2019 Best Kept Advocacy Secrets
August 13, 2019

Big Wins You Haven’t Heard of, Yet

This page has been updated to reflect the 2019 winner, as well as the nominees.

The Eddies!—annual, advocate-nominated awards—celebrate excellent policymaking and advocacy campaigns across the country.


Below are the nominations for Best Kept Secret—a big advance in policy (or defense of) that didn’t get big press. Click on a specific nomination to see more. 

See a complete list of winners, finalists, and nominees in all categories here.

2019 Best Kept Secret:

Top Finalists:

Additional Eddies! Nominees:


Improving Principal Preparation and Principal Pay

For the past few years, BEST NC has quietly been working on transforming how principals are trained and compensated in North Carolina. Given the importance of principals in attracting, developing, and retaining effective teachers, this is likely to be a game-changer in the long run for schools and students. Beginning in 2015, BEST NC championed an incentive grant to transform principal prep (TP3), increasing investment, raising the bar, and enabling programs to improve their practices.

Concurrently, BEST NC pushed for restructuring and increasing principal compensation in 2017 and 2018. By 2019, the numbers are incredible: five universities, 46 school districts, over 100 candidates, and an additional $40 million invested in principal pay. This year, BEST NC achieved the capstone: the state incorporated TP3 into an existing state fellowship program, securing the permanent future for TP3 and creating lasting change for tens of thousands of students.

ConnCAN and Educators for Excellence-Connecticut

Prioritizing Minority Teacher Recruitment and Retention

SB 1022, An Act Concerning Minority Teacher Recruitment and Retention, passed the House and Senate unanimously in Connecticut and was signed by Governor Lamont on July 1. The bill sets yearly targets to increase educators of color, among other things. The bill will increase the number of educators of color and fill teaching shortage areas in Connecticut. The bill sailed through the legislative process. In a year with a new governor, a difficult budget process, and controversial toll proposals, ConnCAN—in partnership with Educators for Excellence-Connecticut—kept working behind the scenes each step of the way. Press focus was on the testimony of legislators, most notably from members of Connecticut’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, with whom ConnCAN and E4E worked closely. Even though the legislation was signed and took effect July 1, 2019, many are still awaiting a formal bill signing ceremony, expected later this summer.

Over the last several years, Subira Gordon served in three roles in which she advanced this bill:  executive director of the CT Commission on Equity and Opportunity, member of the Minority Teacher Recruitment Taskforce, and executive director of ConnCAN. E4E-Connecticut executive director Andréa Comer, a former State Board of Education member and inaugural member of the Minority Teacher Recruitment Task Force, worked with educators statewide to advance the bill. Since the bill’s passage, both ConnCAN and E4E have been contacted by education leaders in other states.

Tennessee SCORE, Tennesseans for Student Success, TennesseeCAN and the Tennessee Charter School Center

Preserving Reforms Amid Leadership Turnover

2019 began as a year of transition for Tennessee. The state had a new governor, new education commissioner, and a General Assembly where a quarter of lawmakers were freshmen. These new legislators brought many innovative policy ideas about education, and several looked to overhaul Tennessee’s education policy framework, despite a decade of academic growth. SCORE, Tennesseans for Student Success, TennesseeCAN and the Tennessee Charter School Center worked together strategically to ensure these new officials understood the impact of essential education priorities, including foundational reforms such as setting high academic standards, creating an aligned rigorous assessment, and developing a strong accountability system, including a multi-measure teacher evaluation system. Critical accountability measures and student-focused policies quickly came under attack as the legislative session began, prompting the partners to rally key stakeholders and supporters to quickly urge legislators to preserve essential education policies. Although their efforts were largely direct and unpublicized, the advocate coalition ensured the legislature held steady on key reforms that contribute to better student outcomes and success.

