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Is There A Principal Shortage In Iowa?

By Emily Douglas-McNab — December 19, 2012 3 min read
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In early October, I received an email from The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington called “Principal Concerns: Iowa May Face Statewide Demand.”

The report uses data for the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years from the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data and the Iowa Department of Education to identify principals who are currently eligible or soon-to-be eligible for retirement. CRPE found:

1. Roughly 47 percent of the principals in Iowa are currently retirement eligible or will be within the next five years. 2. The principals identified as eligible or close to retirement age are "relatively evenly" distributed between poverty levels of students as well as differing types of communities and geographically across the state.

In terms of succession planning, these findings are a concern. CRPE’s report notes that it is important for “state policymakers to create a statewide strategy for ensuring a pipeline of quality leaders in the future.”

I wondered what Iowa was doing about this issue as I have seen articles and heard from a variety of states with the same concern. So, I contacted the Iowa Department of Education to see how the state is addressing a possible principal shortage. The department graciously provided me with data pertaining to the principal demographics in their state, as well as insight on how entities in the state are collaborating to grow highly effective leaders. This information will also be available in Iowa’s annual Condition of Education report.

What does Iowa’s principal data show?
During the 2000-2001 school year, 26.5 percent of principals in Iowa were 51 to 55 years of age, while more than 24 percent were 45 to 50 years old. In 2011-2012, the largest percentage of principals in the state (20.6 percent) was 41 to 45 years old, while 18.7 percent were 46 to 50 years of age. So, while the CRPE report is correct in saying that many principals in Iowa are eligible to retire, the group as a whole has gotten younger over the past decade. These numbers are detailed in the charts below.

(Charts provided by the Iowa Department of Education)

What is Iowa doing to address a possible principal shortage?
The Iowa Department of Education is aware of their principal demographics and is looking at the issue from many angles. In December 2006, after a three-year research, testing, and feedback process, the Iowa State Board of Education and the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners built new standards that are now the basis for accreditation of higher education prep programs, delivery of the new state-required mentoring and induction program, and the evaluation of principals and superintendents. Specifically, Iowa works to:
Develop Principals: The mentoring and induction program was passed into law for beginning administrators. In June 2007, the Principal Center Leadership Academy was launched as the state’s first effort to grow new principals into experienced leaders.
Standardize Quality Training: All leadership training goes to scale through Iowa’s nine Area Education Agencies.
Provide Feedback: Evaluation of school leaders is tied to the standards.
Ensure Evaluation Validity: Requirements exist for all principals and superintendents to take evaluator training as a prerequisite to licensure renewal.
Build System Alignment: All higher education preparation programs are rooted in the development of proficiency in the Iowa Standards and Criteria.
Make Outside Opportunities Available: Iowa has taken part in the Wallace Foundation’s education leadership initiative that works to identify, develop, test, and share approaches for improving the training of education leaders.

State Director of Education, Dr. Jason Glass, noted, “Significant momentum has been achieved for improving the quality, breadth, and depth of professional development efforts for school leaders tied to the Iowa Standards and Criteria.” Such a comprehensive approach that involves a variety of collaborating bodies, is the ideal way of approaching and overcoming such an issue.

More information on Iowa’s principal succession planning work can be found on the Iowa Department of Education’s website.

For more information on human capital and talent management in education, you can follow me on Twitter at @EmilyDouglasHC.

The opinions expressed in K-12 Talent Manager are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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