NAESP Advocates for New ESSA Guidance on Supporting Principals

Success depends on whether states and districts will take full advantage of the law.

By Kelly D. Pollitt
February 2016, Volume 39, Issue 6

As the education community begins to discuss the implementation of the Every Student Achieves Act (ESSA), which is the latest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), NAESP has identified one overarching and critical challenge: whether states and districts will take full advantage of new opportunities afforded under the new law to build comprehensive systems to support a robust principal pipeline, and, as a matter of priority, support principals who are currently working in the profession.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) launched ESSA’s rulemaking process. While much of the ensuing discussion rightly only focuses on certain areas of Title I funding (required by the law on assessment issues) and language on whether to supplement or supplant funding, NAESP is working in tandem with these efforts to influence the USED’s actions on Title II funding related to comprehensive state and local support for principals. (See NAESP’s comments on Title I recommendations here.)

Over the past several years, NAESP has been working to draw attention to the alarming need to better support principals in the profession. In 2013, a sample of the use of federal funds by districts found that only 4 percent are spent annually on opportunities for principals to engage in professional learning. Further research by NAESP and partner organizations revealed that principals spend less than 1 percent of their workdays per year in a state- or district-sponsored professional development, and almost half of principals in the profession report that their state does not provide tailored professional learning opportunities for principals and other school leaders.

Noting the unprecedented amount of programs and opportunities states now have under ESSA to support principals and other school leaders, NAESP and partner organizations are calling for very specific ways in which USED can help states—without adding any regulatory burden. Specifically, USED should use its authority to issue technical assistance and guidance to:

  • Highlight the opportunities states and districts have under the new law to support principals;
  • Encourage states and districts to prioritize funding for principals, assistant principals, and other school leaders to create or build meaningful support for their professions; and
  • Clarify several important terms that are meant to bolster practitioners in the profession, such as defining what an “inexperienced” principal and how they must be supported, and call attention to the need for leadership in early childhood education.

As the ESSA implementation process moves forward, NAESP will continue to work at the federal level in ways that will help states and districts to take meaningful steps to support principals. If taken as the sum of various parts of the law, ESSA provides important steps that states and districts can take to truly empower and support effective leadership so that every child can benefit from a well-prepared and supported principal pipeline.

For more information about NAESP’s ESSA implementation advocacy and agenda, please contact Kelly D. Pollitt at

Kelly D. Pollitt is NAESP’s Chief Strategist, Policy and Alliances.

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