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US supports principals to better serve students with disabilities

Partner story

Photo by Nicole Honeywill from Unsplash

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) today launched an online guide with strategies and resources to help US state education agencies cultivate principals who better serve students with disabilities.

Supporting Inclusive Schools for the Success of Each Child: A Guide for States on Principal Leadership offers state leaders eight key strategies to establish a vision for and integrate effective, inclusive principal leadership into policy and practice to improve outcomes for students with disabilities.

State leaders have committed to ensuring that each student has an equitable opportunity to be successful in college, careers, and life. Unfortunately, in many states, outcomes for students with disabilities lag far behind their peers. Students with disabilities tend to experience lower standardized test scores, graduation rates, and post-secondary participation. And according to a recent Government Accountability Office report, schools are far more likely to suspend or expel students with disabilities. In fact, 23.2 per cent of black students with disabilities are suspended out-of-school in a single school year.

Compounding this, students with disabilities typically have access to less effective teachers and less rigorous coursework. Indeed, almost all states face teacher shortages in special education. And general education teachers frequently lack the support they need to work effectively with students with disabilities.

Principal development is a critical lever to drive school improvement efforts, achieve states’ equity goals, and ultimately improve outcomes for each student, especially those with disabilities. States have the opportunity to leverage effective inclusive principal leadership as a key strategy in those schools targeted for improvement under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as well as in all schools.

CCSSO worked with 20 organizations to develop this online guide to help states respond to these challenges and support principals to lead inclusive schools where each student excels and feels safe, supported, and valued. This includes setting high expectations and providing support for students with disabilities to learn in general education classes in neighbourhood schools.

Principals play an essential role in improving instruction, promoting collaboration between general and special education teachers, and retaining effective teachers of students with disabilities.

“State chiefs are committed to providing an equitable education to every child and that includes ensuring our students with disabilities have the opportunity to succeed in school,” said Carissa Moffat Miller, CCSSO executive director. “We are proud to partner with 20 organizations to offer this guide to help state chiefs and their leadership teams support school principals who can lead inclusive schools that serve all students.”

The online guide is organised around eight key strategies state education agencies can pursue. Each strategy is accompanied by specific actions and resources. The eight key strategies are:

  1. Set a Vision and Plan for Inclusive Principal Leadership
  2. Cultivate Coherence and Collaboration
  3. Transform Principal Preparation and Licensure
  4. Promote Principal Development on Inclusive Practices
  5. Provide Targeted Supports to Districts and Schools
  6. Connect School Improvement and Principal Development Initiatives
  7. Meaningfully Engage Stakeholders as Partners in the Work
  8. Adopt Processes and Supports for Continuous Improvement

Additional materials to help state leaders implement the eight strategies are under the Resources tab. The guide also offers questions state leaders can ask themselves as they consider undertaking this important work. To develop this guide, CCSSO convened the National Collaborative on Inclusive Principal Leadership (NCIPL), composed of principal associations, member organizations, technical assistance centres, researchers, educator preparation programs, and not-for-profit organisations:

  • American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education
  • CAST
  • Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, American Institutes for Research
  • Center on Innovations in Learning
  • Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability, and Reform (CEEDAR) Center
  • Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation
  • Council of Administrators of Special Education
  • Council of Chief State School Officers
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals
  • National Association of State Directors of Special Education
  • National Center for Learning Disabilities
  • National Center for Systemic Improvement, WestEd
  • National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools
  • National Council of Professors of Educational Administration
  • National Implementation Research Network
  • New Leaders
  • New Teacher Center
  • Relay Graduate School of Education
  • Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation Center
  • SPAN Parent Advocacy Network
  • University Council of Educational Administration

This new guide would not be possible without the collaboration of this diverse alliance of organizations and without generous support from the U.S. Department of Education, through CCSSO’s partnership with the CEEDAR Center, and the Oak Foundation. Visit the new site at

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. CCSSO provides leadership, advocacy, and technical assistance on major educational issues. The Council seeks member consensus on major educational issues and expresses their views to civic and professional organisations, federal agencies, Congress and the