Principal Talent Management

Effective principal talent management systems coordinate programs and supports that serve both current and future leaders and align them to a common set of research-based competencies or standards for school leadership. Explore the interactive graphic below to learn about the individual principal talent management components and best practices—based on research evidence and expert opinion—for attracting, supporting, and retaining effective principals.

Preparation begins during teacher leadership or assistant principal experiences and can result in certification. It ensures that new principals are ready to lead their school.

Recruitment and selection processes ensure that schools are hiring quality candidates who meet the district’s leadership needs while making a right “fit” for the school.

Performance evaluation systems that are fair and valid help inform recruitment and provide information for individual professional learning plans.

Compensation and incentives include salary structures, performance-based incentive programs, and non-monetary incentives.

Professional learning gives principals the support they need to succeed. It includes early-career mentoring, ongoing coaching, and professional development for experienced leaders.

The working environment includes district policies and practices that give a principal the right supports, balanced with the autonomy to make critical decisions. It has an impact on aspiring principals’ experiences during preparation programs, which may include in-district residency experiences, possibly influencing where an aspiring principal chooses to work. The working environment could influence an employed principal’s ability to make decisions and have support for curriculum, programming, teacher and staff talent management, and professional learning opportunities.

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  • Introduction
  • Promising Practices
  • Districts to Watch

Denver Public Schools

Principal Working Environment

Denver Public Schools (DPS), a large urban school district that serves approximately 90,000 students, has made a strong commitment to recruiting and retaining great leaders and teachers. Developing a supportive working environment is a key dimension of the district’s efforts in this area. In particular, DPS has focused on improving working conditions for principals by improving the principal to supervisor ratio and increasing principal autonomy. 

Gwinnett County Public Schools

Quality-Plus Leader Academy

Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) serves more than 176,000 students in metro Atlanta. The district has placed significant focus on developing strong school leaders. GCPS’s professional learning system, called the Quality-Plus Leader Academy, consists of interconnected programs and strategies to prepare and support aspiring and in-service leaders to excel in their roles. The district has also made concerted efforts to develop a supportive working environment through a system of balanced autonomy.

IDEA Public Schools

Principal in Residence Program

IDEA Public Schools, a network of 44 PK-12th grade charter schools throughout Texas, has implemented its Principal in Residence program to ensure that each of its schools benefits from strong leadership. In the program, newly hired principals complete a 1-2 year residency, with the support of a mentor principal and a leadership coach, during which they complete a personalized learning plan designed to help them master key school leadership competencies. 

Prince George’s County Public Schools

Leadership Development Framework

Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), which serves more than 130,000 students, has implemented a suite of practices designed to improve school leadership. The district’s efforts to strengthen its principals’ pre-service preparation have been extensive and rely on a two-part approach: deepening relationships with trusted partners that produce strong leadership candidates and developing a year-long training program for assistant principals within the district.

Hillsborough County Public Schools

The Hillsborough Principal Pipeline

The district has a long-standing commitment to improving school leadership. HCPS’s principal talent management efforts are centered on a rigorous, systematic, and competency-based approach to preparing, developing, evaluating, and then retaining the best principals. The district has established a structured path to the principalship that entails additional training and assignment as an assistant principal.

Houston Independent School District

Principal Candidate Development Opportunity

Houston Independent School District (HISD), the largest school district in Texas, serves approximately 215,000 students. In 2015, HISD launched its Principal Candidate Development Opportunity (PCDO) program to strengthen principal recruitment and selection in the district. The program is a 24-month training opportunity for aspiring school leaders and is built around observations, the provision of feedback, data analysis, data-driven instructional planning, school culture and portfolio reflections, and shadowing of in-service principals.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

5-Year Induction Program

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) serves more than 146,000 students. The district has developed a strong system of principal talent management programs and supports that emphasize high quality training; selective hiring; on-the-job evaluation and support. Additionally, the district’s focus on program alignment, capacity, and quality assurance helps to integrate the areas of the pipeline into a cohesive system. Within this system, new principals in CMS complete a five-year induction program. 

Districts Case Studies to be developed.

The working environment is among the most important factors that influence a district’s ability to attract and retain effective principals, making it a critical dimension of principal talent management for any district. Policies and practices that may influence a principal’s working environment include principal supervisor caseloads, principal autonomy, and the general condition of classrooms and school facilities. Additional factors related to the working environment may range from teacher evaluation and assessment requirements to state and federal reporting requirements and other mandated aspects of the job.

Research suggests that districts can shape the working environment for the principal in a variety of ways, including:

  • Policies that support or restrict principal autonomy (e.g., the ability of principals to make important decisions related to hiring and firing teachers, selecting curriculum, assessment, and professional learning resources, and general spending and budget priorities);
  • The extent to which the district imposes principal accountability measures without providing necessary supports or training; and
  • The amount of support provided to principals through their supervisor or evaluator, as well as other support resources offered by the district.

Research also indicates that an improved working environment may lead to greater principal job satisfaction, enhanced principal practice, and increased principal retention. A case study the Bush Institute completed on Gwinnett County Public Schools in 2015 showed that supportive district culture, effective principal management and support, and aligned school-level talent management policies can positively influence the work of principals. Notably, such policies and practices that influence a principal’s administrative environment are distinct from other factors that may influence working conditions. These other factors, such as student demographics or neighborhood characteristics, are largely out of a district’s control.

