Strong Leaders Strong Schools: 2009 School Leadership Laws

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Strong Leaders Strong Schools: 2009 School Leadership Laws


Author Sara Shelton thanks NCSL staff Julie Davis Bell, education group director, for her contribution to this project, Leann Stelzer for editing and coordinating art and production, and the numerous talented and dedicated legislative staff who reviewed the publication for accuracy.

The author gratefully acknowledges The Wallace Foundation for its generous support and its commitment to helping states and districts understand and effectively respond to key and unanswered challenges of school leadership.


Leadership matters. A lot. A growing body of evidence confirms that teachers and leaders are the two most significant school-based factors in improving student achievement, particularly in lowperforming schools. Landmark research commissioned by The Wallace Foundation in 2004 also suggests that there are virtually no documented instances of schools being turned around without strong leaders. Leadership undoubtedly is a catalyst to school improvement.

Effective leadership is the main reason teachers are attracted to and remain in the most challenged schools. Teacher working conditions surveys continue to find supportive school leadership as one of the most—if not the most—important factor in retaining good teachers, often trumping financial incentives. Principals are uniquely positioned in their schools to ensure that excellent teaching and learning spread beyond single classrooms. Investing in school leadership is a cost-effective way to improve teaching and learning, and targeted investments in principals can significantly affect student achievement.

The focus on effective school leadership has elevated considerably since the U.S. Department of Education has made improving educator effectiveness the single most important eligibility criterion for states that are seeking grants under the federal Race to the Top program. This program, a $4.35 billion fund created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, is the largest competitive education grant program in history. To increase the chances of winning federal funds to reform education, states are reexamining their teacher and leader policies.

As states face historic budget gaps and acute state and federal accountability requirements to dramatically increase student achievement, the need to invest in cost-effective ways to improve teaching and learning is imperative. More than ever, states need to develop and implement comprehensive strategies to ensure today’s leaders have the skills, knowledge and support required to guide the transformation of schools and raise achievement for all students.

Lawmakers have responded by crafting legislation and policy to recruit, prepare, support and retain effective school leaders. At least 23 states enacted 43 laws to support school leader initiatives during the 2009 legislative sessions. The laws address:

  • Roles, responsibilities and authority;
  • Preparation programs;
  • Licensure and certification;
  • Professional development;
  • Evaluation;
  • Compensation and incentives;
  • Data systems; and
  • Governance structures.

This publication is the third annual report featuring state legislative efforts to support school leaders and provides a snapshot of legislation. It is not intended to focus on all areas of state-level activity, including the role of the governor, chief state school officer or state and local school boards. Included again this year are examples of fiscal appropriations to provide a more complete picture of how states are strengthening school leader initiatives.



The role of the school leader has progressively shifted from building manager to instructional leader. Effective school leaders create vision, develop and support teachers and school staff, and strengthen school culture. They also share or distribute leadership roles among teachers and other school staff, particularly to enhance instructional leadership capacity. As a result, a number of states are creating career pathways for teachers, including formally recognizing teacher leader positions. As school leaders strive to meet state and federal accountability requirements to dramatically increase student academic success, they also are seeking sufficient autonomy over budgets, curriculum and staffing; access to timely and useful data; meaningful professional development and evaluations systems; and adequate resources.

Research confirms that a state can play an important role in recruiting, preparing and retaining effective school leaders. Policymakers can ensure that principals have sufficient autonomy, timely and useful data and adequate resources to improve teaching and learning. States also can establish career pathways for teachers who want to take on additional leadership responsibilities or who aspire to be assistant principals and principals.

Montana and West Virginia passed legislation in 2009 clarifying the roles, responsibilities and authority of principals, superintendents and schools. Seven states passed legislation in this area in 2008 and 2007.

  • Montana clarified the ability of school districts to share school superintendents and principals.
  • West Virginia created a process for designating schools as innovation zones. This ensures that, in exchange for greater accountability, schools approved by the State Board of Education have greater control over curriculum, personnel, organization of the school day and year, technology use, and delivery of educational services to improve student learning.


Better prepared school leaders are critical to achieving improved instruction and increased student achievement. Unfortunately, preparation programs have long been criticized for not adequately preparing principals for today’s complex school environment. Many training programs, be they university, state or district-based, do not adequately prepare principals who can lead improvement in teaching and learning. Many programs often fail to respond to local needs, provide adequate follow-up support, and track graduates into the workplace to continually improve their program. In response, several colleges and universities are redesigning their administrator preparation programs to:

  • Reflect statewide leadership standards;
  • Incorporate effective leadership practices and real-world problems;
  • Emphasize instructional leadership;
  • Integrate theory and practice;
  • Provide authentic school-based experiences (through internships or medical-based residency programs);
  • Evaluate students’ mastery of knowledge and skills;
  • Evaluate program effectiveness; and
  • Create partnerships between universities and school districts.

