New Wallace Foundation Studies Reveal Increasing Supply of Principals is Not Enough

May 30, 2003

New Wallace Foundation Studies Reveal Increasing Supply of Principals is Not Enough

Washington, D.C., May 30, 2003 – Never before has the bar been set so high for America’s public schools – and never before has it been more challenging to ensure that principals in all of the nation’s 84,000 schools can be effective in raising student achievement. Despite widespread coverage of the “principal shortage,” a new set of studies, released today by The Wallace Foundation at a briefing in Washington, D.C., provides evidence that progress will only be made by focusing more on hiring practices, working conditions and incentives.

“The research findings point out that increasing the supply of certified principal candidates is not enough,” said M. Christine DeVita, president of The Wallace Foundation. “We need to create the right environment for success if we expect principals to meet tough new state and federal mandates and to effectively raise student achievement. Creating the right environment requires going beyond the pipeline, and examining the incentive structures, working conditions and job descriptions in order to attract and keep high-quality leaders in the schools that need them most.”

“What these studies make clear,” added Richard Laine, director of education programs at The Wallace Foundation, “is that the ‘shortage’ issue is actually a ‘conditions’ issue. We need to balance our efforts of attracting and strengthening education leaders with changing the conditions and systems in which they work. State-level policies, district hiring practices and resource allocations need to be aligned so that they support efforts to attract effective leaders at the district and school levels.”

To get a more accurate picture of the current labor market for principals and to aid in the search for productive policies and practices, The Wallace Foundation commissioned three related research projects. The research shows that while there is no nationwide shortage of certified principal candidates, some districts and schools are having great difficulty attracting the candidates they need. The core challenge nationwide – attracting and retaining principals who can improve student performance – extends well beyond the issue of adding more candidates to the pipeline.

The three studies include an analysis by RAND Education, based on the current supply and career paths of school administrators nationwide. Results show that there is no statistical evidence of a national shortage of certified candidates for the job of principal. The Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, drawing on material from 83 school districts, examined the dimensions and implications of the labor market for principals. Findings reveal that districts and schools perceived as having the most challenging working conditions, large concentrations of impoverished or minority students, lower per-pupil expenditures, and lower salaries find it hardest to attract principal candidates.

The third study, conducted by a research team at the University at Albany (SUNY) and based on 30 years of statewide data, analyzed the attributes and career paths of New York State principals and the implications for policy. Researchers determined that hiring practices, common search criteria, and states’ policies are compounding the problems of districts in attracting enough principal candidates capable of living up to heightened expectations for academic performance. At today’s event in Washington, D.C., The Wallace Foundation will introduce the research reports and a related policy brief. Panelists include authors of the three studies: Susan M. Gates, economist at RAND; James Wyckoff, associate professor in the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University at Albany, State University of New York; and Marguerite Roza, senior research fellow at the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington. Other panelists are Michael D. Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools, and Daniel A. Domenech, superintendent of the Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools. The forum is cosponsored with the American Youth Policy Forum.

The Wallace policy brief, Beyond the Pipeline: Getting the Principals We Need, Where They Are Needed Most, is a synthesis of findings from the three research reports. As the research suggests, potential improvements include a new balance of policies and practices aimed at adjusting incentives and working conditions to enable non-competitive districts and schools to attract the leader candidates they need; bringing local recruitment and hiring practices in line with heightened expectations for principal performance; and redefining the job itself to allow principals to concentrate on student learning.

The brief is available free of charge from The Wallace Foundation, Two Park Avenue, 23rd Floor, New York, NY 10016. Copies may be ordered online or downloaded at

To order a copy of the research reports:
The Attributes and Career Paths of Principals: Implications for Improving Policy, by Frank C. Papa, Jr., Hamilton Lankford, and James Wyckoff, University at Albany, SUNY, 2002
Available in print from James Wyckoff, Center for Policy Research, Milne 300, University at Albany, 135 Western Avenue, Albany, NY 12222.

A Matter of Definition: Is There Truly A Shortage of School Principals? By Marguerite Roza, Center on Reinventing Public Education, Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington, 2003
Available in print for $10, or download for free, from the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

Who is Leading Our Schools?: An Overview of School Administrators and Their Careers, by Susan M. Gates, Jeanne Ringel, and Lucrecia Santibanez, RAND Education, 2003
Available in print for $28.50 from RAND Distribution Services, (310) 451-7002; fax (310) 451-6915;; or download for free.

The Wallace Foundation, formerly the Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds, enables institutions to expand learning and enrichment opportunities for all people.