Additional research on the role of the principal supervisor shows that principal supervisors may currently have caseloads ranging from three to 100 principals, despite expert suggestions that this number should be closer to eight to twelve in order for a supervisor to provide meaningful support. However, there is currently no empirical evidence that directly links the roles and responsibilities of principal supervisors to improvements in student learning, and we encourage more research to be done in this area.

Promising Practices from Research and in the Field Supporting Evidence
Districts provide principals with increased autonomy in exchange for increased accountability for student learning—e.g., principals are able to make critical decisions about the types of curriculum and professional learning they provide to teachers while being held to more ambitious student growth targets at the school or student subgroup level. Several quantitative and qualitative studies, along with published expert opinion, associate this practice with several positive outcomes that include:
  • Improved retention
  • Job satisfaction
  • Student achievement
Other quantitative research yielded no impact on retention.
Districts provide competitive salaries and incentives to help offset a challenging working environment and improve retention of school leaders in underserved schools and districts. Published expert opinion, one qualitative study, and seven quantitative studies associate competitive salaries at hard to staff schools with positive outcomes that range from increased retention and a higher-quality candidate pool to improved student achievement.
Principal supervisors receive a maximum caseload of 8-12 principals and take steps to maximize the support they provide to principals. Principal supervisors then have the experience and qualifications to provide meaningful support and feedback to principals. Published expert opinion and three studies (two of which are qualitative) associate increased supervisory support with several positive outcomes that include:
  • Increased retention
  • A higher-quality candidate pool
  • Improved student achievement
Districts purposefully consider both the actions and expectations they request of principals and the degree of support they provide principals to be more effective in their roles – e.g., limiting the number of non-essential, out-of-office engagements they must attend or providing support for some of the schools’ administrative data-entry tasks. Published expert opinion.
District administrators ensure that labor contracts support, not detract, from a good working environment by enabling principals to make critical personnel decisions based on educator effectiveness and other school contextual factors. Expert opinion.
Districts actively seek out feedback from principals on district- and school-level reform or improvement initiatives, continuously refining or improving the resources they provide for schools to implement initiatives. Published expert opinion.
Districts strategically develop common school-level improvement plans, aligning the personnel and fiscal support they provide to schools to match the priorities in these plans— e.g., plans that prioritize a robust teacher evaluation system require district-level support for the implementation of an evaluation and professional growth framework. Published expert opinion.

It is widely accepted that principal leadership is critical to school success. Yet, research suggests that many principal preparation program graduates feel unready to lead schools. Even after a full course of preparation, which often ends in certification or licensure, new principals often are not equipped for the challenges and the opportunities they face at school. Research points to several “promising practices” for principal preparation programs, including:

  • Program coherence and alignment to research-based competencies that allow candidates to demonstrate practices of effective leaders (e.g., the ELCC Educational Leadership Program Standards);
  • A rigorous recruitment and selection process for entrance into the program based on the skills, tasks, and dispositions of effective leadership;
  • A meaningful residency experience that provides candidates with opportunities to apply knowledge and skills, observe current leaders modeling effective practice, and receive feedback on performance;
  • A commitment to collecting evidence of program effectiveness and engaging in continuous improvement; and
  • Strong district-program partnerships that align program standards and district needs.

Research on the impact of these practices, and principal preparation programs more generally, on student achievement is not definitive. Although some studies have found that these practices have no impact on achievement, others have identified a positive, if limited, effect. For example, additional evaluation of the NYC Leadership Academy’s Aspiring Principals Program noted a limited impact on student achievement in ELA (particularly after the second year of the program), but no effect on student achievement in math—regardless of the duration of the intervention.

Additionally, in a 2016 study, the Bush Institute found that graduates of five selected preparation programs that embrace the “promising practices” outlined above are no more or less effective, on average, than graduates of other preparation programs. The study did find, though, that preparation programs produce a significant variation of individual performers, meaning some principals have a very positive impact on student achievement while others do not. Finally, other studies on the impact of selected principal preparation programs have found that these programs may have a positive but modest effect on student learning.

Promising Practices from Research and in the Field Supporting Evidence
Program Coherence & Alignment
All components of the preparation program, including coursework and practicum, align with research-based competencies and the standards used in district hiring and evaluation. Published expert opinion and two qualitative studies associate this practice with a higher-quality candidate pool and improved principal practice.
Program Residencies
Preparation includes a meaningful internship or residency experience, characterized by increasing levels of responsibility and autonomy as a result of demonstrated performance and engagement in instructional leadership, talent management, and organizational management. Published expert opinion and one qualitative study associate this practice with a higher-quality candidate pool and improved principal practice.
Preparation coursework relies on hands-on methods that allow principal candidates to demonstrate their leadership skills, including:
  • Scenarios
  • Case studies
  • Simulation
  • Role play
  • Action research projects
Published expert opinion.
The preparation program relies on a selective admissions process, accepting those with high academic benchmarks and excellent achievement in authentic performance tasks. Published expert opinion, a literature review, and two qualitative studies support the need for a rigorous selection process for program candidates, associating this practice with improved principal practice and a higher-quality candidate pool.
Preparation programs prioritize certain competencies and dispositions in their initial screening and interviewing of candidates, which include:
  • Emotional intelligence
  • A commitment to remain in the principal role for a longer period of time
  • An understanding of culture and organizational behavior
  • An understanding of systemic change and change processes
  • An understanding of the importance of quality management and the use of feedback loops with teachers
  • An understanding of how to make data-driven decisions
Expert opinion.
Effective preparation program recruitment relies on authentic assessments of leadership practice, district-level pipeline initiatives to develop teacher leaders, and other efforts to identify, select and support future teacher leaders. This is an emerging practice in the field.
Residency or host principals are selected for their effectiveness and trained to provide consistent support to principals. This is an emerging practice in the field.
Residency or host principals and schools are strategically matched with principal candidates. Expert opinion.
Program-District Collaboration
Strong, sustainable district-program partnerships allow districts to take an active role in defining their leadership needs, setting expectations for the program, and aligning preparation with other leadership initiatives. Published expert opinion and one case study associate this practice with improved principal performance.
Preparation programs remain connected to program graduates in their first years on the job through mentoring/coaching or coordination of induction programs within districts. Published expert opinion and two qualitative studies associate this practice with improved principal practice and a higher-quality candidate pool.
Program Continuous Improvement
Preparation programs form relationships with districts and states to maintain data on program graduates; relatedly, researchers are exploring methods to assess preparation program outcomes. Published expert opinion and one quantitative study associate this practice with improved principal performance.
Preparation programs track districts’ hiring and assignment decisions to be responsive to local educational needs and collaborate with local education agencies on the matching of candidates with the communities and schools. Expert opinion.

