In Georgia, education officials compared the state’s standards for principals with updated model standards and reworked Georgia’s standards as a result, addressing such areas as educational equity. In Florida, principal preparation programs now are required to work with school districts in matters ranging from selecting program candidates to providing enrollees with field experiences. And in California, the groundwork for rolling out a new administrator credentialing exam has included field testing of early assessment versions and training of principal preparation program faculty members in what the new assessment entails.
The efforts are just three examples of the range of ways in which seven states have sought in recent years to use their powers to try to improve the principalship, this RAND study finds. The states—California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia—are participants in Wallace’s University Principal Preparation Initiative, which centers on work by seven preparation programs to upgrade their offerings in partnership with districts and their states.
Drawing on previous research, the authors identify key levers that states can pull to try to improve the principalship: standards for the job; recruitment of aspirants to it; oversight of principal preparation programs; principal licensure; evaluation of principals; professional development for them; and development of “leader tracking systems” that capture longitudinal data about the characteristics and experiences of aspiring and current school leaders. The authors also find that states vary greatly in the pathways they have to take someone from aspiring school leader to fully fledged principal—and that these variations come into play when determining which levers to pull and how.
Across the seven states, researchers found agreement among representatives of state government, districts, nonprofits and other entities, that the standards lever was being effectively used to promote principal quality. Stakeholders in a majority of the states felt that the program approval and licensure levers were being used effectively. Meanwhile, recruitment was seen as an effective lever only in North Carolina, which provides significant financial support to both qualified aspiring principals and strong preparation programs. State leader tracking systems were not found in any of the seven states, although one state is interested in building a system and another is considering incentives for development of local tracking systems.
The report finds several challenges facing the use of state policy levers, including limited state resources, a reluctance to interfere with local control of education, and the low visibility of school leadership policy compared with other education issues, such as those concerning teachers. It also finds a number of ways to bring about change. One is making sure that all those who hold a stake in reform are brought together to craft a policy—a move that can, among other things, build buy-in for a measure. Another is piggy-backing school leadership reform on related initiatives, such as improving teacher preparation programs. Finally, the researchers emphasize that levers can influence one another; a change in job standards, for example, could lead to changes in preparation program curricula, licensing requirements, and other areas. Thus, the authors urge “careful consideration of the mix of policy options available and the connections among the levers.”