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Why Details Matter

Article by Kerri L. Briggs July 1, 2011 //   3 minute read

Earlier this week, I was in Connecticut for a meeting on education reform organized by the Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE). It was an informative and important meeting about the need to improve the effectiveness of school principals. Principals, according to one research finding discussed, account for 25% of a school’s impact on student achievement. (Teachers account for 33%.) LEE brought together a group of state policy makers, district leaders, Teach for America leaders, advocates from non-profit organizations, and university professors to discuss how to increase the number of highly–effective principals in Connecticut. The aim was to spark a conversation on how Connecticut can transform its policy and training institutions to better support highly-effective and empowered principals. I was invited to the meeting to explain research supporting school leadership as a critical aspect of school improvement, and the Alliance to Reform Education Leadership – a growing network of organizations committed to increasing the number of highly–effective principals. It was an exciting conversation, and it focused on the right kinds of things to help Connecticut reduce its chronic achievement gap. One thing that struck me during the day was that details matter. Connecticut recently began allowing organizations other than universities to train principals. Great! However, in the process, some quirky provisions were put in place that don’t make a whole lot of sense. For example, the new “alternative certification providers” that are now able to train principals are required to have at least 10 individuals enrolled in their programs in order to be recognized by the state. So, even if one of these new providers creates a high–quality program, it won’t be recognized by the state if it has only nine students. The state also requires that alternative certification providers work with just one school district for the “residency” portion of their programs – this is the portion of their programs that gives future principals in–school leadership experience. So, under the state’s rules, a high’quality program that works with two or more districts doesn’t cut it. I don’t mean to pick on Connecticut. I’m certain that almost every state has provisions that make it more difficult than it needs to be to create high–quality principal preparation programs. What I do mean to say is that we have to pay attention to the details. The best plans of education reformers can easily be delayed or stopped by a few quirky rules that don’t make sense.