At least five state education chiefs — from across the country and from both political parties — agree: The focus of education should be the student. That’s why they banded together to form Chiefs for Change, a coalition of state education officials “committed to putting children first through bold, visionary education reform.”

“The economic viability of our country and the future of our next generation are reliant on the courage and willingness of national, state and local leaders to move beyond what is politically comfortable and to bring about crucial changes in policy and practice,” said Louisiana Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek, who chairs the organization. “We must begin by recognizing that the ‘best interest of our students’ is not simply a rhetorical phrase or tag line to promote the good will of one agency or another.”

State officials have always been nearer to the education trenches than federal officials, but they haven’t always dared to advance ideas that deviate from or delve deeper into the agenda of the broader education establishment, education experts say. Chiefs for Change represents a relatively unprecedented attempt by state school officials to attract attention to innovative and aggressive reforms that might not necessarily be widely considered or pursued otherwise.

“At a point in American history when the debate about federalism, states’ rights and the role of education in a technology-driven society is alive and well, giving critical attention to public policies and public funds that influence the human resource side of the schooling equation — educators, students and interest groups — remains important,” said member Gerard Robinson, Virginia secretary of education.

Specifically, Pastorek, Robinson and the other three founders of the organization — Florida Commissioner Eric Smith, Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett and Rhode Island Commissioner Deborah Gist — plan to promote a new compensation and support system for teachers, high academic standards, rigorous academic assessments and funding that follows the student, according to the Chiefs for Change mission narrative (PDF).