At the same time, a growing number of states and large districts are attempting to address these challenges by creating new preparation programs. Such alternative programs as statewide leadership academies or district-led programs often create collaborative partnerships with state agencies, professional associations and institutions of higher education. They make available alternatives that are responsive to district leadership needs and create competition for university-based leadership preparation programs.

States can play a key role by adopting rigorous leadership standards to guide all aspects of leader development and aligning those standards to preparation, licensure, mentoring and induction, professional development and evaluation. States also can leverage policy to set and approve preparation program accreditation, use evaluations to improve preparation programs, provide ongoing training and support, and create alternative preparation programs.

Eleven states passed legislation in 2009, including appropriations, to support preparation of effective school leaders. Ten states passed legislation in this area in 2008, and four did so in 2007.

  • Arkansas appropriated $900,000 to the Department of Education for FY 2009-2010 for the Arkansas Leadership Academy School Support Program to provide support to schools or school districts designated in school improvement status and to provide for general operations of the Arkansas Leadership Academy.
  • Arkansas appropriated $500,000 to the Arkansas Leadership Academy for the Master Principal Program, a voluntary, three-phase program that provides bonuses to practicing principals who achieve master principal designation.
  • Arkansas also passed legislation that requires administrator education programs to include instruction on the importance of parental involvement, successful strategies for encouraging parents to be partners in their child’s education, and the relationship between cultural diversity and parental involvement.
  • California appropriated $3.108 million from Title II, Part A, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act for the Administrator Training Program.
  • Colorado appropriated $75,000 for the School Leadership Academy, which was established by the General Assembly during the 2008 legislative session.
  • Florida appropriated $205,530 for the Florida Association of District School Superintendents Training and $42,202 for the Principal of the Year.
  • Illinois appropriated $135 million from Title II, Part A, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act for teacher and principal training.
  • Massachusetts appropriated $50,637,588 from Title II, Part A, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act for teacher and principal training and recruiting.
  • Nevada appropriated $100,000 in fiscal years 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 for additional training opportunities for educational administrators.
  • New Mexico appropriated $200,000 for development of a statewide instructional leadership institute.
  • Ohio passed legislation to develop new metrics for educator preparation programs that are aligned with the State Board of Education’s standards and qualifications for educator licensure. It also provides for inspections of institution of higher education preparation programs.
  • Ohio also requires the Educator Standards Board to investigate and make recommendations for creation, expansion and implementation of school district and building leadership academies.
  • Texas clarified that participation in the school leadership pilot program is targeted to a principal who was employed at a campus rated academically unacceptable in the preceding school year. It removed a provision that previously required a principal’s replacement to participate in and complete the program.
  • Washington appropriated $2.9 million through FY 2011 for development of a leadership academy for school principals and administrators.
  • Washington also appropriated $1.06 million through FY 2011 for the leadership internship program for superintendents, principals and program administrators and $105,754,000 from Title II, Part A, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act for preparing, training and recruiting high-quality teachers and principals.


The state’s authority to license and certify school leader candidates can be an important policy requirement to ensure schools have effective leaders. States regulate who can become a principal and signal the qualifications the community can expect in its school leaders. Licensure requirements for school leaders historically have focused on the number of courses taken in an administration preparation program and classroom experience, rather than on mastery of knowledge and skills.

Increasingly, states are moving toward performance- based licensure systems by creating high standards and requiring administrators to demonstrate knowledge and skills in order to receive entry-level and advanced licensure.


At least one-quarter of the states have implemented a two- or three-tiered licensure system for school leaders. These systems require candidates to go above and beyond completion of an approved administrator preparation program and passing a certification exam. They also ensure that both entry-level and experienced principals continually demonstrate their ability to improve instruction and student learning. Candidates for licensure in these states are asked to provide assurances that they have demonstrated the skills and behaviors to improve classroom practices and student learning. Tiered certification requirements vary by state, but can include a combination of graduate course work, education leadership experience, an internship or clinical experience, participation in a meaningful mentoring and induction program, professional portfolio documents, and evidence of improved student achievement.

More than a quarter of the states also have created alternative pathways to certify school leaders. One strategy to address job shortages is high-needs schools is to recruit and train people from outside the education field. It has become more common to award alternative licensures to those who qualify. Although alternative licensure for principals is becoming more prevalent, a number of states still require aspiring principals to be experienced, fully certified teachers. Alternative certification for superintendents is more common.

