Over the past year, state education agencies (SEAs) have vastly improved how they communicate and engage with their stakeholders. This was in large part in response to a requirement under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that states proactively engage with stakeholders ranging from parents to charter school leaders to foster families to English language learners to inform their plans.
But while ESSA requires this engagement, there are no guidelines for states on documenting in their plans how or even if they used stakeholder input. And this documentation matters. The focus groups, public meetings, webinars, online surveys, Twitter chats and other outreach efforts have fostered new relationships between the SEA and its stakeholders. To turn these new connections into long-term relationships, stakeholders need to know they’ve been heard.
In Transparency in Stakeholder Engagement: A Tool to Help Demonstrate How Stakeholders Informed the State ESSA Plan, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) uses examples from state plans submitted in April to recommend a range of ways that states submitting their plans in September can incorporate stakeholder feedback and illustrate how it was used. The remaining 34 states should consider some of these strategies before they put the finishing touches on their plans.
- Provide an overview: States can use their introduction or add a separate section to their plan to map out a high-level overview of how stakeholders were engaged through plan development and how they will continue to be engaged during implementation. Colorado dedicated 15 pages to detail how they engaged with their stakeholders; New Mexico’s section 2 includes lists of stakeholders and a summary of how they consulted with American Indian tribes.
- Reference stakeholder engagement in the text: States can directly reference how input from stakeholders was used to inform key decisions in each section. North Dakota mentions the “State ESSA Committee” and specific subcommittees throughout their plan to show when consensus was reached with specific stakeholder groups.
- Use the Appendix: There is no limit to what states can put into the Appendix of their ESSA plans, providing an opportunity to detail how they engaged stakeholders and incorporated their feedback into the final plan. This level of transparency will help stakeholders to better understand precisely how their input informed the plan. New Jersey created a Stakeholder Feedback Index in Appendix B that represents the feedback the department received from stakeholders through email, meetings, webinars and online surveys.
- Create easy-to-understand materials to supplement the plan: Final state plans will be public, but not everyone will have the patience to wade through the final 100+-page document. States can create summary documents, Powerpoint presentation, videos or other materials that will be simpler for stakeholders to review and—more importantly—understand. These can be referenced in the state plan, incorporated into the Appendix and posted on the states’ website. Connecticut shared a fact sheet to summarize the major components of the state’s ESSA plan; Massachusetts published an executive summary in English and Spanish.
- Use tables, charts or graphics: Supplementing complex narrative sections with visual elements can make the content easier to understand and help explain how stakeholders influenced the work. Colorado used charts and graphics throughout the plan to demonstrate key points, including the timeline for engaging stakeholders, an overview of the advisory committees and their membership and a comprehensive breakdown of the public comments the state received. New Mexico included an infographic, among other charts and graphics in its plan, to summarize its outreach and engagement activities.
- Show how stakeholders will continue to be engaged: States can use their ESSA plans to reflect their commitment to keeping stakeholders engaged long after the plans are submitted. North Dakota used its overview to explain their long-term engagement strategies through its established ESSA Planning Committee and Tribal Consultation meetings.
ESSA has helped to both create and reinforce valuable relationships between SEAs and their stakeholders. Continuing to strengthen these connections will increase community investment in the public education system—benefiting stakeholders, states, teachers, parents, and most importantly, students. We hope states take full advantage of this opportunity.