Strong Systems

Every child deserves an equal shot at success in college, careers and life. To support the hard work and dedication of educators on the front lines, state and local education leaders must cultivate and manage the conditions necessary for both students and teachers to thrive. How? By redesigning systems of accountability, flexibility and support; improving governance and policy with the needs of schools and students top of mind and expanding quality school options; and increasing system capacity to deliver. Education First brings our expertise as educators, system leaders and policy advisors to help districts, charter school networks, state education agencies and policymakers to break out of traditional habits of management, accountability and support to instead build and sustain high-functioning systems.


Accountability, Flexibility & Support

It’s time for a more strategic approach to assessment and accountability. Schools, school districts, charter management organizations and states need to take a fresh look at what is measured: which assessments we give, when and why, and how the data are used. High-quality, annual, summative assessments are the cornerstone of district and state accountability systems, providing essential information to educators and parents about school and student performance, and identifying schools that aren’t serving all children well. States also need to redesign accountability systems to provide more local flexibility and expand indicators to other measures of college and career readiness, but without losing the imperative to ensure accountability for results for all students, regardless of ethnicity, poverty or learning differences. Local school officials should be held accountable for diagnosing and improving each school system’s needs as part of a culture of continuous improvement. What’s more: Accountability must be coupled with support (including resources) and flexibility to innovate. We assist state and local systems in redesigning accountability systems and selecting and delivering the essential supports schools and educators need. Redesigned accountability and support systems that meet these principles will be broadly supported by educators and families and viewed as a healthy function that ensures a high quality education for all.


Governance, Policy & Quality School Options

Every student in every zip code deserves access to a high-quality school. Smart policies for public charter schools, school governance and effective school portfolio management are the hallmarks of innovative systems that are designed with equitable access to schools at the center. At each level—from the state to district to school operators—vision, innovation and commitment to quality are essential. Education First works with communities and states to design smart public school choice strategies; advance policies at the state and local levels that promote guaranteed access to a high-quality school for every child in traditional school districts and in charter schools; and design, initiate and support district and charter school governance and management models that implement, support and scale effective school models. This includes establishing innovative system leadership and stakeholder engagement approaches, frameworks for decision-rights and autonomies, transparent accountability systems, quality-based authorizer and sponsor models, and enabling conditions such as quality-focused charter school authorizing and closure practices and equitable access to funding and facilities—all grounded in a more robust and vigorous view of a quality school.


System Capacity to Deliver

In this era of competing commitments, practitioners and policymakers alike must maintain a clear vision, align policies and deliver on initiatives to better serve schools and systems. State and local education agencies seek to dramatically improve perpetually low-performing schools, boost student achievement overall and efficiently use available resources—people, time, money—and they often look inward first. Is the way the system function truly supporting the needed change in challenged schools? How should the system and schools be organized? Staffed? What role should the system play in supporting school transformation and what model of support should the system employ? Should the system central office leaders also transform in order to do it? Education First assists school districts, charter networks and state leaders to develop multi-year, system-level strategic plans anchored in student success and designed to mitigate the regressive effects of leadership transitions. This also requires strong talent pipelines, and clear routines and processes to consistently measure and manage progress and nurture an organizational culture of continuous improvement. Now more than ever, education leaders need to maintain focus on effective policies and high-impact programs that withstand pendulum swings in the broader political environment. Our partnership is designed to make the best use of available resources to support effective outcomes for students.


Helpful Resources

Featured Story: High-Quality Assessment Project

Over three years, Education First has supported grantmaking and technical assistance to a network of grantee local and state advocacy organizations as they engaged in the critical tasks of educating state boards, legislators governors and the media; identifying and supporting teacher advocates; and engaging parents as new tests are adopted and administered and as score reports are released.

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Blog: Can K-12 Schools and Higher Education Systems Synchronize Their Signals? Yes, and Here's How

Thousands of people flock to the state of Hawai‘i every year for its incomparable sun, surf and natural beauty. Here’s something else they’ll find: The...
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Reform Integration Framework and Resource Guide

Education First facilitated a network of state grantees improving alignment between K-12 and higher education on the Common Core and new assessments.

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Ohio: Getting Out of the Way

As the state of Ohio looks to deregulate its education system in favor of for individualization and customization, our brief looks at the ways Ohio...
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