The principal is the best-positioned person in every school to ensure successive years of quality teaching for each child. Exemplary principals establish a climate that values effective teaching and ensures that the most promising teachers are selected, all teachers are developed and recognized, and those teachers who are not doing well by children are released. It is the combination of highly effective teaching with highly capable school leadership that will change outcomes for children in our schools—not one or the other but both.
In order to ensure that our schools are led by effective principals, the field of principal preparation needs to be much more systematic and rigorous. A 2006 study by Columbia University’s Teachers College President, Arthur Levine, concluded that the quality of most preparation programs for principals, superintendents and other education leaders was “very disappointing,” especially at a time when high-quality educational leadership is critically needed for schools across the country.
Traditionally, the processes and standards by which many principal preparation programs screen, select, and graduate candidates often lack rigor and do not adequately equip principals for the multi-faceted role of effective instructional leader. Too many of them admit students based on educational background information alone, without probing for important qualities such as resiliency, results orientation, belief in all children’s ability to learn, commitment, and integrity required to do the job well. Once enrolled, the focus is often on earning a credential through a series of courses without having deep school-based experiences that allow new leaders to practice, make mistakes, and learn firsthand what it takes to run a school. And, most programs do not provide the kinds of transitional supports needed to ensure that their newly minted principals succeed and stay on the job. Finally, most programs do not hold themselves accountable for the on-the-job performance of their graduates.
1. Leithwood, K., Louis, K. S., Anderson, S., and Wahlstrom, K. (2004) Review of Research: How Leadership Influences Student Learning. Wallace Foundation; and Marzano, R. J., Waters, T., and McNulty, B. (2005) School Leadership That Works: From Research to Results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.