State Education Agencies Boost Performance Through Capacity Building
Improving student outcomes is a critical goal for state education agencies (SEAs), and to this end, they are establishing strategic interventions and structural changes.
To help SEAs meet this challenge, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) established the Building State Capacity and Productivity (BSCP) Center as 1 of 8 content centers serving the nation. The BSCP Center, at the direction of ED’s Regional Comprehensive Center leadership, provides SEAs with technical assistance to shift their approach from compliance-based to performance-oriented. The change builds the capacity of local education agencies, districts, and schools.
The SEAs face an important hurdle in generating change with limited financial and personnel resources.
Westat’s Focus: Improving Organizational Culture & Practices
Tapped as the BSCP Center, Westat zeroed in on enhancing the organizational culture and practices of SEAs. In partnership with the Academic Development Institute and Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab, our efforts involved
- Revamping SEAs’ infrastructure and systems to spark innovation, productivity, talent recognition, and accountability
- Aligning resources with infrastructure
- Addressing human capital needs
- Setting performance measures
Then, we set about to improve existing communications practices or, if necessary, create new ones.
"Effective communication is essential to improving performance,” says Dean Nafziger, Ph.D., a Westat Vice President and director of BSCP. “SEAs frequently ask us to help them strengthen their communications function. Our job is to create fully staffed departments that are centralized, proactive, and responsive to all stakeholders. It can be an intensive process.”
Westat developed the Strategic Communications Toolbox. It guides SEAs in building and executing a streamlined communications practice. The toolbox explains how to
- Unify communications and priorities
- Identify roles and responsibilities for communications team members
- Ensure proactive, consistent messaging
- Create processes to communicate with stakeholders
- Encourage feedback
- Develop an ongoing review process to ensure strategies and goals are understood
The following are state- and federal-level examples of successes.
Arkansas Department of Education (ADE)
When Johnny Key became Commissioner of ADE, Westat recognized his systems approach and enthusiasm for strong communications. Together, we expanded ADE’s capacity to communicate its vision, mission, goals, and strategies and court stakeholder input. In 2017-18, the state legislature approved ADE’s new direction and enacted legislation to support its implementation.
Bureau of Indian Education (BIE)
The BIE administers federal Indian education programs and funds 183 elementary and secondary day and boarding schools located on 64 reservations in 23 states and dormitories serving 48,000+ students. It also operates 2 postsecondary schools and administers grants for 30 tribally controlled colleges and universities and 2 tribal technical colleges.
By invitation, Westat developed a performance plan for BIE, its first. The plan defined strategies for building a culturally relevant, high-quality education that would prepare students to be successful adults. Westat is now helping BIE create and execute a strategic communications practice.
Promoting the BSCP Center & Sharing Resources
The BSCP Center’s ability to create meaningful change is not lost on SEAs. Sharing the Center’s successes, tools, and resources is a natural outcome.
- Building State Capacity and Productivity website. Westat provides content and maintains the website.
- Comprehensive Center Network website. Westat created the website to ease collaboration among Centers. The site contains 700+ resources developed by ED’s 23 Comprehensive Centers, with 200+ projects underway.
Transformation is an intense process. State education agencies have shown remarkable commitment and leadership.
- Dean Nafziger, a Westat Vice President and BSCP Director