Although licensure is an important state policy tool to strengthen leadership, it cannot operate in isolation. Licensure must be coordinated with other aspects of leadership development, including standards, preparation, internship, mentoring and induction, ongoing professional development and evaluation.

The state role in creating licensure and certification requirements for school leaders is paramount. States can determine licensure and certification qualifications, including development of advanced licensure systems that focus on mastery of skills and knowledge and evidence of improved student achievement. States also can create alternative licensure programs. All can be aligned with the state’s leadership standards.

Five states passed legislation in 2009 to modify, align and enhance licensure and certification for school leaders. Two states passed legislation in this area in 2008 and 2007.

  • Arkansas passed legislation to increase the opportunity for school counselors to become school administrators.
  • Delaware aligned the standards for denying and revoking licenses of private school teachers, specialists and administrators with those for public school teachers, specialists and administrators.
  • Illinois allows for a chief school business official endorsement if, among other conditions, the certificate holder has two years of university-approved practical experience (as an alternative to requiring two years of administrative experience in school business management).
  • Illinois also requires that administrative certificates be issued to those who have satisfactorily passed a test of basic skills, an assessment of professional teaching, and a test of subject matter knowledge (instead of only a test of basic skills and subject matter knowledge). Anyone who passed another state’s test of basic skills as a condition of certification or of admission to a teacher preparation program is not required to pass the Illinois test of basic skills. The law removes a provision that anyone who holds a valid and comparable outof- state certificate is not required to take the tests of basic skills and subject matter knowledge. It removes a requirement that a provisional certificate holder pass the examinations set forth by the State Board of Education within nine months. It also removes a provision that failure to pass the tests of basic skills and subject matter knowledge would result in cancellation of a provisional certificate.
  • New Mexico passed legislation reducing from seven to six the number of teaching years required and adds the requirement of a post-baccalaureate degree or certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards for eligibility for a school administrator license. The state also created a four-year, nonrenewable provisional license for school principals in districts where there is a shortage of qualified candidates.
  • Ohio requires the State Board of Education to align its standards and qualifications for a principal license with the standards for principals adopted by the state board, based on recommendations of the Educator Standards Board.



Like most aspiring professionals, principal candidates can greatly benefit from meaningful mentoring and induction. Mentoring and induction can be integral components of principal preparation programs that are designed to improve school and student performance and, in some states, can be linked to licensure requirements.

According to the Southern Regional Education Board, the components of effective mentoring include high standards and expectations for performance; commitment of university and district partners; problem-focused learning; clearly defined responsibilities for mentors, university supervisors and district internship program coordinators; and meaningful performance evaluations. In addition, mentors should receive high-quality training to successfully support new and aspiring principals. Approximately half the states have created mentoring and induction programs to support new principals and administrators during their first few years on the job.

States can ensure that high-quality mentoring and induction are essential components of advanced licensure systems and on-the-job training, and can provide funding for such programs.

Six states passed legislation in 2009, including appropriations, to support mentoring and induction for principals and superintendents. Two states passed legislation in this area in 2008, added to the three that did so in 2007.

  • Alabama requires newly elected or appointed superintendents to participate in the School Superintendents of Alabama’s Mentor and Executive Coaching Program, a free, year-long training program for new superintendents serving in member school systems.
  • Illinois provides that principals hired on or after July 1, 2008, can participate in a second year of mentoring through the new principal mentoring program.
  • Illinois also passed legislation requiring that superintendents serving on or after July 1, 2009, who have not previously served as a school district superintendent in the state, to participate in a new superintendent mentoring program for their first two school years as superintendents.
  • Iowa appropriated $225,733 to the Department of Education for FY 2009-2010 to administer the Beginning Administrator Mentoring and Induction Program.
  • Utah requires mentors to have or receive training in order to mentor provisional educators and provides that mentors may receive compensation for their services.
  • Washington appropriated funds for a principal support program, which includes a mentorship for new principals and principal candidates to help them build the skills identified as critical to the success of their professional growth plans.
  • West Virginia allocated $79,250 for principal mentorship.


Professional development has been at the core of policy discussions on ensuring that school leaders possess a broad range of knowledge and skills to be effective in today’s increasingly complex school environment. Continuous high-quality professional development and support strengthens a school leader’s capacity to improve instruction and creates a school culture of shared leadership, collaboration and high expectations for all students. Research suggests that effective professional development should be ongoing, embedded in practice, linked to school reform initiatives and problem-based. It also should be linked to rigorous leadership standards. High-quality professional development should be available continually to strengthen leaders’ capacities to improve curriculum and instruction and create a highly effective organization. Special attention should be given to building strong leadership teams, including teachers, to support continuous improvement and address school-specific challenges, particularly in the lowest performing schools. Roughly half the states have minimum professional development requirements for administrator license renewal. Professional development for advanced or renewed licensure can be an important component to advance the knowledge and skills of principals in leading school improvement.

