Good principals are just as important to student achievement as good teachers, and federal education policy should make explicit efforts to recruit, train, and retain them, say two organizations seeking to influence lawmakers.
The Center for American Progress released a policy paper last month saying that a reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act should require all states to have definitions of principal effectiveness and guidelines for next-generation principal evaluation systems.
And the New York-based Wallace Foundation held a briefing in Washington for congressional staffers March 30 to stress that, in cash-strapped times, investing in principal leadership is particularly cost-effective.
“Principals are uniquely positioned to ensure that excellent teaching and learning spread beyond single classrooms,” said one of the foundation’s discussion points. (Leadership coverage in Education Week is supported in part by a grant from the Wallace Foundation.)
The Obama administration has been pushing for Congress to reauthorize the ESEA, but no timetable has yet emerged.
The debate over what makes an effective teacher should not overshadow the importance of school principals, both groups say.
“Ultimately, it would be nice to see if we could create a West Point for education leaders,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University and one of the speakers at the Wallace Foundation panel.
The Center for American Progress paper outlines several factors states could use to evaluate principals on their leadership skills. For example, the paper says, evaluations should assess a principal’s ability to improve teacher effectiveness and retain good teachers at high rates. States should also have minimum quality standards and work to ensure all students are in schools with effective principals.
The Wallace panel also focused on evaluating principals, but in addition noted that federal policy could help with principal-training programs, for example, by funding principal internships or helping to create leadership academies that produce effective leaders.
A version of this article appeared in the April 06, 2011 edition of Education Week as Principals’ Role Vital, Groups Assert