Standards and Accountability


Educational Administration Quarterly 2017, Vol. 53(5) 705 –726

© The Author(s) 2017 Reprints and permissions: DOI: 10.1177/0013161X17735871


The Every Student Succeeds Act: Strengthening the Focus on Educational Leadership

Michelle D. Young1 , Kathleen M. Winn1, and Marcy A. Reedy1

Abstract Purpose: This article offers (a) an overview of the attention federal policy has invested in educational leadership with a primary focus on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), (b) a summary of the critical role school leaders play in achieving the goals set forth within federal educational policy, and (c) examples of how states are using the opportunity afforded by the focus on leadership in ESSA. Findings: Through the examination of federal policy and existing research in this arena, we review the level of attention paid to educational leadership within Elementary and Secondary Education Act, its reauthorizations, and other federal education legislation. ESSA provides an enhanced focus on educational leadership and acknowledges the importance of leaders in achieving federal goals for education. Furthermore, ESSA acknowledges the importance of developing a strong leadership pipeline and, thus, allows states and districts to use federal funds to support leadership development. In this article, we delineate this focus on leadership within ESSA and offer examples of how states are planning to support leadership development. Implications and Conclusion: The

1University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA

Corresponding Author: Kathleen M. Winn, University Council for Educational Administration, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia, 405 Emmet Street South, PO Box 400277, Charlottesville, VA 22904-0265, USA. Email: [email protected]

735871 EAQXXX10.1177/0013161X17735871Educational Administration QuarterlyYoung et al. research-article2017

706 Educational Administration Quarterly 53(5)

important role that school leadership plays in supporting student, teacher, and school-wide outcomes warrants its inclusion within federal education policy. However, the opportunity to realize ESSA’s intended goals around leadership development could be undermined by forces at both the state and federal levels.

Keywords federal and state policy, educational leadership, Every Student Succeeds Act, ESSA, preparation


In December 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law, reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and replacing the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). ESEA, the federal law that authorizes federal funding for K-12 schools, represents the nation’s commit- ment to equal educational opportunity for all students and has influenced the education of millions of children. ESSA has two primary goals: to require states to align their education programs with college and career ready stan- dards and to extend the federal focus on equity by providing resources for poor students, students of color, English learners, and students with disabili- ties. For those in the field of educational leadership, ESSA provides a direct acknowledgment of educational leadership as a factor in achieving national educational goals. Specifically, the act provides new pathways for states and districts to use federal funds for the development of school principals and other school leaders (Every Student Succeeds Act, 2015).

This article assumes that the federal purposes behind ESEA and ESSA are valid—that underserved student populations must receive additional resources and special attention in order to receive equitable educational opportunities and that the federal government should have a role in stimulat- ing and supporting improvement in the quality of education offered to stu- dents. Furthermore, we applaud the explicit inclusion of leadership among ESSA’s substantive goals. ESSA provides an opportunity for leadership development to be substantively addressed within a stable and long-term fed- eral policy. Our support and enthusiasm, however, is tempered by two con- cerns. First, we are concerned that forces at the state and federal levels (e.g., budget proposals) could undermine the efforts of states and local education agencies to support substantive leadership development. Second, we are con- cerned that programs for leadership development included within many state

Young et al. 707

ESSA plans “will under- or over-reach, and that states without the knowl- edge, capacity, or will to act smartly will stagnate or regress” (Castagna, Young, Gordon, Little, & Palmer, 2016, p. 2). Without prioritizing leadership and adequately supporting the development of educational leaders, current policies and programs will have a hard time meeting the core purposes of the legislation.

The case for supporting the current focus on educational leadership and leadership development in federal policies and programs rests on a simple argument: Leadership matters. A growing body of research has consistently demonstrated that leadership is one of the most important school-level factors influencing a student’s education (e.g., Coelli & Green, 2012; Grissom & Loeb, 2011; Leithwood, Seashore, Anderson, & Wahlstrom, 2004; Robinson, Lloyd, & Rowe, 2008). Specifically, by directing their organization, managing the people within the organization, leading vision and goal development of the school and district, and improving the instructional agenda in their schools and districts, leaders influence student learning and development (Leithwood et al., 2004). Through their focus on these four critical areas, principals are one of the most important school-level determinants of student achievement (Leithwood et al., 2004). Emphasizing building leaders within federal policy and incorporating their development within programming at the state and dis- trict levels are essential to realizing federal education policy goals.

Furthermore, a growing body of evidence demonstrates a link between leadership preparation and practice. Extensive reviews of research on exem- plary leadership preparation programs and quality program features (e.g., Darling-Hammond, Meyerson, LaPointe, & Orr, 2009; Jackson & Kelley, 2002; McCarthy, 1999; Young & Crow, 2016; Young, Crow, Ogawa, & Murphy, 2009) point to similar attributes of quality features. Key among those features are (a) a quality and coherent curriculum that emphasizes instructional leadership and school improvement and (b) integrated field experiences that support the curriculum and are supervised by experienced educational leaders. Indeed, research suggests a strong relationship between what is taught and changes in how candidates understand and enact their leadership (Young, O’Doherty, Gooden, & Goodnow, 2011), the develop- ment of competencies (Leithwood, Jantzi, Coffin, & Wilson, 1996; Orr & Barber, 2007), the capacity to support educational improvement (Pounder, 1995), and problem framing and problem solving. Moreover, in a compara- tive study of two university–district partner programs and one conventional university-based preparation program, Orr and Barber (2007) found that a comprehensive and standards-based curriculum was significantly and posi- tively related to three types of outcomes: self-assessed leadership knowledge and skills, leadership career intentions, and graduate career advancement.

