Center for American Progress

RELEASE: New CAP Report Details How Schools, Districts, and States Can Better Recruit, Develop, and Select Principals
Press Release

RELEASE: New CAP Report Details How Schools, Districts, and States Can Better Recruit, Develop, and Select Principals

Washington D.C. — With 50 percent of new principals leaving their schools by the end of their third year, a new report from the Center for American Progress outlines several best practices for how schools can better recruit, develop, and select principals to combat such high turnover rates. CAP’s report uses examples from four charter school networks to illustrate how principal selection programs can include explicit and thoughtful leadership development opportunities; build a principal candidate pool internally; provide job-embedded support and coaching for principals; and measure results in these and other areas.

“Principals, like teachers, are one of the most important in-school elements to student success, and it’s critical that states and districts look more closely at the principal pipeline,” said Neil Campbell, Director of Innovation for the K-12 Education Policy team at CAP. “To ensure great teaching happens every day, it is essential that policymakers leverage all tools at their disposal to improve the quality and quantity of the principal talent pool.” 

Studies have shown that frequent principal turnover not only has a negative effect on school performance and teacher retention—with these effects being most harmful in high-poverty and low-achieving schools—but also that principal hiring practices across the country can often lack the rigor, thoughtfulness, and data needed to hire the right talent. Recruitment is often informal or passive; many districts rely on internal recruitment that greatly misses out on talent; and selection most often overlooks the prior impact of candidates on student learning—with little or no data being kept on the lack of strategy involved in these practices. 

The four charter school network examples used in CAP’s report—Achievement First Public Charter Schools, Green Dot Public Schools, IDEA Public Schools, and High Tech High—highlight how principal success measures can contribute to impressive changes in schools. In the IDEA Public Schools Network, for instance, students have a 100 percent college acceptance rate and a 98 percent graduation rate.

CAP’s report suggests that states should leverage the Every Student Succeed Act, or ESSA, to invest in improving principal recruitment and development and that the federal government should increase its investment in school leaders. While Congress provides more than $2.5 billion per year to states and districts for teacher quality programs, it directly invests only $16.4 million annually in school leaders. Congress should provide significantly more funding for the School Leadership Recruitment and Support program to reflect the immense need across the country.

The four case studies in CAP’s report outline the following shared core elements in their internal principal development and residency programs:

  • Organization-wide pipelines. Each network has created a clearly articulated leadership pipeline that allows staff to exert leadership at all levels—from the classroom to the central or home office. States and districts should invest in improving existing principal preparation and pipeline programs to meet local needs.
  • Principal competencies. Each network has developed a thorough framework that clarifies the competencies of a high-performing principal and drives all elements of principal recruitment, development, and support. States, districts, universities, and community leaders should work together to revise existing principal core competencies or standards to reflect the latest research on principal effectiveness.
  • Internal recruitment and development strategies. Ninety percent of sitting principals at each network’s schools are internal hires. As the networks grew, they built formal structures to identify, recruit, develop, and evaluate principals, all of which are aligned to each network’s principal competencies.
  • Ongoing support for principals. The networks use data about principals to provide ongoing, job-embedded professional development long after the principal development program has been completed. Districts should identify strategies that enable principals to focus their time and attention on instructional leadership, managing talent, and building a strong school culture.
  • Measuring success by student outcomes. All four networks measure the success of their principal recruitment, development, and hiring by the success of the students in their buildings. Districts and schools can follow suit by investing resources in finding great leaders, utilizing indicators of success and metrics that measure whether or not their efforts are yielding the results they need.

Read the report: Great Leaders for Great Schools: How Four Charter Networks Recruit, Develop, and Select Principals by Simmons Lettre and Neil Campbell 

For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Allison Preiss at [email protected] or 202.478.6331.