The NCSL Blog


By Julie Lays

It can feel like education officials just keep trying to reinvent the wheel. New curricula, new class sizes, new schedules, more choices, more testing, less testing. Yet the average test scores of our kids remain mediocre and keep slipping lower in international comparisons. 

This year’s “Quality Counts” report card on states’ education systems came out recently. It measures all kinds of a factors related to student achievement, school finances and students’ later success, and, once again, the results are disappointing. 

New Jersey and Massachusetts earned the highest overall marks with a B-plus each. But the U.S., in general, averaged a dismal C-minus.

Must states keep foundering in a sea of uncertainty about what to try next?

An NCSL study group says we already know what works. As you can read in the cover story of the September/October State Legislatures magazine, the group has spent years studying the most successful school systems around the world and found four major commonalities among them. Those principles are guiding a growing number of states looking to reform school systems that are not producing learners.

The study group’s first report, “No Time to Lose,” came out in 2006 with this promise: If we assemble the best minds in policy and practice, implement what we know works, and commit ourselves to the time, effort and resources needed to make monumental changes, ours can once again be among the best education systems in the world.

For three years states have been assembling the best minds to figure out how to make changes. A few have even taken steps to implement these needed changes. Learn from their experiences and discover what the universal elements in successful school systems are—it’s not rocket science and establishing them leaves a lot of room for individual differences. You might be surprised by their findings.

And to round out this cover package on education, keep reading to learn what six things you need to know to successfully reform outdated school finance systems. It may be as hard to accomplish as moving mountains, but a few states have done it and we can learn from their experiences. 

The third story in the package is about principals. Every school needs a good one, and now new studies affirm that they are key to a school’s success. But the role of effective principals has changed from yesterday’s authoritarian administrators to today’s supportive leaders. 

The September/October issue covers more than just education. Read what states are doing about those annoying robocalls; learn the difference between clean and renewable energy; discover the latest findings on the value of offering tax breaks to lure businesses to a state; and read how injured workers are staying in their jobs, despite their disabilities. There’s lots more, of course, in your national magazine of state policy and politics.

Julie Lays is editor of State Legislatures magazine.

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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.