708 Educational Administration Quarterly 53(5)

The time seems ripe for examining the treatment of educational leadership within federal policy and state plans for leadership development to ensure congruency with new knowledge on the important roles educational leaders and leadership development play in fostering student success. This article begins with a review of the level of attention dedicated to educational leader- ship within ESEA, subsequent reauthorizations of this landmark bill, and other federal legislation focused on education. Subsequently, we summarize the literature demonstrating the influence of educational leadership—both direct and indirect—on the learning environment and on student achieve- ment. We also describe the focus on leadership within ESSA. Having reviewed the evidence linking leadership to federal education goals, we then share several examples of how states are supporting leadership development by using new avenues available to them through ESSA. We conclude with a brief discussion of the opportunities and challenges presented by ESSA for leadership development.

The Role of Leadership in Federal Education Legislation: 1965-2015

Educational leadership has traditionally been an underappreciated and under- resourced topic in federal education legislation. However, as the knowledge base supporting educational leadership has expanded, so too has its treatment in federal policy.

Since the initial passage of the ESEA in 1965, school leadership, which includes terms like school leaders, educational leaders, principals, and educa- tional leadership, has been referenced in multiple pieces of public federal law. Using Pro Quest Congressional we found 1,042 pieces of legislation that include the terms education and one or more of the following school leader- ship terms: administrator, school leader, school leadership, educational leader, educational leadership, and principal. This number, however, is somewhat unreliable because the terms principal and administrator are used in a number of bills to reference something other than a school leader (e.g., principal investigator). However, when the terms principal and administrator are removed, the number of references to school-level leadership decreases significantly to 14 pieces of federal legislation, the majority of which have been passed since 2000. It is possible that the greater frequency of reference to school leadership in federal policy since 2000 suggests a growing appre- ciation for educational leadership among policy makers.

In addition to considering how frequently school leadership has been ref- erenced in federal policy, it is also important to consider how substantively and in what capacity school leadership has been addressed. The majority of

Young et al. 709

references to school leadership occurred in flagship education policy bills, such as the reauthorizations of ESEA (2015, 2001, and 1987), the 2004 reau- thorization of Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and reau- thorizations of the Higher Education Act (HEA; 2008, 1998, 1992, and 1986). For a full breakdown of flagship federal education legislation referencing school leadership, see Table 1. The greater part of the remaining references to school leadership are found in appropriations or supplemental appropriations bills as well as in independent education reform bills.

With regard to substance, the three most relevant pieces of federal legisla- tion include ESEA and subsequent reauthorizations and reauthorizations of the HEA and IDEA. We provide a few highlights from each of these pieces of legislation below.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act

In 1965, the Congress authorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Developed by the Commissioner of Education and his team dur- ing the Johnson administration, ESEA represented a revolutionary set of pro- grams. For the Johnson administration, the legislation had two primary purposes: (a) to provide a legislative strategy for establishing the precedent of federal aid to K-12 public education and (b) to serve as a cornerstone of Johnson’s “War on Poverty” (Kirst & Jung, 1980). The Johnson administra- tion set out to achieve what it believed state and local governments were not: ensuring access to quality education for underserved populations. According to ESEA’s Declaration of Intent, the purpose of Title 1 was “to provide finan- cial assistance to local educational agencies serving areas with high concen- trations of children from low-income families to expand and improve their educational programs by various means” (PL 89-10 Declaration of Intent, quoted in Kirst & Jung, 1980, p. 21).

The initial authorization of ESEA in 1965 did not include reference to building level leadership, but did reference educational leadership at the state level. Specifically, the legislation included the following language (ESEA, 1965):

make grants to State educational agencies to pay part of the cost of experimental projects for developing State leadership or for the establishment of special services . . . (p. 59)

training and otherwise developing the competency of individuals who serve State or local educational agencies and provide leadership, administrative, or specialist services throughout the State . . . (p. 62)

710 Educational Administration Quarterly 53(5)

According to Kirst and Jung (1980), increasing the capacity of state depart- ments of education and their leadership was a deliberate strategy used to build ownership and support for the implementation of ESEA.

The reauthorizations of ESEA in 2015, 2001, and 1987 (particularly, ESSA in 2015 and NCLB in 2001), in contrast, addressed school leadership more comprehensively. They included the provision of local education agency (LEA) subgrants for the “development and implementation of professional

Table 1. Flagship Federal Legislation Referencing School Leadership.

Legislation type Legislation name Year passed Educational leadership focus

Every Student Succeeds Act

ESEA reauthorization

2015-2016 Optional “3% set aside” of Title II A funds for state-level activities and funding for “evidence-based” interventions around leadership

Higher Education Opportunity Act

HEA reauthorization

2007-2008 Funding for partnership grants for the development of leadership programs

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

IDEA reauthorization

2004 Providing personnel development grants and interdisciplinary training to support school leaders

No Child Left Behind Act

ESEA reauthorization

2001-2002 SEA grants and LEA subgrants to support leadership (reform certification, induction/ mentoring, professional development) and support for establishing a national principal recruitment program

Higher Education Amendments of 1998

HEA reauthorization

1997-1998 Sense of Congress Declaration that leadership is important and support for partnerships between IHEs and K-12 schools to identify strong candidates

Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act

HEA reauthorization

1991-1992 Support for establishing state leader academies and professional development academies in each state

Elementary and Secondary School Improvement Amendments of 1988

ESEA reauthorization

1987-1988 SEA grants and LEA subgrants to support leadership

Higher Education Amendments of 1986

HEA reauthorization

1985-1986 Grants to “collect information on school leadership skills”

Note. HEA = Higher Education Act; IHE = institutions of higher education; LEA = local education agency.

Young et al. 711

development programs for principals that enable the principals to be effective school leaders and prepare all students to meet challenging State academic content” (NCLB, 2001, p. 203). NCLB also included a national activity of demonstrated effectiveness where the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) was “authorized to establish and carry out a national principal recruitment program to assist high-need local educational agencies in recruiting and train- ing principals” (NCLB, 2001, p. 212). The additional provisions for school leadership in the ESEA reauthorization of 2015 (ESSA) is covered in a later section of this article.

