These 3 policy areas could help principals become more effective

New report details how state policymakers can help strengthen, support principals

principals-policyWhile school principals are often low priorities on state education policy agendas, a handful of states have taken steps to strengthen the role principals play in schools, according to a new report commissioned by the Wallace Foundation.

After analyzing how principals are supported and prioritized in a number of states, Paul Manna, professor of government and public policy at the College of William & Mary and the report’s author, suggests that those states’ actions focus on three areas in policymaking.

1. State leaders can move principals higher on policy agendas. Teachers typically have the larger share of agendas and professional development investments, according to the report. But when principals are elevated in state policy agendas, it can strengthen other state education efforts. “Numerous state education policy initiatives developed during the last two decades depend heavily on excellent principals for their success,” the report notes.

2. State leaders can use six possible policy levers. The report identifies six policy levers potentially available to state leaders, including adopting principal leadership standards, altering incentives to draw the best potential principals into the profession, approving and overseeing principal preparation programs, connecting state licensing requirements to principals’ real-world job requirements, better allocating resources to support principals’ professional development, and seeking effective principal evaluation techniques.

3. State leaders can better understand diverse state and local contextual factors. Policymakers may want to consider four contextual factors as they set priorities. Those include the distribution of powers within state education governance systems; district environments with diverse local conditions and needs; the level of state and local capacities needed to implement policy; and the overall web of state policies and the demands they create for principals.

The report suggests those actions can help ensure principals are well-trained and well-supported in their role as they influence teaching and learning.

“All organizations need effective leaders to succeed. Schools are no exception, and their principals bear weighty responsibilities,” Manna said. “Principals who are strong, effective, responsive leaders help to inspire and enhance the abilities of their teachers and other school staff to do excellent work. And yet, the principal’s role has received consistently less attention than other topics on state education policy agendas. While it’s impossible to identify a single formula that will enhance the work of principals, the central role that principals play merits much attention as state officials craft their policy agendas.”

The report also suggests questions and ideas state leaders should consider as they move to strengthen their state’s principals, including taking inventory of state goals for principals compared to their day-to-day job responsibilities; identifying policies that lead to duties for principals that thwart state goals; and creating a policy and political strategy to address inconsistencies and better support principals.

“This report makes it clear that every state is different, and no single approach will work with all 50 states,” said Jody Spiro, director of education leadership at Wallace. “But we hope that this report will offer states some potential action steps to help them improve the chances that all schools will be led by excellent principals.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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