In the mid-1960s James Bryant Conant, an educator, scientist and diplomat who served as the president of Harvard University from 1933 to 1953, put forth the idea of an interstate compact on education policy. His 1964 book Shaping Education Policy was written when the GI Bill, the National Defense Education Act, Great Society legislation and other initiatives had greatly enlarged the federal role in education. In the book Conant 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.
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 — the Education Commission of the States — opened its headquarters in Denver in 1967, with former Cincinnati school superintendent Wendell H. Pierce serving as its first executive director.
Today, Education Commission of the States continues to partner with education policy leaders to address issues by sharing resources and expertise. We are proud to serve both the people who develop and implement education policy and the students who directly benefit from effective policy change.
For a more detailed history of Education Commission of the States, read Compact-for-Education and the Transcript of Proceedings – Planning Conference of the Compact for Education, September 29-30, 1965. To see a list of past chairs and presidents, please click here.