New research indicates areas where principal hiring could, and should, improve

principal-solutionsHiring a school principal isn’t a small task–school leaders must be equipped to handle problems that come their way, all while supporting teaching and learning and modeling the same behaviors they ask teachers and students to display.

But new research from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, based on the candid responses of five school districts, reveals seven challenges in the principal hiring process, along with six solutions to those persistent problems. Those five districts commented so candidly on condition of anonymity.

The report is organized around principal recruitment, selection, and placement, and addresses three questions:

  • How do the responding school districts identify, recruit, select, and place high-potential candidates for the principalship?
  • To what extent do these practices help districts in hiring great school leaders?
  • What steps can these and other districts take to ensure that, going forward, they hire the best candidates to lead their schools?

(Next page: Seven challenges in principal hiring)

Finding 1: “Inadequate pay and grueling work make the principalship a tough sell.”

Finding 2: “Budget constraints and meager success hiring external candidates have led some districts to focus almost entirely on growing their own school leaders.”

Finding 3: “Recruitment practices that are informal or passive (or both) likely overlook some high-potential talent.”

Finding 4: “New selection processes largely reflect research-based practices.” The authors note that “most districts look at little hard data regarding candidates’ success supporting student achievement. It was striking to us that evidence of prior effectiveness in regard to pupil achievement does not appear explicitly” on a list of selection criteria.

Finding 5: “Efforts to standardize the selection process have made ‘whom you know’ within the district less important.” While some districts have decided that politics and personal connections played too great a role in hiring, others base decisions on “gut feelings” and do not use hiring rubrics, and top-level administrators can enable candidates to bypass certain hiring steps.

“But the more space there is for deciders to exercise discretion, the more potential there is for existing personal relationships to sway decisions, not necessarily in directions with the greatest payoff for students, teachers, or taxpayers,” according to the report.

Finding 6: “Districts generally lack a clear and consistent process to assess candidates’ fit with specific schools.”

Finding 7: “Late hiring causes some candidates to drop out.”

In addition to summarizing these challenges, the authors offer a number of recommendations and solutions:

  1. Make the job a lot more appealing
  2. Pay great leaders what they’re worth
  3. Take an active approach to principal recruitment
  4. Evaluate candidates against the competencies and skills that successful principals are known to possess
  5. Design the placement process to match schools’ needs with candidates’ strengths
  6. Continually evaluate hiring efforts

For the full findings, access the report here.

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Laura Ascione

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