Building Capacity with State Education Agencies Across the Comprehensive Center Network

Teacher in front of a high school classroom

The central goal of state education agencies (SEAs) is to ensure public education systems are meeting the complex and ever-changing needs of students. To achieve this goal, SEAs provide support to schools and districts to help them create effective and equitable learning environments for students statewide. The dynamic nature of education policies often requires SEAs to adapt swiftly to new mandates, innovations, and challenges such as resource constraints, natural disasters, and complex regulatory environments.

Through the Comprehensive Center Network, AIR applies its deep understanding of education systems nested in broader community, economic, and social contexts to help SEAs bolster and broaden their capacity to make data-driven decisions that ensure states achieve equity in access, opportunity, and outcomes for students. Further, AIR supports SEAs as they develop a coherent vision and plan of action that balances evolving federal and state requirements and differentiated needs of districts and schools.

AIR has a proven record of developing and strengthening the systems, skills, and resources necessary for SEA’s and the communities they serve to thrive. We bridge policy and practice to ensure implementation is in accordance with state and federal requirements and priorities. AIR also ensures sustainability and lasting improvement by providing the necessary tools and resources to help education leaders achieve their goals. Our work with SEAs often includes multiple integrated services, such as the following:

  • Capacity Building: Developing and strengthening systems, skills, and resources necessary for organizations and communities to thrive. 
  • Systems Change: Focusing on changes in policies, knowledge, and competencies, and planning and implementing solutions that ensure SEAs have the infrastructure to sustain and enhance services. 
  • Strategic Planning: Setting priorities, aligning energy and resources, establishing common goals, and adapting direction to a changing environment.
  • Knowledge Translation, Dissemination, and Utilization: Refining questions, finding relevant research, translating evidence into user-friendly products, and providing technical support. 
  • Continuous Improvement: Identifying problems, gathering and analyzing data, and proposing potential solutions. 
  • Scaling and Sustainability Planning: Building momentum, maximizing assets, and institutionalizing policies and practices to maintain change.

Supporting States Through the Comprehensive Centers

Through the Comprehensive Center Program, the U.S. Department of Education awards discretionary grants for centers to provide capacity-building technical assistance to states and school districts in the design and implementation of evidence-based policies, practices, programs, and interventions that improve instruction and student achievement and outcomes. 

AIR has operated comprehensive centers since the inception of the program in 2005, partnering with national, state, regional, and local entities in all 50 states and the territories to provide high-quality services and resources to support the education field. AIR currently operates two regional comprehensive centers and supports the operations of three other regional centers. AIR also led two nationwide content centers on educators and leaders as well as college and career readiness.

Graphic: Region 1 Comp Center
Graphic: Region 9 Comp Center

AIR is the subcontractor for: 
Region 3: Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands 
Region 11: SD, ND, WY, NE 
Region 12: CO, KS, MO.

Infographic: AIR's Comprehensive Center Work Through the Years

AIR's Commitment to Equity

At AIR, our commitment to equity is the common thread woven through all our endeavors. Across our state capacity building work, the primary goal is to eradicate achievement and equity gaps, ensuring every student has the necessary opportunities and support for success in both school and life. Our work concentrates on high-leverage needs identified by education leaders in their respective regions.


book with laurel

Promoting Evidence Use

table and chairs at blackboard

Improving Learning Conditions

  • AIR operates the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders (GTL Center) to provide support to SEAs and districts in all 50 states.  From 2012 through 2019, the GTL Center was a national content center under the federally funded Comprehensive Center Network.
  • In Illinois, we are working with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to identify common challenges in educator recruitment and retention and developing resource briefs that address issues in recruiting educators from underrepresented backgrounds. We are also supporting ISBE in wellness-related work, including facilitating convenings, analyzing wellness initiative data, and structuring the social emotional learning (SEL) standards revision process.
  • In Colorado, we are supporting the Colorado Department of Education and local districts in their efforts to strengthen and diversify the educator workforce. We are supporting the use of data to understand educator workforce needs, creating a campaign to promote a high school educator pathway program, and helping to design a grow your own program to build a local pipeline of educators. 
  • The Student Engagement and Attendance Center serves SEAs and local education agencies (LEAs) in their efforts to reduce chronic absenteeism and increase student engagement.
three podiums

Reimagining College and Career Pathways

  • Operated between 2012 and 2019, the College and Career Readiness and Success Center (CCRS Center) provided tailored technical assistance and resources to Regional Comprehensive Centers to help them enhance state capacity to improve high school graduates' preparedness for college and career success.
  • The CCRS Center worked with state leaders to develop an interactive tool that identifies specific language across several federal legislative initiatives—including ESSA, the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)—that address college and career readiness topics and help SEAs and LEAs find new or greater alignment opportunities in their plans.
  • In Maine, we are partnering with the Maine Department of Education to create K-16 math pathways that aim to equip students with the skills they need for success in post-secondary experiences and careers in math. 
  • In Colorado, we are partnering with the Colorado Department of Education to update its dropout prevention framework and develop implementation tools to support districts and schools in the implementation of strategies within the framework. 
Hand holding building and dollar sign

Increasing College Affordability and Completion

  • The interactive tool Launch My Career—which started in 2015 through partnerships formed as part of the College Measures initiative—ensures individuals have access to information about the return on investment of higher education institutions and majors and degree programs within institutions.
  • The College Completion Network, operated between 2017 and 2022, brought together research teams focused on evaluating promising college completion interventions and providing policymakers and college leaders with reliable evidence. 
Kandace Jones
Vice President, Education Systems and Policy
Tori Cirks Headshot
Managing Director