Great Teachers Need Great Leaders: Why Congress Should Fully Fund ESSA Title II to Improve School Leadership

Guest post by Edward Fuller and Michelle D. Young

The research is abundantly clear—great teachers have a very positive impact on students. Less known is that school leaders are the second most important school factor influencing a variety of student outcomes. School leaders influence student outcomes both directly, through interactions with students, and indirectly, by ensuring students have access to great teachers.

The indirect avenue of influence is, by far, the more important of the two strategies school leaders employ to direct student outcomes. Evidence shows that schools with great teachers are almost always schools that have had a great leader in place over a fairly long period of time.

Despite the pivotal role school leaders play, estimates suggest that less than 10 percent of the approximately one billion dollars supplied by the federal government is directed to them. When funding is diminished, decision makers at both the state and local levels tend to default to spending the majority of funds on those working directly with children—namely, teachers. While such actions may seem an effective use of limited funds, a lack of investment in school leaders ultimately reduces the probability that the investments in teachers will actually translate into improved instruction and learning.

More importantly, a lack of investment in the preparation, recruitment, retention, and professional development of school leaders is particularly harmful to schools with high proportions of students of color, high proportions of students living in poverty, and/or lower-performing schools. In fact, research shows that schools with a high percentage of these populations and/or lower-performing schools tend to have less-effective principals with lower qualifications, thus impeding efforts to recruit effective teachers and build the capacity of existing teachers. These schools also have far greater principal turnover, which leads to greater teacher turnover and, in many cases, lower student achievement.

Failure to provide adequate funding through Title II will likely result in states and districts being unable to ensure that the schools most in need of great teachers and leaders will actually get them.

Title II Funds Needed to Support Teachers with Great Leaders

How can fully funding Title II give states the ability to provide more great leaders to schools—and, thus, more great teachers to students that need them most?

Invest in quality leadership preparation programs. A growing body of research concludes that quality leadership preparation programs greatly enhance the likelihood that newly prepared school leaders will be effective in improving teaching and learning. Unfortunately, states often lack the resources to provide the technical assistance needed to assist in preparation program improvement efforts; to collect and analyze a variety of data to help programs improve; and to create robust accountability systems to increase quality programs in their state. Without adequate Title II funds, states will likely continue to go without the resources or capacity to improve the preparation of school leaders.

Provide districts with funding to recruit and retain great leaders. Those schools most in need of great leaders are the least able to recruit and retain them—which severely impedes the ability of these schools to recruit and retain great teachers or to develop their teachers’ skills. While myriad factors affect a school’s ability to recruit and retain great leaders, difficulty in offering appropriately high salaries is a key stumbling block. Without adequate Title II funds, states will likely continue to go without the resources necessary to address this issue in any comprehensive manner.

Provide quality professional development opportunities to school leaders. While some attention has been focused on the preparation of leaders and efforts to recruit and retain them, amazingly little effort has been focused on supporting leaders once on the job. Adding to this problem is that, in the eyes of experts, much of the professional development targeted to leaders in the field does not conform to best practices. As a result, what little money has been expended on professional development likely yielded smaller returns on the investments than otherwise would have been the case. Without full funding of Title II, states and districts simply will not have sufficient funds to target essential school leader professional development.

Clearly, federal and state investments in improving teaching and learning will not be maximized unless such efforts include the professional development of school leaders. As an organization, UCEA implores Congress to fully fund Title II and asks both the U.S. Department of Education and Congress to keep language that requires states to target funds specifically for school leadership intact.

How would failure to fully fund Title II affect your school?

 

Edward Fuller, PhD, is an associate professor in the Educational Leadership Program and the director of the Center for Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis at The Pennsylvania State University. He also serves as the associate director for policy and advocacy for the University Council for Educational Administration. His research interests include evaluation of school leaders and leader preparation programs, and the pipeline of school leaders.

Michelle D. Young, PhD, is the executive director of the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) and a professor of educational leadership and policy at the University of Virginia. Young’s scholarship focuses on how university programs, educational policies, and school leaders can support equitable and quality experiences for all students and adults who learn and work in schools. As executive director of UCEA, Young works with universities, practitioners, professional organizations, and state and national leaders to improve the preparation and practice of school and school system leaders and to develop a dynamic base of knowledge on excellence in educational leadership. 

 

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