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Groups Say Federal Policy Should Support Good Principals

Good principals are just as important to student achievement as good teachers, and federal education policy should make explicit efforts to recruit, train, and retain them, say two Washington think tanks seeking to influence lawmakers.

Earlier this month, the Center for American Progress in Washington released a policy paper saying that the reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act should require all states to have definitions of principal effectiveness and guidelines for next-generation principal evaluation systems. And the Wallace Foundation, based in New York, held a briefing for congressional staffers on Wednesday to stress that in cash-strapped times, investing in principal leadership is particularly cost-effective.

"Principals are uniquely positioned to ensure that excellent teaching and learning spread beyond single classrooms," said one of the foundation's discussion points. (Leadership coverage in Education Week is supported in part by a grant from the Wallace Foundation.)

In Increasing Principal Effectiveness: A Strategic Investment for ESEAThe paper from the Center for American Progress outlined several factors states could use to evaluate principals on their leadership skills.

For example, the paper said, principal evaluations should assess a principal's ability to improve teacher effectiveness and retain good teachers at high rates. States should also have minimum quality standards and work to ensure all students are in schools with effective principals. All of these changes could be made a condition of a state receiving a Title II teacher-quality federal grant.

The Wallace panel talked about the need for evaluating principals better, but also noted that federal policy could help with principal training programs, for example by funding principal internships, or helping to create leadership academies that produce effective leaders.

The debate over just what makes an effective teacher should not overshadow the importance of school principals, both groups say.

"Ultimately, it would be nice to see if we could create a West Point for education leaders," said Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University in California and one of the speakers at the Wallace Foundation panel.

The Obama administration has been pushing for Congress to reauthorize ESEA by the beginning of next school year, but no timetable has yet emerged for when the bill may be completed.


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