School & District Management Opinion

New Chief at the Chief State School Officers

By Tom Vander Ark — June 13, 2018 3 min read
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The new normal is kind of the old normal. States are back in charge of education after 15 years of oversized federal involvement and investment.

After a ten year attempt at joining the rest of the developed world with something like a national curriculum, the US has devolved back into a state-based free for all with some well-intentioned equity safeguards.

Every state has a senior official responsible for education. In 13 states, chiefs are elected, in the others, the senior official is appointed. All of them affiliate through the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

Supporting the senior education officials during this devolution of federal control is Carissa Moffat Miller. She grew up in Nebraska and attended UN Lincoln. After earning a Ph.D. from the University of Idaho, she served as Deputy Superintendent in Idaho State Department of Education where she wrote a waiver for the state under the old federal law. After four years as the deputy in Idaho, Dr. Miller joined CCSSO where she served as deputy to Chris Minnich (see our May interview).

“Sometimes we swing the pendulum too far,” said Miller. “States need to be innovative,” she added, “They need a little more flexibility to do innovative things.”

After five years of guiding states through the flexibility incorporated into the most recent adoption of federal education policy (ESSA), Miller took over as executive director.

The chiefs share 10 focus areas including standards, special populations, school improvement, open education resources, teachers and leaders, early childhood education, career education, assessment systems, advocacy and next-generation accountability systems.

Miller kicked off the States Leading campaign to highlight ways states are leading across this agenda including Ensuring Equity, Career Readiness, Educator Pipelines, Early Childhood, Student-Centered Learning, and Celebrating STEM.

A few states are innovating with end of year tests including New Hampshire where the pilot program offers a reduced level of standardized testing combined with locally developed common performance assessments. Louisiana’s plan is to base its reading tests on a collection of texts that students have actually read, discussed and analyzed over the course of the school year.

CCSSO recently released a report with New America highlighting ways states are using and sharing open education resources (OER) and proving lessons learned from the progress they are making. This report spotlights examples of new and different approaches for promoting and sustaining open, relevant and high-quality instructional materials.

The OER report highlights Louisiana’s leadership in instructional materials review of proprietary and open resources. Deputy superintendent Rebecca Kockler explained that OER has allowed Louisiana districts to align curriculum with professional learning for teachers.

At least ten states are thinking about career readiness said Miller. There is a common focus on high skill, high demand jobs with pathways that include industry-recognized credentials.

“I haven’t seen a more committed group,” Miller said about the current crop of chiefs. She appreciates their strong commitment to equity. And she knows from experience how many constituencies chiefs serve.

As examples of equity-focused work, Miller points to diverse examples including Computer Science in North Dakota and Wyoming, better school funding in California, improved nutrition in Oklahoma.

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Photo used with permission from CCSSO.

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.