School Leadership Policy Toolkit

April 2016

Whether the goal is to enhance instruction, create a culture of excellence, or broaden education options for families, it is difficult to improve schools without strong leaders. Evidence has indicated the importance of effective principals for decades, but most reform strategies lack a coherent plan to upgrade leadership. This neglect is likely not intentional—many states simply don’t know how to strengthen their cadre of leaders.

Most school leadership activities happen at the local level. Districts (and charter schools) recruit and place school leaders and develop their expertise. It’s easy for state officials and advocacy groups to prioritize leadership; knowing which policy levers to pull is harder.

This online resource is designed to help policymakers and advocates focus on what makes a great principal—and how to get more of them in the schools that need them most. The toolkit is a collaboration between CRPE, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and education reform analyst and advocate Eric Lerum. It includes ideas for states to develop strategies to strengthen leadership, as well as model legislation drafted by experts in the field.

The toolkit presents solutions organized around five key policy areas:

  1. Pathways and Pipelines – How do principals become principals? What do preparation programs look like? How do districts and schools recruit and grow principals? How can states positively influence this?
  2. Distributed Leadership – How can teachers lead from within their schools? How can principals delegate some of their authority to teachers? What role might states play?
  3. Autonomy and Empowerment – What authority do principals have to make decisions on personnel and budgets? Are principals empowered to move quickly and flexibly to meet the needs of their students, educators, and families? Which state policies might be standing in the way?
  4. Principal Evaluation – How are principals evaluated by district leaders? Is their performance measured by multiple indicators of school success, including student progress and staff growth and satisfaction? Should states encourage a particular approach?
  5. Retention and Compensation – How are districts incentivizing the best principals to continue to lead? Do districts have the flexibility and tools to make school leadership an attractive long-term career prospect? How can states help?