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Wallace Report Advises State Policy Makers on Strengthening Principal Preparation

On November 3, the Wallace Foundation hosted a policy briefing in Washington, DC, to highlight findings from its recently released report, Developing Excellent School Principals to Advance Teaching and Learning: Considerations for State Policy. Commissioned by the Wallace Foundation and authored by Paul Manna, professor of government and policy at the College of William and Mary (VA), the report addresses the question What can state policy makers do to help ensure that schools have excellent principals who advance teaching and learning in their schools?

During the briefing, Manna presented findings from the report with a focus on the changing role of the principalship, the principal’s position as multiplier of effective teaching and leadership practice, and the impact of state policy making on principal effectiveness. Wallace Foundation President Will Miller underscored these perspectives in his introductory remarks: “There’s growing recognition that principals should no longer mainly be thought of as managers of buildings and bus schedules,” he said. “Indeed, effective leaders are their schools’ chief improvement officers—strengthening instruction, building a culture of high achievement, and supporting teachers and other educators to boost student performance.”

In spite of the pivotal role that principals play in improving student learning, as Manna noted, policies related to principal effectiveness have received less attention on state agendas than other considerations, such as teacher effectiveness. When school leadership is addressed through legislation or regulation, the focus is often on the development of leadership capabilities broadly across school communities. Such a focus means that policies tend to overlook the specific, day-to-day demands of the principalship, thus missing opportunities to empower and support principals as they strive to serve an ever-expanding scope of expectation.

“Policy is what people do in the classroom and in the school every single day,” Manna explained, urging officials to “think about those ground-level realities” when writing policy.

The report provides a framework to guide state leaders in policy making with the goal of more effectively connecting policy to practice. It draws upon multiple resources, including surveys, interviews, news coverage, and data analysis, to address three areas: (1) principals and the state policy agenda, (2) the use of state policy levers to cultivate and support excellent principals , and (3) the assessment of state and local contexts.

These considerations provide an opportunity to examine the principalship through the intersection of local, state, and federal perspectives. Within that context, the report also offers examples of innovative principal preparation practice now underway in several states, such as Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Minnesota, as potential models that could be adapted in local contexts. By highlighting the potential impact of state policy making on the principalship, the report aims to serve as a practical problem-solving tool for state leaders through an examination of the multidimensional roles school principals play as change leaders within their schools.

For more information on the Wallace Foundation’s work on principal preparation, visit http://wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/school-leadership/pages/default.aspx.

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Amanda Lester

Director, Programs & Professional Learning, AACTE