The Center for Public Education has released a new report called The Principal Perspective, which examines what impact principals actually have on a school and how they may or may not affect school turnarounds. Existing research, of which there is little, seems to agree on several things:
- The job of principal has changed dramatically.
- Principals impact their students’ outcomes, particularly at the most challenging schools.
- Principal turnover adversely impacts schools.
- Effective principals retain and recruit effective teachers.
- Principals become more effective as they gain more experience.
- Being an instructional leader is a hallmark of effective principals.
According to the new report, however, some of these facts have caveats. First, principals have the most impact on student achievement in high-poverty, high-minority schools—second only to teachers. Unfortunately, these are just the types of schools in which veteran administrators are hard to find.
Second, principals who are highly effective are more likely to: 1) have three or more years of experience overall; 2) have at least three years of experience at a particular school; 3) share leadership responsibilities (rather than just delegating paperwork); 4) have a clear sense of instructional goals; 5) give ongoing, informal feedback and support toward those goals; 6) conduct unannounced, informal teacher evaluations or classroom visits and give feedback afterward; and 6) have school board leaders who exhibit a clear vision of what constitutes a good school and create a framework that gives principals both autonomy and support to reach those goals.
The authors of the report conclude that while “NCLB and other policies of the past decade have mainly focused on teachers to close achievement gaps, research shows that focusing on principals could have a strong impact on turning around low-performing schools and propel student learning.” They also leave a list of questions for school boards to evaluate principal effectiveness in their districts, and determine “next steps” for improving student achievement:
- How are principals evaluated for effectiveness?
- Are evaluations linked to student achievement?
- Are evaluations linked to the district’s goals and strategic plan?
- Do all students have equal access to effective or experienced principals?
- What incentives does your district give principals to lead challenging schools?
- What kind of professional development does your district provide principals?
- Has the school board read and discussed the ISLLC standards?
- How does the district handle ineffective principals?
- What is the principal turnover rate in your district? How does it vary by school? What could your district do to decrease the turnover rate to the key period of three to five years?
- How does your district identify potential principals?
- How effective are principal preparation programs?
- Are these preparation programs aligned to the needs of the district?
To read the full report, please visit http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/principal-perspective