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National Principals Month: Honoring Our Nation’s Principals

October is National Principals Month —a month to honor our nation’s principals and the important work they do leading schools. Led by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), and the American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA), this annual celebration recognizes our nation’s principals for their tireless dedication to their students and the schools they serve.

To effectively lead a school, today’s principal must fulfill the role of instructional leader and create the learning conditions to support teaching and learning. To do this, principals are in classrooms, observing instruction, engaging with teachers in the nuts-and-bolts of leading learning communities, and connecting teachers with professional learning opportunities. Thus, principals are now more than ever multipliers of effective teaching and possess an enormous capacity to impact student achievement.

Simply put: You can’t have a great school without a great principal. Whether it’s supporting their teachers, ensuring students have access to nutritious meals, or making parents and families feel engaged and welcome their child’s school, principals make it happen.

Despite the many rewarding aspects of the principalship and its importance in improving teaching quality and boosting student outcomes, the profession faces significant challenges. Feeling unsupported and unheard, principals have been leaving their positions in increasing numbers in recent years. Turnover at the school leadership level leads to frustrated teachers and students while prompting a need to rebuild trust in a new leader with a new vision. That is why, it is critical that principals get the support they need from policymakers to ensure they’re properly prepared, supported, and compensated to meet the day-to-day challenges of leading a school.

One area where policymakers at all levels—federal, state, and district—can help support the profession is by boosting “principal pipelines,” the set of systems that influence aspiring and current school leaders at the state and local school district levels, including evidence-based leadership standards, preparation, licensure, hiring and placement, evaluation and support, and school and district working conditions. When states and districts have the resources to build and sustain principal pipelines, they tap into the promise of principals as change agents. Effective principal pipelines attract, prepare, support and extend the talent of effective school leaders who boost quality teaching and improve student performance.

In fact, when six large school districts built principal pipelines they saw notable, statistically significant benefits for student achievement across their communities, according to a report by RAND. The results were eye-opening: 1,100 pipeline district schools outperformed 6,300 non-pipeline schools in the same state by a statistically significant degree, almost three percentile points in math and more than six in reading after three years.

The pipelines examined in this study were affordable, accounting for less than one-half of 1 percent (0.4 percent) of the districts’ annual expenditures.[1] Districts involved in the study spent about $42 per pupil per year to operate and enhance their pipelines.[2] Principal pipelines, thus, require a small investment, yet can yield a huge payoff in terms of student achievement and retaining high-quality school leaders in the profession.

National Principals Month is an opportunity to celebrate the incredible work that school leaders do every day across the country on behalf of their students, as well as to engage our education partners in the field to continue our shared commitment toward ensuring great schools for all students.  

Danny Carlson is the associate executive director of Policy & Advocacy at NAESP.

[1] Julia H. Kaufman, Susan M. Gates, Melody Harvey, Yan Wang and Mark Barrett, What It Takes to Operate and Maintain Principal Pipelines: Costs and Other Resources, RAND Corp., 2017.

[2] https://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/Documents/FAQ-Principal-Pipelines.pdf

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