Council of Chief State School Officers

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The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is a nationwide, nonprofit organization composed of the public officials who head the departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity. The council serves these leaders and their state education agencies by:

  • Advocating federal education policy that will most effectively increase student achievement before the U.S. Congress and the administration;
  • Providing services and assistance to the chief school officers and members of their agencies to help them carry out their leadership responsibilities, including administration of federal programs; and
  • Working in partnership with federal agencies and private foundations on research and statistical studies, such as surveys of mathematics and science programs, and managing projects such as the WallaceReader's Digest Funds' initiative, Leaders Count, which support state actions to strengthen leadership in schools and districts.

Membership in the council is voluntary. Dues are paid by the state education agencies; each state's dues are based on the total expenditure for elementary and secondary education for that state related to the total expenditures for the nation. In 2001 council dues totaled $1.6 million, which was less than 10 percent of the overall budget of $17.5 million. More than 90 percent of the budget was in grants and contracts from federal agencies and private foundations. The council offices are in Washington, D.C.


Council members first convened in Washington in 1908 at the invitation of the U.S. Congress, which was seeking advice on crafting federal policy for vocational education. In 1927 the council was incorporated as a private nonprofit organization. Since then members have conferred regularly with the Congress and representatives of federal agencies. The council has provided a forum for shaping state consensus on federal educational policy, for exchanging practices among states, and for organizing multistate consortia to attain common objectives such as developing testing strategies and administering teacher licensing examinations.

During the 1960s, in addition to advocacy of federal policy on legislation such as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which relied on the states to administer the programs, the council began to link with the U.S. Office of Education, later the U.S. Department of Education (DoE), to help states administer the act. Similar connections have been made for administering other federal acts such as those for vocational education, education of disabled students, civil rights, telecommunications, and teacher education.

The growth of these supportive administrative activities, together with increased assistance to the DoE on data gathering and securing new foundation funds, expanded annual resources from $2.5 million with fifteen staff members in 1986 to $17.5 million and seventy-five staff members in 2001. Major grant projects included support for early childhood and parent education, teacher preparation and licensure, school leadership policies, arts education, and development of student standards and assessments.

Governance and Operations

Because the total maximum membership is fifty-seven persons, the council operates with extensive direct decision-making by the full membership. The entire membership elects officers and board members, sets state dues, approves all position papers and federal legislative positions, and approves the creation of committees and their membership. The council is guided by a board of nine directors, three of whom are officers. The board approves the budget and receipt of all grants and contract funds, sets the council agenda, and appoints the executive director, who in turn appoints all staff. No board members or officers are paid for their services to the council.

The membership meets three times each year: a federal legislative conference in Washington each March; a Summer Institute for professional development on the priority topic of the year in July, each year in a different host state; and a business meeting held in a different host state each November, at which major policy votes are taken and council priorities set.

The board and membership take extensive time to select and prepare each year's priority topic. One year is spent in development; the "priority" year is used for research and preparation of a council policy statement and the design of state implementation activities to be carried out through at least the two following years. Examples of topics include early childhood education, learning technologies, use of standards and assessments in reform strategies, international education, and preparation for employment and leadership for learning.

In addition to providing a network of services to the chiefs, the council offers more than a dozen nationwide networks for specialists in state education agencies. Examples of the network memberships are the deputy leaders of the state education agencies, assessment directors, statistical experts, mathematics and science coordinators, teacher licensing specialists, health education directors, learning technology experts, school reform strategists, and federal legislative representatives. With these networks the council helps to strengthen capacity throughout the state agencies.

The council staff comprises experts in the priority areas as established by the members. Staff strengths are in equity of education opportunity, assessments, standards and improvement strategies, leadership, teacher education, arts education, and federal legislative advocacy.

Accomplishments and Influence

The influence of CCSSO is illustrated by examples of federal legislative success, major policy statements, and significant innovative projects.

Federal legislation. The council is considered one of the top education lobbying forces in Washington. The provisions of the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) illustrate results on council-supported positions including strengthened emphasis on targeted aid to children of poverty; substantial increase of funding; increased state role in assessment and accountability; improved programs of learning technology, teacher preparation, 21st Century Schools, and accountabilitywith these programs featuring added flexibility in administration; and continued responsibility of state education agencies for state plans and administration. Proposals to transform targeted programs to federal revenue sharing, to establish vouchers for private school enrollment, and to transfer state administration to governors, which were considered by Congress, were omitted from the final legislation as advocated by the council.

