Looks Like There Are Ways to Get More Great School Leaders on Board

One of the main building blocks of a successful school clearly and undoubtedly is quality leadership. Just as clearly and undoubtedly, most school districts in Colorado and nationwide need more great principals to do more great things for kids.

The problem is particularly pronounced in some of the largest urban school districts with the highest need. So into the fray steps the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Daniela Doyle and Gillian Locke with a new report Lacking Leaders: The Challenges of Principal Recruitment, Selection, and Placement.

The authors did their work by talking with five super-secret school districts that decided to be candid in exchange for being anonymous. So you and little old I can only speculate about whether Denver or some other Colorado district made the cut. We may never really know.

Anyway, the findings speak for themselves. The pay is not enough to attract the needed talent. Districts demand a lot of “responsibility” (dare I say “compliance”?) from principals but not enough “authority.” Sounds like a key element of the charter or innovation school model they’re calling for. (Of course, finding enough trained and capable principals who will take on the special roles those kinds of schools offer poses its own challenges.)

Digging a little deeper revealed some additional opportunities beneath the surface. The surveyed districts — and let’s just assume for the record they are representative of others like them around the nation — have a mixed record of recruiting effectively beyond their boundaries.

More consistently, and unfortunately, they do an inadequate job of using student achievement data to recognize and place principals. And their processes don’t take into account the other factors that help to match candidates and schools that fit each other well. So there’s definitely room to get better.

It’s summertime, so you’ve got to do more for little Eddie than just produce a boring study. Kudos to Fordham for also creating a fun infographic that gets to the main point lickety-split (yeah, I just like saying “lickety-split”). Because yes, I admit to playing baseball in the backyard rather than reading every page.

At least some of the recommendations in Fordham’s report seem like relatively easy fixes that visionary leadership could tackle. Are we willing to overcome bureaucratic inertia to help ensure the best possible school leaders are in place? Then take a look at Lacking Leaders (and not just for the alliterative title).