The Higher Education Act

The initial authorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) in 1965 did not contain reference to school leadership; however, the reauthorizations of 2008, 1998, 1992, and 1986 did address school leadership. In fact, the 1998 HEA reauthorization included a “Sense of Congress” declaration on the impor- tance of school leadership, and authorized grants to “collect information on school leadership skills” (HEA, 1988, p. 516). Other school leadership– related policies contained in HEA reauthorizations included the following:

•• Establishing school leader and professional development academies in each state (1992)

•• Providing partnership grants for the development of leader programs (1998 and 2008)

Individuals With Disabilities Education Act

In 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) substan- tively addressed school leadership in a number of ways, including

•• Providing personnel development grants to support “high-quality pro- fessional development for principals, superintendents, and other administrators, including training in instructional leadership,” as well as other areas critical to the leadership of students with special needs (P.L. 108-446, 2004, p. 129)

•• Supporting leadership preparation activities that provide “interdisci- plinary training for various types of leadership personnel” (P.L. 108- 446, 2004, p. 133)

While leadership has not gone completely unnoticed within federal education policy, in comparison with the attention devoted to other educational personnel and programming, the focus on educational leadership has been limited. This is

712 Educational Administration Quarterly 53(5)

particularly true when you consider individual pieces of legislation. For example, in the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA, school leadership is referenced in 15 places within the Act. In contrast, teachers are referenced in 135 different places. Within the next section, we review literature on the importance of educational leadership to attaining the goals set forth within federal education legislation.

Research on the Connection Between Leadership and Student Achievement

Research accumulating over the past 40 years suggests the dynamic nature of both the leadership role and the context in which leaders work. However, over the past 15 years, evidence of the importance of school leadership in both direct and indirect ways has mounted, and this evidence has been con- sistently shared with the field and policy makers alike.

Leaders affect every aspect of schooling. Indeed, principal leadership directly shapes elements such as teacher practices (Robinson et al., 2008) through providing instructional advice (Robinson et al., 2008), allocating necessary resources for learning and development (Horng & Loeb, 2010; LaPointe Terosky, 2014), offering professional development opportuni- ties for teachers (Sanzo, Sherman, & Clayton, 2011; Sebastian & Allensworth, 2012), establishing a culture of trust (Daly, 2009; Sanzo et al., 2011; Tschannen-Moran, 2009), prioritizing equity (Brooks, Jean- Marie, Normore, & Hodgins, 2007), collaborating and distributing leader- ship (Leithwood, Harris, & Hopkins, 2008; Leithwood & Jantzi, 1990; Marks & Printy, 2003; Sanzo et al., 2011), and focusing on student learn- ing (Sanzo et al., 2011). Furthermore, through school leaders’ direct influ- ence on these factors, they indirectly affect student achievement (Leithwood et al., 2009; Robinson et al., 2008; Supovitz, Sirinides, & May, 2010). There is substantial research evidence demonstrating that school leaders can be powerful drivers of student outcomes. Robinson et al. (2008) found in their meta-analysis that when school leaders focus on effective instruction, “the more likely they are to have a positive impact on students’ outcomes” (p. 664). This follows logically as they “hold the formal authority, responsibility, and discretion for creating the very conditions and supports that promote student achievement” (Hitt & Tucker, 2016, pp. 561-562).

The remainder of this section is categorically organized based on previous work by Leithwood and Riehl (2005) and Leithwood et al. (2008), who sug- gest that school leaders meaningfully influence student learning through their leadership of:

Young et al. 713

1. their organization, 2. the visions and goals of the school and district, 3. the people within the organization, and 4. the curricular and instructional agenda in their schools and districts.

In addition to providing a brief summary of the research that addresses the relationship between and among these four areas of leader practice and stu- dent achievement, we also highlight research that addresses the critical role of leadership in supporting one of the key goals of ESSA: educational equity. Although the evidence offered is not exhaustive, it is representative of com- mon themes generally accepted by the field.

School Leaders Influence Their Organization

Silins, Mulford, and Zarins (2002) note that “school as a learning organiza- tion is defined by the level and quality of leadership that characterizes the everyday work of the school” (p. 634). Principals and other leaders influence this everyday work in explicit ways like through hiring and staffing (Horng & Loeb, 2010), building a trustworthy and loyal culture (Sanzo et al., 2011; Silins et al., 2002; Tschannen-Moran, 2009) that is also safe (Sebastian & Allensworth, 2012; Sebring, Allensworth, Bryk, Easton, & Luppescu, 2006), supporting a collaborative environment through distributing leadership (Sanzo et al., 2011; Silins et al., 2002; Spillane, 2005), fostering professional learning communities (Sanzo et al., 2011), making connections with families and the community (Hitt & Tucker, 2016), and leading school turnaround efforts (Leithwood et al., 2008).

School leaders who subscribe to an instructional leadership approach promote the achievement of school-wide goals and establish an atmosphere where attain- ing those goals is realistic (Robinson et al., 2008). This is a key leadership under- taking, given existing research (e.g., Sebastian & Allensworth, 2012) demonstrates how the quality of the learning environment affects achievement for students.

School Leaders Influence the Development of and Execution of the Visions and Goals of the School and District

Essential to setting the tone, culture, or climate of an organization is the development and execution of vision and goals, a process that is advanced by the leader (Hallinger & Murphy, 1985; Hitt & Tucker, 2016) and must be focused on student learning (Robinson et al., 2008). Researchers indicate that effective leaders explicitly plan and convey in detail how the mission, vision,

714 Educational Administration Quarterly 53(5)

and goals will be met (Robinson et al., 2008; Sanzo et al., 2011). It is through these activities that school leaders are able to articulate and solidify a “sense of overall purpose” (Silins et al., 2002, p. 620) for the school and inspiration toward the advancement of improvement efforts. In short, school leaders who have attended to the organization and the people within their organization are well positioned to help their staff achieve their goals surrounding the mission and vision of the organization.

