What You Need to Know: The Top Levels of Leadership in the Educational System
Leaders can be determine by in various ways whether it is pertaining to well-known leaders like the President, future leaders like the students in your classroom or historical leaders around the world. However, as an Educator there is a leadership structure within the educational system that you should be aware of as you continue investing in the lives of students. This article provides an overview of the levels of leadership in education including the role of the governor, legislator, state board of education, the chief state school officer, and the state department of education.
The governor is undoubtedly the most influential person in the state, setting policy and reaching decisions on all areas under his or her jurisdiction, including education. Some governors take a very active role in determining and designing the course of educational policy for their state. Many have a team of advisors who provide guidance on all issues related to education. The advisory team is frequently composed of former educators but, in many states, leaders from the business community also serve on this team. Advisors act as a liaison between the governor and the legislature by providing assistance with policy creation and providing many public relations oriented tasks and events such as hosting press conferences, designing public announcements, and convening public meetings on the governor’s behalf.
Although the governor is the most influential person in the state, the legislature is a powerful body in establishing policies, passing laws, and appropriating funds for education. Educational policies set by legislatures have received more interest from the public in recent years, primarily due to the increased prominence (and surrounding controversy) of educational financing and student assessment.
All members of the legislative assembly are elected to their positions by the voters in their districts and are directly responsible to those voters when making policy decisions or enacting educational regulation. Legislators often represent a diversity of both opinions and expectations when dealing with educational matters. For example, a politician from a rural district may have different needs and priorities from one who represents an inner-city district. The state legislature will form an education committee, which oversees both educational policy and funding and creates or suggests revisions to policies. Just like the governor, these committees are advised by specially appointed aides, who collect and help to interpret information for the committee members.
The State Board of Education
The SBE is charged with implementing educational policy and providing both governance and supervision to all schools located within the state. Typically, the SBE performs the following functions:
• Establish the general goals, vision, and direction for education in the state.
• Determine the curriculum that will be taught in classrooms.
• Set the standards by which students’ achievement will be measured.
• Establish guidelines regarding the operation of all elementary and secondary schools, and determine how programs will be regulated within individual schools.
• Advise the governor/legislature about necessary changes to policy.
• Report to both the public and to the governor/legislature on the status of education in the state.
The SBE determines the appropriateness of educational policy, while the chief state school officer ensures that approved policies are implemented. Typically, the governor appoints members to the SBE, but in some states, the public elects members. Generally, SBEs or the equivalent bodies have between 9 and 15 members.
The Chief State School Officer
The chief state school officer is directly responsible to the SBE or equivalent body. The title of this position varies among different states and may be referred to as the state superintendent or commissioner of education, serving the same function in some states. Either the governor or the SBE appoints an individual for this position in some states, whereas other states elect this official by public vote.
The chief state school officer is frequently a member of the governor’s cabinet and can therefore exert his or her influence on policy and decision making directly with the governor. An elected chief state school officer may be less influenced by the governor’s opinions on and views about education in the state. As of 2008, 23 chief state school officers were appointed by the SBEs, 17 were appointed by the governor, two were appointed by the SBE and approved by the governor, while the remaining 11 were elected by popular vote.
The principal duties of the chief state school officer are related to educational policy setting and to ameliorating any education-related issues that may arise. The chief state school officer strives to improve education and sets task forces to delve into issues and to propose solutions. The officer also coordinates studies to determine the overall status of education within the state and then communicates these findings to the governor, the legislature, the SBE, and the general public. Although the chief state school officer has very little direct authority over educational personnel at the local level, his or her influence is evidenced through policy and regulatory changes.
State boards of education exert powerful influence over teachers and schools by creating education policy and providing leadership. Through adopting educational policies and setting standards for educational initiatives, the board provides the direction required to allow teachers to prepare today’s students for a victorious future. Each state board varies in size, and their members are drawn from districts throughout the state. The commissioner or superintendent of education serves as the chief executive officer for the state and usually supervises the board.
The actions of these individuals have direct implications for the day-to-day lives of teachers. The board has direct oversight over teacher licensure and adopts and sets licensure policies. They also decide what should be included in the curriculum and how students should be instructed. They also provide financial oversight over the states’ K–12 schools and set teacher salaries.
The State Department of Education
The state department of education is usually presided over by the chief state school officer and ensures that all legislation and regulation created by the state are observed throughout the state. The state department of education is also primarily tasked with the accreditation of teacher education programs and the certification of all educational personnel (e.g., teachers, principals, counselors.) The department also oversees the dispersal of educational funds, evaluates programs, suggests improvements to curriculum, and collects and analyzes data and issues reports. The state department of education often calls on teachers to offer their perspectives, experiences, and needs regarding educational concerns. You may be asked (or you may wish to volunteer) to participate in committees that advise the chief state school officer and the state department on instructional matters.
Knowing each of these levels of leadership will aid in understanding the impact of government on the educational system. The question remains how are these levels of leadership impacting your local school districts today?