Education Leadership: An Agenda for School Improvement

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 Education Leadership: An Agenda for School Improvement

Last fall, some 500 educators, policymakers, researchers and others gathered in Washington, D.C., to discuss the importance of principals and what could be done to strengthen and assist them. This report documents that conference, Education Leadership: An Agenda for School Improvement, offering ideas for how to boost school leadership and glimpses of how it’s being done around the country. Sponsored by The Wallace Foundation, the event gave attendees a chance to exchange information and hear first-hand from school superintendents, government officials and others on the cutting edge of education leadership reform. It also offered an opportunity to reflect on a milestone anniversary: Wallace’s decade of commitment to the idea that we won’t be able to improve schools until we get serious about improving leadership.

Wallace has carried out its work by employing an unusual, double-barreled approach to philanthropy. The foundation supports innovative projects; it also supports and disseminates rigorous research about those projects and other crucial issues so the field as a whole can learn and benefit. Numbers tell part of the story of how this has played out over the last 10 years: innovations tested in 26 states; publication of 70-plus reports; distribution of some $282 million in grants. Wallace-supported projects have delved into everything from how to improve coordination of state-district leadership policy to how to ease time constraints so principals can focus on instruction, not administration. Wallace-supported research has begun to answer such vital questions as what obstacles impede progress to strong leadership and what can be done to remove these barriers.

On the following pages, you’ll find an exploration of the many factors that go into shaping better principals and that our work has sought to respond to. The report opens with a commentary, adapted from her keynote address, by Wallace Foundation President M. Christine DeVita, who describes four big lessons learned and suggests possible new directions for education reform. Next, Richard Colvin, a respected education journalist, chronicles the conference proceedings, reporting on conversations among speakers spanning the range of education policy and practice: superintendents like Joel Klein, of New York City, and Michelle Rhee, who appeared along with the mayor of her city, Washington, D.C.’s Adrian Fenty; state officials such as Delaware Governor Jack Markell; and national leaders including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, whose conference comments close this report.

You’ll also hear from people on the front lines, including a central figure in The Principal Story, a Wallace-funded documentary, aired over PBS last fall, that followed two principals facing the challenge of educating children with many needs and few opportunities. We think you’ll agree that in her Q. and A., Kerry Purcell lends a human face to the tough – and oh, so important – job that Wallace has spent 10 years trying bolster, in hopes of a better education and brighter future for all of America’s children.

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