School Leaders Influence the People Within Their Organization

The high-quality management of educator practice is an additional way school leaders support organizational effectiveness and enhance the learning experience for all students. As the formal educational administrator, school leaders influence positively teachers’ “motivations, commitment and beliefs connecting the supportiveness of their working conditions” (Leithwood et al., 2008, p. 32). Leaders are positioned to foster an encouraging and trusting tone that allows and empowers teachers to “take risks to improve outcomes” (Daly, 2009, p. 207).

Principals supervise teachers in their instruction through the “collegial and informal process of helping teachers improve their teaching (DiPaola & Hoy, 2008, p. vi). Relatedly, but distinctly different, school and district lead- ers are charged with evaluating the (a) curricular and instructional program- ming (Leithwood, 2012; Murphy, Elliot, Goldring, & Porter, 2006; Sebring et al., 2006) as well as (b) teacher and building principal professional practice (DiPaola & Hoy, 2008; Murphy & Hallinger, 1988). Through utilization of data, school leaders can effectively evaluate and influence these areas, thus, sustaining the focus on the enterprise of continuous improvement (Hitt & Tucker, 2016).

School Leaders Influence the Curricular and Instructional Agenda in Their Schools and Districts

A primary responsibility of a school leader is to lead and monitor the curricu- lar and instructional agenda (Hallinger & Murphy, 1985; Hitt & Tucker, 2016; Robinson et al., 2008; Sanzo et al., 2011), ensuring its coherence (Sebastian & Allensworth, 2012). Part of this leadership responsibility includes providing guidance and advice about instructional practices and crafting targeted and individualized feedback, support, and opportunities for teachers in this endeavor (May & Supovitz, 2011). Robinson et al. (2008) found in their work that “leaders in higher performing schools are distinguished from their coun- terparts in otherwise similar lower performing schools by their personal involvement in planning, coordinating, and evaluating teaching and teachers”

Young et al. 715

(p. 662). Through more active engagement, oversight, and coordination of the school’s curricular and instructional program, leaders were able to positively affect student outcomes.

Leadership for Equity

Aligned with the original purposes of ESEA, leadership is considered an essential part of achieving equitable educational opportunities and outcomes for all students, especially for those students who are poor and/or marginal- ized. Researchers such as Gay (2002), Ware (2006), and Bondy, Ross, Gallingane, and Hambacher (2007), Castagno and Brayboy (2008), note that culturally responsive classrooms help to positively affect student achieve- ment. Furthermore, the leader plays a critical role in fostering a culture of support and inclusivity as well as supporting culturally relevant practice among school staff (Auerbach, 2009; Brooks, Adams, & Morita-Mullaney, 2010; Khalifa, 2010; McKenzie et al., 2008; Robinson et al., 2008; Scanlan & Lopez, 2012; Theoharis & O’Toole, 2011; Youngs & King, 2002). Leadership’s critical role in this endeavor is highlighted through the focus of Standard 3 in the National Educational Leadership Preparation (NELP) Building Standards (National Policy Board for Educational Administration [NPBEA], 2017) as well as in the 2015 Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (NPBEA, 2015). Specifically, NELP Standard 3 calls upon leaders to “promote the current and future success and well-being of each student and adults by applying the knowledge, skills, and commitment necessary to develop and maintain a supportive, equitable, culturally responsive and inclusive school culture” (NPBEA, 2017, p. 17).

In sum, there is substantial research demonstrating the role of educational leadership in supporting organizational effectiveness, student educational outcomes, and educational equity. Because of their formal roles, school lead- ers affect schools greatly (Leithwood et al., 2008) and are either “credited or blamed for school outcomes” (Daly, 2009, p. 200). Although ESSA does not approach this level of specificity with regard to leadership practice, this evi- dence base justifies the focus within ESSA on educational leaders. Furthermore, state and district policy makers have been encouraged to con- sider this research in state plans for leadership development (CCSSO, 2016; Herman et al., 2016).

The Role of Leadership in ESSA

Unlike previously adopted federal policies, ESSA presents a new and height- ened focused on educational leadership, acknowledging the importance of leadership to school improvement and student achievement. The Act

716 Educational Administration Quarterly 53(5)

recognizes that school leadership can be “a powerful driver of improved education outcomes” (Herman et al., 2016, p. 1). For those who have been advocating for a more intensive inclusion of leadership, this move has been widely praised.

Specifically, the reauthorization of the ESSA, “emphasizes evidence-base initiatives while providing new flexibilities to states and districts with regard to the use of federal funds, including funds to promote effective school lead- ership” (Herman et al., 2016, p. 1). Although the development of the Act was preceded by years of effort to educate the public and policy makers on the importance of educational leadership and leadership development, the pas- sage of ESSA has stirred enthusiasm and activity among an even wider group of stakeholders who are all hoping to make the most of the heightened focus on educational leadership. In this section, we outline the main features of the policy, including how leadership is portrayed, how it can be supported at the state and local levels, and how the policy can support equity through leadership.

How Leadership Is Defined

Under ESSA, states and districts are allowed multiple strategies for promot- ing school improvement, and “school leadership is explicitly acknowledged as a valid target of educational-improvement activities across the titles in ESSA” (Herman et al., 2016, p. 4). School leadership under ESSA is defined broadly and includes any individual who is (a) “an employee or officer of an elementary school or secondary school, local educational agency, or other entity operating an elementary school or secondary school” and who is (b) “responsible for the daily instructional leadership and managerial operations in the elementary school or secondary school building” (Every Student Succeeds Act, 2015, p. 297).

