ED Officials Get Schooled in School Leadership

On October 31, 2014, in School Leadership, by Amanda Karhuse

For the third year in a row, NASSP, NAESP and New Leaders have collaborated with the US Department of Education (ED) to conduct shadowing visits of principals as part of our celebration of National Principals Month. This year, more than 50 principals across the nation opened up their schools to ED officials so they could “walk a day in their shoes.”

On October 30, principals from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia convened at ED headquarters for a debrief session where US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other officials shared their experiences. Duncan shadowed Principal Ambassador Fellow Rachel Skerritt who is the principal of Eastern Senior High School in Washington, DC. Nearly 100% of the students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals, and the school is undergoing the transformation model under the School Improvement Grants program.

Duncan greeted students as they entered the building and helped Principal Skerritt take attendance and collect cell phones, which are not allowed in the classroom. He also sat in on a faculty huddle in the gym and got a glimpse into the principal’s ever-growing email inbox. Duncan even volunteered to call a parent when there was a challenge with a student.

ED officials also shared their “aha” moments, which included the loneliness of the job for elementary school principals who may be the only administrator in the building and the need for good mentoring programs. They were pleased to witness collaborative leadership in action and now better understand how the principal helps build a safe culture in schools.

Principals were asked what hurdles get in the way of maximizing their role as instructional leaders. A middle school principal from Maryland shared with a small group that he always conducts classroom visits and teacher observations in the morning because he never knows what may happen that day. While being shadowed by the ED official, a student who had been suspended was seen on campus and the principal spent a good part of the day tracking down his parents. Other principals lamented that they often hear teachers say they would never want their job, which makes them very concerned about succession planning and the future of their profession.

Duncan posed for a group photo with the principals and one middle school principal even got a selfie with the secretary, which she immediately tweeted to her students. Duncan thanked the principals for their hard work and ended the discussion with his oft-used quote, “I have yet to see a great school that didn’t have a great principal.” Those words are so true!

Check out the #prinmonth hashtag on Twitter to see photos of the shadowing visits or read the Department’s Storify of the week.

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The U.S. Department of Education reports that over 450 applications were submitted in June to secure a slot for the 2013-2014 Principal Ambassador Fellowship Program. The Principal Ambassador Program, known as “PAF, was established this year building on the success of the Teacher Ambassador Fellowship.  After Department officials spent a day shadowing principals across the DC area during National Principals Month last October, one of the participants highlighted the lack of principals’ voices in dialogues surrounding education policy at a debrief event with Secretary Arne Duncan.  The Secretary agreed with him, and then announced the creation of the PAF program at the 2013 NASSP Conference: Ignite in February 2013.

The PAF program is meant to recognize the important impact that a principal has on instructional leadership, the school environment, and talent management. NASSP and the National Association of Elementary School Principals worked to help establish the program to elevate the principal’s voice within the Department, and to help increase its efforts to build the capacity of principals.

The Department will review all of the applications through internal review teams to confirm the applicants who have met the eligibility requirements, and then begin the selection process to choose three principals who will serve as the 2013-2014 PAFs. The Department expects to finish the selection process by October 2013. For more information, please visit the Principal Ambassador Fellowship Program.

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The NASSP State Coordinators and presidents-elect of our state affiliates stormed Capitol Hill on Wednesday, urging Congress to provide much-needed relief to educators hamstrung by the constraints of No Child Left Behind. The lesson learned by these outstanding school leaders? Principals can no longer afford to be silent on education reform issues—they need to make their voices heard because in the absence of leadership, legislators will listen to whomever is talking!


Prior to the Capitol Hill Day, the State Coordinators met with Denise Forte, Acting Assistant Secretary in the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development at the US Department of Education. She outlined the Obama administration’s education agenda for the second term, including a focus on early childhood, college affordability, and high school redesign. The State Coordinators asked questions about the RESPECT project to transform the education profession and how the Department could promote teaching as a valued profession. They also had a passionate conversation about graduation rates and rewarding students and schools who may take longer than 4 years to finish high school.


