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:
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.
Since 2000, ECS has targeted its focus on developing greater depth and range in pivotal policy areas — accountability, citizenship, early learning, leadership, postsecondary and workforce development, and teaching quality — cross-cutting issues such as P-16/20 restructuring, early childhood education and school finance. Today, ECS continues to provide tools and resources for state policymakers to develop effective policy and practice in education.
Today, all states but one (Washington), plus the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories, are members of the Compact for Education. Each state and territory is represented by its governor and six other commissioners — typically legislators, higher education officials, state superintendents and business/community leaders — who are appointed by the governor. The ECS chairmanship (which was changed, in 2002, from a one-year to a two-year term) alternates between political parties.
The purpose of ECS is to enlighten, equip and engage key education leaders — governors, legislators, chief state school officers, higher education officials, business leaders and others to improve education across the 50 states and U.S. territories. ECS conducts policy research and analysis; convenes state, regional and national policy conferences; “connects the dots” across the policy landscape; promotes networks and partnerships; and provides information, news and customized state technical assistance.
The ECS website, www.ecs.org, features the nation's only comprehensive database of state education policy enactments, searchable by state, by year and by policy issue; up-to-date information on more than 100 education policy topics, including summaries of and links to useful reports, studies and websites, and examples of innovative state policies and programs; and multi-state reports and databases that allow users to review and compare state policies on issues of top concern and interest.
ECS Chairmen 1965-present
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-
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