Although states typically certify a sufficient number of principals to fill school leadership vacancies, some districts report principal positions are hard to staff with qualified candidates. Even for districts with sufficient applicants, it can be challenging to ensure that the principals who are recruited and selected have the requisite skills and expertise, are a good match for a particular school or district need, and present an approach that aligns with that of district leadership.

Findings from literature reviews, case studies, and program evaluations suggest that districts should align recruitment, selection, and hiring procedures to a set of research-based leadership performance standards or competencies. Findings from case studies also suggest that using technology to share information among schools—to support the creation of a strong candidate pool—may help districts effectively match principals to schools.

Implementing these strategies at the district level requires a shared understanding of the characteristics of effective principals—as well as an understanding of the factors that make for a strong candidate pool, both of which can vary by district and school context. Some research also points to the importance of establishing structured hiring processes that considers the candidate’s “fit” for a school. While additional research is needed on the characteristics of effective principals and how to best identify “fit,” experts encourage districts to use data tracking systems to learn more about the characteristics and experiences of successful principals in their own systems.

In a study of five districts, the Bush Institute found that, in many cases, important human resources data related to principals (e.g., where they received their training, what supports they receive from the district) are not collected uniformly or may be difficult to access. More systematic data collection and organization could provide districts with important information on the characteristics, experiences, and supports provided to their most effective principals—and help inform recruitment, selection, and professional development efforts.

Additionally, some experts recommend proactive succession planning as a solution to strategically filling leadership vacancies. Districts can predict the number of expected principal vacancies over the next three to five years—based on upcoming retirements or expected promotions, student enrollment growth, and natural attrition in the district—and use these projections to inform a strategic hiring and succession planning process. With rapid principal turnover in high-need schools and principals retiring each year, districts must have a talent identification pipeline in place to tap future leaders for principal positions so they are able to quickly fill any leadership gaps—both foreseen and unforeseen.

Promising Practices from Research and in the Field Supporting Evidence
Recruitment of Candidates
Recruitment and selection processes align to state or district research-based performance standards or competencies. Three qualitative studies, one of which is ongoing, associate this practice with different outcomes; one study links it to a higher-quality candidate pool, one study links it to improved principal performance, and one study links it to both improved principal satisfaction and student achievement.
A district-wide candidate pool and tracking system allows school and district leaders to evaluate principal candidates, their qualifications, and the extent to which they meet research-based performance standards or competencies. One qualitative study and published expert opinion support this practice.
District Selection
State or district research-based performance standards and competencies align across a human resources/talent management continuum that includes recruitment and selection. Published expert opinion associates this practice with an improvement in recruitment efforts and a rise in the proportion of candidates that are the right fit for districts.
A structured hiring process that includes screening and interviews, and in some cases incorporates assessments based on district leadership standards and competencies, may help identify future professional development needs for newly hired principals. Published expert opinion and one ongoing qualitative study associates this practice with a higher-quality candidate pool.
Systematic consideration of candidate placement and fit occurs when selecting and placing a principal. Published expert opinion and one ongoing qualitative study associate this practice with a higher-quality candidate pool.
Leadership Succession Planning
Leadership succession plans identify prospective talent for future leadership positions. Prospective leaders receive the support to develop their skills through multiple career paths (e.g., assistant principal, dean of students, etc.). One quantitative and one ongoing qualitative study, as well as published expert opinion, associate this practice with a higher-quality candidate pool. The quantitative study also shows improved principal performance.
A district systematically implements intentional talent management strategies to attract candidates and develop and support existing leaders. These intentional talent management strategies seek to create synergies between different aspects of talent management, creating efficiencies and increasing effects. For example, those strategies may include a performance management system that reinforces employee performance and motivation through strategic compensation. Published expert opinion in education suggests that effective career management strategies improve the quality of candidates and meta-analyses in the business sector note that these strategies can increase retention and improve practice in the workplace.

Professional learning throughout the career of a principal can take on a variety of forms, including mentoring and induction in the early years on the job and professional development and coaching in later years.

Despite progress in certain districts, professional learning for principals has, historically, been very limited. Principals often participate in district professional development designed for teachers rather than trainings or supports designed specifically for school leaders. Many principals report receiving little if any support specifically targeted to their learning needs, the very type of professional development that experts in the field suggest that principals truly require.

In fact, experts recommend that professional learning should be based on a thorough understanding of an individual principal’s immediate needs—not according to a one-size-fits-all model. To this end, some districts now use principal evaluations to identify these needs and embed cycles of goal setting and professional growth planning within the evaluation process.

