New Education Advocacy Organizations in the U.S. States: National Snapshot and a Case Study of Advance Illinois

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New Education Advocacy Organizations in the U.S. States: National Snapshot and a Case Study of Advance Illinois

New education advocacy organizations are an increasingly important force in state politics and, given the trajectory of growth in this sector, are likely to be influential into the future. During the last decade, these organizations have emerged often with comprehensive agendas focused on accountability, educator quality, data transparency, and choice. Operationally, new education advocacy organizations tend to differ from more traditional advocacy groups in two main respects.

  • First, the new education advocacy organizations usually do not have large membership rolls drawn from the ranks of people who are employed by or are elected to serve in traditional school districts. Some do not even have formal members beyond individuals who might be signed up to receive informational items, such as a regular email update. Among the new education advocates that do operate as membership organizations, these groups tend to recruit into their ranks parents or business leaders who may have some interest in education but do not necessarily work for schools or school districts.
  • A second related difference is that the new education advocacy organizations tend to be financially supported either completely or in large part by foundation grants and donations from individual contributors rather than membership dues.

We provide two vantage points from which to view new education advocacy organizations. A high-altitude view summarizes conditions across the U.S. states, and an in-depth case study of one group, Advance Illinois, provides a detailed perspective. The study addresses the following RESEARCH QUESTIONS:

  • What are the characteristics of new education advocacy organizations, including their basic organizational features and their priorities?
  • In what ways have new education advocacy organizations contributed to public discussions and education policy agendas in states?
  • What factors help to explain the track records of new education advocacy organizations?
  • What does the evidence suggest for new education advocacy organizations themselves as they attempt to refine their work, and for foundations making decisions about supporting their efforts?
  • What are some of the potential broader implications of the work of new education advocacy organizations on the prospects for improving education in the United States?

A framework grounded in the concept of "policy entrepreneurship" organizes the study. We use the following SIX DIMENSIONS OF POLICY ENTREPRENEURSHIP to help us answer our research questions. These dimensions identify successful policy entrepreneurs as being:

  • CREATIVE AND INSIGHTFUL, which means they offer novel ways of discussing policy challenges that help others to see potential problems with current practices as well as possible future solutions;
  • SOCIALLY PERCEPTIVE, which allows them to see issues from a variety of perspectives, even as they develop and carve out their own preferred policy agendas;
  • NIMBLE BY MIXING IN A VARIETY OF SOCIAL AND POLITICAL SETTINGS to find and build bridges to potential allies, while also engaging potential critics to better understand their perspectives and possibly persuade them to see issues in a different way;
  • PERSUASIVE ADVOCATES that offer an overall general message that is consistent and compelling, while also crafting their arguments in ways that connect to the more specific needs of particular groups or individuals;
  • STRATEGIC TEAM BUILDERS that understand how to help foster coalitions that will have high chances of working together to move policy in the direction that the policy entrepreneur prefers; and finally
  • PREPARED TO LEAD BY EXAMPLE by signaling their strong commitment to the arguments, proposals, and to the coalitions that they attempt to help build.


  • coding the characteristics of 62 new education advocacy organizations across the country, drawing on publically available information;
  • in-depth elite interviews with 27 individuals familiar with education policy developments in Illinois;
  • coding of traditional and new media coverage of education issues in Illinois;
  • analysis of publically available primary source documents describing the activities of new education advocacy groups across the United States; and
  • analysis of publically available and confidential primary source documents describing the work of Advance Illinois.

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