Organizational changes in state education agencies: Responses to standards-based accountability

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This study examines organizational changes in state education agencies (SEAs) in the context of current standards-based accountability policies. It identifies the changing organizational characteristics of SEAs and depicts the organizational motivations and strategies adopted to bring about change. Based on institutional theory and empirical evidence from state departments of education, the study proposes a theoretical framework that explains the organizational change process. The organizational level analysis illustrates the impact of standards-based accountability policy on the structure and networks of SEAs and highlights the importance of organizational analysis in the policy design process.

The study employs a mixed-methods design to investigation the changing experience of state departments of education in the past two decades with a focus on the post-No Child Left Behind era. Together with primary and secondary texts and documents, it draws data from interviews with state officials in ten state departments of education and national surveys of 50 states in 2003, 2004 and 2007. The study identifies internal changes regarding organizational structure, staffing, and technology as well as external changes in terms of their functions and working relationships with other educational agencies. To understand the process of organizational change, the study examines the organizational motivations and strategies that state departments of education used to bring about these changes.

The study finds that, since early 1990s, state departments of education have gradually changed their role in the U.S. education system from monitoring finance administration to compliance with federal requirements to provide technical assistance. The organizational structure is changed to increase internal efficiency accompanied by a decrease in administrative staff but an increase in the need for technical staff, particularly staff that can help with the increasing technology in the organizations' data systems. State departments of education developed new relationships with local educational agencies with unprecedented attention on student academic performance and school management. These changes were pushed by both state and federal reforms that highlight the positive role state agencies can play to improve school performance. To make these changes happen, state departments have used networking as a way to expand organizational capacity and pushed cross-level collaboration to improve organizational efficiency.