However, there is only limited research on the efficacy of specific mentoring practices and the outcomes of individual programs. Some experimental studies have found positive effects of specific professional development programs on leadership practice—or an association between particular types of professional development and improved student performance, school climate, teacher collaboration, or principal retention—but there is little expert consensus about the most effective design for professional development programs.

Although the supporting empirical evidence is limited, experts and principals generally agree that quality mentoring programs, in particular, are valuable. They recommend that mentorship programs carefully consider the “match” between a mentor and mentee—and that mentors themselves are selected carefully for the role.

Promising Practices from Research and in the Field Supporting Evidence
Support for New Principals
There is seamless support from preparation to the principalship, which hinges on collaboration between preparation programs and the district. Regional and national professional learning programs provide support to some states and districts. Published expert opinion supports this practice and a literature review associates this practice with improved principal performance.
Districts and preparation programs carefully select mentors for new principals based on mentor quality measures such as having a history of effectiveness as a principal, demonstrating strong communication and listening skills, and matching mentors and principals based on similar styles of thinking. Three qualitative studies describe important aspects of the mentor-protégé relationship, two of which are associated with improved principal practice and one of which is associated with a higher-quality candidate pool.
There is a clear definition of the relationship between new principals and their mentors. Three qualitative studies describe important aspects of the mentor-protégé relationship, two of which are associated with improved principal practice and one of which is associated with a higher-quality candidate pool.
Ongoing Principal Professional Learning
Professional learning relies on comprehensive evaluation and is tailored to the specific needs of principals. Published expert opinion suggests this can improve principal practice.
Professional learning includes ongoing coaching and collaboration. This is an emerging trend in the field. Some studies associate one aspect of the NISL professional development program with improved student learning and principal performance over time. A study of the Balanced Leadership program found that it led to greater principal self-efficacy and positively impacted principal and teacher retention, but did not have an impact on student learning.

Over the past several years, in part due to federal grant programs like Race to the Top and other federal and state policies, states and districts have made extensive efforts to improve or refine their teacher and leader evaluation systems. In many cases, these new principal evaluation systems include measures of both principal practice and student growth as key indicators of performance.

Although there is no definitive evidence that points to the best approach for measuring principal practice—or for ensuring that measures of practice are valid and reliable—there is a significant body of literature, based on expert opinion, that provides guidance to districts on how to approach evaluation. Expert opinion suggests that principal evaluation should be standards-based, and include multiple measures of performance. Measures of principal practice can include various types of evidence, including:

  • Observation of a principal engaging in some of their critical responsibilities (e.g., providing instructional feedback to teachers, or leading data team meetings) and using a rubric to evaluate proficiency on specific principal practice standards;
  • Collection and scoring of “artifacts” of principal practice that demonstrate proficiency on particular standards of principal practice (e.g., agenda and session materials from professional development sessions run by principals, school improvement plans, etc.);
  • Teacher perception data through leadership “360 degree” surveys (e.g., the VALED survey); and
  • Measures of school and student performance and growth.

Experts also recommend that performance evaluation results connect with professional learning so that principals engage in individualized growth plans that align to their particular needs.

Notably, designing effective performance evaluation systems for principals remains an ongoing challenge for many states and districts. In particular, training evaluators to use systems with fidelity—to ensure accuracy and reliability—is essential to assessing principal performance and using data to inform professional development. Some states and districts are evaluating the extent to which their current systems effectively measure principal performance, and, as a result, contribute to improved student outcomes. The results of these evaluations inform continuous improvement processes (see for example, the evaluation conducted by Kimball et al., 2007).

Promising Practices from Research and in the Field Supporting Evidence
Alignment and Measures
Evaluations are standards-based and aligned with district goals as well as other human talent management measures (e.g., hiring practices). This is an emerging practice in the field. Published expert opinion associates this practice with improved principal performance.
Evaluations include multiple measures of practice and student growth to form a holistic picture of principal effectiveness; an example measure could entail the instructional feedback that principals provide to teachers after classroom observations. This is an emerging practice in the field and is also supported by published expert opinion.
Principal evaluation employs valid measures that can provide reliable results. This is an emerging practice in the field and is also supported by published expert opinion.
Evaluation Process
Regular evaluation occurs according to a transparent plan and is conducted by trained supervisors. This is an emerging practice in the field and is also supported by published expert opinion.
Connecting Evaluation with Professional Learning
Evaluation results inform professional growth opportunities. This is an emerging practice in the field and is also supported by published expert opinion.

Most school systems follow a salary schedule for principals based on years of experience and education credentials. A transparent “steps and lanes” salary structure means new principals are the lowest paid and that salary is independent of principal performance. One common alternative that considers principal performance as a factor in determining salary is a pay-for-performance system. Pay-for-performance compensation systems seek to improve educator quality and attract the most effective teachers and principals to high-needs schools. Examples of incentive pay elements for principals include additional compensation if:

  • A school achieves a certain number of target outcomes,
  • A principal commits to leading a high-needs school for an extended period of time,
  • A principal increases his or her skills through professional development or takes on additional responsibilities, or
  • Principal evaluations show evidence of effective leadership.

There is some qualitative and quantitative research that connects salary to principals’ decisions to stay in schools. Some studies also indicate that increased salaries may attract more qualified candidates to the profession or to hard-to-staff schools. This finding is particularly important given that schools with higher percentages of low-income students, lower performing schools, or schools with predominantly minority students more often report difficulty finding and keeping principals. There is also evidence emerging from existing district compensation and incentive initiatives that connect performance-based compensation to improved principal retention, principal practice, and student achievement.