Although it was a hot and humid day in Washington, DC, the school leaders seemed energetic as they boarded the bus to Capitol Hill. They educated their members of Congress about the role of the principal as instructional leader and how they’re impacted by new teacher evaluation systems in their states. They also urged their legislators to move forward with a comprehensive reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) because they want some continuity in the education reforms that are required for their states to receive an ESEA flexibility waiver. In particular, they recommended additional support to help educators implement college and career-ready standards, growth models and multiple measures of student achievement in accountability systems, principal evaluation systems based on the six domains of leadership responsibility within a principal’s sphere of influence, and elimination of the school turnaround models.


The principals and assistant principals also advocated in support of NASSP’s key bills:

  • The School Principal Recruitment and Training Act (H.R. 1738/S. 840) to improve the preparation and ongoing mentoring and support of new principals and assistant principals;
  • The Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (LEARN) Act (S. 758) to support schoolwide literacy initiatives that focus on literacy across the content areas and targeted interventions for students reading and writing below grade level;
  • The Transforming Education Through Technology Act (H.R. 521/S. 1087) to provide “Digital Age” professional development opportunities for school leaders and teachers to ensure that technology is used to personalize instruction for every student;
  • The Success in the Middle Act (H.R. 2316/S. 708) to develop an early warning intervention and support system to identify students in the middle grades who are at risk of dropping out and implement interventions to help them succeed; and
  • The Graduation Promise Act (S. 940) to provide resources for low-performing high schools to implement differentiated school improvement activities focused on personalizing the school environment; improving curriculum, instruction, and assessment; and enhancing teacher and leader effectiveness.


The State Coordinators and presidents-elect felt empowered by their conversations on Capitol Hill and really felt that their members of Congress wanted to how federal policy impacts the people working in the trenches. Many of them were told that they were the first principals to ever visit the office, which shows that more school leaders need to get involved in grassroots advocacy!


To see photos from the Hill Day and hear more about their conversations, follow the #NASSPSC hashtag on Twitter.

Since bipartisan negotiations on legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) failed last month, Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and other committee Republicans today introduced their own proposal to improve current law. In a stark contrast to the Democratic proposal released on June 4 at a whopping 1,100+ pages, the Every Child Ready for College and Career Act streamlines most federal education programs to a mere 211 pages.

In general, the purpose of the bill is to reduce the federal footprint in education policy and “to restore freedom to parents, teachers, principals, Governors, and local communities so that they can improve their local public schools.” To do so, the legislation would prohibit the US Department of Education from issuing regulations to prescribe standards or measures that states and districts would use to establish state standards, assessments, accountability systems, systems that measure student growth, measures of other academic indicators, or teacher or principal evaluation systems.

In order to receive Title I funding, states must provide an assurance that they have adopted “challenging” academic content standards and student academic achievement standards in math, reading or language arts, and science, and implemented “high-quality” yearly student academic assessments that will be used as the primary means of determining the performance of schools. The assessments should involve multiple up-to-date measures of student academic achievement, including measures that assess higher-order thinking skills and understanding. In a move away from the Democratic proposal, the bill would continue to allow states to assess students with disabilities based on modified academic achievement standards.

States must also assure that they have developed and are implementing a single, statewide accountability system “to ensure that all students graduate from high school prepared for postsecondary education or the workforce without the need for remediation.” The system should annually identify and differentiate all public schools in the state, taking into consideration achievement gaps between student subgroups, overall performance of all students, and high school graduation rates.

The system should also identify schools that are in need of strategies for improving student academic achievement and provide assistance to districts to develop and implement appropriate strategies for improving identified schools. Districts would be required to develop assistance strategies, which may include:

  • Replacing the principal who led the school before implementation of the strategy;
  • Screening and replacing teachers who are not effective in improving student achievement;
  • Giving the school sufficient operational flexibility in programming, staffing, budgeting, and scheduling;
  • Providing ongoing, high-quality professional development to instructional staff;
  • Creating incentives for recruiting and retaining staff with the skills that are necessary to meet the needs of the students in the school;
  • Implementing a research-based instructional program aligned with the state’s challenging academic standards;
  • Converting the school to a charter school;
  • Closing the school and enrolling the students in other schools that are higher performing;
  • Adopting a new governance structure for the school; or
  • Developing other strategies that the district deems appropriate to address the needs of students in identified schools.