The Education Trust-West, EdVoice, Teach Plus California, Data Quality Campaign

Long-Overdue Cradle-to-Career Student Data System in California

After decades of fits and starts, and advocacy from a wide range of organizations, California has finally committed to investing in building a statewide student longitudinal data system with the passage of the California Cradle-to-Career Data System Act. This has truly been a decades long struggle, with California, the home of Silicon Valley, digging its heels in as other states built robust student data infrastructures. Despite the frustration, the myriad advocates did not give up. The national pressure (and support) from DQC was unrelenting, and state advocacy organizations, like EdVoice, The Education Trust-West, and Teach Plus California kept the pressure on publicly and within the Legislature and Governor’s office, highlighting all the questions that cannot be answered about California’s students and schools. Advocates hope that the state will benefit from their recalcitrance and learn from the many states that came before California as the Cradle-to-Career Data System is created.

Additional Nominees

A for Arizona

Transparency Over Utilization and Vacancy of School Facilities

A for Arizona’s school partners have said that access to facilities is one of the largest inhibitors to quality school expansion. Research shows that Arizona has over 1.4 million square feet of vacant or underused school building space, with even more available capacity going unreported entirely. Additionally, outdated statutes limited how willing districts could share facilities with other partners.

Given those factors, A for Arizona recommended a policy to provide greater transparency regarding the empty and underused school facilities built and secured with taxpayer dollars. Public school leaders also wanted to make it easier for their districts to sell, lease, or share underutilized buildings—including running schools in existing buildings outside of their traditional district boundaries. Ideally, Arizona’s best schools will NOW be able to expand to serve all students who want to attend their schools, and advocates know that many district and charter schools with waitlists welcome that opportunity.

Informed by research and school testimony, SB 1161 garnered bipartisan support in the Arizona legislature and was signed into law by Governor Doug Ducey. The bill tackles numerous roadblocks for districts that want to pursue partnerships that put idle space to an educational use and improves district facilities reporting. SB 1161 also provides Arizona’s school districts with clearer authority to enter into long-term leases and to jointly operate with other districts, charter schools, or community partners such as military bases to provide innovative school models such as cooperatively run arts or coding programs, and schools-within-schools.

As this bill advanced through the legislative process, exciting conversations began between school leaders on how to better use vacant and partially used buildings to bring in-demand school models and beneficial new partnerships into their districts. Others have already had offers to take their highly performing school district models outside their traditional boundaries. These partnerships are now realistically in play with the revisions provided by SB 1161.

A+ Education Partnership and Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd)

Computer Science Education for All

During the 2019 legislative session, A+ Education Partnership in partnership with the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) worked tirelessly with state leaders and other partners to prioritize and pass a comprehensive computer science (CS) education bill. Alabama will now require high-quality computer science education in all K-12 schools, becoming the fifth state to adopt all nine Code.org Advocacy Coalition Policies. The bill includes funding for implementation and establishes multiple pathways for teachers and CS experts to become certified to teach these courses. Not only does this bill help ensure students are better prepared for the changing economy, it positions Alabama as a leader in computer science education nationally. Though this legislation was monumental for Alabama schools & students, because the state had a tumultuous & controversial legislative session that occupied headlines both locally and nationally, the CS bill received very little coverage. Nonetheless, advocates drove the conversation amongst lawmakers, ensuring computer science education will become a staple in Alabama schools.