Some district leaders see non-monetary recognition and incentives as one way to attract a broader candidate pool and keep their best principals in the position for a longer period of time. Additionally, some experts suggested non-financial incentives might appeal to younger, new principals in the millennial generation, although it is challenging to identify examples of this practice in the field of education. One expert cited Deloitte’s sabbatical program—which allows employees to take unpaid or partially paid sabbaticals—as an example of a compelling non-monetary incentive. However, the research to date on the impact of non-monetary incentives on principal hiring, performance, and retention is limited.

Promising Practices from Research and in the Field Supporting Evidence
Compensation
Compensation should be competitive for principals, especially in districts with challenging working environments. Salaries should reflect the quality of the principal’s work, compare to surrounding districts, and exceed those of teachers. Published expert opinion, one qualitative study, and seven quantitative studies associate competitive principal salaries at hard to staff schools with several outcomes that include: increased retention, a higher-quality candidate pool and improved student achievement.
Districts provide performance-based incentives to principals that take on challenging assignments and additional responsibilities to improve school performance and/or school culture, taking into account both short-term and long-term improvements. Two quantitative evaluations show mixed results on achievement that may not be generalizable outside of the programs studied. An evaluation of Teacher Incentive Fund grantees finds that pay-for-performance measures improve the retention of high performing principals at treatment schools. One quantitative evaluation indicates that measuring trust of practitioners in compensation and incentive programs is important to implementation.
Non-monetary Incentives
States or districts provide nonmonetary recognition of excellent performance that can include: master principal certification, flexible work environments, or job sharing. This is an emerging practice in the field and supported by published expert opinion. Also, one qualitative study indicates the correct incentives could improve the quality of the candidate pool.

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About the Principal Talent Management Framework

Talented leaders are essential to building and sustaining successful organizations. This is especially true for schools, where principal leadership plays a major role in fostering student success. Research shows that principals are a significant school-level factor affecting student achievement, second only to classroom teachers. Like other types of leaders, great principals recruit and retain the best talent (teachers), set ambitious visions for their buildings, and create a culture of collaboration and constant improvement. Because of this, it is critical that school districts implement policies and practices aligned with a coherent system.

At its best, principal talent management represents a holistic approach to attracting, supporting, and retaining more effective school leaders. The George W. Bush Institute’s Principal Talent Management Framework guides school district leaders and policymakers, helping them understand the fundamental components and interconnectivity of effective principal talent management systems.

Principal Talent Management Practices and Policies

Retention

Job Satisfaction

Practice

Quality of Candidate Pool

Direct Outcomes

School Culture Improvement

Gains in Student Learning

Indirect Outcomes

Figure 1: Outcomes Associated with Principal Talent Management Practices and Policies

Despite the clear importance of effective principal leadership, there is not yet a large body of definitive research that provides empirical evidence attesting to the effect of specific principal talent management policies and practices. However, many experts agree that improving alignment and cohesion across principal talent management components, such as preparation, recruitment and selection, professional learning, and compensation, will lead to improved principal effectiveness. Additionally, the nascent state of the research on PTM does not discount the broader research on the impact principals have on student achievement. Rather, the research limitations reflect a clear need for more well-designed studies of PTM systems and components in order to inform district and policymaker decision-making when it comes to building and sustaining a strong school leadership workforce.


Recommendations

For district leaders, the Bush Institute’s Framework for Principal Talent Management is a starting point for principal workforce development planning. It is important to keep in mind that there is no single prescription for effective reform and that the holistic approach that defines effective systems is nearly impossible to implement all at once. Consequently, districts should focus on a phased approach to principal talent management systems-building. When beginning change processes, district administrators interviewed in the creation of the Framework recommend:

Taking a strong partnership approach

Principal talent management is intended to improve the entire principal workforce. Only rarely can this be accomplished exclusively within a school district. Multiple organizations have critical roles in preparing, hiring, and supporting the principal workforce. It is important that all of these organizations engage in the planning of principal talent management systems

Focusing on system coherence and communication

Each component of the principal talent management system is important and needs to align with a cohesive set of research-based standards or competencies. As a starting point, districts should look at national principal standards such as the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL) and the Model Principals Supervisor Professional Standards (MPSPS). Many states have adopted their own principal standards that could be used as a guide for school districts.

Improving leadership policies

Although the research is still emerging, the promising practices presented in the Framework guide are a good starting point for developing or improving strong policies to recruit, retain, and support the best principals. Districts may use this guide as a self-assessment to determine which components they need to strengthen within their own systems. While districts will likely focus on improving one or two component areas at once, each component plays a critical role in a comprehensive management system.

Using data to inform continuous improvement

It is important to establish data systems among partnering organizations that provide feedback on progress, identify challenges and, ultimately, assess impact. Many districts and states do not have data systems to provide accurate, timely information on the principal workforce. Thus, efforts to improve data systems are crucial to advancing the use of data for principal talent management.

For researchers, the Framework for Principal Talent Management and related discussion offers a testable theory of action on school leadership development. The Bush Institute’s research review suggests educational leadership development strategies are informed by experts’ practical wisdom and a limited number of experimental and quasi-experimental studies. Although leadership-related impact studies are challenging to conduct, the analyses hold great potential for informing effective principal talent management design and leadership workforce retention. In partnership with school districts and other organizations, researchers have an opportunity to conduct rigorous studies to inform local system improvement and, potentially, other efforts to support principal development.


