Research shows that in education, leadership is second only to classroom instruction among the school-related factors that influence student achievement.
Congress is beginning to recognize this fact, and is considering new funding and support to identify, reward, and train highly qualified principals. All states should consider a course of action similar to what we have done in Pennsylvania, establishing collaborative leadership initiatives that involve their governors, legislators, state schools chiefs, universities, school administrators, and teachers’ unions. Principals themselves say that they need improved preparation and leadership development to help them meet the growing—and increasingly complex—demands of the job.
As a former teacher, coach, principal, and district superintendent, I have reaped the benefits of good training throughout my career. The truth is that, for many years, the way that my state and most others prepared principals and upgraded their skills and knowledge contributed to the shortcomings we now must correct. In recent years, with leadership from the governor and state legislature, Pennsylvania has adopted innovative policies in this area and scaled up training for every school leader in the state. Pennsylvania’s experiences may provide other states with ideas for putting together a more effective community of school leaders. State law in Pennsylvania sets minimum training requirements for new principals, creates new requirements for veteran school leaders to upgrade their skills, and holds principal-training programs accountable for meeting the state’s high standards. If done right, state-run leadership programs are a cost-effective means of improving the preparation, retention, and success of school leaders, and thus of improving student outcomes.
For background, previous stories, and Web links, see Leadership and Leadership and Management. A man who has been putting his money on winning numbers he dreamt about five years ago has come up trumps.
And, as any teacher would attest, the skills and knowledge of a principal are vital in developing and retaining good teachers.
Yet few of them have offered adequate support to principals in addressing the new school challenges. Each of these groups has a role to play, and progress for students will be made only with their concerted actions to ensure that new requirements, standards, accountability measures, and best practices are instituted statewide. Moreover, the principal corps is aging and will require replenishing with the best and most-prepared candidates available. But I also can remember some “professional development” that had little to do with my work (including one aromatherapy session offered to fulfill mandatory staff-development requirements).
Historically, Pennsylvania has had more than 40 institutions preparing school leaders, often offering courses with descriptions so vague that a professor could take a leadership class in virtually any direction.


A partnership with several state education associations led to the creation of the Pennsylvania Inspired Leadership Program, known as PIL.
State leaders may balk at new funding for these steps, but lawmakers spend relatively little on leadership development for schools. Today, the only way to earn credits that meet state requirements is through a PIL-approved program.
In building a fully aligned system that connects state requirements and standards with desired district, school, and classroom outcomes, states cannot go it alone. In determining the most effective way to train all principals in the state, we developed two models that offer training through eight regional education centers. Too often, states initiate sweeping policy changes without any follow-up study of their effectiveness, thus reducing the incentives for results.
Our experience has shown us that states can in fact take an active role in developing and financing high-quality leadership training—if they have a fundamental belief in their people and in the system.
But when compared with business, medicine, or the military, education has not done nearly enough to develop leaders who can meet the increasing challenges America’s students and communities face.
In addition to their role in ensuring rigorous, standards-based preparation for school leaders, states could also do more to coordinate the requirements and resources necessary to secure high-quality training throughout a principal’s career. Making this happen is a matter of great urgency and requires that we take advantage of what is already known about improved instruction. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that most principals are over the age of 50, and almost 30 percent are 55 or older.
Such courses did little to help me improve the achievement of students below grade level, or meet the needs of English-language learners, or assist inexperienced teachers in my school. Administrator-candidates coming from other states received no grounding in what we did in Pennsylvania.
Our partner for the curriculum and delivery component of the program has been the National Institute for School Leadership, or NISL, which has combined lessons learned from leadership training in business, the military, medicine, engineering, and education. Participants can no longer sit passively through irrelevant courses or ill-conceived professional-development sessions to get credit.
We relied on friends such as the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, the Pennsylvania Leadership Development Center, and, of course, NISL in Washington. One uses a comprehensive curriculum developed by NISL, the other a curriculum developed by the state department of education and the Pennsylvania School Leadership Council. In Pennsylvania, we are studying how well the principals who have gone through the new training perform, asking ourselves hard questions about whether such programs are working and how they might be improved.


Everyone involved must think strategically, focus on improved instruction, and hold fast to the goal of creating just, fair, and caring communities of learners in our schools. Combined with high turnover rates, especially in rural and high-need schools, this means that the country soon may be facing a massive principal shortage.
In Pennsylvania, after gathering experts to create standards and researching leadership-development programs, we chose NISL—an initiative launched three years ago by the National Center on Education and the Economy with funding from four major foundations—to help us develop statewide training programs for school leaders.
We have rejected programs and providers found lacking and helped make good programs better. Both of these programs address the identified core and corollary standards for school leaders.
With the help of NISL and others, we have developed the tools for summative assessments that will underpin the qualitative early successes we are seeing. By taking action now, states can combat turnover by helping current principals find success in their jobs, while also making the field more attractive to potential new principals. School leaders overwhelmingly applaud the new training, often saying that it moved them from being managers only to becoming instructional leaders.
The early response we are getting about improved instruction and higher student achievement is encouraging.
At the same time, they can ensure that principals are prepared to be instructional leaders and help local communities “grow their own” future school leaders. That figure would surge to $47 million in fiscal 2008-09 under proposed appropriation levels.
NISL has helped us create turnaround artists, and has assisted principals in driving their schools from good to great. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.




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