Special Report
School & District Management Opinion

Gauging the Quality of School Leadership

By James P. Spillane — January 03, 2008 2 min read

Teacher quality has garnered much attention from a diverse group of scholars. A natural next step is to focus on the quality of school leadership and management. After all, the policy environment holds schools, not individual classroom teachers, accountable. By extension, from the work on teacher quality, the obvious response is to examine principal quality by looking at the traditional cast of characters: principals’ expertise, certification, experience, and so on. While this empirical research on principal quality is important and needs to be done, more will be needed to get good proxies for leadership-and-management quality.

I’d argue that expertise or capability are not entirely an individual affair. By letting go of the myth of individualism, the challenges of measuring school leadership-and-management quality begin to emerge. The expertise or ability to perform some core task that is critical for school improvement may be distributed over two or more leaders in a school, in both formal and informal roles, and involve various tools and organizational routines.

Commentaries
Taking Teaching Quality Seriously
The Need for Data Systems
A People-Driven Business
Flexibility and Dynamic Personnel
From Gaps to Gifts
Reforming Teacher Compensation
Gauging Principal Quality
Human Capital Management

At one level, this is an acknowledgment that the work of leading and managing the school involves a team of individuals with formally designated leadership positions (such as assistant principals and curriculum coordinators), and that the “aggregate” expertise and capability of this team might be an important consideration in the quality of the school’s leadership and management. If we were really ambitious, we might even attempt to measure the contribution of informal leaders, especially teacher leaders. Thinking about expertise and capability as distributed, we have to go beyond simply acknowledging the expertise of individual leaders in a school to considering how they complement one another in the performance of key school improvement tasks. This is difficult but important work. Finally, recognizing that expertise is situated further complicates the measurement task. A situated perspective would press us to acknowledge and understand how what counts as quality or capability in school leadership and management might differ, depending on such factors as the student population served and the teacher workforce in a school.

Work on teacher quality in the education sector has greatly benefited from the field of economics. Similar benefits can be gained from work in distributed and situated cognition, as we move forward and take on the challenge of school leadership-and-management quality. Let’s not fall into the trap of easy measures and quick fixes when it comes to studying and measuring that quality. If we do, our “easy measures” will eventually be debunked, leading to the erroneous conclusion that measuring the quality of school leadership and management is impossible.

Events

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
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.

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 L.A. Unified to Require Testing of Students, Staff Regardless of Vaccination Status
The policy change in the nation's second-largest school district comes amid rising coronavirus cases, largely blamed on the Delta variant.
Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
4 min read
L.A. schools interim Sup Megan K. Reilly visits Fairfax High School's "Field Day" event to launch the Ready Set volunteer recruitment campaign to highlight the nationwide need for mentors and tutors, to prepare the country's public education students for the upcoming school year. The event coincides with National Summer Learning Week, where U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona is highlighting the importance of re-engaging students and building excitement around returning to in-person learning this fall. high school, with interim LAUSD superintendent and others. Fairfax High School on Wednesday, July 14, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA.
In this July 14, 2021, photo, Los Angeles Unified School District interim Superintendent Megan K. Reilly speaks at an event at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. Reilly announced a new district policy Thursday requiring all students and employees of the Los Angeles school district to take weekly coronavirus tests regardless of their vaccination status.
Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via TNS
School & District Management Why School Boards Are Now Hot Spots for Nasty Politics
Nationalized politics, shifts in local news coverage, and the rise of social media are turning school board meetings into slug fests.
11 min read
Collage of people yelling, praying, and masked in a board room.
Collage by Gina Tomko/Education Week and Getty Images
School & District Management Opinion The Six Leadership Lessons I Learned From the Pandemic
These guiding principles can help leaders prepare for another challenging year—and any future crises to come.
David Vroonland
3 min read
A hand about to touch a phone.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty Images
School & District Management Opinion When the National Education Debate Is Too Noisy, Look Local
A local network of your peers can offer not just practical advice, but an emotional safe harbor.
Christian M. Elkington
2 min read
A team of workmen on scaffolding rely on each other.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty Images