Districts to Watch

Explore case studies about promising practices that districts use to improve principal talent management.

Denver Public Schools

Principal Working Environment

Denver Public Schools (DPS), a large urban school district that serves approximately 90,000 students, has made a strong commitment to recruiting and retaining great leaders and teachers. Developing a supportive working environment is a key dimension of the district’s efforts in this area. In particular, DPS has focused on improving working conditions for principals by improving the principal to supervisor ratio and increasing principal autonomy. 

Gwinnett County Public Schools

Quality-Plus Leader Academy

Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) serves more than 176,000 students in metro Atlanta. The district has placed significant focus on developing strong school leaders. GCPS’s professional learning system, called the Quality-Plus Leader Academy, consists of interconnected programs and strategies to prepare and support aspiring and in-service leaders to excel in their roles. The district has also made concerted efforts to develop a supportive working environment through a system of balanced autonomy.

IDEA Public Schools

Principal in Residence Program

IDEA Public Schools, a network of 44 PK-12th grade charter schools throughout Texas, has implemented its Principal in Residence program to ensure that each of its schools benefits from strong leadership. In the program, newly hired principals complete a 1-2 year residency, with the support of a mentor principal and a leadership coach, during which they complete a personalized learning plan designed to help them master key school leadership competencies. 

Prince George’s County Public Schools

Leadership Development Framework

Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), which serves more than 130,000 students, has implemented a suite of practices designed to improve school leadership. The district’s efforts to strengthen its principals’ pre-service preparation have been extensive and rely on a two-part approach: deepening relationships with trusted partners that produce strong leadership candidates and developing a year-long training program for assistant principals within the district.

Hillsborough County Public Schools

The Hillsborough Principal Pipeline

The district has a long-standing commitment to improving school leadership. HCPS’s principal talent management efforts are centered on a rigorous, systematic, and competency-based approach to preparing, developing, evaluating, and then retaining the best principals. The district has established a structured path to the principalship that entails additional training and assignment as an assistant principal.

Houston Independent School District

Principal Candidate Development Opportunity

Houston Independent School District (HISD), the largest school district in Texas, serves approximately 215,000 students. In 2015, HISD launched its Principal Candidate Development Opportunity (PCDO) program to strengthen principal recruitment and selection in the district. The program is a 24-month training opportunity for aspiring school leaders and is built around observations, the provision of feedback, data analysis, data-driven instructional planning, school culture and portfolio reflections, and shadowing of in-service principals.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

5-Year Induction Program

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) serves more than 146,000 students. The district has developed a strong system of principal talent management programs and supports that emphasize high quality training; selective hiring; on-the-job evaluation and support. Additionally, the district’s focus on program alignment, capacity, and quality assurance helps to integrate the areas of the pipeline into a cohesive system. Within this system, new principals in CMS complete a five-year induction program. 


Additional Resources

  • Principal Preparation

    Expand
    • Developing Leaders: The Importance - and the Challenges - of Evaluating Principal Preparation Programs

      Principals have a major impact on student learning. This report looks at effective ways to assess principal preparation and describes policies that can help more schools get, support, and keep great principals.

      Learn More

    • Following The Leaders: An Analysis Of Graduate Effectiveness From Five Principal Preparation Programs

      This report shares the findings from a two-year study on the link between principal preparation programs and student outcomes in five large school districts in the United States.

      Learn More

    Principal Talent Management

    • A Framework for Principal Talent Management

      This framework provides guidance to district leaders and policymakers to help them understand the components and connections that constitute effective systems of principal talent management. It also shows that school districts can evaluate policies and practices and ensure they align with elements of principal effectiveness.

      Learn More

    • Principal Talent Management According to the Evidence: A Review of the Literature

      This literature review provides district leaders with an analysis of the research and best available evidence regarding what makes for effective systems of principal talent management. It also highlights gaps in the existing research.

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    Great Principal Leadership at Scale

    • Great Principals at Scale: Creating District Conditions that Enable All Principals to Be Effective

      Every school needs a great principal and districts should ensure that their principals can thrive. Too often, though, principals are effective despite district policies and conditions rather than because of them. Great Principals at Scale provides a research-based framework that explains the conditions necessary for transformational school leaders to succeed.

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    • Great Principals at Scale—Executive Summary

      Ensuring that there is an effective principal in every school, not just a few, is key to providing all children with the education they need to be college and career ready. This summary highlights the ideas in Great Principals at Scale: Creating District Conditions that Enable All Principals to Be Effective.

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    • Great Principals at Scale—Toolkit

      This toolkit contains resources to help district leaders improve policies and conditions in their districts that enable their principals to be effective.

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    • Gwinnett County Public Schools: A Systemic Approach to Scaling Effective School Leadership

      This case study explores the efforts that district leaders in the Gwinnett County Public Schools system have undertaken to create an intentional and systematized school leadership strategy.

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    • Gwinnett County Public Schools: A Systemic Approach to Scaling Effective School Leadership—Appendices

      These are the accompanying appendices to the Gwinnett County Public Schools: A Systemic Approach to Scaling Effective School Leadership case study.

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    Data, Policy and Principal Leadership

    • What Districts Know—and Need to Know—About Their Principals

      This policy brief explains the limitations of district-level data about principals and highlights the importance of improving the accuracy and availability of these data.

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    • Operating in the Dark: What Outdated State Policies and Data Gaps Mean for Effective School Leadership

      States play an important role in cultivating school leadership talent. This report provides an analysis of state policies that affect principal preparation, licensure, tenure, and data collection.

