- A new study from RAND Corp. examining policy data from seven states finds that while they use standards, licensure, program approval and professional development to boost principal quality, fewer states had consistent recruiting and evaluation efforts, and none had a state-level leader tracking system at the time of data collection. The research, commissioned by the Wallace Foundation, notes however that North Carolina has since worked to implement a tracking system.
- Although PD was used by the seven states in the study, all of which were part of the Wallace Foundation’s University Principal Preparation Initiative, stakeholders in only three states said they think its effective, “suggesting there might be some room for improvement in how states were using that lever," researcher Susan Gates, a senior economist and director of the Office of Research Quality Assurance at RAND, said during a Thursday webinar.
- Furthermore, research suggests states prefer to give districts a greater degree of local control over licensure or program approval. "I think there’s a lot of room for growth in the area for principal evaluation and a state role there," Gates said.
Many of the 50 states (69%) are using school leadership as a strategy to improve the highest-needs schools, according to Robert Hull, president and CEO of the National Association of State Boards of Education, which also hosted the research webinar.
"We know leadership and leadership development is a really high priority for state boards across the country," Hull said.
However, state leaders can take advantage of having principal improvement lower on the agenda. "It can allow policy change to fly under the radar and get through without the kinds of political fights that might occur that might be focused on a larger group like teachers or a more controversial topic like equity," said Gates.
Other recommendations from the presenters for states looking to improve principal leadership include:
Identifying opportunities to build stakeholder engagement and state-level expertise on principal quality. Engage stakeholders early and often for buy-in.
Leveraging and tying efforts to related statewide efforts. For example, in Florida, legislation making teachers more accountable led to similar changes around school leader preparation.
Using national policies and guidelines as external drivers of change. For example, two states took 3% set aside from ESSA Title II Part A funding and used it for principal development.
Employing state mandates to facilitate change. When using state mandates to drive principal quality, ground them in evidence and couple them with information, resources and supports.
Considering the mix of options available, look at what’s working well and think about how those could be built upon to address problem areas.
Considering subtracting and pruning existing requirements from policies.
The researchers said districts could use state help around evaluation practices in particular. While districts might not benefit from a standard evaluation tool because what they seek in leaders varies, states can help by facilitating collaboration, drawing out commonalities across districts, setting a limited number of statewide competencies, and helping districts develop common tools for assessing those competencies.
"I think many districts would be grateful for that support rather than having to reinvent the wheel," Gates said.