States can ensure that leaders at all levels (teacher leaders, principals and superintendents) receive continuous, high-quality, standards-based professional development, especially in low-performing schools and provide funding for these programs.

Six states passed legislation in 2009 to provide professional development training to principals, superintendents and school board members. Seven states passed legislation in this area in 2008, added to the five that did so in 2007.

  • Alabama provides professional development training for school superintendents and requires that the training be aligned with rigorous standards and school improvement goals.
  • Alabama also passed legislation to require local school boards to develop policies for orientation and ongoing training for board members.
  • Arkansas requires professional development for school superintendents, assistant superintendents, principals and assistant principals in schools with grades seven through 12 on higher education awareness issues, specifically eligibility requirements and the process for applying for state-supported student financial assistance.
  • Oklahoma passed legislation to allow one-year grants for professional development in elementary school reading for teachers, principals and instructional leaders in public schools that serve students in grades kindergarten through three.
  • Virginia appropriated $1 million over two years for a Center for Teacher Quality and Educational Leadership at Old Dominion University for intensive, research-based professional development for teachers and administrators in low-performing schools.
  • Washington appropriated $3.158 million through FY 2011 for the Washington state Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform (LASER) regional partnership activities coordinated at the Pacific Science Center, including teacher and principal professional development.
  • West Virginia established a review committee to approve training and training organizations for county school board members. The committee will also determine whether county school board members have satisfied annual training requirements.


States continue to strengthen their efforts to evaluate school leaders and are using assessments to improve preparation programs, licensure and certification, mentoring and induction, and ongoing professional development and support. Quality leadership assessments that are valid and reliable can help align leadership policies, steer preparation program design and delivery, and provide accountability data. Consequently, leadership evaluation should not be viewed as single-purpose, but, rather, as a continuous process for gathering data to improve teaching and learning.

Robust data systems allow states to connect teachers and principals to student data and use that data as a factor in education evaluations. Evaluation criteria, aligned with rigorous standards, should clearly differentiate between effective and ineffective principals. States could consider using multiple indicators to evaluate principals, including performance-based measures and measures of annual individual student growth and other student data. This could include improved high school graduation, college readiness, matriculation and attendance rates. In addition, states can use other measures to evaluate principals, such as teacher effectiveness, retention and transfer rates and working conditions surveys. A well-designed evaluation system:

  • Provides feedback to a school leaders and tracks individual progress toward mastering the knowledge and skills needed to improve student learning and school performance;
  • Identifies professional development and supports customized to the needs of individual leaders and schools;
  • Provides feedback to licensing institutions on graduates’ performance for continuous improvement of preparation programs; and
  • Advances career development and helps individuals meet the requirements for professional- level licensure.

States can require evaluation of school leaders. They also can require evaluation for successful completion of preparation programs, entry-level and advanced licensure, mentoring and induction programs and professional development, all aligned to statewide leadership standards. Evaluation data can be used for educator development and accountability.

Five states passed legislation in 2009 to assess leader effectiveness. Two states passed legislation in this area in 2008, added to the three that did so in 2007.

  • Arkansas passed legislation requiring the newly established School Leadership Coordinating Council to, among other things, help develop model evaluation tools to evaluate school administrators.
  • Colorado’s newly created Educator Identifier System and Pilot Program, which assigns unique identifiers to teachers and principals, will be used for many purposes related to training and distribution of teachers and principals. Uses include gathering information about the number and percent of teachers and principals rated at each performance level in each local education agency’s teacher and principal evaluation system.
  • Illinois, though its P-20 Longitudinal Education Data System Act, established a system to evaluate teacher and administrator preparation programs using student academic growth as one component.
  • Ohio requires the Education Standards Board to develop model teacher and principal evaluation instruments and processes based on the board’s standards for teachers and principals.
  • Utah requires a local school board to develop an educator evaluation program consistent with criteria specified by the State Board of Education; to support, monitor and maintain the educator evaluation program; and to provide ongoing evaluation of career educators.


Across the country, states are experiencing a shortage of effective school leaders. Contributing factors include an anticipated wave of retirements during the next several years, inadequate benefits and compensation, cumbersome policy and regulatory barriers, and increasingly demanding job responsibilities that hold leaders accountable for the success of all students. The need for qualified leaders is even greater in the nation’s hardestto- staff schools. To attract and retain exemplary school leaders, particularly those serving in the lowest-performing schools, states are reexamining how they compensate leaders.