How Leadership May Be Supported

Title I of ESSA authorizes approximately $16 billion in funding per year to improve state and local education programs (Every Student Succeeds Act, 2015). Title I, which has traditionally included resources for identifying and improving low-performing schools, allows states and districts to use federal funds for activities targeting the knowledge and development of school prin- cipals and other school leaders. Title II, however, is where the majority of language concerning leadership development is found. Title II funds are typi- cally reserved for recruiting and retaining teachers to reducing class sizes, or providing professional development.

Young et al. 717

ESSA includes both flexible and targeted funding with allowable uses to support the quality of teachers, principals, and other school leaders, including an optional 3% set-aside of Title II funds for school leadership, as well as state administrative funds. Together Title II, Part A allows each state to invest almost 8% of its total allotment to support leadership pipeline activities, including recruitment, preparation, and professional development. This is a significant increase in funds that can be used to support school leaders and contrasts starkly with current practice. For example, according to CCSSO (2016) “two-thirds of school districts spend no money on professional devel- opment for leaders” (p. 1).

Under ESSA, states may use funds (Title II, Part A and others) to support: (a) the quality and effectiveness of teachers, principals, and other school leaders; (b) the number of educators who are effective in improving student academic achievement in schools; and (c) more equitable access to effective teachers, principals, and other school leaders. Title II, Part A funds may be used in several ways to support school leadership, such as (a) to support both traditional and nontraditional pathways for developing educational leaders, (b) to improve state policies and practices concerning licensure or certifica- tion, recertification, and the adoption of standards for preparation and prac- tice, (c) to help districts and local education agencies develop high-quality professional development, and (d) to support districts’ recruitment and reten- tion strategies that ensure a strong leadership pipeline (Castagna et al., 2016; CCSSO, 2016; Every Student Succeeds Act, 2015; USDE, 2016).

ESSA Title II, Part B also includes funding opportunities for the develop- ment of a strong leadership pipeline. Specifically, four competitive grants are available to states, including (a) the School Leader Recruitment and Support Program (SLRSP), (b) Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED), (c) Teacher and School Leader Incentive Programs (TSLIP), and (d) Education Innovation Research (EIR). The SLRSP grants, formerly known as SLRP grants, are available to states and districts that are interested in developing and supporting talented leaders for high needs schools. Importantly, these grants can be carried out with higher education partners. The SEED grants are avail- able to higher education institutions as well as other nonprofits to help recruit, select, prepare, and provide professional development for educations, includ- ing educational leaders. The TSLIP, formerly known as TIF or teacher incen- tive funds, have been expanded to include leadership and are available to states, districts, and other nonprofit organizations to support the career path- ways for talented educational professionals. Finally, the EIR, formerly i3, are available for organizations interested in designing and implementing innova- tive, and preferably research-based, leadership models (CCSSO, 2016; Every Student Succeeds Act, 2015).

718 Educational Administration Quarterly 53(5)

Supporting Equity Through Leadership

One of the key goals of ESSA is to extend the federal focus on and support for educational equity. It includes a number of provisions regarding the use of funds to support schools identified as low-performing, including the provi- sion of development for school leaders and instructional staff. For example, Title II, Part A requires states to set aside 7% of their funding to help school districts support low-performing schools, including to help remove barriers to student achievement. Just as the knowledge and skills of educational lead- ers can be a key support to achieving educational equity, they can also be a barrier when leaders are not adequately prepared to support equity, inclusive- ness, and cultural responsiveness. In such cases, leadership development can serve as an important intervention. As explained by Herman et al. (2016), “in many areas of the [ESSA] act where school leadership is not explicitly called out (e.g., school improvement efforts under Title I), states and districts could still choose to support leadership-focused activities in pursuit of school- improvement objectives” (p. 4).

How States Are Strengthening the Focus on Educational Leadership

September 18, 2017 marked the deadline for the submission of consolidated state ESSA plans, and educational stakeholders at the local, state, and federal level have been anxious to gain insight into whether and how states have used the new opportunities to support leadership development offered through ESSA. Importantly, each state was required to include in its consolidated state plan a description of how it planned to use Title II and other relevant ESSA funds for improving the quality of educators, and a description of their systems for developing, retaining, and advancing educators—including prin- cipals and other school leaders. The state plans were required to include, at a minimum, a description of the state’s systems for certification and/or licens- ing; the preparation of new educational professionals, particularly, those being prepared to work with low-income students and students of color; and the professional growth and improvement of educational professionals (including school leaders), including induction, development, compensation, and advancement.

Preliminary reviews of state plans conducted by researchers affiliated with the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) indicate that many states recognized the emerging research base connecting educational leadership preparation and practice to key ESSA outcomes and have used it as an impetus to address school leadership in their ESSA implementation

Young et al. 719

plans. The remainder of this section provides three examples of state approaches to supporting school leadership, drawn from Michigan, New Mexico, and Tennessee. These three states are not alone in their focus on educational leadership or in their inclusion of new ways to support leadership development; rather, they were chosen for inclusion because they plan to exercise the option to use the 3% set-aside Title II funds for state-level activi- ties that support school leadership in their ESSA implementation plans.

Example 1: Michigan

Michigan plans to invest resources in facilitating the development of strategic partnerships between specific LEAs and educator preparation programs espe- cially for the benefit of LEAs identified as Partnership Districts and/or LEAs with low-performing schools as identified by the accountability system. Partner educator preparation programs (EPPs) may be traditional programs within institutions of higher education (IHEs), experimental programs within IHEs, or alternate route preparation programs operated by IHEs or nonaffili- ated nonprofit organizations, in accordance with Michigan law (MCL 380.1531i). These partnerships will focus on strategic recruitment of candi- dates and context-specific clinical and residency-based preparation for both teachers and leaders according to the needs of the partner LEA. Such district/ preparation provider partnerships are evidenced-based for effective leadership preparation and suggest innovative thinking around school leadership.

