“Boots on the ground”: The authority-power dynamic of regional service centers in standards-based reform





Standards-based reform, intermediary agencies, regional service centers, education policy implementation


The current context of standards-based reform has positioned regional service centers (RSCs), intermediary governmental agencies that support state policy implementation in local districts, as a critical source of professional development (PD). In this article, we ask how a governing body that districts often interact with during challenging reform processes manages maintain strong relationships with district and school staff, and thus maintain their image as trustworthy experts on standards implementation. We explore these questions using data from 108 interviews of state, district, and regional administrators in education agencies in Ohio, Texas, and California over a three-year period. We illustrate that by providing districts with (a) differentiated support specific to their unique needs, (b) materials and tools consistent with state content standards, and (c) expertise in supporting students with disabilities and English learners in standards-based environments, RSC staff become, in the words of one state leader, the state’s trusted “boots on the ground.”


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Author Biographies

Katie Pak, University of Pennsylvania

Katie Pak is an instructor with the University of Pennsylvania and works as a School Improvement and Data Specialist in the School District of Philadelphia. Her research includes policy implementation, educational leadership, school improvement, and leadership for critical social change.  

Jillian McLaughlin, School District of Philadelphia

Jill McLaughlin is a project manager at the School District of Philadelphia, where she manages the District's policy revision process and supports the District’s strategic planning process.  Her research interests center around K-12 school-based staff's perceptions of District and state policy and their impact on implementation. 

Erica Saldivar Garcia, New York University

Erica Saldívar García is a clinical assistant professor of TESOL, Bilingual, and Foreign language education in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University. She studies the bilingualism and biliteracy of multilingual youth and language education policy.

Laura M. Desimone, University of Delaware

Laura Desimone is director of research in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Delaware and a professor in the School of Education in Educational Statistics and Research Methods and in the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy & Administration. She studies how state-, district-, and school-level policy can better promote changes in teaching that lead to improved student achievement and to closing the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students.




How to Cite

Pak, K., McLaughlin, J., Saldivar Garcia, E., & Desimone, L. M. (2021). “Boots on the ground”: The authority-power dynamic of regional service centers in standards-based reform. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 29(January - July), 31. https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.29.5289