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By Julie Bell

Twenty six  leaders of state legislative education committees from 21 states met recently for two-and-a-half days at NCSL’s annual Education Chairs Workshop to study, learn and engage with each other on some of the top education issues facing their states. 

Kati Haycock, president of the Education TrustChairs met with national experts, state leaders, teachers and each other to discuss issues, experiences, and opportunities regarding implementation of college and career readiness standards, the future of new assessments, data and privacy issues, improving teacher professional development, designing choice and charter school policies, and parental engagement.

The NCSL Education Program works closely with state legislative education chairs throughout the year, but this annual gathering of chairs is always a special opportunity for legislative education leaders to take some time away from heated legislative sessions to learn from each other about  challenge and successes and share strategies and solutions. One of the most important takeaways: States are facing many of the same challenges! In the intensity and heat of legislative sessions, legislators are often not aware that states are having similar conversations and similar struggles. 

In reflecting on their 2014 legislative sessions, one legislator described it as “civil” but most others described them as “divisive” and “difficult.” Tough issues in front of them included implementation of common core state standards; decisions about state testing and what tests to use; data and privacy concerns; and teacher evaluation efforts.

During an outstanding panel on the future of education assessments, legislators heard from the Education Trust’s Kati Haycock about the important role of testing, and from Douglas County School Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen regarding concerns about too much testing, and an emerging interest in parental opt-outs from state tests. These were two very diverse opinions that gave legislators much to think about.

A wonderful discussion emerged between legislators and six teacher leaders—participants in the Center for Teacher Quality’s “Teacherpreneur” effort. Legislators eagerly heard about the teachers’ experiences in training and preparation, preferences for on-going professional development, motivations for being teachers, attitudes toward current and alternative testing, and thoughts about effective teacher evaluations. This thoughtful and honest exchange of information helped teachers and legislators understand each other much better. 

Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, superintendent of Douglas County Public SchoolsI am always struck by the depth of understanding and level of commitment that these legislators bring to their jobs. One speaker who had joined the forum for all three days observed how encouraging it was to see legislators with such different backgrounds and ideologies working so well together.

At NCSL we know that to be the case more than the exception—but citizens don’t often have the chance to see that. These education chairs are extremely substantive on education and fiscal issues and they work long and hard to engage citizens and find consensus around policy.

Not to mention the fact that they are willing to spend three days in the middle of the summer engaging with each other to learn more about important issues and devote some time to becoming more effective committee chairs.

Julie Bell is group director of NCSL's Education Program.

Email Juliejulie.bell@ncsl.org

Posted in: NCSL, Public Policy
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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.

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