Example 2: New Mexico

New Mexico is seeking to improve the percentage of students being taught by effective or better teachers and principals using differentiated compensation systems for each level of effective, highly effective, and exemplary teachers. The state also plans to support the Principals Pursuing Excellence program to educate and empower principals to practice leadership behaviors that drive sig- nificant gains in student achievement. This 2-year leadership development pro- gram leverages a “turnaround mentor” to work with principals in struggling schools. Past participants in the program reported significant improvements. In some cases, schools improved more than 3 times the average school in the state in English language arts, and 1.7 times higher in mathematics.

Example 3: Tennessee

Tennessee’s goal is to create statewide and regional leadership pipelines that produce transformational school leaders. As part of this effort, the state is

720 Educational Administration Quarterly 53(5)

developing an administrator evaluation rubric to guide a fair and transparent administrator evaluation. The evaluation is designed to support a culture of support for instructional leaders and is intended to help engage educators in reflective dialogue to improve practice. The state also plans to support the Tennessee Academy for School Leaders to provide high-quality professional learning opportunities for school leaders that are aligned with the Tennessee Instructional Leadership Standards. This includes induction academies for new leaders, professional learning opportunities throughout the year, and uni- versity partnership opportunities to advance licensure. Additionally, the state plans to support the Governor’s Academy for School Leadership, in partner- ship with the Tennessee Governor’s Office, Vanderbilt University, and dis- tricts, to offer school leaders a 1-year leader development experience anchored in practice-based mentorship, in-depth feedback cycles, and tai- lored training sessions.

As noted above, these states represent only three examples of how states are planning to use Title II funding to support leadership development. Even within these three examples, we see a number of promising activities target- ing the quality of school principals and other school leaders.


The current opportunity to support educational leadership development through ESSA is incredibly important, and we are optimistic about many of the ideas that have been put forward by states thus far. However, as noted above, our support and enthusiasm is tempered by several concerns. First, we are concerned that the efforts of states and local education agencies to support substantive leadership development could be undermined by forces at either the state or federal levels. Second, we are concerned that programs for leader- ship development included within many state ESSA plans “will under- or over-reach, and that states without the knowledge, capacity, or will to act smartly will stagnate or regress” (Castagna et al., 2016, p. 2).

With regard to our first concern, perhaps the most obvious example includes recent federal budget proposals that eliminate funding for educa- tional leadership development. Should the federal government choose to eliminate funding, it is unlikely that states will be in a position to fund the activities included in their state plans. Grim budget proposals, however, are not just a current concern, as education has been chronically underfunded for years.

An additional force at play is the reduced authority of the USDE to regu- late the design and implementation of state plans. Although as Ferguson (2016) points out, the limitations placed on the Secretary of Education and

Young et al. 721

the department were a “fairly predictable response to both NCLB and the Obama administration’s efforts” (p. 72), they limit the ability of the USDE to serve as a resource for improving individual initiatives as well as the impact of initiatives more broadly. Combined with the potential lack of funding, states are placed in a more dominant role, but with fewer resources.

Similarly, while we are optimistic about the ideas that states are likely to put forward, we are also keenly aware of the shrinking size of state depart- ments of education and the impact of such downsizing and record numbers of retirements on the expertise available within State Department of Education. The commitment and capacity of state departments of education are key to the effective implementation of ESSA programming.

Our final concern focuses on the tendency to think narrowly about educa- tional leadership, the role of educational leaders, and leadership develop- ment. Importantly, leadership is an integrative enterprise and success is dependent not on one’s knowledge and skills in a few discrete areas, but in developing expertise in the areas identified by national standards for educa- tional leadership preparation (e.g., NELP, 2017) and practice (e.g., Professional Standards for Educational Leaders, 2015). Our review of the literature only captured five of the key domains of leadership practice, yet leaders work in other domains, such as their engagement with parents and communities and their efforts to advocate for their students, staff, and schools, which are essential to effective leadership practice.

Finally, we understand the critical role that leadership plays in ensuring successful implementation, building commitment, and achieving educational goals. We applaud the fact that federal policy has incorporated insight from research on how leadership matters in supporting school improvement and student achievement. As we think toward future reauthorizations of ESSA, we would recommend a stronger emphasis on educational leadership that extends beyond leadership development to leadership practice. The research presented in the previous section demonstrates the important role that leadership plays in supporting successful school environments and student achievement. Furthermore, for more than 35 years, research has demonstrated the impor- tance of strong leadership in the successful implementation of federal pro- grams at the local school building level (Turnbull, Smith, & Ginsburg, 1981).

As demonstrated in this article, it has taken a long time for federal educa- tional policy to give substantive attention to educational leadership and to allow the use of significant funding to support the development of a strong leadership pipeline. Just as it is important that current initiatives be fully funded, it is also essential that we consider how to strengthen the focus on and impact of leadership in federal education policy initiatives going for- ward. Thus, what we hope to see is not a change in federal goals or purposes,

722 Educational Administration Quarterly 53(5)

but a commitment to fully fund ESSA as well as the adoption, over time, of an enhanced strategy for achieving these purposes with greater success.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publica- tion of this article.


M. D. Young


Auerbach, S. (2009). Walking the walk: Portraits in leadership for family engagement in urban schools. School Community Journal, 19, 9-32.

Bondy, E., Ross, D. D., Gallingane, C., & Hambacher, E. (2007). Creating environ- ments of success and resilience: Culturally responsive classroom management and more. Urban Education, 42, 326-348. doi:10.1177/0042085907303406

Brooks, J., Jean-Marie, G., Normore, A. H., & Hodgins, D. W. (2007). Distributed leadership for social justice: Exploring how influence and equity are stretched over an urban high school. Journal of School Leadership, 17, 378-408. Retrieved from

Brooks, K., Adams, S. R., & Morita-Mullaney, T. (2010). Creating inclusive learn- ing communities for ELL students: Transforming school principals’ perspectives. Theory Into Practice, 49, 145-151. doi:10.1080/00405841003641501.

