Principal Talent Management as an Equity Tool

Learn more about Eva Chiang, Ph.D..
Eva Chiang, Ph.D.
Managing Director, Leadership and Programming
George W. Bush Institute

We believe that the use of data is important to ensuring that all students, no matter their background, ethnicity, or zip code, deserve the opportunity to learn at their highest levels

At the Bush Institute, we continue the fight for educational equity that President Bush began when he signed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002. For the first time, that bipartisan law allowed us to use data that was broken apart by race, gender, and income to show the tremendous gaps in student learning.

Today, we still believe that the use of data is important to ensuring that all students, no matter their background, ethnicity, or zip code, deserve the opportunity to learn at their highest levels. Independent, reliable sources of data allow schools to ensure that time, money, and other resources are allocated appropriately to give all students that learning opportunity.

Similarly, we believe that preparing, supporting, and keeping great principals promotes equity in schools. That’s why we have developed our own set of equity principles to guide our work, adapted from the work of Ed Trust, Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and the Center for Urban Education.

1. Name It: Talk about equity, and make it a priority.

We rarely run across educators, policymakers, or others who disagree with providing all students with an effective education, but many times we find they are not saying this out loud. We think naming what we are working for is an important step toward equity. If you cannot name what you are trying to achieve, it will be hard to get there.

Equity conversations should be happening at all levels of a school, a state’s education department, and the federal department of education. Student equity should be on the agenda whether a school team is talking about staffing, curriculum, budgeting, breakfast and lunch programs, family engagement, or after-school programs.

This is true for our work as well. We are currently revising our Principal Talent Management Framework to make equitable practices more explicit throughout.

2. Make It Systemic: Equity must be enacted throughout the system, not just at the school level.

We see pockets of successful equity practice across the country. However, we have not yet seen success at scale. A passionate principal, superintendent, or other educator will spearhead equity initiatives in a school or district, but when they leave, their progress leaves with them. Based on our work on effective implementation, we know that systems must be transformed in order for change to permeate an organization.

3. Focus on Talent: Prepare, support, and retain the most effective teachers and leaders.

Our work on principal talent management prioritizes getting the right people in the right roles. That starts with developing a pipeline of future leaders who are ready, able, and willing to make equity a priority. It also means that districts and others must train and support veteran principals.

For us, equity with regards to talent management means two things. First, a principal must have the knowledge, skills, and will to ensure that all students are getting a great education. Second, school districts and state policies must provide an environment that welcomes and encourages a diverse workforce. Studies show that students benefit when they have teachers and principals who come from similar backgrounds as them.

4. Effective Implementation: Follow implementation best practices, but don’t wait for perfection before you implement needed changes.

Good intentions do not always mean progress will happen. If we really want to see change happen in a way that impacts all students, our field needs to become more familiar with the research and best practices in effective implementation. This includes knowing how to set a long-term vision, while quickly accomplishing early wins. This also includes strategic planning and creating teams that work well together.

Sometimes we wait too long to try to implement much-needed reforms. While careful thought and evidence needs to accompany decision-making, initiatives do not have to be absolutely perfect before they are rolled out. States and districts should consider pilot-testing ideas, and gather data to inform the efficacy of these ideas before taking them to a broader level.

Communication is key here. Parents and families can be allies and advocates for advancing equity. For that reason, they should be at the top of the communication list.

5. Measure What Matters: Make sure what you measure reveals equity gaps and helps with continuous improvement.

Using collected data to inform decisions is a powerful way to promote equity. But this is only true when we collect the right types of data and break it down in ways that let us understand the progress of every child.

This also means collecting data on the adults in the system. We need to know how often our best teachers and principals are asked to change schools. We need to know which preparation programs are preparing our very best talent. And, we need to know if our educators are feeling satisfied in their roles, as this might be a warning flag for future turnover.

The collection of all this data should lead to clear, actionable goals. And, it should lead to a set of benchmarks that hold everyone accountable.

Our work aims to improve educational outcomes for students. When school districts are able to find, support, and keep their best principal talent, they are more equipped to fight for educational equity.