In late 2015, the main federal law regarding Washington’s role in K-12 education was reauthorized with a twist: The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, gave the states significant authority over their use of federal funds.
Spurred by that, The Wallace Foundation—working with the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Council of the Great City Schools and the National Urban League—launched a novel effort to see if the law could be used by states and their districts, especially those serving high-need communities, to promote more effective and equity-minded school principals. The endeavor—kicked off in 2016 and scheduled to formally conclude in 2022—was called the ESSA Leadership Learning Community, or ELLC.
The ELLC was unusual because of its composition. At its heart were teams of people who don’t normally engage with one another for extended, serious conversation about public school education, even though they all have a vital stake in it: school district leaders, state education officials who oversee policy and hold purse strings—and, notably, community representatives. There were 11 such teams from 11 states in the ELLC. This report chronicles the results of their work together and offers lessons from the venture.
On the “results” side of the ledger, the teams’ output could be classified into roughly four categories, the report finds:
- Offering ideas to the state education agency on ESSA, as happened in Missouri, where the state’s ESSA plan incorporated team feedback about equity indicators;
- Creating new programs for principals—for example an institute for principal professional learning collaboratively designed by the Wisconsin team and participated in by the five largest urban districts in the state;
- Contributing to the design of school leadership programs, such as a project in New York to develop equity-leadership learning modules for principal preparation providers; and
- Creating new resources for the field, such as guides to equity-minded leadership produced in Tennessee and Minnesota.
A variety of other products and policy ideas across these four categories came from all 11 state teams, including those from Florida, Maryland, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Oregon.
As for lessons, the authors highlight the creative policy and implementation thinking that can emerge from encouraging discussion among those who don’t usually interact but probably should, even if the discussion can get fraught. “The single most innovative aspect of the ELLC was the diversity of voices engaged in conversation,” the report says. “Even amidst political turmoil, a pandemic, and membership turnover, teams maintained their commitment to creating spaces for conversation and taking action grounded in voices from multiple personal and professional backgrounds.”