Castagna, J., Young, K., Gordon, D., Little, B., & Palmer, S. (2016, August). Education counsel: Summary analysis of ED’s proposed ESSA regulations for consolidated plans, accountability, school improvement, and data reporting & ED’s proposed ESSA regulations assessments and innovative assessment pilots. Retrieved from analysis-eds-proposed-essa-regulations-consolidated-plans-accountability- school-improvement-data-reporting-eds-proposed-essa-regulations-assessments-inn

Castagno, A. E., & Brayboy, B. M. J. (2008). Culturally responsive schooling for Indigenous youth: A review of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 78, 941-993. doi:10.3102/0034654308323036

Coelli, M., & Green, D. A. (2012). Leadership effects: School principals and stu- dent outcomes. Economics of Education Review, 31, 92-109. doi:10.1016/j .econedurev.2011.09.001

Council of Chief State School Officers. (2016). Its time to take a big bet on school leadership. Elevating School Leadership in ESSA Plans: A guide for states. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

Young et al. 723

Daly, A. J. (2009). Rigid response in an age of accountability: The potential of leader- ship and trust. Educational Administration Quarterly, 45, 168-216. doi:10.1177/ 0013161X08330499

Darling-Hammond, L., Meyerson, D., La Pointe, M. M., & Orr, M. T. (2009). Preparing principals for a changing world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

DiPaola, M. F., & Hoy, W. K. (2012). Principals improving instruction: Supervision, evaluation, and professional development. Charlotte, NC: Information Age.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, H.R. 2362, 89th Cong., Pub. L. No. 89-10 (1965).

Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95 (2015). Ferguson, M. (2016). ESSA is more than the latest acronym on education’s block. Phi

Delta Kappan, 97, 72-73. doi:10.1177/0031721716636879 Gay, G. (2002). Culturally responsive teaching in special education for ethnically

diverse students: Setting the stage. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 6, 613-629. doi:10.1080/0951839022000014349

Grissom, J. A., & Loeb, S. (2011). Triangulating principal effectiveness: How perspectives of parents, teachers, and assistant principals identify the central importance of managerial skills. American Educational Research Journal, 48, 1091-1123. doi:10.3102/0002831211402663

Hallinger, P., & Murphy, J. (1985). Assessing the instructional management behavior of principals. Elementary School Journal, 86, 217-247. doi:10.1086/461445

Herman, R., Gates, S., Arifkhanova, A., Bega, A., Chavez-Herrerias, E. R., Han, E., . . .Wrabel, S. (2016). School leadership interventions under the Every Student Succeeds Act: Evidence review. Washington, DC: RAND Corporation.

Higher Education Act. 1988 Amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1965. Public Law 105-244. (1988).

Hitt, D. H., & Tucker, P. D. (2016). Systematic review of key leader practices found to influence student achievement: A unified framework. Review of Educational Research, 86, 531-569. doi:10.3102/0034654315614911

Horng, B. Y. E., & Loeb, S. (2010). New thinking about instructional leadership. Phi Delta Kappan, 92, 66-70. doi:10.1108/10569210910939681

Jackson, B. L., & Kelley, C. (2002). Exceptional and innovative programs in educa- tional leadership. Educational Administration Quarterly, 38, 192-212.

Khalifa, M. (2010). Validating social and cultural capital of hyperghettoized at- risk students. Education and Urban Society, 42, 620-646. doi:10.1177/00 13124510366225.

Kirst, M., & Jung, R. (1980). The utility of a longitudinal approach in assessing imple- mentation: A thirteen-year view of Title I, ESEA. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 2, 17-34. Retrieved from

LaPointe Terosky, A. (2014). From a managerial imperative to a learning impera- tive: Experiences of urban, public school principals. Educational Administration Quarterly, 50, 3-33. doi:10.1177/0013161X13488597

Leithwood, K. (2012). Ontario Leadership Framework with a discussion of the leader- ship foundations. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Institute for Educational Leadership, OISE. Retrieved from

724 Educational Administration Quarterly 53(5)

files/2514/9452/5287/The_Ontario_Leadership_Framework_2012_-_with_a_ Discussion_of_the_Research_Foundations.pdf

Leithwood, K., Harris, A., & Hopkins, D. (2008). Seven strong claims about suc- cessful school leadership. School Leadership & Management, 28, 27-42. doi:10.1080/13632430701800060

Leithwood, K., & Jantzi, D. (1990). Transformational leadership: How principals can help reform school cultures. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 1, 249-280. doi:10.1080/0924345900010402

Leithwood, K., Jantzi, D., Coffin, G., & Wilson, P. (1996). Preparing school leaders: What works? Journal of School Leadership, 6, 316-342.

Leithwood, K., Louis, K. S., Wahlstrom, K., Anderson, S., Mascall, B., & Gordon, M. (2009). How successful leadership influences student learning: The second installment of a longer story. In A. Hargreaves, A. Lieberman, M. Fullan & D. Hopkins (Eds.), Second international handbook of educational change (Vol. 23, pp. 611-629). Anderson and Sacks Springer International Handbooks. New York, NY: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-90-481-2660-6_35

Leithwood, K., Seashore, K., Anderson, S., & Wahlstrom, K. (2004). Executive sum- mary: Review of research: How leadership influences student learning. Retrieved from ExecutiveSummary%20How%20Leadership%20Influences.pdf?sequence=1& isAllowed=y

Leithwood, K. A., & Riehl, C. (2005). What do we already know about educational leadership? In W. A. Firestone & C. Riehl (Eds.), A new agenda for research in educational leadership (pp. 12-27). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Marks, H. M., & Printy, S. M. (2003). Principal leadership and school performance: An integration of transformational and instructional leadership. Educational Administration Quarterly, 39, 370-397. doi:10.1177/0013161X03253412

May, H., & Supovitz, J. A. (2011). The scope of principal efforts to improve instruc- tion. Educational Administration Quarterly, 47, 332-352. doi:10.1177/00131 61X10383411

McCarthy, M. M. (1999). The evolution of educational leadership preparation pro- grams. In J. Murphy & K. S. Louis (Eds.), Handbook of research on educational administration: A project of the American Educational Research Association (pp. 119-139). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

McKenzie, K. B., Christman, D. E., Hernandez, F., Fierro, E., Capper, C. A., Dantley, M., & Scheurich, J. J. (2008). From the field: A proposal for educating leaders for social justice. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44, 111-138. doi:10.11 77/0013161x07309470.

