Missing from the literature on American educational policy is a focus on the ways in which policy makers understand policy problems and how these understandings influence the policymaking process, including the choice of policy instruments and solutions.
The federal government’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, 2015) gives states greater responsibility for and flexibility in designing policies to support high levels of student learning than did its predecessor, No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2001). It is not yet clear how the majority of states will leverage this increased level of local authority for designing educational policies. Lessons may be drawn, however, from states that took significant steps in redesigning their educational systems prior to the introduction of ESSA.
We conducted a comparative case study of policy reforms in four of these states—California, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Our goal in gathering this information was to more deeply understand how differences in the policymaking process influence state policies and the implications for redesigning educational systems to achieve more meaningful and equitable learning opportunities for all children.
In this report, SCOPE researchers present case studies for each of the the four states and then examine the cross-case themes that emerged. In doing so, they describe how policymakers in each state defined a root problem that a policy seeks to address, discussed enabling conditions that allow a policy to take hold and flourish as well as the challenges associated with implementing a policy, and report on the influence of ESSA on the state policies.
Thanks to the Sandler Foundation for their generous support of this project.
A new book, Global Education Reform: How Privatization and Public Investment Influence Education Outcomes, provides a powerful analysis of these different ends of an ideological spectrum – from market-based experiments to strong state investments in public education.