What it means to be an “equity-centered principal” and what such school leaders should be doing on a day-to-day basis continue to bedevil the field.
But a new field guide in the works could make that clearer for principals and district leaders, with case studies, vignettes, resources, and concrete examples of what “equity-centered” leaders do in different contexts—whether they are working in rural, urban, or suburban districts or in low-poverty or high-poverty schools.
The effort is an attempt to make the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders, or PSEL—which lay out what principals should know and do—more explicit for principals and those who train school leaders, develop leadership-preparation programs, and provide professional development opportunities for them.
With an expected release in the fall, this resource will come at a time when districts and schools are still grappling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the reckoning over teaching about race, which have revealed deep inequities in schools and gaps in principals’ knowledge.
“Sometimes, the language in the standards is very hard to understand,” said Jacqueline Wilson, the executive director of the National Policy Board for Educational Administration, a consortium of organizations, including universities and school leadership professional organizations, that focus on school and district leadership.
“We are going to give them very solid examples of things they can do tomorrow in their schools.”
The current standards, published in 2015, include a section on equity and cultural responsiveness, which highlights the role principals should play in ensuring that students are treated fairly, that their languages and cultures are respected, and that institutional biases are addressed.
That inclusion came after a lot of debate among those who worked on the revision and public feedback. But it doesn’t really say how principals should go about putting it into effect—that’s where preparation programs and state guidelines and requirements come in.
Based on inquiries she receives regularly, Wilson said it’s pretty clear that principals—and even education professors—are not sure what the equity standard meant.
“It may not be the standards that’s the problem,” she said. “It could be once you adopt them, what are you doing with them? I think every [assistant principal] … should be learning these standards and what they mean and the actions they should be [taking]. I suspect that’s not what’s happening.”
The guidebook will be based on interviews with principals, assistant principals, principal supervisors, and superintendents. It will also be informed by feedback from focus groups with policy leaders in six states—some that use the PSEL standards and some that don’t.
The University Council for Educational Administration, or UCEA, a consortium of university-based school leadership programs, will also undertake a literature review of the research on equity and school leadership published since 2015.
UCEA will also work with historically Black cColleges and universities to understand how they are adapting their curriculum and practices to better prepare graduates, the majority of whom work in schools serving large numbers of students of color and students from low-income families.
The framework will have input from parents, through a RAND Corporation survey, to find out what they expect from equity-centered principals. Student voice will also be included.
The effort is being funded through grants from the Wallace and Joyce Foundations.