Finally a Bill to Advocate for, and Research to Back It Up

By Kelly Pollitt Communicator May 2013, Volume 36, Issue 9

By Kelly Pollitt
May 2013, Volume 36, Issue 9

NAESP is excited that lawmakers are now starting to get it—schools improve when you build the capacity of principals. Last week, Sen. Al Franken (D-CA) and Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) reintroduced the School Principal Recruitment and Training Act of 2013. The bill would ensure that principal preparation programs include coursework on instructional leadership, organizational management, and the use of data to inform instruction. The bill also would provide differentiated training to principals on “competencies” (or standards consistent with NAESP’s gold-star publication Leading Learning Communities: Standards for What Principals Should Know and Be Able to Do), which are critical to improving student achievement. While the bill is a small piece of the larger debate on education reform right now, it is the most significant, common-sense solution for principals—and the research proves it.

The Research
NAESP’s policy brief, which was released earlier this year, provides a research framework policymakers can use to better support the nation’s principals. The brief is based on significant research, such as studies from the Universities of Minnesota and Toronto, that tells us that principals are second only to classroom instruction among all school-related factors that contribute to what students learn at school, and that they are essential for turning around troubled schools. The research now proves what practitioners have inherently know, and as Secretary Duncan has put it, “there’s no such thing as a high-performing school without a great principal.”

The proof continues. A 2007 report from Stanford University underscores that effective principals are also key to retaining good teachers. And, since sharing leadership and leading the school’s professional learning communities are essential skills for principals, they deeply influence how teachers and other staff members feel about going to work every day.

Other research confirming the connection between principal leadership and good teaching is included in The Wallace Foundation’s 2011 publication, The School Principal as Leader: Guiding Schools to Better Teaching and Learning. The report summarizes 12 years of field work and research to identify and elaborate upon five practices of effective principals: shape a vision of academic success for all students; create a climate hospitable to learning; cultivate leadership in others; improve instruction; and manage people, data, and processes to foster school improvement.

NAESP is pointing policymakers to the facts presented in this body of research, urging that they take the findings into account as a new authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is drafted. The latest word from the Hill is that both the House and the Senate seem to be, again, moving forward along the same path as previous years.

Principals must tell Congress the facts—the facts about the research and the solution to better support the job that shoulders enormous expectations and demands. This effort is especially important now that reforms such as Common Core Standards and new teacher evaluations systems roll out. They are no easy task, especially as principals continue to communicate with parents, set the right culture in a school building that will embrace the reforms appropriately with sufficient support for teachers and students, and put in place the structures and processes to enable the new practices to occur more easily.

We know that principals are not opposed to change—trying out new systems or supporting seismic shifts practices are what school leaders do, as long as they know it holds the promise of helping them improve teaching and learning.

Looking Forward
As Congress continues to grapple with the appropriate role for federal and state policies in education, principals will continue to do their jobs, despite the policy obstacles. But we insist that, hand-in-hand with policies that demand more of principals, there must be a sensible program to build their capacity, and that they have the authority and autonomy to do what’s needed to improve learning for students. The Wallace Foundation’s 2012 report, The Making of the Principal: Five Lessons in Leadership Training, makes it clear that any attempt at successful and meaningful school reform depends on having principals prepared for challenges in schools, and new complexities of the job demand demonstrated competencies in learning-centered standards of leadership. This means investing in top-notch principal preparation programs and robust professional development opportunities. The School Principal Recruitment and Training Act of 2013 is a step in the right direction.

NAESP will anchor many advocacy activities around the Principal Recruitment and Training Act of 2013 as the 113th Congress moves ahead. Tell Congress to fully adopt common-sense policies like this bill. To learn more about why it is an important policy solution for principals, and especially how to take action, visit the NAESP Legislative Action Center.

Kelly Pollitt is Associate Executive Director for Advocacy, Policy, and Special Projects at NAESP

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