Supporting Educators' Professional Learning and Career Growth Under ESSA

December 15, 2016

Supporting Educators' Professional Learning and Career Growth Under ESSA


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Ninety-two percent of Title II Part A funds flow to districts, and 5% flow to states with an additional 3% optional set aside for statewide leadership activities to support districts. Title II funds total $2.34 billion in fiscal year 2016. From Chiefs for Change.*

This fall, the U.S. Department of Education released guidance for states and districts in the use of Title II Part A funds under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The new federal education law provides states and districts with significant flexibility in the use of federal funds to train, develop and support educators. In addition to formula funding under Titles I, II and IV, ESSA authorizes competitive grants through the Teacher and School Leader Incentive Fund, the Supporting Effective Educator Development and School Leader Support programs.

How Funds Can Be Used

Under the No Child Left Behind education law, teachers had to meet "highly qualified teacher or HQT" standards. HQT was based entirely on credentials, degrees and other inputs, without any reference to the effectiveness of educators and their ability to improve their own teaching practice or their students learning. As a result, HQT requirements were eliminated in ESSA. Instead, the requirements were replaced with a directive to states to define educator "effectiveness," and to report on ineffective, inexperienced and out-of-field teachers. This provides a powerful opportunity for educators to participate in how their state and district define effectiveness. This definition will drive accountability and, perhaps more important, it will drive professional learning and career advancement opportunities.

ESSA offers states and districts clear incentives to coordinate their efforts across education funding streams, and to develop comprehensive and coherent systems for supporting the development of teachers and school leaders.

ESSA also requires states and districts to use "evidence-based" strategies that can be proven to show impact with similar groups of students to the ones they serve. ESSA's emphasis on the use of data to guide efforts to increase educator effectiveness requires states and districts to address the need for accurate, timely and consistent data on teacher effectiveness.

Promoting Equitable Access to Effective Educators

As part of ESSA reporting requirements, states must report the rates at which low-income and minority students are taught by ineffective, inexperienced or out-of-field teachers. If these students are taught at disproportionate rates by ineffective, inexperienced or out-of-field teachers, the state must outline strategies, timelines and funding streams for eliminating this disproportionality. ESSA's "equity" requirement creates a strong incentive for states and districts to be proactive in developing strategies to increase educator effectiveness in high-need schools and part of an overall district approach to improving classroom teaching.

Encouraging a Comprehensive Approach to Build Local Capacity

ESSA encourages administrators to engage multiple levers to address the full continuum or "pipeline" from teacher preparation through recruitment, mentoring, placement, development, coaching, leadership and career advancement.

A big opportunity in ESSA is for districts to move from traditional professional development activities of the past which essentially viewed professional learning as something purchased from outside experts, to a school-based system led by teacher leaders and administrators within the building.

ESSA provides the impetus for schools to shift their use of funds to building the capacity of their own staff. Activities highlighted as best practice in ESSA include developing and improving evaluation and support systems for educators, increasing feedback mechanisms and establishing teacher leadership structures and distributed leadership teams. As highlighted by numerous research reports and reflected in the voices of teachers nationwide, teachers need data-driven, ongoing, job-embedded, collaborative professional learning opportunities to increase their own skills, and their students' learning growth. ESSA opens the door to this more effective approach to adult learning and development in schools.


Establish Educator Preparation Academies – State Chiefs have the ability to prioritize support for innovative teacher and school leader preparation programs (not more than 2 percent of state funds).

Recruit, Retain, and Ensure Equitable Access to Excellent Educators – Under the revised Teacher and Leader Incentive Fund, state and local Chiefs have the ability to support effective human capital management systems for teachers and principals in order to better recruit, retain, and ensure equitable access to excellent educators. Design Professional Learning for Impact – Title I’s ‘highly qualified teacher’ requirements are eliminated, freeing up Title II funds for activities that support effective teachers, as defined by the state. Funds can be used to provide and measure evidenced-based professional learning models. In addition, funds can now be used on training to incorporate career and technical education (CTE) content into instructional practices.

Strengthen School Leadership – State and local Chiefs have the ability to prioritize support for school leadership activities, including through a new option for states to reserve funds for statewide school leadership activities (up to 3% of the funds otherwise earmarked for local subgrants).

From Chiefs for Change.*

*To see the full Chiefs for Change report, visit