Expanding the Impact of State Education Organizations

In the wake of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), what most see as a seismic shift back to state control over education, the U.S. faces some strategic opportunities and real threats.

The opportunities lie in the innovative new approaches that could occur in states without the federal government playing the muscular role they’ve played for more than a decade. There is exciting new work emerging in schools around redefining what student success looks like, expanding personalization, and better addressing equity. States now have increased autonomy to support such efforts. And while states have an opportunity in the coming months to create new plans in response to ESSA, the bigger opportunity is in the long, hard road of implementing those ideas with fidelity and integrity.

Integral to that implementation are state education organizations (SEOs). SEOs are independent, non-profit organizations that add capacity to state and local education agencies, inform public policy, support implementation of policy, break new ground with innovative ideas, and serve as crucial bulwarks and harbormasters, ensuring continuity of vision over time and across political divides.

Design Challenge

How might we increase the impact of state education organizations to support educational innovation?


We partnered with the Rodel Foundation of Delaware and Next Generation Learning Challenges to explore the possibility of supporting, strengthening, and leveraging the work of state education organizations. To better understand SEOs, we conducted a landscape analysis, defined current SEO efforts and needs, and gathered insights through in-depth research and interviews. We then hosted a design studio with SEO leaders to unpack the current landscape and prototype approaches that would facilitate their continued collaboration.

Impact Statement

After 15 years of what many in the field perceived as top-down reform pushes – to higher standards, to improve teacher quality, and to turn around low-performing schools – states, within limits, now have the ability to chart their own course. SEOs have an opportunity to work with state education agencies, local education agencies, community agencies, businesses, and families to shape state education goals and drive innovation around policies and practices. While there is a chance for states to become siloed and stagnant under ESSA, the insights, relationships, and approaches developed through this initiative chart a path forward for existing and new state education organizations to play a crucial role in advancing achievement and equity throughout the education system.