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Principals Are Not at the Top of States’ Talent Agenda—But They Should Be

Teachers have been at the center of most states’ talent discussions to date. Although principals play a critical role in virtually all school-improvement reform efforts, most states lack a coherent school leadership strategy. This is a major oversight.

But a few forces are afoot that may help refocus state attention on principals:

  1. Education policy leaders increasingly realize that policy alone won’t trigger desired changes in schools and student performance. Principals are a key lever to influence any policy’s success since they sit at the nexus between policy and practice: implementation starts with principals.
  2. A growing body of research demonstrates real inequities for students when they are not taught by educators of similar races and backgrounds. While roughly 40 percent of public school students are black or Latino, just 17 percent of principals are, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. States have a vested interest in ensuring their pipelines deliver the number, quality, and diversity of school leaders needed.
  3. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offers states new funding opportunities around principal recruitment and training if states can demonstrate their need and produce a plan that’s based on research and boosts student achievement.
Toolkit cover

To help states and human-capital advocates build an effective strategy around developing and retaining strong school leaders, CRPE and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute have built a school leadership policy toolkit that draws on research and state experiences to date around five key areas:

  • Pathways and pipelines
  • Distributed leadership
  • Autonomy and empowerment
  • Principal evaluation
  • Retention and compensation

The toolkit explains the importance of principals and how states can assess their own school leadership needs, reviews available research that points to best practice, offers model policies and real-world examples of states and organizations that have already put things in motion, and lists top researchers on principal issues. States can use the toolkit to help build their request for new ESSA monies through the Teachers and Principals Training and Recruiting Fund.

With so much riding on skilled principals leading the rollout of new standards, assessments, teacher development, and higher expectations, states must do much more to attract diverse and promising talent, and train and develop these key leaders. Because behind every great school is a great school leader.

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