State education agencies: Insights on equitable scalability

Five partnership strategies for ensuring K-12 districts have the tools and tech they need—when they need them
By: | March 5, 2020
(Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash)(Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash)
Tracy Weeks is the executive director of K12 strategy for Instructure. She served previously as executive director for the State Educational Technology Directors Association.

Tracy Weeks is the executive director of K12 strategy for Instructure. She served previously as executive director for the State Educational Technology Directors Association.

The challenge state education agencies face today is how to scale the initiatives they need to implement for all school districts—with fidelity and equity. States must respect local control and leadership of county and district offices and ensure that all students (and teachers) have access to quality content, instruction and the tools they need to be successful. Making sure K-12 districts have the right tools and connectivity at the right price is also important and it is happening in many states.

Here are five state-district partnership strategies for ensuring schools have the support they need—when they need it.

  1. Offering differentiated support: Educators are familiar with differentiated learning for students, but states can approach supporting districts, schools and classrooms in a similar fashion. Not all districts and schools need the same level of support. Some have the tools they need as well as the expertise and leadership to implement them well to support their teachers. So the focus must be on the districts that need the most support, whether that is driven from student achievement or from small, rural districts that lack resources.

    With strategic collaboration, states can ensure that districts’ educational initiatives can scale equitably.

  2. Scaling best practices: Every state has districts that are driving innovation and developing practices that are highly effective for student growth and achievement. States need to purposefully connect such districts with others that need more support. This could include sharing teachers and content, and offering professional growth through virtual opportunities.

    Read: 5 questions to ask before using ed tech in class


  3. Providing tools for equity: To differentiate and scale, districts need the right tools in their toolkits. These tools could include anything from student information systems, learning management systems and assessment management systems to learning object repositories. States, districts and schools are often looking for the “best of breed” in each system, rather than all-in-one packages, making open systems and interoperability critical. By having common systems in place across the state or large regional areas, differentiated support and scaling best practices become far more practical. Districts are then able to share courses and content. States can provide virtual professional development for all teachers.


    Read: How rural North Dakota scales online early learning


  4. Implementing volume pricing: While purchasing decisions largely remain at the district level, we do see some states purchasing platforms for statewide use as a foundation for the other tools districts need to layer on top. States or even regional consortia are able to obtain volume pricing that smaller districts in particular are not typically able to access.


    Read: Is the school connectivity gap closed?


  5. Ensuring connectivity: Having all the tools and expertise in the world will not matter if all districts do not have access to high-quality bandwidth to access these tools. States are supporting districts by providing assistance in obtaining E-rate dollars to offset the costs of connectivity.


Read: How states and Trump want to boost colleges and careers


States and districts can and should work together to make sure all teachers have the tools they need to successfully help all learners grow. Each state is unique in its geography, population, governance and leadership for educational initiatives. However, each state has districts that are leveraging technology to effectively conquer educational challenges, and districts that either struggle with having the right resources or the right leadership, or both. With strategic collaboration, states can ensure that districts’ educational initiatives can scale equitably.


Tracy Weeks is the executive director of K12 strategy for Instructure. She served previously as executive director for the State Educational Technology Directors Association, where she worked at a national level with state and federal education agencies on education technology policy, and also as chief academic and digital learning officer for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.


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