Since about 2000, The Wallace Foundation has supported much research and professional practice to enhance the quality of the nation’s principals. This report draws on insights for that work and the work of others, focusing on the nexus between local and state venues. It asks: What would a state’s policy environment look like if it were to support local school districts in developing effective approaches to strengthening the principal corps? The report was the first in an occasional Wallace series titled Considerations, in which Wallace invites leading scholars to share insights based on research and theory on issues of importance to the fields that the foundation supports.
In the United States, developing and supporting school principals is left largely to school districts. But does that mean that states should be bystanders to local efforts? Hardly.
That’s the premise of this report by political scientist Paul Manna.
Specifically, he says, states can help districts build what are known as “comprehensive, aligned principal pipelines.” Research has found that these pipelines can produce a corps of high-quality principals. They are comprehensive because their components span the range of actions school districts can take to develop school leaders. They are aligned because these parts reinforce one another. The parts are:
Manna identifies policy levers or for improving each principal pipeline component. For example, states can improve principal standards by going beyond general descriptions of school leadership. Instead, they can define the skills and knowledge effective principals need. Revised principal standards can then guide other state efforts to improve pipeline components.
The report also provides lists of questions that state and local leaders can ask to guide their work. For example: Are state standards for educational leaders specific enough to help guide practice? Are the standards also flexible enough so local school districts can adapt them to meet their particular needs for principals?
Specifically, states can bolster the effectiveness of principal pipelines when they use their oversight authority to approve degree programs likely to position principals to succeed on the job.
The report also suggests some creative possibilities for state action. One is using licensure renewal as a means of cultivating principal mentors. Typically principals take random courses to meet credit requirements, the report says. Instead, interested veteran principals could pursue training to coach and mentor new principals.
States working with districts and external partners have the power to greatly improve the quality of local principal pipelines. This report provides a roadmap for using policy levers to improve principal effectiveness statewide.
This publication was the first in an occasional Wallace series titled Considerations, in which The Wallace Foundation invites leading scholars to share insights based on research and theory on issues of importance to the fields that the foundation supports.