A new synthesis of research on school principals by CALDER (pdf) is a timely reminder of the importance of good leadership. A few key takeaways: How important is the quality of a principal? Very. Principals affect a range of outcomes, including teacher satisfaction, parents’ perceptions of school quality, and the academic performance of the school. How to ensure a good principal? A principal’s effectiveness depends on their level of experience, their sense of efficacy on certain tasks, and their use of time to manage the range of responsibilities they face. Where are the good principals? Not in poor or poor-performing schools, at least not as a rule. Principals that demonstrate the skills and experience related to effectiveness are less likely to be working in these schools. These points—how much school leaders matter, what makes them good and how fairly they are (not) distributed—are not surprising (and mirror the challenges of attracting, developing and distributing good teachers). But the implications have never been greater, as every single one of the schools slated for turnaround will require a strong leader. Strong cohorts of teachers will make a big difference (see for example the t3 project of TeachPlus and CTQ’s New Millennium initiative), but there’s no way around the leader challenge. In the long run, we’re likely to see more principal academies and New Leaders for New Schools spin-offs, and no doubt there will be new attention to the preparation of leaders (here, as with teacher preparation, the focus should be on creating training programs that work, not on debating traditional versus alternative pathways). But in the meantime, who will lead these turnarounds? Related event hosted by Aspen and Education Resource Strategies (and paper, pdf, on Charlotte-Mecklenberg) about how “strategic staffing” approaches can help districts with turnaround efforts. Figuring out how to maximize resources– people, time and money—is the core of ERS’s work and absolutely key to getting states, districts, and schools to innovate in ways that work and last.
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