Advance Illinois

Further Revising Funding Formula to Serve Under-Resourced Students

Advance Illinois worked with partners including Educators for Excellence, Stand for Children, Teach Plus Illinois and a coalition to help pass the Evidence-Based Model for Student Success Act (otherwise known as SB1) in 2017 that put in place a more equitable funding system for K-12 funding in Illinois. It’s no secret that this game-changing team helped bring about sweeping reform to school funding equity in Illinois. What isn’t as well known is how the formula got so broken in the first place. Years of ignoring the formula meant inequities grew exponentially. So, advocates have done two things. First, leaders built an ongoing oversight body—the Professional Review Panel— in the legislation to help monitor and adjust the formula as necessary. Second, and critically, the team caught and fixed one big problem immediately, avoiding a problem that could have caused a significant drag on equity if left unchecked. As importantly, this quick fix helped keep the Equity First Coalition together and focused, and build the state’s muscle and habit to review and adjust its complex formula along the way. NOTE: The legislative “fix” changed the distribution mechanism for $50 million set aside for property tax relief. As drafted, over $10 million went to high-wealth/high-adequacy districts—money that would become embedded in their annual state allocations into the future. Left unchecked, and assuming similar inequity each year, this would have grown to be a problem exceeding $100 million in a few short years. With the legislative adjustment, these dollars now will be distributed in a way that prioritizes districts that both have high tax rates and are the most poorly funded in the state.  In sum, it was a good outcome and a significant step in the direction of continuous improvement in the policy arena.

Colorado Succeeds

Statewide Focus on Making Colorado’s Education System More Agile, Starting with New Ways to Support Student Learning in High School

In 2017, America Succeeds released a report entitled “The Age of Agility,” which explains how workers in the future will need to be more agile, requiring our education system to become more agile as well in order to prepare students to succeed.

Colorado Succeeds took the Agility concept and ran with it. First, they were successful in compelling then-Governor Hickenlooper to include Agility as a key focus area for developing new recommendations for state policy, and this year they worked with the new Polis administration to ensure that Agility would retain its prominent focus. As an example, Colorado Succeeds worked with courageous legislators in the 2019 legislative session to support agile learners and systems by addressing the state’s antiquated student funding system. The current model requires schools to count a student’s “seat-time,” or the time they spend in front of a teacher, in order to get the per pupil allocation. What we know about the future is that it’s going to require a tremendous amount of agility: collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and the essential skills that go along with being a globally-minded citizen.

Colorado Succeeds worked closely with legislators to pass the High School Innovative Learning Pilot (SB19-216) which provides incentives for schools to pilot new learning opportunities (work-based learning, career and community exploration), and in turn provides full-funding for high school students without requiring burdensome proof of time in seats. Further, it encourages schools to validate the learning that is happening outside of the classroom, creating opportunities for students to engage in relevant, real-world problem solving while also earning credit toward graduation.

Foundation for Excellence in Education

Progress on Personalized Learning in Montana

Montana took two giant steps toward advancing personalized learning by funding incentives for schools to create Transformational Learning Programs and by creating the Advanced Opportunity Act. The act offers funding to qualifying districts to create programs that foster individualized pathways for career and post-secondary educational opportunities; embed community-based, experiential, online and work-based learning opportunities; and ensure equality of educational opportunity to participate by all qualifying pupils of the district. These important incentives create the opportunity for districts to think beyond seat time and prescribed age groups towards a system that focuses on individuals over averages.

Foundation for Florida’s Future

Aligning and Promoting Career and Technical Education in Florida

Foundation for Florida’s Future rallied a coalition of partner organizations, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Council of 100, Florida Council for Educational Change, Project Lead the Way, Code.org, NAF Career Academies, Florida Association of Career and Technical Education, and District Career & Technical Education directors, to advocate for legislation that eliminates pathways to dead-end jobs, aligns state-funded courses to regional workforce needs, increases college degree attainment and propels Florida to become the best state in workforce education. The eventual legislation—House Bill 7071—was unanimously passed by both chambers and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The policies contained within the law, including an annual audit of career and technical education programs and tuition assistance for students close to finishing their degrees, will ensure more Floridians will be ready to succeed in college and career than ever before. Florida’s efforts can serve as a playbook for other states on how to effectively harness bi-partisan support to dramatically improve workforce education.

