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How and Why a Principal Matters to your Child

Article by Kerri L. Briggs February 3, 2012 //   4 minute read

Last week, the Bush Institute convened leaders from 18 principal preparation programs to build a network that is focused on improving and increasing the number of highly effective principals. The importance of teachers for students is becoming more and more understood. A study published at the end of last year again confirmed the importance of highly effective teachers for students (Chetty, Friedman, Rockoff, 2011).  But what about principals? Research studies funded by the Wallace Foundation and others have found that principals account for about 25% of a school’s total impact on achievement. In reality, the principal’s impact may be even greater because, in most districts, it is the principal who controls who teaches in the school. Given the importance of principals overall, and to teachers specifically, the Alliance to Reform Education Leadership at the Bush Center (AREL) seeks to understand, promote, and improve the actions principals take in leading great schools. We believe that a network of committed programs and organizations can together improve the landscape for principals. We organized the meeting to encourage connections among the programs that are different from each other in a variety of ways.  They are based in different types of organizations—universities, school districts, non-profit organizations, and charter school networks.  The number of principals they are preparing varies from quite large (KIPP and New Leaders) to small cohorts of individuals (e.g., Ryan Fellowship and Saint Louis University). They are all over the country – New York City, Boston, Georgia, Denver, Pomona, Chicago, Dallas, Louisiana, Indianapolis, and southern California. They are forging new types of relationships with districts and universities. Some have been around for more than a decade (New Leaders, Building Excellent Schools) and some are just entering their first class of aspiring principals (Ed Entrepreneur Center). Even with this diversity, there are a number of ideas on which we all agree:

  • Excellent leaders develop and sustain great schools.
  • It’s important to evaluate principals and the programs that prepare them. These data can and must be used to improve how principals lead and how programs develop leaders.
  • The ways we’ve been training principals aren’t good enough. Preparation must be much more authentic and experiential so that new principals don’t have to learn “on the job,” and can be effective from the start.
  • The opportunity to talk through shared challenges and hear about best practices is vital. Some of this we orchestrated; other discussions were organic. Either way, working together on the challenges will help generate positive results.

All participants in the 2012 convening of AREL Network programs benefitted—we learned from each other and we identified more clearly what we need to do to further our work.  From it, the Bush Institute Education Reform Initiative is perfecting our plans for supporting programs throughout 2012 and beyond.   We were grateful for the opportunity to meet everyone in person and look forward to seeing what this Alliance can do!

This post written by Kerri Briggs, Director of Education Reform at the George W. Bush Institute. 

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