Improving the State of Public Education

10/22/2010 12:59 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There's been a great deal of debate on the real impact of Race to the Top. Some have said it's leveraged unprecedented change; others, not so much. The most accurate answer is, we just don't know yet. This story is still being written. This year, roughly have of all states have passed ambitious education reform legislation. More than a dozen have toughened laws on how teachers are evaluated and other policies that improve teacher quality. Those are fairly amazing political accomplishments no matter how you spin it. Rarely has so much change in law happened in so many places in so little time.

However, skeptics are also right to say, "I'll buy it when I see change in the classroom." They know that it's in state rule-making processes to implement policy that well-intentioned laws can often lose their potency. That's because new laws have to be turned into workable plans, that talented people must be found to manage those efforts, and that the state leaders and other groups that signed on to these winning plans must stay committed to them through implementation.

The good news is, across the country, education reform advocacy organizations are proving that when strategic, focused, and unrelenting, they can change political will. These scrappy nonprofit advocacy groups are bringing credible, evidence-based, nonpartisan voices for education reform to their state capitals. And they are winning. Those groups will bring a much needed public voice to how those plans are shaped.

This week, many of these advocates and other key state leaders are gathering for the PIE Network's Fourth Annual Policy Summit in Nashville, Tennessee. Our theme, Now What? Translating The Ambitious Legislation Into Workable Plans For Change, recognizes the critical role that education reform advocacy organizations have played and will continue to play in determining the ultimate impact of Race to the Top.

The PIE Network is made up of 25 such state-level advocacy organizations from 18 states.
Those organizations are committed full-time to advancing education reform at the state level. All are committed to pursuing and protecting state-level policies that:

  • Close achievement gaps and help all students graduate from high school prepared for college and a career.
  • Create urgency to improve low-performing schools and school districts.
  • Increase teacher effectiveness and school accountability.
  • Advance and protect quality charter schools and other options for parent choice.
  • Improve transparency, equity, and productivity of educational funding systems.
As we prepare for the network's annual policy summit, we're reminded just how complicated the state landscape remains, even with the federal push of an effort like Race to the Top. Some states have passed ambitious laws and are in the process of implementation-some as winners with cash at hand while others are regrouping to implement plans without those dollars. Some are still working on the legislative side, trying to find some way to continue to leverage the competitive instincts of their state leaders.

Whatever version of this story is playing out at the state level, we know state advocates will be key to writing the story's ending -- and to ensuring that most of those laws deliver as promised.