Seattle, WA, Wednesday, March 15, 2017 – State chiefs have new responsibilities thanks to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), but their formal powers are still limited. To be effective in leading the improvement of schools and districts, chiefs need to use their powers strategically, to build coalitions and lead others to act urgently to improve outcomes for students. This is the message of The Power of Persuasion: A Model for Effective Political Leadership by State Chiefs, a new paper released today by the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington Bothell.
“State chiefs won’t be able to deliver on what they need to do under ESSA—which is to promote and support innovation and problem-solving at the local level—unless they make full use of the leverage their office provides,” said CRPE director Robin Lake. “This analysis provides new ideas about how chiefs can be change-makers on behalf of students.”
While turnover in the field is high, with 70% of current state chiefs on the job less than two years, newcomers are taking their seats at a time of opportunity. ESSA returned significant power over K–12 education to the states, particularly in cases where local school districts have consistently underserved large groups of children. While state chiefs (sometimes called superintendents or chancellors) have strictly limited formal powers, most have unrealized potential for influence.
The paper draws on interviews conducted by a team of CRPE researchers with current and former state chiefs in early 2016. Dr. Paul Hill and Dr. Ashley Jochim identify chiefs’ opportunities for influence in light of the ideas in Richard E. Neustadt’s 1960 book, Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership. Just like presidents, state chiefs can accomplish very little without gaining the cooperation of others—including elected officials, administrators, practitioners, and interest groups—who have their own objectives and can evade or outwait even a determined leader.
Key takeaways include:
- Chiefs should fully understand their own advantages and think hard about how to bargain effectively with others in the state capital and in school districts.
- Developing new coalitions takes time and sustained attention. By pulling together broader coalitions than normally control education policy, chiefs can expand the horizons of possibility.
- To build a personal reputation for effectiveness, a chief must have and be known to have strong and specific goals to build something new or to change the status quo—and communicate them to those affected or those who may serve as a source of support.
- In order to maximize their power, chiefs must approach every decision as an opportunity to create new allies and improve their own options in future bargaining.
The Power of Persuasion is part of CRPE’s Linking State and Local School Improvement initiative, a series of papers written to inform state education leaders, policymakers, and advocacy groups about how to best support the most promising local school improvement efforts under ESSA.
The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) is a research and policy analysis center developing system-wide solutions for K-12 public education. CRPE is affiliated with the University of Washington Bothell and based in Seattle. CRPE’s work is funded entirely through philanthropy, federal grants, and contracts. Learn more at crpe.org.