How Can ESSA Support School Leaders?

School leadership is one of the most important influences on student performance, second only to quality instruction. However, year after year, we see Congress fail to allocate the funds necessary to ensure students, teachers, and school leaders can succeed. Even recently, we saw Congress pass a short-term continuing resolution that produced across-the-board cuts to a number of key education programs for the current school year. To make matters worse, the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations subcommittees of the House and Senate have both proposed significant cuts to Title II, Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for FY 17, which can be used for professional development, residency and mentoring programs, principal evaluation system reform, and several other important uses that would support school leaders. With full implementation of ESSA to begin with the 2017–18 school year, it has become more important than ever for principals to advocate at the federal, state, and district levels for increased funding toward key education programs.

On October 13, NASSP, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the American Federation of School Administrators joined together to host an event on Capitol Hill to celebrate National Principals Month. Revolutionizing School Leadership Under ESSA gave congressional staff and other stakeholders throughout the education community the ability to hear from current and former principals and teachers on what they need to help improve their schools under ESSA. One prevailing theme that arose was that principals need more time and funds to help drive their professional growth. If we really want to see students excel, school leaders need increased and differentiated professional development to meet the evolving demands of the principalship.

Congressional representatives are not the only ones who need to hear these truths from school leaders. As states begin to sit down and figure out how to allocate their ESSA dollars, they need to hear from principals about how beneficial those funds can be for them and their schools. Earlier this year, NASSP, along with a number of other organizations, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) asking for more clarification on how states and districts can spend Title II, Part A dollars. ED released guidance in September that detailed where these dollars could be allocated and how they could be spent. The guidance points out four allowable uses for these funds that should have all school leaders very excited:

  • Reforming school-leader certification, tenure systems, or preparation program standards and approval processes
  • Helping districts implement school leader evaluation and support systems that are based in part on evidence of student academic achievement
  • Helping districts recruit and retain school leaders who are effective in improving student academic achievement
  • Developing evidence-based mentoring, induction, and other professional development programs for new school leaders

In the guidance, ED also strongly encourages each state to devote a significant portion of its state activities funds to improving school leadership. It notes that states should consider reserving the additional 3 percent of Title II, Part A local education agency (LEA) subgrants for activities that support principals or school leaders. ED can see how important principals are to schools, so principals must help their state leaders support school leaders as well. The NASSP advocacy team has been traveling the country helping principals understand the changes in the law and key opportunities for advocacy. During these presentations, we have heard from our members that securing a National Principals Month resolution or proclamation is a great way to initiate a conversation around principals’ priorities for ESSA implementation. NASSP will also be launching an ESSA Toolkit for Principals later this month to provide school leaders with the tools they need to be effective advocates. The toolkit will also include model legislation for states on how to use their Title II funds to support principals.

The only way to see change is to advocate for it. That is why NASSP recently sent out an action alert to all its members encouraging them to contact their congressional representatives to let them know that more budget cuts mean lower student achievement. Principals have to make their voices heard at the federal, state, and local levels throughout the ESSA implementation process, and the clock is ticking—school leaders must act before the ink dries on the new state plans.

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