Operating in the Dark

Updated July 2013. Operating in the Dark, an analysis of the Alliance to Reform Education Leadership’s Principal Policy State Survey findings, is a first-of-its-kind report on states’ policies that affect principal preparation, licensure, tenure, and data collection.  This report explores how states are using their authority to increase the supply of effective principals focused on raising student achievement.  The findings are based on self-reported data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  Operating in the Dark includes state policy recommendations to drive needed reforms and gives the educational community new insights on promising efforts by states to improve the supply of high-quality principals.

Downloadable Resources


The Need

Principals matter in the lives of our children and states play an important role in cultivating school leadership talent.  While districts hire principals, states control the entry point to the principalship and the eligibility of leaders for the job, overseeing the preparation and licensure of school leaders.

But currently, the United States faces a shortage of high-quality school leaders, even though research shows that 25% of a child’s academic success is linked to the principal.  Principals oversee the hiring, development, and management of teachers who account for the largest share of a school’s impact on student learning.  Because principals manage the teaching force, they are the ones that are best positioned to ensure that every student has a great teacher year-after-year and thus the continued learning needed to be college and career ready.

Operating in the Dark can help states make data-informed decisions that will raise the bar on school leadership and ensure that every school in the nation is led by an effective principal who can produce student gains.


The Alliance to Reform Education Leadership would not be possible without generous support from: AT&T, Bass Foundation, Sid W. Richardson Foundation, and The Prudential Foundation.  Additional funding has been provided by CME Group Foundation.