A review by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) of a recent report that proposes a range of state policies designed to make school principals more effective finds that the report ignores existing research on the subject, lacks evidence for the approaches it advocates, and sidesteps both state and professional policies that directly address the sorts of problems it purports to remedy.
The Center for American Progress (CAP) report, Gateways to the Principalship: State Power to Improve the Quality of School Leaders, was reviewed for NEPC’s Think Twice think tank review project by Margaret Terry Orr, a professor at Bank Street College of Education and director of the College’s Future School Leaders Academy. NEPC is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Gateways to the Principalship, written for CAP by Gretchen Rhines Cheney and Jacquelyn Davis, focuses on policies concerning the preparation, licensure and retention of school principals. The report identifies eight states it considers “lagging” and eight it considers “leading,” asserting that the “leading” states employ practices that the “lagging” states and others like them should adopt in order to improve the performance of school principals. The lagging states are Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington. The leading states are Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, New York, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.
Professor Orr’s review, however, finds that the report makes assertions without evidence and arguments without foundation. Further, she writes, the report appears to be unaware of scholarship and common practices on the subject it seeks to address.
Particularly glaring omissions include not using policy-related reports from the Wallace Foundation (not referenced), the Education Commission of the States (not referenced), and the National Conference of State Legislators (referenced but never used), each of which have in various ways addressed how to improve school leadership. Each of these has also taken note of what policymakers are actually doing to improve the education of principals.
Further, the report’s identification of 16 focus states is never adequately explained. It does not define what it means when it labels eight states as “lagging” in their eligibility requirements for candidates admitted to principal-preparation programs. Similarly, it selects eight “leading” states in this area for their adoption of other policies the report’s authors favor, yet it never compares the two groups of states on similar types of policies.
“Very little in the way of supporting data is presented to justify [the report’s] claims,” Orr writes. For example, of the sources cited, only one is from a peer-reviewed journal; the rest are from organizations and foundations whose claims and assertions are often weakly supported and poorly argued—yet are accepted uncritically in the CAP report.
“The report has little utility for policy or practice,” Orr concludes. Instead, she writes, it merely “distracts from more relevant and potent policy strategies to improve leadership preparation.”