By Chris Times
March 5, 2019
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
—Helen Keller (1880–1968)
We couldn’t agree more. That’s why experts at the Midwest, Great Lakes, Southeast, and Texas Comprehensive Centers at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) work closely with their state education agencies on projects related to implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and other important education initiatives. Among the 13 states that these regional centers serve, contexts and conditions vary, but one thing remains the same: our commitment to engaging stakeholders in the crucial work of improving equitable educational opportunities and outcomes, especially for marginalized or underserved students and communities.
In the Stakeholder Engagement Guide, AIR’s Center on Great Teachers and Leaders emphasizes that it is crucial for stakeholders to be involved in designing equity plans and provides guidance and tools for doing so. Although these resources focus on equity plans, the overall goals for stakeholder engagement apply to various education initiatives:
- Ensure that individuals or organizations that may contribute to or be affected by the work are informed, consulted, and/or involved.
- Collect, document, and review feedback on an ongoing basis.
- Use input to inform the decision-making process, develop strategies, take action, measure progress, and/or make adjustments.
To accomplish the above-stated goals, AIR’s comprehensive centers first identify critical internal and external stakeholders such as key staff, partners, state education agencies, schools, districts, communities, and relevant organizations. Next, we identify stakeholders’ roles and the level of involvement necessary for the work to be effective. Then, we collaborate to determine how to best capture, process, and use stakeholder feedback to inform the work and achieve desired outcomes.
Feedback for ESSA Implementation in Georgia
Southeast Comprehensive Center (SECC)
As part of its Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, the Georgia Department of Education is focusing on building the knowledge and skills of agency staff to support implementation of strategies by local education agencies. In support of Georgia’s ESSA Plan Development Process, SECC provided technical assistance with training on the comprehensive needs assessment and facilitation of eight feedback sessions to enable parents, students, educators, business and industry, and community members to share their views on the state’s ESSA implementation plan.
Georgia used stakeholder feedback to revise its ESSA plan before submission to the superintendent and governor for final review. The state’s ESSA plan was approved by the U.S. Department of Education on January 19, 2018.
In projects across the Midwest, Great Lakes, Southeast, and Texas Comprehensive Centers, our experts ensure that key stakeholders are engaged in the work, whether it’s strengthening partnerships with providers, developing programs to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, or compiling feedback on ESSA implementation. A few of these projects are spotlighted in this article, and one project is discussed in detail below.
To improve coordination of stakeholder involvement, the Midwest Comprehensive Center (MWCC) is supporting the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) as the state implements portions of its ESSA plan. Specifically, MWCC is helping ISBE to engage stakeholders who have an interest in shaping the state’s fine arts indicator measure and creating a system for preplanning for stakeholder engagement, identifying stakeholders, processing feedback, and responding to feedback.
According to Janice Keizer, MWCC project lead, “We engage in monthly meetings with ISBE staff and the [ISBE] work group coordinator to serve as a thought partner in designing the process for stakeholder engagement for the Fine Arts Indicator Work Group. We also model meeting facilitation and stakeholder feedback approaches that ISBE can recreate in future stakeholder engagement activities.” MWCC is using various approaches, such as online feedback surveys and consensus-building activities, to support this work and to provide multiple ways for stakeholders to share input and contribute to the development of the fine arts indicator.
As follow-up to the fine arts indicator project, MWCC is working with ISBE staff to identify best practices related to building trust and encouraging meaningful participation in future stakeholder engagement activities. In addition, MWWC is helping ISBE staff to identify effective ways to communicate with stakeholders about the status of recommendations that the stakeholder group put forward for ISBE’s consideration and action.
In addition to the TA work described above, MWCC staff facilitated discussions of school district superintendents in the Illinois Empower (statewide system of support) pilot regarding the Illinois Balanced Accountability Measure rubric (now called the Illinois Quality Framework and Supporting Rubric). These tools are used by schools identified for school improvement to conduct an annual assessment of improvement priorities and to create a work plan, based on the local context.
During two collaborative brainstorming sessions, superintendents discussed use of the new quality rubric, shared their experiences using the rubric, and made suggestions for improvements. They also provided feedback to ISBE about selecting and working with learning partners. ISBE used feedback from the superintendents to inform improvements to the rubric and guidance for staff who would be using it.
Reflecting on the collaboration with MWCC, Jason Helfer, ISBE deputy superintendent of teaching and learning, says, “Regardless of if the work is developing an indicator recommendation or feedback from stakeholders, staff at Midwest Comprehensive Center play a foundational role in ensuring that all voices are heard and that ideas are respectfully and carefully considered.”
Strategic Partnerships in Michigan
Great Lakes Comprehensive Center (GLCC)
The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) receives support from numerous technical assistance (TA) providers but, until recently, had no systematic process for identifying these agencies or the support they provide. This situation increased the likelihood of multiple TA providers offering similar services and resources, duplication of efforts within the agency, and difficulties coordinating use and evaluation of TA providers. Thus, MDE asked GLCC to assist with crafting a solution to this challenge. After identifying more than 25 federally funded TA centers working with MDE, GLCC helped to develop an online repository that details existing TA partnerships and alignments with MDE’s strategic plan and an efficient process for selecting and documenting TA.
GLCC and external stakeholders cofacilitated meetings between TA providers and MDE, brainstormed ways to troubleshoot challenges associated with the provision of TA services, and compiled input on the processes and procedures for selecting and documenting TA services. This work enabled the team to learn more about the work of TA providers, create opportunities to leverage TA resources for MDE, and coordinate TA services where possible. GLCC partnered with 19 external agencies including the Building State Capacity and Productivity Center, Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes, Midwest and Plains Equity Assistance Center, and State Support Network, among others. As culmination of this work, GLCC is developing a guidance document on the process for selecting and documenting TA for MDE and will conduct trainings across the agency to ensure that staff are informed of the guidance and learn to use the new process.
Support for Rural Schools in Texas
Texas Comprehensive Center (TXCC)
Texas rural school districts are challenged with attracting and retaining educators in communities that might be perceived as less desirable places to live for teachers newly entering the profession. Recommendations from the Texas Rural Schools Task Force indicate interest in Grow Your Own (GYO) teacher programs as a solution to these challenges. Building on its work with the task force, TXCC is helping the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to explore GYO models to address the state’s rural teacher talent problem. TXCC has published a report on GYO initiatives and resources and is supporting TEA in managing and supporting a grant to enable local education agencies (LEAs) to implement GYO teacher programs. The grant offers three pathways:
- Pathway 1—LEAs offer high school programs that encourage students to consider teaching as a career pathway.
- Pathway 2—LEAs partner with an educator preparation program (EPP) to send paraprofessionals, instructional aides, and long-term substitutes back to school for a teaching certificate.
- Pathway 3—EPPs offer yearlong residencies in rural or small schools for candidates already enrolled in 4-year programs to help them become teachers.
To strengthen implementation of the pathways described above, TXCC is coordinating grant application review and providing training to participating teachers, school staff, LEAs, and EPPs. The center is working with stakeholders via a community of practice, webinars, and resource sharing. Throughout the process, TXCC has obtained stakeholder feedback via meetings and focus groups.
From the work described above, it’s clear that we certainly can do much more together than apart. As the comprehensive centers move forward in ongoing work, our experts will continue to collaborate with state staff to address specific education challenges and ensure that stakeholders have a voice in identifying and implementing solutions.
Photo: State and comprehensive center staff participate in a strategic partnerships project meeting in Michigan.