Just over $3 billion would be authorized for Title II, and the allowable state activities look very similar to current law with regard to school leaders: reforming principal certification and licensure so that principals have the instructional leadership skills to help students meet challenging state standards, developing and improving evaluation systems that “shall be based in significant part on evidence of student growth,” establishing alternative routes to the principalship, developing new principal induction and mentoring programs, implementing high-quality professional development programs for principals, and supporting efforts to train principals to effectively integrate technology into curricula and instruction. In order to receive a subgrant from states, districts must conduct a comprehensive needs assessment to determine the schools with the most acute staffing needs.

Similar to the bill passed by the House Education and the Workforce Committee in 2012, the Every Child Ready for College and Career Act aims to provide states and districts with maximum flexibility in using federal funds. Essentially, all programs not included in Titles I or II would be consolidated into two block grants, and funding would be allocated to districts based on the results of a comprehensive needs assessment. Unfortunately, this would include a number of programs NASSP members deem essential in their schools, including School Leadership, the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program, education technology, school counseling, and mental health and bullying prevention programs.

The legislation would also eliminate Maintenance of Effort (MoE), which helps ensure the continuity of state and local funding efforts. Current MoE provisions provide the greatest protection to low-wealth districts that generally educate more low-income students. We’re concerned that if states are allowed to cut funding for education, the most vulnerable districts, serving the neediest students, could be hurt disproportionately.

Sen. Alexander is expected to introduce his bill as a substitute amendment during the June 11 markup, and the amendment will likely fail on a party-line vote. Check back next weeks for more updates on ESEA reauthorization, and for up-to-minute news, follow @akarhuse and @balljacki on Twitter!

As federal policymakers are finally beginning to understand that great schools cannot exist without great principals, NASSP is very pleased that Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) reintroduced the School Principal Recruitment and Training Act (S. 840/H.R. 1736) last week. The bill, which had not been reintroduced during the 112th Congress, serves as the linchpin of our advocacy agenda to improve the preparation, mentoring, and professional development of our nation’s school leaders.

The School Principal Recruitment and Training Act would create a competitive grant program to recruit, support, and prepare principals and assistant principals to improve student academic achievement in high-need schools. It would create one-year residencies to train aspiring principals and would provide ongoing mentoring, support, and professional development for at least two years after the aspiring principals complete the residency and commence work as school leaders.

The bill would ensure that principal preparation programs include coursework on instructional leadership, organizational management, and the use of data to inform instruction. They would also provide differentiated training to principals in competencies that are critical to improving school-level student outcomes such as supervising and evaluating teachers, establishing learning communities, addressing the needs of students with disabilities and English language learners, and using technology to personalize instruction.

NASSP members are strongly encouraged to contact their members of Congress and urge them to cosponsor the School Principal Recruitment and Training Act. A form letter is available at the Principal’s Legislative Action Center, but we hope that you will personalize the message by sharing your own experiences in a principal preparation program and highlight the need for continuous, ongoing professional development.

NASSP has been steadfast in our opposition to the four models for school reform that would all require the principal’s replacement as a condition for receiving funds under the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program. We remain very concerned that the U.S. Department of Education will try to expand this misguided strategy as part of its proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). We therefore, encourage you to visit the Principal’s Legislative Action Center (PLAC) at www.nassp.org/plac, and urge your members of Congress to oppose any legislation that encompasses the four models for school improvement.

Specifically, the SIG guidance requires districts to use SIG funds to implement one of four interventions in the identified, low-performing schools:

  • Turnaround Model, which includes replacing the principal and at least 50% of the school’s staff, adopting a new governance structure, and implementing a new and revised instructional program;
  • Restart Model, which would require a district to close the school and reopen it under the management of a charter school operator, a charter management organization, or an educational management organization;
  • School Closure, which would require a district to close the school and enroll the students who attended the school in other, high-achieving schools within the district; or
  • Transformation Model, which would require a district to replace the principal and develop and increase teacher and school leader effectiveness by implementing comprehensive instructional reform strategies such as extending learning time, creating community-oriented schools, and providing sustained support and operating flexibility with staff, calendar, and budget.

Congress does have the authority to modify the SIG requirements through legislation, although it is unlikely to do so outside of reauthorizing ESEA.

