Yet another report on school reform has urged reform in the area of school leadership. This report, entitled, “Operating in the Dark: What Outdated State Policies and Data Gaps Mean for Effective School Leadership” and produced by the George W. Bush Institute and the Alliance to Reform Education Leadership.
What stands out about “Operating in the Dark” are the following factors:
- Its particular focus on principalship
- Its basis in self-reported data
- Its state by state breakdown of data and recommendations
“Operating in the Dark” is a first-of-its-kind report on states’ policies that affect principal preparation, licensure, tenure, and data collection. This report explores how states are using their authority to increase the supply of effective principals focused on raising student achievement. The findings are based on self-reported data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. “Operating in the Dark” includes state policy recommendations to drive needed reforms and gives the educational community new insights on promising efforts by states to improve the supply of high-quality principals.
Specific recommendations of the report include:
Principal Preparation Program Approval
• States need to understand the growing body of research highlighting the wide range of skills and behaviors that principals need to succeed in the highly complex and demanding job of school leader. This research should be incorporated into state requirements for principal preparation programs to ensure that programs produce high-quality candidates. Effective preparation programs include a number of key elements, including: being expressly designed to produce and place principals who improve student learning; having clearly defined principal competencies; strategically recruiting high-potential candidates into the program; using a rigorous candidate selection process; providing relevant coursework taught by faculty with practitioner experience; incorporating authentic learning experiences in real school settings; and ensuring that graduates demonstrate mastery of competencies.
• States should allow organizations other than higher education institutions to be approved to provide principal preparation, as long as those programs meet the same rigorous standards.
• States should monitor principal preparation program outcome data and hold programs accountable for producing effective principals.
• States should move away from input-based principal licensing requirements such as years of teaching and degrees, which are not accurate proxies or predictors of principal effectiveness. For licensure to signal proof of competence, states should seek out a new form of performance-based assessment that measures the more complex skills research shows effective school leaders need to succeed.
• States should base principal license renewal decisions on job performance and demonstration of competencies that correlate with principal effectiveness measures, including impact on student achievement. Leaders repeatedly receiving poor ratings should not have their licenses renewed.
In conclusion, the report finds that “states need to be able to measure principals’ ability to secure jobs, retain jobs, demonstrate an impact on student achievement, and receive effective evaluation ratings. With this information, states can make strategic decisions and investments that result in a more highly qualified principal pool.”
Clearly, principals have great power to improve schools, attract and retain effective teachers, and increase student learning. It is time for state-led efforts to reform principal preparation and licensure.
The executive summary and full report can be found at www.bushcenter.org/education-policy.