Murphy, J., Elliot, S. N., Goldring, E., & Porter, A. C. (2006). Learning-centered leadership: A conceptual foundation. New York, NY: Wallace Foundation. Retrieved from

Murphy, J., & Hallinger, P. (1988). Characteristics of instructionally effective school districts. Journal of Educational Research, 81, 175-181. doi:10.1080/ 00220671.1988.10885819

Young et al. 725

National Policy Board for Educational Administration. (2015). Professional stan- dards for educational leaders. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://

National Policy Board for Educational Administration. (2017). NELP. Retrieved from

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-110 (2001). Orr, M. T., & Barber, M. E. (2007). Collaborative leadership preparation: A compara-

tive study of innovative programs and practices. Journal of School Leadership, 16, 709-739.

Pounder, D. G. (1995). Theory to practice in administrator preparation: An evaluation study. Journal of School Leadership, 5, 151-162.

Robinson, V. M. J., Lloyd, C. A., & Rowe, K. J. (2008). The impact of leader- ship on student outcomes: An analysis of the differential effects of leadership types. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44, 635-674. doi:10.1177/00131 61X08321509

Sanzo, K. L., Sherman, W. H., & Clayton, J. (2011). Leadership practices of success- ful middle school principals. Journal of Educational Administration, 49, 31-45. doi:10.1108/09578231111102045

Scanlan, M., & Lopez, F. (2012). Vamos! How school leaders promote equity and excellence for bilingual students. Educational Administration Quarterly, 48, 583-625.

Sebastian, J., & Allensworth, E. (2012). The influence of principal leadership on class- room instruction and student learning. Educational Administration Quarterly, 48, 626-663. doi:10.1177/0013161X11436273

Sebring, P. B., Allensworth, E., Bryk, A. S., Easton, J. Q., & Luppescu, S. (2006). The essential supports for school improvement. Chicago, IL: Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Silins, H. C., Mulford, W. R., & Zarins, S. (2002). Organizational learning and school change. Educational Administration Quarterly, 38, 613-642. doi:10.1177/00131 61X02239641

Supovitz, J., Sirinides, P., & May, H. (2010). How principals and peers influ- ence teaching and learning. Educational Administration Quarterly, 46, 31-56. doi:10.1177/1094670509353043

Theoharis, G., & O’Toole, J. (2011). Leading inclusive ELL: Social justice leadership for English language learners. Educational Administration Quarterly, 47, 646- 688. doi:10.1177/0013161x11401616.

Tschannen-Moran, M. (2009). Fostering teacher professionalism in schools. Journal of Educational Administration, 45, 217-247. doi:10.1177/0013161X08330501

Turnbull, B. J., Smith, M. S., & Ginsburg, A. L. (1981). Issues for a new administra- tion: The federal role in education. American Journal of Education, 89, 396-427. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Non-Regulatory Guidance Title II, Part A: Building systems of support for excellent teaching and learning (Non-Regulatory Guidance Title II, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as Amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015). Washington, DC: Author.

726 Educational Administration Quarterly 53(5)

Ware, F. (2006). Warm demander pedagogy: Culturally responsive teaching that sup- ports a culture of achievement for African American students. Urban Education, 41, 427-456. doi:10.1177/0042085906289710

Young, M. D., & Crow, G. (2016). The handbook of research on leadership prepara- tion (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Young, M. D., Crow, G., Ogawa, R., & Murphy, J. (2009). The handbook of research on leadership preparation. New York, NY: Routledge.

Young, M. D., O’Doherty, A., Gooden, M., & Goodnow, E. (2011). Measuring change in leadership identity and problem framing. Journal of School Leadership, 21, 705-734.

Youngs, P., & King, M. B. (2002). Principal leadership for professional development to build school capacity. Educational Administration Quarterly, 38, 643-670.

Author Biographies

Michelle D. Young, PhD, is the executive director of the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) and a professor in educational leadership at the University of Virginia. UCEA is an international consortium of research institutions with graduate programs in educational leadership and policy. She works with univer- sities, practitioners, professional organizations, and state and national leaders to improve the preparation and practice of school and school system leaders and to develop a dynamic base of knowledge on excellence in educational leadership. She has been instrumental in both increasing the focus of research in the field of educa- tional leadership on leadership preparation and development as well as strengthening research translation, dissemination, and utilization processes. she is the primary editor of the first and second editions of the Handbook of Research on the Education of School Leaders and is currently chairing the revision of National Educational Leadership Preparation (NELP) standards.

Kathleen M. Winn, PhD, is a postdoctoral research associate for the University Council for Educational Administration housed in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. Her research interests are primarily situated in leadership preparation, the intersection of leadership and science education, and program evaluation.

Marcy A. Reedy, MA, is a project director with the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA). She specializes in educational policy and coordinates UCEA’s policy and advocacy work. She is currently coordinating a comprehensive review of state ESSA plans, with a specific focus on the use of Title II funds for edu- cational leadership development initiatives. She is recognized for producing easily accessible policy briefs and profiles. Prior to joining UCEA, she led the government relations campaign for the Center for Excellence in Education.