Great Principals at Scale: Creating District Conditions that Enable All Principals to be Effective

Even the soundest of education policies yield little when conditions on the ground block school-level actors from being effective. And the key school-level actor is the principal.  So that’s where New Leaders and the Bush Institute fix their joint gaze in this report about replicating great principals at scale. The problem is that today’s great principals tend to succeed in spite of district conditions, not because of them. This both repels worthy candidates and pushes out incumbents. The solution, say these analysts, is a four-pronged framework that starts in the central office and trickles down all the way to student achievement. First, school boards must instill a district-wide culture in which everyone “co-owns” pupil achievement and school-level actors enjoy the autonomy and encouragement to produce more of it. Second, goals and strategies need to align, creating a unified effort to maximize student achievement. Third, districts should employ principal managers who work with principals to improve student outcomes and with districts to remove barriers to success. Fourth, districts must grant principals the authority to mold their schools, including the ability to hire, fire, promote, and assess. All of these conditions are meant to create an environment in which effective leaders thrive and can facilitate strong student outcomes. If this all sounds obvious—and consistent with our own new Fordham study—it also compels the reader to wonder how districts are supposed to make all of this happen. Fortunately, in the report, the authors reference a concurrently published “toolkit” that promises to answer this question.

SOURCE: Gina Ikemoto, et al., Great Principals at Scale: Creating District Conditions that Enable All Principals to be Effective (New Leaders and The Bush Institute, June 2014).

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