teacher and administrator unions, state board of education members, school board association members, legislative staff, and others. We also collected and reviewed documents related to the state policies, including formal policy documents and information from state websites. Although each state had a distinct policy agenda, leaders in all four states engaged in an extensive process of stakeholder engagement to identify viable solutions, address policy problems, and garner support for their respective policies.

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