States Weave Title II into Plans for School Leadership

By Don Long

A recent review of 28 draft plans for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) found that 20 states plan to use Title II funds for school leadership. Even as the Trump administration cast doubt on its support for teacher and leader preparation with an initial March budget request that zeroed out funding for Title II, states and districts are in the midst of launching initiatives to strengthen principal pipelines and university principal preparation programs.

ESSA heralded a new emphasis on supporting teachers and leaders. Initially authorized at about $2.3 billion per year, Title II, Part A provides greater flexibility than the law’s previous incarnation for how states use their 5 percent set-aside for leader and teacher development. It also inaugurates an optional extra 3 percent set-aside for recruitment, selection, preparation, and mentoring of new leaders and for professional learning, evaluation, and career pathways for all leaders. School leadership is an allowable use of funds under Title I, authorized at $15 billion to $16.2 billion annually. Its 7 percent set-aside for school improvement, along with greater flexibility for evidence-based interventions, give states leeway to try a variety of interventions. (This RAND report matches these to ESSA’s three tiers of evidence.)

States leaned into these opportunities, and the agendas of state boards of education in Tennessee, Florida, and the District of Columbia reflect a recognition of school leaders’ multiplier effect in attracting and developing effective teachers and building learning communities.

In its January 2017 meeting, the Tennessee board revised its educator preparation policy and is moving ahead with its “leader life cycle” approach to developing and supporting principals. Notably, the University Council of Educational Administrators already recognized Tennessee, as well as Illinois, for instituting all five “high leverage” state policies for principal preparation program and licensure: that is, selection, standards, clinically rich internship, program oversight, experience. Tennessee’s state plan leverages ESSA by using “Title II, Part A statewide program resources and optional set-asides to support teacher and leader residency programs in high-need districts.”

The Florida state board established the Principal Autonomy Pilot Program at its January meeting. Participating districts assign a highly effective principal to a low-performing school, who gets increased fiscal and administrative autonomy to improve student achievement.

In its June 2016 meeting on ESSA planning and selection of a new school quality/student success indicator, the District of Columbia board discussed reducing teacher turnover. To address it, they mulled a single measure incorporating principal quality, teacher collaboration, and student climate.

And Michigan may have an indicator to interest them. Its ESSA plan includes a K-12 School Administrator Longevity measure of the percentage of school administrators employed in the same school for at least four years.

Regardless of ultimate ESSA funding levels, state boards of education are demonstrating they have an essential role in creating and improving comprehensive systems for school leadership. Boards can work with other state partners and districts, as well as learn from other states, in crafting cost-effective professional learning systems.

Don Long is NASBE’s director of of teaching, leading, and learning. He can be reached at