New Help for States That Want to Bolster Principals

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As state education officials set agendas for K-12 under the Every Student Succeeds Act, a new guide and a research review are being released this week to help them figure out how best to elevate school leadership through the law.

Two of the resources—a report by the RAND Corporation and a guide from the Council of Chief State School Officers—provide a broad view of how states can keep school leaders a major focus in their ESSA discussions and plans and use Title I and Title II funds to develop training and support programs for principals and other school leaders.

The RAND report highlights research on school leadership interventions and programs, along with synopses of whether those programs or elements of them were successful in improving student or other outcomes, and the level of evidence they meet under ESSA. The report makes it easier for states to find evidence-based school leadership programs and initiatives that they may be able to adapt to their local contexts.

The report and CCSSO guide were unveiled as states are moving past the initial information-gathering phase to writing their K-12 education plans that they will submit to the federal government next year. The report and guide also follow very detailed guidance that the Education Department recently released that elaborated on how states and districts can use Title II funds to support teacher-leaders, principals, and principal supervisors.

School leadership experts praised the federal guidance for recognizing the role principals and school leaders play in teacher and student success, for its clarity on the uses of funds, for including teacher-leaders and principal supervisors in the programs that could be funded under Title II, and for providing concrete examples of initiatives that states may consider.

"The big thing here is that principals are not an add-on in this guidance—they're actively woven throughout," said Jackie Gran, the chief policy and evaluation officer at New Leaders, a New York City-based program that trains school leaders.

Gran said it was similarly encouraging that the federal Title II guidance also included teacher-leaders.

While states have always been allowed to use Title II funds for principals and school leaders, most of the funds dedicated to educator development have traditionally gone to teachers.

ESSA Game-Changer?

Under ESSA, states can use up to 2 percent of their Title II funds to create or expand teacher-, principal-, or leadership-preparation programs for those serving in high-needs schools. They can devote an additional 3 percent of Title II funds for leadership development, such as academies, training programs, or other support for school leaders. (Title I school improvement funds can also be used for school leadership.)

Experts say an emphasis on school leadership in ESSA can be a game-changer if states are strategic about how they use the money to meet the leadership challenges in their states—whether those concerns relate to principal licensure procedures, preparation programs, or professional development.

States such as Vermont and New York plan to take advantage of the new 3 percent set-aside.

Vermont intends to create professional-learning programs for principals. Haley Dover, a spokeswoman for the state's education agency, said the state had not yet decided what programs to use and that it was researching successful school-leader initiatives to determine the right fit.

In a summary document on how it plans to "support excellent educators," the New York state education department said it would use the 3 percent set-aside to "develop programs that provide for systemic improvements for principals and other school leaders." Those programs could be particularly beneficial to smaller districts that would now be able to plug into larger statewide initiatives, according to the department.

That's where the CCSSO guide and the RAND evidence review could be very helpful.

While the federal "What Works Clearinghouse" has a trove of research, it only includes programs that meet ESSA's most rigorous Tiers 1 and 2 evidence requirements, according to RAND. The new report includes programs and initiatives that also meet the less rigorous Tiers 3 and 4 requirements.

Rebecca Herman, one of the report's authors, said that many states did not have the capacity to conduct the necessary deep evidence review of successful interventions.

"We wanted to help provide them with the evidence and…make it easier for them to think about that process as well," she said.

For example, if a state is considering school leadership-focused improvement models, there are references in the report to seven studies on the KIPP charter school network, including some that meet the Tier 1 ESSA requirements and shows "substantial" achievement gains.

The authors of the RAND report urged state officials not to limit themselves to the initiatives highlighted in their analysis.

Related Blog

With ESSA, education officials "have the ability to reconsider, strategically, how they deliver education services in their state," said Jody Spiro, the director of education leadership at the Wallace Foundation, which commissioned the RAND review.

"The idea with the guidance, the report, and the field guide, is to give the states as many resources as possible to assist them in visioning and in knowing what's possible, rather than [adhering to] a compliance-driven model where they check the box."

Vol. 36, Issue 15, Page 14

Published in Print: December 14, 2016, as New Help for States Focused on Bolstering School Leaders
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