What You Need to Know as an Educator: Understanding the Impact of Educational Governance at the State Level

Are you aware of the governing educational structure of your state? Many components of this structure are affected by regulations while still enabling academic freedoms. In this article the basic state structure of K-12 school systems in the United States will be observed.

The educational system in the United States can best be described as extensive (due to the large size of the country), decentralized (determined by the individual states or even, at times, local areas), and diverse (the children to be educated come from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds). In 2007–2008, approximately 49 million children were enrolled in K–12 schools, while 6.9 million teachers worked in the nation’s 99,000 public elementary, middle, and secondary schools.

The Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives individual states control over education within their boundaries, and many state constitutions state that all children have a right to minimally adequate education or include similarly worded clauses. States have the right to determine policy, to set curriculum, and to decide how to spend the majority of funds allocated to education. Furthermore, states are responsible for setting the minimum requirements that a student needs to meet in order to graduate high school. Slightly more than half of the states (26) require students to complete state-regulated exit exams, although these may not be considered particularly rigorous because they contain knowledge and skill levels comparable to proficiency at the eighth- or ninth-grade levels. Finally, states are ultimately responsible for the selection and the evaluation of educational personnel. Chief educational officers or state commissioners of education may be appointed or elected. When elected by the voting public, the chief educational officer is wholly responsible to the public for his or her decisions and policies.

The governance structure can vary from state to state; the governor is typically the head of education, although the members of the state legislature are equally as powerful when it comes to setting statewide policies and regulations. Many states have a state board of education (SBE), which is either appointed, elected, or a combination of both, with some members appointed and others elected. Certain other states, such as New Mexico, Minnesota, and Oregon, have alternate bodies. Check the National Association of State Boards of Education Web site to see what entity exists in your state. Many states have a chief state school officer, who is directly responsible to the SBE and normally serves as the head of a state department of education. At the local level, school districts are governed by school boards. School board members may be elected or appointed. School boards are normally responsible for hiring a school district superintendent, who is responsible for implementing educational policies at the local level. The superintendent is also responsible for managing principals and schools located within the district. Principals are the onsite authority for education in their buildings. Teachers are directly responsible to principals.

Since each state has some leniency with the governance structure it is important to understand your individual school system. Know thing proper protocol will enable you to stay involved and in communication with your local district leaders and provide the appropriate method for addressing concerning about your school system.

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