Happening Today: Education Week Leadership Symposium. Learn more and register.

States Can Wield Huge Influence Over Principal Quality. Are They Using It?

By Denisa R. Superville — November 30, 2020 4 min read
Image shows an illustration of a man climbing a ladder, with encouragement.

How are states using their influence to improve principal quality?
A new report from the RAND Corporation gives some insights into what seven states are doing to better prepare principals for their jobs, using policy levers at their disposal.
The states are California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia, where seven universities and several districts have partnered as part of a Wallace Foundation initiative to redesign principal preparation programs. Each university-district partnership is also collaborating with a state agency (for example, the state department of education or the standards board).
The premise is that states can play an enormous role in both elevating school leadership and making regulatory and other changes to improve the selection criteria for school leaders, the curriculum in preparation programs, licensure requirements, and the kinds of professional development that are available to principals once they are the job.
The areas that the Wallace Foundation calls “levers” are:

  • Standards for principals
  • Recruitment
  • Licensure requirements
  • Approval and oversight of preparation programs
  • Professional development
  • Evaluations

States have a number of ways to put their thumb on the scale when it comes to improving principal quality. They can signal it’s a priority through laws, regulations and oversight, and funding, according to the report. And a variety of actors can play a role, depending on the lever, from the governor, to the legislature, to the state standards boards. Non-governmental organizations (such as state principals associations and education cooperatives) can also influence the state policy agenda.While none of the states in the RAND report were using all of the levers, the majority of those interviewed from all states said they were using standards effectively. Five of seven felt program approval and oversight were also being used effectively.
North Carolina was the only state where a majority of those interviewed believed the state was using the aspiring leader recruitment tool effectively. While all the states had prerequisites for entering leadership preparation programs, few offered subsidies for aspiring leaders to participate in pre-service programs.
The report also found that the states were not using evaluations effectively; only in two states, Florida and Virginia, did a majority of those interviewed agree that was the case. (Few had tied evaluation to state standards, set expectations and reporting requirements, or had performance pay for principals.)
And none of the states had leader tracking systems, which would allow policymakers to collect data that would help to recruit candidates for programs, better match them with schools that fit their skill-set and provide individualized professional development over the course of their careers.

Flowchart showing the program pathway to the principalship

States often used mandates to wield influence over these areas, according the report. That, in itself, posed a challenge in some of the areas because local control is often sacrosanct in education. And mandates were not always accompanied by financial resources or expertise to make them work, or with the kind of early stakeholder involvement that would increase their chances of taking root.
But states can also utilize incentives. Connecticut, for example, gave small grants as part of a two-year partnership with university-prep programs to help them identify areas of strengths and weakness and then develop improvement plans.
Why are states not making use of all of their policy levers?
School leadership often takes a backseat to issues related to teachers. That means that principals are generally not the forefront—for either attention or resources.
Other challenges include limited financial resources, turnover in state departments of education, state capacity, conflicting education priorities, local autonomy, and lack of stakeholder buy-in.
Part of the argument for taking stock of these policy levers is that they are all connected, and focusing on one leads to changes in others, according to the report. For example, revamping the job requirements may lead to corresponding changes in licensure requirements and preparation programs.
How can states overcome some of these challenges?
They can ensure there’s both financial resources and expertise to facilitate and implement changes, including for things like professional development. States should include stakeholders—school districts, principals, and others—early in the process, and they should do so in meaningful ways, according to the report.
And a hugely important step is giving school leadership the attention it deserves, by moving it higher on the education agenda, according to the authors.
To help with the lack of capacity at the education departments, states can tap into other state-level organizations with school leadership expertise, including principals’ associations, regional education cooperatives, and education standards boards.
And some of this work could be attached to other educational reforms that are already underway in states, the authors recommend.
You can read the full report, along with specific details on individual state changes, here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.


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.
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
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.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
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.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS

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

States 8 States Debate Bills to Restrict How Teachers Discuss Racism, Sexism
Proposed bills in several states aim to ban "divisive concepts."
8 min read
Messed up puzzle pieces of an American flag on a dark blue background
iStock/Getty Images Plus
States How to Talk About Next School Year Presents a Big Test for Education Leaders
State K-12 officials must clearly communicate plans for safety, academics, and mental health, while mixing urgency with nuance.
12 min read
Woman applying "Welcome Back" sign to the school entrance
Leo Patrizi/E+/Getty Images
States Two More States Pass Restrictions on Transgender Students. Will Others Follow?
States have considered dozens of bills on the rights of transgender students. They cover everything from sports to pronouns used in schools.
4 min read
Advocates for transgender people march from the South Dakota governor's mansion to the Capitol in Pierre, S.D., on March 11, 2021, to protest a proposed ban on transgender girls and women from female sports leagues.
Advocates for transgender people march from the South Dakota governor's mansion to the Capitol in Pierre to protest a proposed ban on transgender girls and women from female sports leagues.
Stephen Groves/AP
States Vaccine Access Speeds Up for Teachers After Biden's Declaration
The vaccine landscape for teachers shifted dramatically after President Joe Biden directed states to prioritize the K-12 workforce.
7 min read
030321 Vaccine Breaking AP BS
The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is held by a pharmacist at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut on March.
Jessica Hill