Special Report
School & District Management Opinion

Gauging the Quality of School Leadership

By James P. Spillane — January 03, 2008 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

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 3 Ways School Districts Can Ease the Pain of Supply Chain Chaos
Have a risk management plan, pay attention to what's happening up the supply chain, and be adaptable when necessary.
3 min read
Cargo Ship - Supply Chain with products such as classroom chairs, milk, paper products, and electronics
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management Vulnerable Students, Districts at Greater Risk as Natural Disasters Grow More Frequent
New federal research indicates the harm from fires and storms to school facilities, learning, and mental health is disproportionate.
4 min read
Helina Thorp, right, 14, expresses frustration while unsuccessfully trying to log in to her school distance-learning classes in Placerville, Calif., after Pacific Gas & Electric intentionally shut off power to prevent wildfires amid high winds in September 2020.
Helina Thorp, right, 14, expresses frustration while unsuccessfully trying to log in to her school distance-learning classes in Placerville, Calif., after Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power to prevent wildfires amid high winds in September 2020.
Daniel Kim/The Sacramento Bee via AP
School & District Management Opinion What It Takes for Universities to Conduct Useful Education Research
Many institutions lack the resources to make research-school partnerships successful, warns Thomas S. Dee.
Thomas S. Dee
3 min read
Illustration of coworkers collaborating.
iStock/Getty
School & District Management Opinion Trust Keeps Our School-Research Relationship Alive in the Pandemic
An educator and a researcher describe how their team was able to nudge forward a plan for equity even as COVID changed almost everything.
Katherine Mortimer & Scott Gray
3 min read
Illustration of coworkers analyzing data.
iStock/Getty