How State Boards of Education Influence Education Policy

Alongside governors and legislatures, state boards of education play a crucial role in developing a state’s education standards and policies. 

A state board of education differs in each state, but typically, it acts as a decision-making body for the state department of education. As such, the state board of education can pass policies that are not voted on by elected representatives or the public. Boards are composed of either appointed or elected officials, or sometimes both.

In most states, the state board of education can:

  • Establish required or recommended curriculum standards, high school graduation requirements, and student assessment methods (such as standardized testing),
  • Create school districts accreditation standards,
  • Develop professional education programs for administrators and teachers, and
  • Determine qualifications for teachers and school faculty. 

Who is on the state board of education?

The governor appoints individuals to the state board of education in most states, though several states elect their state board of education. Some states use a combination of both methods. Just like the president selects cabinet members and nominates federal judges, a governor decides who is on the state board of education.

This is an important decision with far-reaching consequences. A governor should conduct his or her selection of state board of education members with the same level of scrutiny as judicial nominations. 

How state boards of education influence curriculum

State boards of education have the authority to institute or influence state curriculum and academic standards. Boards can determine mandatory subject areaslike math, reading, or even ethnic studiesand the knowledge and skills a student ought to master in within a subject at each grade level. While most states allow school districts to determine the exact curriculum and instructional materials used in the classroom, state boards of education approve a model set of learning standards that districts often turn to when developing their curriculum. 

The state board of education’s role in discipline, oversight, and accountability

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), each state is required to submit their K-12 goals, standards, and how they will achieve them to the U.S. Department of Education.  This is intended to create accountability for K-12 public schools. In most states, the state board of education creates and submits a plan for how their state will abide by ESSA. 

State superintendents 

The state superintendent is an executive office official responsible for overseeing K-12 and higher education. Twelve states elect their state superintendent, and in the other 38 states, the official is appointed by the governor, board of education, or board of regents. 

Alongside state board of education appointments, this is one of the most influential picks a governor can make, as the state superintendent decisions can influence the state’s K-12 and higher education systems.

You can read more about state superintendents here.

Advocacy at your state board of education

State boards of education are influential, and concerned citizens like you can advocate to your state board of education for policies that improve education for all children. 

Below are tips to help you be as effective as possible when advocating to your state board of education. 

  • Advocate for students. Even in a student-focused area like education policy, people often advocate for their own self-interest. You are more likely to persuade the state board of education by making it clear that your interest is the education and safety of children.
  • Master your issue. What’s the problem? Do you have concrete examples? How can you fix it? To make the most of your time and theirs, be familiar with the issue you want to change.
  • Build a rapport with your state board of education members. Our state board of education members thrive on personal connection, and will be more willing to hear your concerns if you approach them with kindness and respect. Thank them for their hard work, and share a few positive things with them as you share your concerns.