New York, NY—As the Senate moves forward in a bipartisan process to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), New Leaders writes to share our views on the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015. The bill up for your consideration is an important step forward that contains many thoughtful provisions, particularly in support of principals and other school leaders. However, we see opportunities to strengthen the bill so it lives up to its civil rights promise—making every school a place where great teachers love to teach and all students love to learn. And we believe we can reach this goal by paying more attention to how schools are led and held accountable for results.
New Leaders is a national non-profit dedicated to enabling high academic achievement for all children by developing transformational school leaders and advancing the policies and practices that allow great school leaders to succeed. Since our founding in 2000, we have helped to train and equip more than 1,600 school leaders with the knowledge and skills to positively impact the lives of more than 350,000 children, many of whom are students of color and come from low-income backgrounds.
Research shows—and our experience confirms—that strong school leaders have a powerful multiplier effect, dramatically improving the quality of teaching and raising student achievement in a school. Principals account for 25 percent of a school’s effect on student achievement—significant for a single individual. Moreover, 97 percent of teachers list school leadership as essential or very important for their career choices—more than any other factor. The bottom line: school improvement simply does not occur without strong leadership, particularly in under-performing schools. If we are serious about improving student achievement, we must create a law that supports the identification, development, and retention of exceptional principals, assistant principals, and teacher leaders.
Given the importance of school leaders within the school system, and drawing on our work at the local and state levels, we were pleased to see the following provisions included in the bill:
- In Title I, continuation of requirements for rigorous, college- and career-ready state standards; aligned statewide grade-level assessments; transparent reporting of disaggregated student achievement results; and goals for student achievement and high school graduation.
- In Title II, Part A, support for aspiring and sitting principals. In particular, we strongly support the meaningful inclusion of principals and other school leaders throughout the Part A language, including the authorization of a school leader residency program;
- An emphasis on equal access to effective teachers and school leaders;
- The School Leader Recruitment and Support Program, which would build on current law and support efforts to improve the recruitment, preparation, placement, support, and retention of effective principals and other school leaders in high-needs schools;
- The Teacher and School Leader Incentive Program, which would provide support not only for performance-based compensation but also for development and reform of human capital management systems;
- Recognition of teacher leadership, including career pathways and professional learning opportunities for teacher leaders, principals, and instructional leadership teams; and
- Investment in education innovation and research, including support for the development and scale-up of successful innovations at the state and local levels.
However, we believe the bill could be strengthened by adding several critical provisions to improve leading, teaching, and learning. In particular, we recommend:
- Strengthening state efforts to improve principal effectiveness, including by providing states with funds to identify recruit, prepare, place, support, and retain highly effective principals;
- Including appropriate provisions related to state accountability systems, such as those that both support great leaders and also identify struggling schools in need of intervention—especially those with the weakest overall performance and those with large achievement gaps. We know that effective principals want an accountability-for-responsibility compact. They embrace high expectations for student growth and achievement when the measures make sense, but they experience too little support and too many constraints on how to staff their schools, spend their resources, and run their programs;
- Strengthening requirements to ensure equitable funding and address identified resource disparities between districts, including by closing the so-called “comparability loophole”; and
- Providing appropriate authority for the federal government to oversee and support efficient and effective state and local implementation.
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