School & District Management

New-Leaders Group Offers Initial Insights Into Effective Practice

By Catherine Gewertz — March 12, 2008 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Includes updates and/or revisions.

School leaders who are turning around low-performing schools use three distinctly different leadership strategies for early, middle, and late-stage improvement, says a new report by a national organization that trains principals.

New Leaders for New Schools, a New York City-based group that has trained more than 300 principals in nine cities, is studying its own principals’ work in an effort to find out what practices are most effective in producing solid improvements quickly in the most troubled schools.

The early findings, released at a March 10 briefing at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank, represent the initial steps in a larger research project, in partnership with the RAND Corp., scheduled for completion in 2011.

The report said that while “distributive” leadership—the practice of widely sharing decisionmaking—is commonly hailed as a strong strategy, it is not well suited to the early, or “dramatic turnaround,” stage of improvement when a new principal arrives at a struggling school. That first, urgent stage of improvement demands a “directed” type of leadership, it said.

The principal can delegate more decisionmaking once the school establishes a strong foundation and enters the second stage of improvement, the study said, and can distribute it more broadly as the school refines or maintains its improvements.

‘Quick Wins’

New Leaders’ most effective principals tend to achieve “some quick, important wins” in the first two weeks, such as stating clear expectations and consequences about students’ behavior and potently conveying an atmosphere of support and caring, the study said. Such moves help train the school’s focus and culture on achievement, it said.

The study outlines broad themes that emerge from the literature on successful school management, and includes three case studies of successful New Leaders schools.

Jonathan Schnur, the organization’s co-founder and chief executive officer, said at the Washington briefing that the report should not be taken as a blueprint for school improvement, but as an early attempt to distinguish practices that are effective in schools making dramatic gains from those that are effective in schools making incremental gains.

New Leaders’ own experience illustrates how far the collective knowledge of effective school leadership has yet to go, Mr. Schnur said. About 20 percent of its principals are making dramatic gains, including at five schools that were the most improved or highest achieving in their cities, he said. But that means that 80 percent aren’t making such dramatic gains, he said.

U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said at the briefing that ensuring strong principals at low-performing schools is “absolutely crucial, but we haven’t done much” at the federal level to make it happen.

Policymakers are wrangling over how the federal government should best address the principal-quality issue, he said.

Mr. Schnur suggested three policy directions to explore in strengthening the principal corps in struggling schools: adopting voluntary, nationwide standards for their professional development; requiring colleges of education to track and evaluate the effectiveness of their principal graduates; and setting aside 10 percent of the money under Title II of the No Child Left Behind Act for training principals in exchange for rigorous evaluation of how that training affects student achievement.

Doug Mesecar, the assistant deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s office of innovation and improvement, who also attended the briefing, said he was “intrigued” by the Title II suggestion and thinks “it is the way we need to proceed.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 19, 2008 edition of Education Week as New-Leaders Group Offers Initial Insights Into Effective Practice

Events

School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Medicaid Changes Could Provide a Big Boost to School Mental Health Services
A new law could make it easier for schools to bill Medicaid for services like counseling and health screenings.
6 min read
A boy sits on a small wooden chair, leaning over a small wooden table to color as he talks to a woman who sits across from him on a low grey sofa.
mmpile/E+
School & District Management Opinion Start the School Year With Purpose. Here Are 5 Priorities
Despite the challenges educators face, they know how to improve schools for students and teachers, writes an education professor.
Tyrone C. Howard
4 min read
Conceptual Illustration of public school opening for a new school year
sangaku/iStock/Getty
School & District Management School Leaders With Disabilities: 'It's Important to Share That You're Not Alone'
Educators say their own experience gives them insight into the needs of students with disabilities and how to support them.
14 min read
Joe Mazza, 44, the principal at Seven Bridges Middle School in Chappaqua, N.Y., was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. He says the diagnosis has informed his leadership, allowing him to engage with students and parents who face the same neurodevelopmental disorder. On June 24, 2022, he starts his day in the Media Studio as fifth-grader Anna Villa prepares for the morning newscast.
Joe Mazza, 44, the principal at Seven Bridges Middle School in Chappaqua, N.Y., was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. He said the diagnosis has informed his leadership, allowing him to engage with students and parents who face the same neurodevelopmental disorder.
Christopher Capozziello for Education Week
School & District Management Opinion You're an Educator. What Can You Stop Doing This Year?
Teachers and education leaders often feel stretched for time. Here are 9 ways to rethink your schedule.
5 min read
CartoonStock 543822 CS458303
Cartoon Stock