States can provide compensation and incentives to recruit and retain qualified leaders, particularly in low-performing schools. Six states passed legislation during 2009 to help recruit and retain effective school leaders. Five states passed legislation in this area in 2008, added to three that did so in 2007.

  • Arkansas appropriated $90,000 for bonuses for master principals who are serving as fulltime principals in Arkansas public schools. Master principals receive $9,000 annually for five years, while those serving full-time in “high needs” schools receive $25,000 annually for five years.
  • Through its newly created Educator Identifier System and Pilot Program, which assigns unique identifiers to teachers and principals, Colorado will use data to recognize, reward and develop the careers of individual educators.
  • Georgia will compensate educators for their leadership degree only if they are serving in a leadership position.
  • Maine legislation encourages alternative compensation models for teachers and school administrators.
  • North Carolina ensures that teachers who become assistant principals will be paid at least as much as they were earning as teachers.
  • Washington allows national board certified teachers who become public school principals to continue to receive a $5,000 annual bonus for as long as they are principals and maintain the national board certification.
  • Washington also created a working group to recommend details of an enhanced salary allocation model that aligns educator certification with the state’s compensation system.


Longitudinal data systems are a basic requirement for improving teaching and learning and ensuring effective accountability. According to the Data Quality Campaign, states have made remarkable progress in developing longitudinal data systems that can follow student progress over time, from early childhood through 12th grade and into postsecondary education. The campaign also suggests that states are just beginning to take the necessary steps to use longitudinal data for continuous improvement. Data systems that can provide timely, valid and relevant data to inform decisions that are critical to both policymakers and educators. Data can be used to foster school improvement strategies, allocate resources, identify and share best practices, and hold schools and districts accountable for student learning.

Collecting and using data is critical to improving teaching and learning. A growing number of states require collection of teacher and leader data in their statewide longitudinal data systems to inform decision making. States are beginning to track career paths of school leaders from preparation to employment to study the effectiveness of preparation, mentoring and induction and professional development programs. States also are collecting data to track supply and demand and project retirements and turnover. Some are also linking principal data to student, teacher, school and district performance to evaluate the effectiveness of school leaders.

States can require that their longitudinal data systems collect a wide range of teacher and principal data to improve preparation, licensure, mentoring and induction and professional development programs, with the ultimate goal of improving academic success for all students.

Four states enacted comprehensive legislation in 2009 to provide a statewide framework for collecting and analyzing data to improve teaching and learning.

  • Arkansas passed legislation that requires the newly established School Leadership Coordinating Council to devise a system of gathering data that includes input from practitioners, educational and community leaders, university leadership and faculty, and other interested parties.
  • Colorado created the Educator Identifier System and Pilot Program to assign unique identifiers to teachers and principals. The system will be used to provide information for studying the teacher gap; studying educator training programs, professional development programs, and mobility and retention issues; improving teaching and learning, including the use of data to recognize, reward and develop the careers of individual educators; using data gleaned from the system to develop the state’s longitudinal data system to include an educator identifier system that can match educators with students, and gather information about teacher and principal evaluations.
  • Illinois created the P-20 Longitudinal Education Data System Act to establish and maintain a longitudinal data system linking early learning, elementary and secondary school student unit records with those of institutions of higher learning. It establishes a system to evaluate teacher and administrator preparation programs using student academic growth as one component of evaluation. It requires a teacher and administrator identifier system that can match students to early learning, elementary and secondary teachers and elementary and secondary administrators.
  • New Mexico legislation includes school administrators in the uniform statewide educator accountability reporting system. It requires school administrator candidates to be tracked from pre-entry to post-graduation. It also requires that data on administrator preparation programs be included in the educator accountability reporting system and the annual statewide educator accountability report.


As policymakers examine ways to recruit, prepare, support and retain effective school leaders, they also are examining the governance structures of K-12 schools to determine how to most effectively improve teaching and learning. In many states, local school boards and superintendents make most decisions for the students within their system. Due to increases in the level of state education funding and higher academic expectations, states are holding schools and school districts more accountable for their students’ progress.

Arkansas and New York passed legislation in 2009 related to governance structures. Five states passed legislation in this area in 2008, added to seven that did so in 2007.

  • Arkansas established a 13-member School Leadership Coordinating Council to serve as the central body for organizing a state leadership development system. The law recommends coordinating all aspects of leadership development based on leadership standards; devises a system of data gathering; enhances school leadership and support efforts; and helps develop model evaluation tools for school administrators.
  • New York legislation extends mayoral control over New York City schools until June 2015.

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