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How is ECS different? We’ve created an infographic that tells the story by showcasing our work in 2013.

ECS infographic




A brief history of the Education Commission of the States

The idea of an interstate compact on education was put forth in the mid-1960s by James Bryant Conant, an educator, scientist and diplomat who had served as the president of Harvard University from 1933 to 1953.

Writing at a time when the GI Bill, the National Defense Education Act, Great Society legislation and other initiatives had greatly enlarged the federal role in education, Conant, in his 1964 book Shaping Education Policy, called for a kind of counterbalance — a mechanism for improving and strengthening education policy and policymaking at the state level. Such a mechanism, he said, would:

  • Give voice to the diverse interests, needs, and traditions of states.
  • Enable them to cooperate and communicate with one another.
  • Promote their working together to focus national attention on the pressing education issues of the day.

Conant explained that, "there is no study in depth of the experience of the different states in this matter. There is no way in which a state now considering the subject can obtain reliable and complete information from other states that have had many years of experience. We ought to have a mechanism by which each state knows exactly what the other states have done in each education area, and the arguments pro and con. We ought to have a way by which the states could rapidly exchange information and plans in all education matters from kindergarten to the university graduate schools."

In early 1965, John W. Gardner, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, teamed up with Terry Sanford, who had recently left the governorship of North Carolina, to transform Conant's idea into reality. Over the next two years, under Sanford's leadership, the Compact for Education was drafted, endorsed by representatives of all 50 states and approved by Congress.

The operating arm of the compact – christened the Education Commission of the States (ECS) — opened its headquarters in Denver in 1967, with former Cincinnati school superintendent Wendell H. Pierce serving as its first executive director. Sanford hailed ECS as “the most exciting educational experiment on the American scene — a working partnership for the good of the nation.”

ECS played a pivotal role in the transition to a standards-based education system, and in enlarging policymakers' recognition and understanding of emerging issues, trends and challenges: the needs of at-risk children, minority teacher quality and recruitment, system restructuring, service-learning, school choice, postsecondary access and brain research.

For a more detailed history of ECS, read The Compact for Education and the Transcript of Proceedings – Planning Conference of the Compact for Education, September 29-30, 1965.

ECS Chairs 1965-present

Organizing Chairman Terry Sanford North Carolina
1965-66 John H. Chaffee Rhode Island
1966-67 Charles L. Terry Jr. Delaware
1967-68 Calvin L. Rampton Utah
1968-69 Robert E. McNair South Carolina
1969-70 Tom McCall Oregon
1970-71 Russell W. Peterson Delaware
1971-72 Robert W. Scott North Carolina
1972-73 Winfield Dunn Tennessee
1973-74 Reubin Askew Florida
1974-75 John C. West South Carolina
1975-76 Arch A. Moore Jr. West Virginia
1976-77 Jerry Apodaca New Mexico
1977-78 Otis P. Bowen Indiana
1978-79 Dixy Lee Ray Washington
1979-80 William G. Milliken Michigan
1980-81 Robert Graham Florida
1981-82 Robert D. Ray Iowa
1982-83 James B. Hunt Jr. North Carolina
1983-84 Pierre S. duPont Delaware
1984-85 Charles S. Robb Virginia Business and Education Reform
1985-86 Thomas H. Kean New Jersey Teacher Renaissance: Improving Undergraduate Education
1986-87 Bill Clinton Arkansas Speaking of Leadership
1987-88 John Ashcroft Missouri Family Involvement in the Schools
1988-89 Rudy Perpich Minnesota Partners in Learning: Linking College Mentors with At-Risk Schools
1989-90 Garrey E. Carruthers New Mexico Sharing Responsibility for Success
1990-91 Booth Gardner Washington All Kids Can Learn
1991-92 John R. McKernan Maine Keeping the Promises of Reform
1992-93 Evan Bayh Indiana Education for a Revitalized Democracy
1993-94 Jim Edgar Illinois Building Communities that Support Education Reform
1994-95 Roy Romer Colorado Making Quality Count in Undergraduate Education
1995-96 Tommy Thompson Wisconsin Connecting Learning and Work
1996-97 Terry Branstad Iowa Harnessing Technology for Teaching and Learning
1997-98 Zell Miller Georgia Investing in Student Achievement
1998-99 Paul E. Patton Kentucky Transforming Postsecondary Education
1999-2000 Jim Geringer Wyoming In Pursuit of Quality Teaching
2000-01 Jeanne Shaheen New Hampshire Early Learning: Improving Results for Young Children
2001-02 Kenny Guinn Nevada Leading for Literacy
2002-03 Roy Barnes Georgia Closing the Achievement Gap
2003-04 Mark Warner Virginia High-Quality Teachers for Hard-to-Staff Schools
2004-06 Mike Huckabee Arkansas The Arts: A Lifetime of Learning
2006-08 Kathleen Sebelius Kansas Great Teachers for Tomorrow
2008-11 Tim Pawlenty Minnesota No chair’s initiative
2011-13 John Hickenlooper Colorado No chair’s initiative
2013-15 Brian Sandoval Nevada English Language Learners
2015-17 Steve Bullock Montana  

ECS Executive Directors/Presidents 1965-present 

Wendell H. Pierce (executive director) 1967-1976

Warren Hill (executive director) 1976-80

Robert Andringa (executive director) 1980-84

Frank Newman (president) 1985-99

Ted Sanders (president) 2000-05

Piedad F. Robertson (president) 2005-2006

Roger Sampson (president) 2007-2012

Jeremy Anderson (president) 2012-present

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