- A Wallace Foundation report released this week explores how state policy can support school districts in building and strengthening principal pipelines.
- In the report, Paul Manna, the Hyman professor of government and director of the Public Policy Program at the College of William & Mary, recommends six policy "levers" state lawmakers can pull, noting that rather than embracing rigid standards, "approaches that embrace flexibility and provide local school districts with incentives to consider launching principal pipeline initiatives would be a better approach."
- Examples of actions policymakers can take include developing leader standards with differentiation between leadership roles, using those standards to inform oversight and licensing for principal preparation programs, and ensuring flexibility for local standards and evaluation policy processes.
The six policy levers Manna suggests state lawmakers pull to improve principal pipelines include:
- Job standards for school principals.
- Recruitment of aspiring leaders.
- Principal licensure.
- Preparation program approval and oversight.
- Professional development and evaluation of principals.
- Leader tracking systems.
"Just as it would be difficult, if not impossible, for local governments to secure the rights of way needed to construct major pipelines that transport water and gas across many different political jurisdictions, local districts alone will be challenged to see their principal pipelines produce a steady flow of excellent school leaders without the states drawing on their own particular areas of strength to help," Manna explains in a Wallace Foundation post about the report.
While state and local coordination on this front can be a heavy task, he continues, evidence suggests high-quality principals have the power to become transformative forces in their school communities, further supporting the need for comprehensive and aligned pipelines to leadership.
Previous Wallace Foundation research has found high-quality principals can result in nearly 3 months of additional student learning annually. And a 2020 study by Brendan Bartanen, an assistant professor in the Educational Administration & Human Resource Development Department at Texas A&M University, connected excellent school leadership to better attendance.
In 2017, the Wallace Foundation invested $48.5 million in launching a program, the University Principal Preparation Initiative, focused on working with seven higher education institutions partnered with districts in their states to redesign principal training models. The project was developed in response to high principal turnover, difficulties finding high-quality replacements and the perception new principals lacked skills needed to succeed.
One year in, the University Principal Preparation Initiative was considered a success, with a RAND Corp. evaluation suggesting it might "inspire and mobilize other principal preparation programs toward transformation."
A five-year, $75 million Principal Pipeline Initiative from the Wallace Foundation also saw success following its completion between 2011 and 2016, with a 2019 RAND Corp. study noting higher student achievement in both reading and math in the six large urban districts that participated across the country, compared to similar schools that were not part of the initiative.
Among the participating districts were Maryland's Prince George’s County Public Schools, where K-12 Dive followed the first year of Hillcrest Heights Elementary School Principal David Brown during the 2019-20 school year in our PreparED series.