As you may know, the current SIG guidance requires states to target funding only to the lowest-performing schools in the state, including middle and high schools that are eligible for, but not currently receiving, Title I funds. But there is concern among the education community that the proposal could be expanded to impact additional schools, and as a result, the principals that lead them. Already in December 2009, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA) introduced a bill to authorize a $2 billion competitive grant program for districts to support high schools with low graduation rates and their feeder middle schools. Although many of the bill’s provisions closely mirror our Breaking Ranks recommendations for school improvement, the Graduation for All Act (H.R. 4122) also requires districts to implement one of the four Models of Success in each of the schools being served.

NASSP Executive Director Gerald N. Tirozzi has already expressed his concerns with the legislation to Chairman Miller and the other cosponsors, and we have submitted formal comments on ESEA reauthorization that include our recommendations for middle level and high school reform. But we cannot do it alone and urge you to reach out to your representative and senators. While a draft letter has been provided for you on PLAC (www.nassp.org/plac), we strongly encourage you to personalize the letter with stories from your own school or district, as this will make your letter considerably more effective.

Thank you for assisting NASSP in our efforts to improve student learning by promoting excellence in middle level and high school leadership.

Research has consistently shown that the quality of school leadership has a significant impact on student learning and teacher retention. Yet all too often principals enter the profession without having developed the instructional leadership skills necessary for success.

In an effort to change this situation, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) introduced the School Principal Recruitment and Training Act (S. 2896/H.R. 4354), which would create a grant program to recruit, support, and prepare principals to improve student academic achievement in high-need schools.

“Like any successful organization, schools need strong leaders to ensure their success,” said Sen. Franken. “I believe that improving principal quality is essential to turning around high-need schools and closing the achievement gap that is leaving so many of our low-income and minority children behind. The bill will provide communities with the resources they need to prepare school leaders to tackle these challenges.”

“It takes a strong leader to turn around a struggling school.  An inspirational principal at the helm can make an enormous difference in a school’s direction.  We are introducing legislation to recruit and train a new generation of school leaders that have the ability to inspire change,” said Rep. Davis.

Although principals play a vital role in preparing students for the challenges that lie ahead of them, NASSP Executive Director Gerald N. Tirozzi acknowledged that principal training and professional development hasn’t kept pace with the changing role of the principalship. “NASSP is extremely pleased that Sen. Franken and Rep. Davis have chosen to address this issue, which has the potential to positively impact the lives of all students, including those in high-need schools,” Tirozzi said. “NASSP staff worked extensively with Sen. Franken’s office to craft this legislation, and we are proud to support this bill.” Sen. Franken took the lead in drafting this bill.

Specifically, grants would help districts form partnerships with nonprofit organizations or institutions of higher education to recruit, select, train, and support aspiring or current principals with track records of transforming student learning and outcomes. The grants would support sending these principals to schools in which 40% or more of the students are eligible for free and reduced meals and to high schools with a graduation rate of 65% or less and their feeder middle schools.

Participants would sign an agreement to serve for at least four years in a high-need school after they have been qualified and placed in the principalship (if they are not already a practicing principal) and to work toward substantially increasing student academic achievement in the schools they will lead within approximately three to six years of becoming principals.

Selected aspiring principals would be provided with a preservice residency that would last for at least one year and be combined with focused coursework on instructional leadership, organizational management, and the use of data to inform instruction. Ongoing support and professional development for at least two years after the aspiring principals complete the residency and commence work as school leaders would also be incorporated in the program.

Prior to the one-year residency, aspiring principals would undergo a skills assessment to determine their strengths and improvement needs. This information would be used to assist in developing and refining a data-based professional development plan that guides each individual’s year-long residency.

Grant funds would also be used to provide mentoring and professional development to strengthen current principals’ capacity to engage in effective instructional leadership practices and use a variety of data for the purposes of instruction, supervision, evaluation, and development of teachers and highly effective school organizations.

Finally, the bill would authorize development of a high-quality evaluation and information clearinghouse to facilitate the sharing of best practices and inform the recruitment, selection, training, and ongoing development of principals for high-need schools, including the development of standards and definitions of principal effectiveness.

Ten years since its last reauthorization, Congress has finally passed legislation (H.R. 4137) reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. The law was originally set to expire in 2003, but Congress has passed 16 short-term extensions in the past four years. President Bush recently signed the bill into law on August 14, 2008.

