States Not Doing Enough to Improve School Leadership, New Study Finds

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The schools profiled in Getting It Done have taught us that strong school leaders play a significant role in helping close gaps and drive achievement for students who’ve historically been left behind. Research suggests the success of principals who lead high-performing, high-poverty schools is owed, in part, to their ability to attract and retain strong teachers, and to their focus on helping teachers at all levels of effectiveness improve their instruction. Despite this evidence, a recent report by the George W. Bush Institute finds most states aren’t using data or their authority to help improve the quality of principals in our schools.

The Bush report, “Operating in the Dark: What outdated policies and data gaps mean for effective school leadership,” presents a snapshot of policies states have in place to influence the selection, preparation, licensure, hiring, evaluation, development, and rewarding of talented principals. The authors find that states are making important decisions on how principals are selected into preparation programs, trained, and licensed, but without sufficient rigor or a coherent strategy for ensuring that the candidates produced are likely to be effective in a school leadership role.

For example, few states require preparation programs to provide principal candidates with opportunities to practice applying leadership skills in real-world situations. And nearly all fail to assess principals’ leadership competency when determining who receives a license. The report also discovers that many states lack data that would help them understand principal supply/demand patterns, placement, and retention of principal preparation program graduates; or how principals perform once on the job.

These findings make it clear that many states are ignoring one of the key levers at their disposal to raise student achievement and close gaps: school leaders. States must commit to using their authority to understand and improve the quality of school leaders. The work to achieve greater equity and higher educational achievement for all students is too difficult and much too important to leave in the shed any tool that could help facilitate it.

— Melissa Tooley