50-State Comparison: School Leader Certification and Preparation Programs

Research shows school leadership is a pivotal factor in improving student achievement and retaining quality teachers. In fact, among school-related factors, leadership is found to have one of the greatest impacts on student learning — second only to classroom instruction. However, many districts are challenged by high rates of turnover, resulting in shortages and inexperienced principals leading high-need schools. As states look at ways to support schools and districts, many turn to policies surrounding preparation and licensure in an effort to better equip leaders entering the field to be successful. States have developed policies, grounded in school leadership standards, to strengthen and increase the number of quality school leaders through traditional and alternative routes to preparation and certification.

Education Commission of the States has researched school leader certification and preparation policies in all 50 states and has provided a comprehensive resource, including individual state profiles as well as policy-specific comparisons.

The comparison includes four data points for preparation, and three for certification and licensure. Explore how your state and how all states approach specific school leadership policies.


— All 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, have adopted standards to guide school leadership policies.

— At least 39 states, plus the District of Columbia, allow for alternative routes to initial school leader certification, either through an innovative or experimental preparation program or through nontraditional paths to certification.

— At least 38 states require field experience as part of traditional school leader preparation programs.

— At least 37 states require candidates to hold a master’s degree and have at least three years’ teaching or related experience to qualify for an initial school leader certification.


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