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    • Operating in the Dark: What Outdated State Policies and Data Gaps Mean for Effective School Leadership—Executive Summary

      This executive summary highlights the key findings from the Alliance to Reform Education Leadership’s report Operating in the Dark: What Outdated State Policies and Data Gaps Mean for Effective School Leadership, which explores state policies that affect principal preparation, licensure, tenure, and data collection.

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Notes

  1. See Leithwood, Louis, Anderson, & Wahlstrom (2004)
  2. Burkhauser, Gates, Hamilton, Li, & Pierson (2013)
  3. Ikemoto et al. (2014); George W. Bush Institute (2015a)
  4. Adamowski, Bowles Thierriault, & Cavanna (2007); Augustine et al. (2009); Barber, Whelan, & Clark (2010); Farkas, Johnson, Duffett, & Foleno (2001); Papa, Lankford, & Wyckoff (2002); Ikemoto et al. (2014); George W. Bush Institute (2015a)
  5. Fuller & Young (2009); White & Agarwal (2011)
  6. Fuller & Young (2009); Scarpa (2005); Mascall & Leithwood (2010); George W. Bush Institute (2015a)
  7. Ikemoto et al. (2014)
  8. Casserly, Lewis, Simon, Uzzell, & Palacios (2013)
  9. Jerald (2012)
  10. Corcoran et al. (2013)
  11. Quantitative (Papa, F. Jr., (2007)), qualitative (ACTION United Education Fund (2012), Burkhauser et al. (2012), Fuller & Young (2009)), expert opinion (Ikemoto et al. (2014); George W. Bush Institute (2015a))
  12. Quantitative (Augustine et al. (2009), Friedman, Friedman, & Markow (2008)), qualitative (DiPaola & Tschannen-Moran (2003)), expert opinion (Ikemoto et al. (2014); George W. Bush Institute (2015a))
  13. Papa et al. (2002)
  14. Grossman (2009); Mitgang (2003)
  15. Roza et al. (2003)
  16. Papa (2007); Papa et al. (2002); Baker, Punswick, & Belt (2010); Pijanowski & Brady (2009); Pounder & Merrill (2001); Replogle Sheppard (2010); Newton et al. (2003)
  17. Jerald (2012); Ikemoto et al. (2014)
  18. Mascall & Leithwood (2010); Bottoms & Fry (2009); Fuller & Young (2009)
  19. Ikemoto et al. (2014); George W. Bush Institute (2015a)
  20. George W. Bush Institute (2015a); George W. Bush Institute (2015b); Ikemoto et al. (2014)
  21. Ikemoto et al. (2014)
  22. Ikemoto et al. (2014)
  23. Leithwood et al. (2004)
  24. George W. Bush Institute. (2016). Principal Talent Management According to the Evidence: A Review of the Literature. Dallas: Bush Institute.; Corcoran, Schwartz, & Weinstein (2009); Gates et al. (2014)
  25. Browne-Ferrigno (2003)
  26. Promising practices are based on a synthesis of the Alliance to Reform Educational Leadership’s 9 principal preparation program competencies (George W. Bush Institute, 2014), the study of exemplary leadership programs completed by Darling-Hammond, LaPointe, Meyerson, Orr, & Cohen (2007), the case studies published from this project by LaPointe, Darling-Hammond, & Meyerson (2007), and the Rainwater Alliance’s Principal Preparation Program competencies (Cheney, Davis, Garret & Holleran, 2010).
  27. See: http://www.ncate.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=zRZI73R0nOQ%3D&tabid=676
  28. Darling-Hammond, LaPointe, Meyerson, Orr, & Cohen (2007); Davis & Darling-Hammond (2012)
  29. Corcoran et al. (2012)
  30. George W. Bush Institute. (2016). Following the Leaders: An Analysis of Graduate Effectiveness From Five Principal Preparation Programs. Dallas: Bush Institute.
  31. See Gates, et al.’s (2014) evaluation of the New Leaders principal preparation program in ten districts, which found that schools led by graduates of New Leaders had greater increases in student achievement than other schools, although results varied by district. See also the Corcoran et al. (2009) evaluation of NYC Leadership Academy (NYCLA), which found that students in schools led by NYCLA graduates outperformed their peers in ELA in other schools, although math achievement was similar in NYCLA/non-NYCLA schools.
  32. Cheney et al. (2010); King (2013); George W. Bush Institute (2014); Turnbull et al. (2015)
  33. Darling-Hammond et al. (2007); Davis & Darling-Hammond (2012
  34. Cheney et al. (2010); George W. Bush Institute (2014)
  35. Darling-Hammond et al. (2007)
  36. George W. Bush Institute (2015b); Turnbull et al. (2015)
  37. Cheney et al. (2010); George W. Bush Institute (2014)
  38. Jackson & Kelley (2002)
  39. Darling-Hammond et al. (2007); Davis & Darling-Hammond (2012)
  40. George W. Bush Institute (2015b)
  41. George W. Bush Institute (2015b)
  42. George W. Bush Institute (2014)
  43. Orr (2012)
  44. George W. Bush Institute (2014); Burkhauser, Gates, Hamilton, Li, & Pierson (2013)
  45. Davis & Darling-Hammond (2012); Parkay, Currie, & Rhodes (1992)
