States Support Districts in Strengthening Principal Pipelines

By Valerie Norville

From 2011 to 2016, the Wallace Foundation helped six large urban school districts transform how they prepare, hire, and support principals. In an April 2019 report, Susan M. Gates and colleagues found improvements to principal pipelines in these districts to be feasible, affordable, and able to produce significant student achievement gains. The authors derived lessons for other districts, but they also recommended three actions for state leaders: ensure that leader standards are modern, operational, and relevant; develop data systems for hiring and placement that many districts can leverage; and create opportunities for districts to share what they have learned through efforts to attract, develop, and retain strong leaders.

Several of the states that are home to the six districts Wallace supported—Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New York, and North Carolina—have been undertaking some of this work. According to State Board Insight data from 2017 on, state boards of education have focused on leadership standards, evaluations aligned to those standards, and principals’ professional development. In May 2019, for example, the North Carolina board discussed the health of the state’s principal pipeline in a work session.

All six states have updated their leadership standards since 2011. Maryland and New York aligned theirs with the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL), released by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration (NBPEA) in 2015. In presentations before their state boards or in legislative discussions, education department staff in Colorado, New York, and North Carolina who sought state board approval for updating state leadership standards cited the work of Wallace and the NBPEA in their presentations.

Some states revisited their principal pipelines while developing state plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act. New York, for example, specified its intent to use funds from Title II, Part A to better support teachers and leaders through a comprehensive system covering preparation, recruitment and hiring, professional development, retention, and placement of effective educators with high-need students. With regard to aspiring school leaders in particular, its education department promised to explore aligning leader certification and school-based internships with PSEL and building competency-based expectations into the process for initial certification.

The Colorado state board has also focused on school leaders. In January 2019, the board voted to support state legislation to launch a school leadership pilot program to provide professional development that helps districts “implement distributive and collaborative leadership.” The program’s goal is to improve educator retention, school climate and culture, and student outcomes. The board has also been responsible for approving school turnaround leaders development grants for schools and districts since the program’s launch in 2014. In February 2019, the board heard the recommendations of the statewide Education Leadership Council, which developed a vision and strategic plan for the state’s education system, including prioritizing support for school leaders. The council also recommended roles for stakeholder groups, including the state board, in implementing the plan.