Principals are second only to teachers in their impact on students, and this impact is greatest at elementary schools and at high-poverty, high-minority schools, according to The Principal Perspective, a new report from the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Center for Public Education (Center).
However, the report suggests that the very schools that need high-quality principals the most – those same high-poverty, high-minority schools — have a more difficult time finding them, with experienced principals typically moving after a few years to easier-to-manage schools. According to one study of a large urban district, a principal’s second or third school typically enrolled 89 percent fewer poor and minority students than their first one.
“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 at 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.”
Principal turnover adversely affects all schools, the report said. But this impact is greatest at the most challenging schools, the report said.
“In these schools, the new principal is more likely to have less experience and be less effective than a new principal at a less challenging school, often resulting in a longer, more pronounced slowdown of achievement gains,” the report said.
Among the qualities that the report says characterize effective principals are: having more than three years of overall experience and at least three years’ experience at that school; having a clear sense of instructional goals; and having shared leadership responsibilities, rather than simply delegating paperwork.
Because of the important role that principals play and the impact they have on learning, school board members need to ask many questions about how they are hired, managed, and evaluated, the report said.
“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 notes. “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.”