Programs Focus on Principals' Skills

Article excerpt

A common piece of education reform is evaluation. Tests evaluate students, yearly reviews evaluate teachers. Often, the head of the school oversees such appraisals, but more and more, they themselves are quickly becoming the focus of assessments.

Recent trends have altered the model of the traditional school principal, replacing the exclusively administrative manager with knowledgeable leaders eager and able to place emphasis on student achievement, teacher development and overall school success.

"The days of the principal kind of coming in and sitting in their office is over," said Janis Fine, an associate professor in Loyola University Chicago's School of Education. "The principal is now the main instructional leader in the school and needs to know how to develop the talent in the school."

Amid student test scores and teacher reviews, the principal has been a somewhat overlooked figure in education reform efforts. But that slight doesn't reflect the magnitude of the position.

"We all know student learning is determined by the effectiveness of teachers, but one good teacher's impact can fade if students don't benefit from effective teachers in subsequent years," Kerri Briggs, program director for education reform at the George W. Bush Institute, said in a November statement.

As the post-presidency policy arm of the 42nd commander in chief, the Bush Institute has prioritized education reform, beginning with strengthening the principal. "Excellent schools must first have excellent leaders," reads a quote from the former president on the website of the center's Affiance to Reform Education Leadership.

But to have excellent leaders, they must first receive excellent training. In February, the alliance published the results of a six-month study to shine light on principal preparation programs. Using self-reported data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, it examined policies and regulations for principal preparation, licensure policy, tenure and evaluation.

The study found just over halt (27) of states incorporated key elements from research--recruiting, developing and assessing teachers; implementing data-driven instruction; and creating a positive school culture--when developing principal effectiveness standards. In addition, 28 states collected no outcome data from training sites for the principals it graduated, and only six states required principals demonstrate themselves as effective leaders to renew their licenses.

In a sense, principals were being neglected.

To strengthen the principles for preparing principals as successful leaders, the alliance sought to first fortify the training programs. The Alliance to Reform Education Leadership network includes 28 training sites in 15 states and Washington, D.C., that have committed to implementing nine best practices, including a rigorous selection process, program coursework emphasizing experiential learning and leadership opportunities, postgraduate support for principals, and self-evaluation for programs.

In November, Loyola Chicago's Principal Preparation Program joined the network, two months before it enrolled the inaugural eight-member class in its revamped program for Catholic schools. …