We know that the principalship is important, but only in recent years have we been able to quantify just how important. More than a decade of rigorous research by the Wallace Foundation has confirmed that the quality of leadership is second only to the quality of instruction in school-based factors that affect student learning. But do not let that “second” label lead you to believe schools can do without effective leadership. The Wallace Foundation was unable to identify a single instance of a school turning around to become high achieving without a strong, skillful leader. To further quantify the principal’s impact, a research project led by Robert Marzano calculated that a full 25 percent of schoolwide achievement can be attributed to how the principal chooses to dedicate time, what the principal emphasizes, and the culture the principal fosters.
Unfortunately, support for the principal has not grown along with our understanding of the role’s importance. Like most professionals, principals need opportunities to update their knowledge, improve their skills, and connect with colleagues in professional learning networks. These activities take time. And money. Such activities are perfectly appropriate uses for the $2.5 billion allocated under Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
But the funds are not used that way. The federal government has expanded the list of “allowable uses” so broadly that principal professional development does not even register on the radar. Schools are forced to compete for those funds with other important priorities like class-size reduction, teacher recruitment, teacher development, and others. As a result, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education, of the 44 percent of funds used for professional development, a meager 4 percent was dedicated to principal development.
That low level of funding would matter far less if we were not in the midst of a crisis in the principalship. As high stakes accountability and pressures mount, it is becoming more difficult to find well-prepared professionals who are willing to occupy the principal’s chair. And when we find them, it is even more difficult to keep them. It takes five to seven years for a principal to lead a culture change that will really last in a school. Yet, only 27 percent of principals felt supported enough to remain in place for year five. That means most high school principals are not in place to see their freshman class graduate. More importantly, only one in four schools has an opportunity to see a change initiative through to completion. A new leader introduces new priorities and school communities pay the price of the jerky stop-and-start of school improvement plans.
Fortunately, we can now begin to change that condition. While Congress discusses the next version of ESEA, NASSP along with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the American Federation of School Administrators have proposed that Congress require 10 percent of Title II funds be dedicated to principals’ ongoing development.
To raise awareness of the need for more professional development for principals, we have launched the #PD4Principals campaign. We invite everyone who is concerned about the issue to tweet with the hashtag and a link back to this blog entry (www.nassp.org/title2). To make the tweet more personal, take a picture with one of our campaign posters and tweet the picture to members of Congress:
- “Investing in the principal = investing in student success.”
- “School leaders need support, too.”
- “25% of student achievement results from my leadership.”
- “You can’t have a great school without a great leader.”
We all know how important the principalship is. Let’s work to make sure our principals are the best they can be.