Center for American Progress

Congress Should Pay Attention to Principal Quality in ESEA Reauthorization
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Congress Should Pay Attention to Principal Quality in ESEA Reauthorization

As the 112th Congress considers the reauthorization of ESEA, it must revamp Title II of ESEA and ensure that principal quality is given the funding and attention it deserves.

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School principals are second only to teachers among school-based factors that influence student achievement and they are critical to attracting and retaining effective teachers and other school staff. Or as Chris Cerf, New Jersey commissioner of education, says: “Pick the right school leader and great teachers will come and stay. Pick the wrong one and, over time, good teachers leave, mediocre ones stay, and the school gradually (or not so gradually) declines. Reversing the impact of a poor principal can take years.” Effective principals are also crucial to implementing reforms to human capital systems for teachers, such as rigorous selection and evaluation systems and meaningful professional development.

Yet in the past, federal policymakers haven’t given school leadership much attention. This reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act should ensure that all 50 states develop definitions of principal effectiveness and next-generation principal evaluation systems that identify effective leaders based on student achievement and other rigorous measures of outcomes and practice. It should also ensure that states hold principal preparation programs accountable for preparing leaders that are effective in schools. While defining and evaluating principal effectiveness is not sufficient to ensuring strong leadership, it is a critical step to creating a coherent, statewide vision of effective school leadership that can inform other policies. States will also need to use these systems to drive all aspects of their human capital systems—from certification to compensation to professional development.

These actions should not take place in a vacuum but instead be a part of a comprehensive education reform agenda that is spelled out in a reauthorized ESEA. Nor should reform stop with reauthorization of the law. Practitioners and researchers are continuing to learn about the best measures of effective leadership and next-generation evaluation systems. Therefore, our new issue brief, "Increasing Principal Effectiveness," is intended to offer general principles for principal evaluation that signal the important elements that should be included. It is clear that ESEA needs to set forth the conditions that will allow for a dramatic improvement in teaching and learning and provide incentives as well as the freedom for states, districts, and schools to change and innovate.

As the 112th Congress considers the reauthorization of ESEA, it must revamp Title II of ESEA and ensure that principal quality is given the funding and attention it deserves. We also believe that states and districts must engage in important reforms as a condition of receipt of their Title II funds, and we call on Congress to consider the recommendations outlined below.

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