The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2002 provided a federal mandate for state education agencies (SEAs) to build the capacity of under-performing districts and schools through the development of “statewide systems of support.” Lane (2007) articulates the challenges inherent in the development of statewide systems of support (SSoS), including “(1) negotiating and balancing expectations to monitor and provide support; (2) building organizational cohesiveness around district and school improvement; and (3) addressing external conditions hindering district and school improvement” (p. 12).
Despite the challenges inherent in NCLB, the Act caused states to think about or rethink their role in the improvement process. For example, Paul Reville, then director of the Education Policy and Management Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, argued that the role of state education agencies (SEAs) should be systemic improvement of instruction. The question posed by Reville is as relevant today as it was in 2007: “How can states assist districts to help schools to help teachers improve instruction? How can teachers, through enhanced practice, help students to learn more?” (p. 17) Irrespective of the school within the district in which a child is educated, and irrespective of the district within the state in which a child is educated, he or she should have equitable access to high-quality instruction. The term “district” refers collectively to regular public school districts and their schools, and to community schools, in Ohio.
Ohio has maintained a strong SSoS through the provision of support and direction to the state support team (SST) network that is its foundation. The SST network, working in collaboration with educational service centers (ESCs) and other partners, is designed to build the capacity of all districts to provide every child and youth with equitable opportunities to learn. Its operational goal is to improve the learning of children and youth through the use of inclusive instructional practices that support students’ development of foundational knowledge and skills, competence with well-rounded academic content, reasoning skills, and social-emotional skills – critical domains represented in Ohio’s new strategic education plan. Ohio’s SSoS views districts – and all schools within each district – as the unit of change and improvement.