GO Public Schools (Oakland)

Community of Schools Citywide Plan

In 2017, GO Public Schools Oakland launched the 1Oakland campaign, through which they are working to build a community movement to hold district and charter leaders accountable for actively collaborating to manage Oakland’s system of public schools to increase quality, equity, and sustainability. The Community of Schools Citywide Plan was a major win in this campaign. Passed by the OUSD school board on March 20, 2019 by a vote of 5-1-1, the plan is inclusive of nearly every recommendation demanded by the 1Oakland campaign, including taking steps toward determining a single measure of quality for all OUSD public schools, shrinking and redesigning the central office, and identifying how OUSD can support innovation and increase the number of high-quality school options within the district.

To encourage the passing of the plan and build their clear demands, 1Oakland community leaders dedicated more than 2,500 hours to community engagement, including meeting with hundreds of community members, engaging with elected officials, communicating across social media channels and with earned media, and showing up in force amidst public opposition to demand that the Oakland community come together towards common ground—arguing for the focus to be on creating more quality overall in our district-run and public charter schools.

Oakland continues to be one of the foremost pressure points of the ongoing national district-versus-charter school debate and faces many other challenges, including an ongoing budget crisis, school closures and consolidations, and the fallout of a recent teacher strike. While there was significant local coverage about this win, it flew under the radar nationally because of the many major news stories in Oakland education.

However, this win is a beacon of what is possible in Oakland and communities across the country. Since its passing, advocates have seen positive signs of growing district-charter collaboration—collaboration that could be replicated in other districts. This win is significant not only in that it will lead to meaningful change for Oakland students, but because it shows what is possible, even in the most divisive environments when leaders put the needs of students first. Even when the rhetoric suggests a divided city, this win shows that the majority of Oaklanders (as well as the leaders of the school district, charter public schools, and school board) are aligned on coming together for more quality for students, in both district-run and charter public schools.

Stand for Children Arizona

Reforming Legislation to help English Language Learners

For nearly two decades, English Language Learners have been isolated from core classes. As a result, according to the state’s report card, ELL students scored below all other subgroups on the statewide assessment, in every grade level and subject area, including students with special needs. In terms of education funding, this issue, unfortunately, didn’t get the coverage it deserved, but this reform issue is a big deal nonetheless.

Stand Arizona extensively researched the policy and drafted legislation SB 1014. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed it into law, reinventing the landscape for students to learn English faster. 

The new law will now allow ELL students to spend more time interacting with native speakers to help them learn English faster. Prior to the passing of this legislation, ELL students were required to take part in four-hour blocks of language isolation. With this change, the requirement moves to a two-hour minimum, giving expert educators the opportunity to tailor schedules to the needs of their students. 

Despite the countless setbacks in previous legislative sessions, Stand for Children Arizona never gave up on students. Despite many saying that they couldn’t change a law that had been in place for over a decade, they continued to challenge the status quo. Stand for Children Arizona kept meeting with legislative leaders to pass common-sense legislation. Stand for Children Arizona kept informing parents of the need for change and equipping them with the tools they needed to accomplish it. Stand for Children Arizona kept sending out emails and asking folks to contact their lawmakers.

The Education Trust–New York

Encouraging Equity Focus in School Board Elections

The Education Trust–New York launched ‘For the Students’ to increase public awareness and engagement about key education equity issues in New York. One of the most significant components of the project was an innovative partnership with the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester. Ed Trust–NY collaborated with the media outlet to produce a special section that ran in the Sunday newspaper prior to the election (115,000 circulation). An additional 5,000 copies were distributed to faith communities and community organizations. Ed Trust–NY and the D&C also collaborated to produce videos elevating parent voices on critical issues. Ed Trust–NY navigated the challenge of forging a rare type of partnership and striking a balance between collaborating with the media outlet while maintaining a respect for editorial boundaries. The partnership is significant because it serves as a model for organizations across the country interested in amplifying their work and improving coverage through this type of unique partnership.

Learn more about the 2019 winners, finalists, and nominees in each category.

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    Ashley Schmidt

    Ashley is PIE Network's Senior Director of Member Engagement & Communications

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