A 10-year look back at the new emphasis on principal leadership as key to turning around the nation’s worst schools, this report shares insights from Wallace’s 2009 national education leadership conference. Educators, researchers and policymakers explored what could be done at every level of public education and government—from the White House to the school building—to better support principals' success. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who gave the keynote address, talked about the futility of trying to reform a bad school without a great principal and the need to invest more than "peanuts" in training them. Wallace Foundation President M. Christine DeVita shared four big lessons from a decade of foundation work, including that better training results in better principals. Participants, including Superintendent Michelle Rhee of Washington, D.C., and New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, discussed principal accountability, the turnaround of failing schools, what some states are doing to bolster school leadership, strategies for reforming principal preparation and more.
Points of Interest
Research confirms that there are virtually no documented cases of troubled schools being turned around without a great leader. One reason is that a principal’s competence is the single most important determinant of whether a school can attract and retain high-quality teachers. The principal is also uniquely positioned to ensure that excellent teaching spreads beyond isolated classrooms.
District leadership matters. Only district leaders can create incentives to attract highly-qualified staff members, direct more resources to the highest-needs schools, organize central offices to support school goals and free up time for principals to focus on instruction.
To help close achievement gaps between black and white students in Montgomery County, Md., Superintendent Jerry Weast tripled spending on professional development for principals to help them become better instructional leaders.
About 2,000 high schools in the country produce half the nation’s dropouts. "As a country we haven’t been open and honest about that. We have to be willing to challenge the status quo and do some things very differently where things aren’t working for children." -- Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education.