The Overlooked Role of the School Principal
In the 1960s when Congress was debating the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Senator Robert Kennedy astutely worried that principals may not be able to effectively implement the policies enshrined in the act. He argued for a safeguard of measurement and accountability so that parents would be empowered to know if and when their child’s school was getting it right.
What has happened since then? We know that principal preparation in the United States needs work. We have shown that teachers stay longer in schools where there is an effective principal . And we know that the longer a principal stays in the role, the more effective he or she can be.
Districts play a powerful role in keeping and supporting their best principals. Refining and updating talent management systems is not easy in any business—and that is particularly true for school systems. But improved systems are exactly what districts need.
A systems approach means that we connect the entire career trajectory of a principal — from preparation, to learning and evaluation, to compensation and incentives, to working conditions. The role of the principal has changed, and now requires more skill, talent, and time than ever.
As a result, district leaders need to carefully consider what their principals should be doing on a day-to-day basis. Should they be creating busy schedules and managing inventory, or should they be coaching teachers and building parent and community ties? Also, districts need to use data to figure out where their best principals are trained, and why their best principals stay in or leave the role.
Most important, district leaders need to be sure that their policies are enabling the practices they want to see — principals who fit well in the school they lead, who know how to effectively coach their staff, and who stay in their role as long as possible. Our Principal Talent Management Framework is a good place to start when thinking through this system-wide approach.
There is a lot of rhetoric right now about what our schools need to improve. I see this as an opportunity to make good decisions for kids. What can’t be lost in the discussion, though, is a focus on what we know. We know great principals matter, and our policymaking needs to reflect that reality.
Eva Myrick Chiang, Deputy Director for Education Reform and Research and Evaluation, manages the Alliance to Reform Education Leadership (AREL) program while providing support in other areas of the education reform initiative as well.
Prior to joining the George W. Bush Institute, she taught pre-k through college level students in a variety of teaching roles in private, public, and charter schools, and her passion is teaching students to read. She has been a trainer of teachers, and most recently she held the position of Director of Education in the central administration office of an urban charter school.
Eva received her undergraduate degree from Baylor University, and received a master's in teaching with an emphasis on reading education from Texas Woman's University. Eva also earned her law degree from Texas A&M School of Law in Fort Worth. She is currently finishing her doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Southern Methodist University.Full Bio
By the Numbers: Why Do Principals Matter?
This week, the Bush Institute’s Alliance to Reform Education Leadership released two related major studies: research on evaluating principal preparation programs and the Principal Talent Management Framework, a guidebook for school districts to get, support, and keep great principals. So, why do principals matter? Principals may account for up to 25 percent of a school’s impact on student learning. Among school-related factors, principals are second only to classroom teaching when it comes to impact on student learning. In fact, a 2013 Education Next report found that “highly effective principals raise the achievement.” A principal’s impact is even greater in high poverty schools. The impact on achievement can be even greater in schools serving disadvantaged students, according to the same article above, which means it’s even more crucial to attract and retain high-quality principals in schools where the need may be greatest.
The Need for a Strong Principal Bench
A recent story of a principal who left the high school he successfully turned around in Newark, New Jersey illustrates how vulnerable turnaround reforms can be when the leader who implemented those reforms moves on.
Data on School Leaders: What’s in Your System?
We know good school leaders matter. Knowing how to prepare school leaders to be effective can transform the leadership landscape. To better understand the effects that principals from select innovative preparation programs are having on student achievement, the George W. Bush Institute and American Institutes for Research are conducting a two-year principal preparation evaluation study for release this fall. Working on this study, we have encountered and overcome several challenges, but one of the most surprising being districts’ lack of consistent, reliable, and readily available data on principal training and experience. Few districts were able to identify the name of the program or institution where each of their principals was trained and certified. Few knew how many years of experience principals had or how much or what type of internal professional development or training principals may have experienced. These are the very data that school districts should be collecting an