Notably, the bill reauthorizes the Teacher Quality Partnership Grants program. Many provisions of this program are aligned with NASSP’s policy recommendations for middle level and high school reform, including:

  • Mentoring prospective principals;
  • Helping principals create a data-driven professional learning community within their school;
  • Helping principals become instructional leaders by increasing their understanding of how students learn and develop, and how to use data to evaluate teacher instruction;
  • Helping principals understand how to engage and involve parents, community members, businesses, and others to leverage additional resources to improve student academic achievement

H.R. 4137 also renews several teacher and principal preparation programs, including Preparing General Education Teachers to More Effectively Educate Students with Disabilities, which improves the ability of general education teachers to teach students with disabilities in the classroom; and the Adjunct Teacher Corps, which allows school districts to recruit content specialists from among mid-career professionals with expertise in math, science, and critical foreign languages.

H.R. 4137 also encourages low-income and rural students to graduate from high school and attend college through grants programs, including: Mathematics and Science Scholars Program, which will encourage students in secondary and postsecondary schools to pursue degrees in STEM or health-related fields; and the Rural Development Grants for Rural-Serving Colleges and Universities program, which will increase high school graduation rates in rural areas, improve career training, and create partnerships between rural colleges and employers to increase enrollment and graduation rates from rural colleges.

NASSP has long supported programs that prepare teachers and aspiring school leaders for the challenges of the 21st century school, as well as those that help connect students to postsecondary education and the workforce. We are very pleased with the long-awaited reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Effective school leadership is by its nature a constant challenge. In an ongoing effort to improve student and school performance, a recent report asked if principals should be given explicit authority over school management and staffing issues, or if ambiguity in labor agreements is a better way to go?

The Leadership Limbo: Teacher Labor Agreements in America’s Fifty Largest School Districts is a preliminary study of 50 of the nation’s largest school districts conducted by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The report found that most (30) of the districts surveyed have labor agreements that are either “somewhat flexible or somewhat restrictive, suggesting that most principals have substantial leeway to manage assertively, should they so choose.” The report’s authors argue that while such agreements are preferable to highly restrictive labor agreements, they should be more transparent and should explicitly recognize “managerial discretion as part of a twenty-first century labor agreement.”

However, the report is quick to point out that while labor agreements can act as barriers to effective school and district management, the degree to which they hamper improvement efforts in large districts may be somewhat overstated. “It appears that district and school leaders are failing to exploit gray areas in which they may be free to act. Whether this hesitancy is due to a fear of provoking conflict and violating comfortable norms, union resistance and influence, or a lack of willingness by district leaders to actively support entrepreneurial activity, it calls for reformers to both address extra-district sources of inflexibility and push district officials to provide the requisite political, legal, and material support. District officials must cease blaming ‘the contract’ for their inaction,” the report said.

A similar conclusion was found in an earlier report by the Fordham Institute (Principal’s Policy Blog, May 21). Both reports point to the importance of resourcefulness to effective leadership. A central goal of school improvement efforts is the creation of a self-sustaining culture of learning. This often requires reaching out to parents and the broader community to address the myriad extra-academic issues that impact student achievement, while also seeking out school partnerships between businesses, institutions of higher education, and nonprofit organizations to create opportunities for staff development and increased student achievement. For assistance on strategies for leading middle level and high school reform, please visit NASSP’s website for information on Breaking Ranks trainings and publications.

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School Leadership Grants Now Available!

On March 14, 2008, in School Leadership, by Amanda Karhuse

The U.S. Department of Education is currently accepting applications for grants under the School Leadership Program. Twenty-four to thirty grants ranging from $250,000-$750,000 are expected to be awarded in FY 2008. The competition is open to high-need districts and institutions of higher education in partnership with districts. A “notice of intent” to apply is due April 2, 2008, and the deadline for applications is May 2, 2008. For more information, please go to: www.ed.gov.

NASSP strongly supports the School Leadership Program, which is designed to help districts recruit, train, and retain principals and assistant principals in high-need schools. Grantees may use funds to provide financial incentives to aspiring new principals, provide stipends to principals who mentor new principals, carry out professional development programs in instructional leadership and management, provide incentives for teachers or individuals from other fields who would like to become principals, and other activities.