Study Looks at Effective Principals
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A new report finds that school principals have an effect estimated to be second only to teachers, with their biggest impact found in high-poverty, high-minority schools.
The National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education’s “The Principal Perspective,” report looks at the impact a principal actually has on a school and what qualities make an effective principal.
“Research clearly shows that principals are a key ingredient in the performance of their school, especially if that school enrolls a large number of low performing and/or poor and minority students,” said Jim Hull, Senior Policy Analyst of the Center. “Unfortunately, challenging schools are more likely to be led by less experienced and less effective principals even though principals have a greater impact on these schools than on less advantaged schools.”
Principals don’t directly impact their students’ achievement; their teachers do. But effective principals do create a more effective teaching staff. They do this by retaining their best teachers while replacing less effective teachers with those who are more effective. Furthermore, effective principals continually improve the performance of their teachers by being strong instructional leaders who provide the resources and feedback their teachers need to maximize their impact on their students.
The report finds that principals who are highly effective are more likely to:
- Have at least more than three years of experience overall
- Have at least three years of experience at that school
- Share leadership responsibilities, rather than just delegate paperwork
- Have a clear sense of instructional goals
- Give ongoing, informal feedback, and support toward those goals
- Conduct unannounced, informal teacher evaluations or classroom visits and give feedback afterward
- Have school board leaders who exhibit a clear vision of what constitutes a good school and create a framework that gives principals both autonomy and support to reach those goals
“A school principal is now more than a head disciplinarian or a glorified schedule-maker. The principal of today’s school is a leader,” Hull noted. “While teachers may have the primary influence on student achievement, individual teachers cannot do it alone. An effective principal is needed to maximize teachers’ impact as well as the school’s effectiveness as a whole. School boards, educators and policymakers who focus on supporting the principal’s role as instructional leader will be supporting what’s best for students as well.”
Hull continued, “While the No Child Left Behind Act and other policies of the past decade have mainly focused on teachers to close achievement gaps, research shows that focusing on principals could have a strong impact on turning around low-performing schools and propel student learning. Experienced principals who focus on instructional leadership, give specific, informal feedback to teachers, and share in the leadership of the school can have a significant, measurable impact on student achievement.”
The report is available for download on the Center’s website at www.centerforpubliceducation.org/principal-perspective.