Dive Brief:

  • Fourteen states now require that a teacher serve on their state board of education, according to an analysis from the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). In other states, teachers are included in policy development through inclusion on committees and focus groups.
  • When teachers are asked for their opinions, there tends to be more buy-in from other educators. In Arizona, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee and Wyoming, teachers are voting members on the state boards, and eight other states require that a non-voting teacher member attend and offer a report at every meeting.
  • “As the coronavirus pandemic rages into a new school year, the need persists for teacher voice at all levels, specifically in state governance,” 6th-grade teacher and author Jordan Koch said in statement. “Whether it is through a voting member, nonvoting member, or teacher advisory committee, direct educators voice is critical in state board decision making, both now and after the pandemic subsides.”

Dive Insight:

Teacher insight in state education policymaking brings a voice from the educational frontlines to the discussion, providing input from those directly impacted by decisions.

Low morale in the education profession stems, in part, from feeling a lack of voice in decision-making. Other factors include frustration over often-changing policies and the frequency and length of tests. A report by the Center on Education Policy found about half of respondents did not feel like their opinions were heard by decision-makers. Those who did feel heard were more likely to express satisfaction with their jobs.

Over the last few years, education dissatisfaction manifested in higher levels of teacher advocacy and activism. Reach Consulting CEO Amy Steele, a former principal of Beverly Hills STEM Elementary School in North Carolina, recalled numerous policies passed down to her from the state superintendent, the local superintendent and those on the school board during a panel discussion at the 2019 National Principals Conference.

At one point, class size legislation would have required her to turn the library, cafeteria, media center, art room and music room into classrooms. The change would have displaced all those specialists, a side effect likely not thought out by decision-makers unfamiliar with the school building’s structure.

In some cases, the sense that state and local policymakers haven’t asked for teachers’ opinions has grown strong enough that educators have run for office to change the system themselves. Teacher frustration likely led to a surge in 1,800 educators running for office in the 2018 midterms, a record for a single election cycle. The National Education Association provided 200 educators with information about campaign setup, communication and fundraising.

At the local level, school board members should also be invited into the classroom to see learning practices for themselves, a practice that also gives teachers a chance to show policymakers what they do. David W. Gordon, superintendent of the Sacramento County Office of Education, recommends arranging time for board members to visit classrooms and talk to teachers and staff. Not only does this practice give board members insight into the classroom, it also helps teachers feel like their roles matter to the policymakers.

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