  46. George W. Bush Institute and American Institutes for Research. (2016)
  47. Briggs, Rhines Cheney, Davis, & Moll (2012)
  48. George W. Bush Institute (2015b)
  49. Malkus, Hoyer & Sparks (2015)
  50. Burkhauser, Gates, Hamilton, Li & Pierson (2013); Pounder & Young (1996); Turnbull, et al. (2015)
  51. Burkhauser, Gates, Hamilton, Li & Pierson (2013); Turnbull, et al. (2015)
  52. George W. Bush Institute (2014b); George W. Bush Institute and American Institutes for Research (2016)
  53. George W. Bush Institute and American Institutes for Research (2016)
  54. Turnbull, et al (2015); George W. Bush Institute (2015a)
  55. Turnbull et al. (2015)
  56. NewSchools Venture Fund (2008)
  57. Bottoms & Fry (2009)
  58. Turnbull et al. (2015)
  59. George W. Bush Institute and American Institutes for Research (2016)
  60. Plecki, Alejano, Knapp, & Lochmiller (2006); Portin, Alejano, & Knapp (2006)
  61. George W. Bush Institute (2015a)
  62. Turnbull et al. (2015)
  63. Burkhauser, Gates, Hamilton, Li, & Pierson (2013)
  64. Turnbull et al. (2015)
  65. Furgeson et al. (2014)
  66. Turnbull et al. (2015)
  67. George W. Bush Institute (2015a)
  68. George W. Bush Institute (2015a); Ikemoto et al. (2014)
  69. Subramony, M. (2009); Jiang, Lepak, Hu, & Baer (2012); Combs, Liu, Hall, and Ketchen (2006)
  70. Subramony, M. (2009)
  71. Clifford & Mason (2013)
  72. See Jacob, Goddard, Kim, Miller, & Goddard (2014) for their experimental evaluation of the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning’s Balanced Leadership Professional Development program for principals (a formalized, 20-day professional development program), and studies by Camburn, Goldring, May, Supovitz, Barnes & Spillane (2007), Barnes, Camburn, Sanders & Sebastian (2010), and Nunnery, Ross, & Yen (2010) on the impact of the National Institute for School Leadership’s principal professional development program.
  73. Alsbury and Hackmann (2006); Trenta, Beebe, Cosiano, & Eastridge (2001); Asby & Maki (1996)
  74. Dukess (2001); Parkay, Currie, & Rhodes (1992); Asby & Maki (1996)
  75. George W. Bush Institute (2014); Burkhauser, Gates, Hamilton, Li, & Pierson (2013)
  76. Davis et al. (2005)
  77. Dukess (2001); Asby & Maki (1996)
  78. Parkay, Currie, & Rhodes (1992)
  79. Dukess (2001); Alsbury & Hackmann (2006)
  80. Parkay, Currie, & Rhodes, (1992)
  81. Clifford & Ross (2011); Ikemoto et al. (2014)
  82. Nunnery et al. (2011); Nunnery, Ross, & Yen (2010); Camburn et al. (2007); Barnes (2010)
  83. Jacob, et al. (2014)
  84. Clifford, Hansen & Wraight (2014); Clifford & Ross (2011)
  85. Ikemoto et al. (2014); Clifford & Ross (2011); Clifford et al. (2012); Clifford, Hansen & Wraight (2014); Clifford, Behrstock-Sherratt & Fetters (2012)
  86. Ikemoto et al. (2014); Clifford, Hansen & Wraight (2014)
  87. Clifford & Ross (2011)
  88. Clifford & Ross (2011); Goldring, Cravens, Murphy, Porter, Elliott, & Carson (2009); Ikemoto et al. (2014); Turnbull et al. (2015)
  89. Clifford, Hansen & Wraight (2014); Clifford & Ross (2011); Goldring et al. (2007)
  90. Clifford & Ross (2011)
  91. Clifford & Ross (2011); Ikemoto et al. (2014)
  92. Clifford, Hansen & Wraight (2014); Clifford & Ross (2011); Ikemoto et al. (2014)
  93. Schuermann, Guthrie, Prince, & Witham (2009)
  94. Baker, Punswick, & Belt (2010); Fuller & Young (2009); Replogle Sheppard (2010)
  95. Roza et al. (2003); Mitgang (2003); Papa (2007); Pijanowski & Brady (2009)
  96. Papa (2007); Pijanowski & Brady (2009)
  97. Hamilton, Engberg, Steiner, Nelson, & Yuan (2012); VanIwaarden (2011); Wiley, Fulbeck, Farley, & Paguyo (2010)
  98. Roza et al. (2003)
  99. George W. Bush Institute (2015b)
  100. Deloitte (2016)
  101. Mitgang (2003)
  102. Roza et al. (2003)
  103. Papa (2007); Papa et al. (2002); Pijanowski & Brady (2009); Pounder & Merrill (2001); Replogle Sheppard (2010); Newton et al. (2003); Baker, Punswick, & Belt (2010)
  104. Hamilton et al. (2012); Vanlwaarden (2011); Max et al, 2014.
  105. Chiang, Wellington, Hallgren, Speroni, Herrmann, Glazerman & Constantine (2015). See also Max et al, 2014 for an evaluation of year 1 of the grant.
  106. Max, Constantine, Wellington, Hallgren, Glazerman, Chiang, Speroni. (2014)
  107. George W. Bush Institute (2015b)
  108. Roza et al. (2003)
  109. In February 2017, What Works Clearinghouse reviewed the Gates, S.M., Hamilton, L.S., Martorell, P., Burkhauser, S., Heaton, P., Pierson, A., & Gu, K. (2014) study cited within, and based on additional evidence found that it “Meets WWC Standards With Reservations”. The original review contained within was based on publically available information. More can be found here: https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Study/81428