Leadership Spotlight - State ESSA Plans Put School Leadership at the Forefront

June 5, 2017 • Volume #2: On Leadership

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By Robert Rothman

In April 2017, 16 states and the District of Columbia submitted their plans for complying with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal law enacted in 2015 that replaced No Child Left Behind. These plans spell out how the states intend to carry out the law, beginning in the 2017-18 school year, in areas such as implementing standards and assessments, developing accountability systems, turning around low-performing schools, and supporting effective educators.

Unlike previous reauthorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ESSA allows states considerable flexibility in how they design their plans. This flexibility creates an opportunity for innovations in the areas covered by the law.

In their plans, many of the states addressed strategies to improve school leadership. The emphasis on school leadership reflects provisions in the law that allow states to use funds for school improvement (Title I) and for improving educator effectiveness (Title II) to improve school leadership, as long as the interventions are evidence-based, according to criteria spelled out in the law. These provisions represent a new focus on school leadership in federal law. (For more on ESSA’s implications for school leadership, please see the recent NISL white paper.)

Analyses of the state plans by NISL and Education First suggest that the states intend to address school leadership under the law in the following ways:

Creating pipelines to increase the supply of school leaders. States plan to expand or develop structures to identify potential school leaders and train them to take on the job. For example, Tennessee will expand the Tennessee Transformational Leadership Alliance, which supports local partnerships in efforts to identify and develop effective leaders. Delaware will strengthen its online educator recruitment portal, which enables aspiring principals to search for available positions and districts to search for capable candidates.

Establishing or expanding mentorships for new school leaders. States plan to build or strengthen programs to support newly hired principals by connecting them with expert principals who can serve as mentors. Maryland will coordinate with districts to create a consistent, structured mentor training program for principal mentors across the state. Michigan will support the establishment and improvement of mentoring and induction programs for new school leaders in all districts. The Michigan Department of Education will also provide technical assistance to support these efforts.

Organizing learning networks or communities of practice for school leaders. States plan to support school leaders by creating or strengthening networks to enable them to support one another and build their leadership capacities. Delaware will create a network of school leaders in high-needs schools and provide them with robust, rigorous training. The District of Columbia will create a Principal Leadership Cadre, a group of highly effective principals who will work with representatives of institutions of higher education to share best practices with their colleagues through mentoring, coaching, and training.

Providing professional learning opportunities for school leaders. States plan to ramp up professional learning for practicing principals. Illinois will create a network of partners, called IL-EMPOWER, that  will provide professional development opportunities for principals in areas such as family and community engagement and instructional leadership. Maryland will collaborate with LEAs to develop professional learning for principals, assistant principals, aspiring principals, and teacher leaders, aligned with state professional standards for educational leaders. This may include residency programs; focused academies; professional learning communities (PLCs); webinars; online courses; regional workshops; and action research.

Details of the plans are available on state websites for Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, and the District of Columbia.

As a next step, peer reviewers selected by the U.S. Department of Education will examine the plans and offer feedback and suggestions for revision. Once approved by the Department, the plans will go into effect in the 2017-18 school year.

States that have not yet submitted plans are required to do so by September 13 of this year. Those plans will show whether states are taking advantage of the flexibility ESSA provides to ramp up efforts to recruit, prepare, and support their school leaders over the next few years.