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Lessons From ECS Forum: Ongoing Engagement Critical as New State Policy Makers Take Office

On behalf of AACTE, I recently attended the annual National Forum on Education Policy of the Education Commission of the States (ECS), a national organization of state education policy leaders. The more than 550 attendees at the forum included governors, state education chiefs, chairs of state legislatures’ education committees, and higher education executives, many of whom were new to their position. In fact, one of my main takeaways from the conference was the high level of recent turnover in states’ positions for education decision makers – and the associated need for educators to maintain outreach efforts to connect with them.

Over the past 2 years, there has been drastic leadership change for state legislators, chief state school officers, and governors. In 2016, elections were held for 86 of the 98 partisan state legislative chambers and for 6 of the 13 elected chief state school officers. Furthermore, the average tenure of a chief state school officer is approximately 2½ years. In 2017, 36 states will hold elections for their governors, at least 16 of which must be new due to term limits.

The underlying importance of this turnover is that these state policy makers may not know anything about you and what is happening at your institution. In many of my conversations with ECS commissioners, there was a disconnect between what is happening in the educator preparation field and what policy makers are seeking to legislate and regulate – so they need to hear from you! (If you have not already downloaded your state’s contact list of key policy makers, check them out here.)

The ECS conference offered other lessons as well, including a variety of informative sessions. I attended a panel discussion on supporting teacher learning, featuring Deborah Ball of the University of Michigan and TeachingWorks; Melody Schopp, South Dakota secretary of education; and Shirley Weber of the California State Assembly. Ball advocated for state policy makers to focus less on regulating educator preparation programs and more on adopting stricter licensure requirements, with an emphasis on demonstrated qualities of an effective educator.

Next month, AACTE staff will exhibit at the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Legislative Summit where we will continue to highlight the work of our members and state chapters.

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Aaron Goldstein

Manager, State Policy & Relations