Policy Levers to Strengthen Principals Get State Board Review

By Valerie Norville

In November 2020, the Wallace Foundation released “Using State-Level Policy Levers to Promote Principal Quality” by Susan M. Gates et al. The report details the ways in which seven states that participated in Wallace’s University Principal Preparation Initiative—California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia—sought to improve the principalship through job standards, recruitment, oversight of preparation programs, licensure, evaluation, professional development, and leader tracking systems.

In 2020, state boards of education outside this group also considered measures to strengthen the principal pipeline and principal quality through the seven levers analyzed in the report. According to data from State Board Insight and a review of state board websites, state boards expanded flexibilities for licensure during the pandemic year, reviewed rules on alternative preparation programs, sought to strengthen principal mentoring, and discussed professional learning.

After passage of a bill in the state legislature to give school districts grants to support mentoring for new and aspiring principals, the Utah State Board of Education in May 2020 approved updates to the rules governing the state’s school leadership grants. Grant applicants specify a five-year timeline of mentoring and professional learning activities. The Utah board has taken several actions to increase principal quality since it stood up a school leadership working group, which in 2018 recommended actions that employ many of the policy levers cited in the Gates et al. report, including preparation program oversight, licensure, and professional learning.

The Colorado state board also approved rules for grants focused on enhanced mentoring for new principals. According to Colleen O’Neil, associate commissioner of educator talent in the state’s department of education, the program’s goals are to increase principals’ distributive and collaborative leadership skills that will in turn improve teacher retention, school climate and culture, and student outcomes.

In March, the Iowa state board approved the Iowa Principal Leadership Academy, a statewide program to increase principal quality. The board had given conditional approval in 2019 to provide academy staff the opportunity to meet all Iowa’s preparation program standards, which align to the National Educational Leadership Preparation standards.

In December 2020, the Missouri state board heard a presentation on expanding school leaders’ use of microcredentials—professional learning that targets discrete skills and competencies, requires leaders to submit evidence of attainment, and are typically available online.

As the pandemic was forcing school closures in spring 2020, state boards acted to increase flexibility in licensure for school leaders. The Tennessee board in April added a pathway for out-of-state instructional leaders that allows them to skip the step of submitting a score on Tennessee’s assessment if they have comparable licenses from other states. The board also extended the time to submit assessment scores for leaders who had met all other requirements for its leader license until August 31, 2021. Likewise, Arizona’s board in May voted to let candidates for its Standard Professional Administrative certificate, who could not meet the exam requirement because of the pandemic, qualify for a one-year interim certificate.