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Duncan Says 'Best and Brightest' Leaders Needed

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America needs bold, passionate leaders—"warrior principals"—to turn around the nation's lowest-performing schools and to ensure the country meets President Obama's goal of having the world's largest proportion of college graduates by 2020, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last night.

"If our 95,000 schools each had a great principal, this thing would take care of itself," he said.

The ever-enthusiastic secretary appeared in a downtown Washington hotel ballroom to kick off The Wallace Foundation's fourth annual conference on education leadership. (The foundation provides support for some coverage of leadership in Education Week.)

To that end, Duncan said the field should embrace "multiple, multiple pathways" to bring new people into the field, using traditional and alternative certification programs that have proven effective.

"Anyone who thinks there's one path to success is absolutely missing the boat here," he said.

And he singled out the Education Department as part of the problem in finding qualified leaders, saying it has "dramatically underinvested in principal leadership" over the years. The amount of federal money targeting such goals amounts to "pennies," he said. The Obama Administration has boosted the amount of funding requested from Congress for school leadership, he said.

The department will soon launch a campaign to encourage the country's "best talent" to join the education field, Duncan said. With schools needing to hire upwards of 100,000 people every year to replace retiring Baby Boomers, the secretary said, the time is ripe to find the best people and invest in them to change the trajectory of the nation's lowest-performing schools.

Duncan also singled out the Wallace Foundation for "staying the course" in funding research and advocacy of education leadership for the past decade. While most foundations tend to change priorities every few years, the secretary said the education community has benefited from the foundation's steadfastness.

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Secretary Duncan should pass along an important message to the nation's superintendents. High quality principals can only be realized when a significant paradigm shift occurs. Superintendents need to allow these people to be the educational leaders who keep their teachers and students focused on what should be their obvious mission, educating children. Their existing role as public relations officiandos, who spend the bulk of their day putting out fires and keeping everyone happy, is never going to improve students' academic performance.

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