Other major legislative successes in the 1990s include enactment of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, which provided nearly $2.5 billion for the development of state and local student standards, assessments, and reform strategies, and enactment of the "universal services" funding for learning technology under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which has provided nearly $2.2 billion of services to schools and libraries each year since enactment.

Policy papers. Among the most influential council statements is the 1984 paper calling for nationwide testing to provide state-by-state comparisons of student achievement. This position has been pivotal for enabling federal legislation authorizing state-by-state reporting of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), the measurement of progress on the National Goals of 1989, the establishment of state standards and assessments in the 1990s, and the key provisions for measuring progress of schools under the ESEA reauthorizations of 1994 and 2001. A second important CCSSO statement is the 1987 paper "Assuring Education Success for All," which called for a national goal of virtually 100 percent student graduation from high school. A third is a paper on early childhood education advocating universal opportunity for three- and four-year-olds to attend pre-kindergarten without barrier of cost. A fourth is a set of papers advocating comprehensive education reform based on student standards. These papers provided the underpinning for major federal initiatives in the 1990s, including the Goals 2000 legislation and the ESEA reauthorizations of 1994 and 2001, and for the reform strategies of the states during this period.

Exemplary projects. Among the extensive projects of the council, several have made notably unique nationwide contributions. From 1987, the time of authorization for state-by-state NAEP, into the early twenty-first century, the council won the contracts to prepare nearly all of the content frameworks for the subjects of the NAEP. Second, since the early 1960s the council has administered the national and state Teacher of the Year programs, the nation's most prestigious recognition of teaching.

Third, since 1995 the council, together with the National Association of State Arts Agencies, has provided leadership for the nation's most extensive advocacy of arts education. Fourth, to anticipate the increasing pressures of the global economy, worldwide security, and communications and to improve American education and better understand education in other nations, the council has assisted in shaping the system for international comparative studies of education. The council has served as the U.S. representative to the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), which conducts the major studies of mathematics, science, reading, civics education, and technology. The council has assisted in enabling the major breakthrough of direct state participation in these international comparisons. The council has also organized a decade-long exchange of practices with the education leaders of Japan.

Fifth, CCSSO has led formation of several coalitions of public and private education leaders to promote mutual support for legislative initiatives and exchange of practice, rather than antagonism. Sixth, the council has led the creation of a consortium of the major organizations of state officialsgovernors, legislators, and state education boards and chiefsas the major partner with the Wallace Reader's Digest Funds to assist states in strengthening policies and programs to improve school and district leadership. Through the Leaders Count program this project has been granted $8.9 million to help states with policy changes.

Concluding Note

Global communication, competition, and commerce are generating increasing pressures to nationalize education in the United States. In order to realize the advantages of pooling the nation's resources for improving education, centralization of authority is occurring at the national level. To assure such centralization does not drive out diversity and options in education, CCSSO is in a unique position to provide a countervailing force. The organization serves both to organize the state partnership with the federal government and as an independent advocate for state and local authorities to craft policies and govern education according to the particular aspirations of their jurisdictions. Around the globe nations are struggling with the task of finding the best mix of centralized and decentralized power to assure the most effective performance of their students gauged by international benchmarks. In the United States the council is uniquely placed to help fashion the best balance between standardized improvement and experimentation toward realizing new goals of equity and excellence.

See also: State Departments of Education.


Ambach, Gordon M. 1987. The State of Learning, New York 19771987. Albany: State University of New York, State Education Department.

Ambach, Gordon M. 1993. "Federal Action Essential for Education Reform." In National Issues in Education: The Past Is Prologue, ed. John F. Jennings. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa International.

Ambach, Gordon M. 1995. "Goals 2000: A New Partnership for Student Achievement." In National Issues in Education: Goals 2000 and School-to-Work, ed. John F. Jennings. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa International.

Gordon M. Ambach

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Council of Chief State School Officers

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Council of Chief State School Officers