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Paying for New Principal Talent With Title I Money? New Study Says It's Possible

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Districts and states looking to invest in principals and school leaders, particularly as a strategy to improve schools, may be able to tap into federal Title 1 funds to help foot the bill.

In reviewing the findings in a new study that links reading and math gains to big investments that school districts made in developing new principals, a separate group of researchers concluded the evidence of effectiveness is strong enough to meet the federal standards required to use Title I money. Funds in Title I are set aside for districts and schools with large concentrations of students in poverty.

The study dug into the effects of the Wallace Foundation's Principal Pipeline Initiative, which ran in six large school districts from 2011-2016 and helped districts develop and deploy strategies and programs to better recruit, train, place, and support assistant principals and principals.

The outcomes, which were released in a report this week by the RAND Corporation, found that schools led by new principals in the six districts outperformed similar schools in their states in math and reading. Those newly placed principals, who had the benefit of the intensive training and ongoing coaching, were also likely to stay in their schools longer, according to the report.

An independent analysis of those results by Abt Associates found that the Principal Pipeline Initiative's impact on math and reading scores met the Tier II evidence criteria (or moderate level of effectiveness) required under the Every Student Succeeds Act to justify the use of Title I funds. The initiative's impact on principal retention met the Tier III evidence criteria (or promising level of effectiveness) for the use of Title 1 funds.

Why does this matter?

States, schools, and districts have traditionally relied heavily on federal Title II funds for principal support programs, though the majority of those funds are still spent on teachers and their professional development. Title1 is a larger pot of money: $15.8 billion versus $2.1 billion in the fiscal 2018 budget.  

Under ESSA, more states and districts have expressed interest in focusing on principals and school leaders, but many of those initiatives target principals who are already on the job.

The new report and evidence analysis should convince states to think about pipeline programs, including programs for incoming school leaders, Jody Spiro, the director of education leadership at the Wallace Foundation. 

It's not that Title I funds have not been used to support school leadership—Title 1 money, for example, has been used to replace and support principals in low-performing schools. ESSA also provides opportunities to use Title I funds in the lowest-performing schools, including those with low-graduation rates.

But this new report bolsters the argument that Title 1 funds could be used for additional school leadership programs that are generally considered part of the pipeline, including selection, training, and mentoring of new principals.  

Nearly 70 percent of states that responded to a Council of Chief State Officers (CCSSO) survey on school improvement under ESSA, said that "strengthening school leadership" was an important priority this year, according to a report the organization released last month.


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