What a terrific Annual Conference we had in Atlanta! We hope our keynote speakers left you inspired, our sessions delivered the right information to advance equity and excellence for every student in your state, and that you also had a little fun! The NASBE team left energized too: We are already brainstorming a long list of great ideas for next year’s conference and new NASBE work for the coming year. Stay tuned!

While we hope that you were among the 225-plus individuals who joined us in Atlanta last week, we know many of our members did not. Here are five key takeaways from the conference that you are welcome to share with your boards.

  1. We must move beyond the state plan. Now that most states have submitted their ESSA plans, it is time to focus on legacy leadership. State boards of education are not leading to get a piece of paper filed with the U.S. Department of Education. Instead, state boards must think about serving the children who are in classrooms right now and well into the future. Our student populations are becoming more diverse, and many live in poverty and arrive at the schoolhouse door years behind their peers. As The College Board’s David Coleman said in the opening general session, “That may not be your fault, but it is your problem.” We have all got to figure out how we are going to work to solve it.
  2. This is our moment as state board members. We had been calling it the “ESSA moment,” but the Alliance for Excellent Education’s Phillip Lovell calls it the “equity moment,” and I think he is right. The answers are not going to come from Washington. The answers to how we deal with all the challenges ahead are going to come from states. And even if your state board lacks the direct authority to address certain challenges, there are still things you can do to advance education in your states. Be a storyteller and talk about the good things that are going on in your schools every single day. Or empower others. Sometimes it is not the policies you pass but the policies you need to get rid of—the ones that stand in the way of teachers and principals and schools making a difference.
  3. Find tools and allies. In her remarks, Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen echoed a Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching motto: “We have to get better at getting better.” We need a better understanding of how to actually change schools, and we must acknowledge that, as state boards, we cannot do it alone. From creating better assessments to finding turnaround strategies that work, the tools you need are out there. You also have allies. Learning Heroes’ Bibb Hubbard spoke to us about how we can talk to parents in a way that makes more sense and builds trust. When parents are at the table as full partners, no one is going to turn the clock back on high expectations for their children.
  4. State boards should model civility. It is not surprising these days to pick up the paper or read through social media feeds and find people saying terrible things to each other. State boards do not do that. As this year’s Distinguished Service Awardee Wayne McDevitt astutely reminded us, the work that state boards do is not partisan. It is not partisan to raise achievement for all kids. Being civil to one another and having a get-it-done attitude are critical.
  5. NASBE is here to help. We know state board members all have day jobs and you cannot do it all by yourselves. NASBE’s small but mighty staff comes to work every day with one thing in mind: How can we make your job easier? So call on us for help. That’s why NASBE exists. Because our job is to make you look good every day.

~Kris Amundson, NASBE President and CEO