About 44 Percent Of Schools Receiving Federal Overhaul Money Are Still Relying On Old Principals

Our guest blogger is Theodora Chang, Education Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

The New York Times reported today that numerous schools receiving federal school improvement funds have struggled to find high-quality principals to replace principals at failing schools. In fact, about 44 percent of the schools receiving turnaround funds are relying on the same principal that they had before:

The aggressive $4 billion program begun by the Obama administration in 2009 to radically transform the country’s worst schools included, as its centerpiece, a plan to install new principals to overhaul most of the failing schools…The Department of Education said it did not know how many principals had been replaced nationwide.

But eight states that include 317 of the 730 schools the department has named as recipients of federal money for school improvement efforts this year — California, Texas, Ohio, Missouri, Michigan, Georgia, New York and North Carolina — provided data in response to a request by The New York Times.

The percentage of such schools that retained principals from the previous school year to this one ranged from about 68 percent in Michigan to about 28 percent in New York. The average across those states was 44 percent.

Principal quality is a topic that often goes lost in current school improvement conversations that focus mainly on teachers. It probably doesn’t help that Republicans in Congress are a little distracted by other priorities at the moment.

The article highlights the fact that the current supply of quality principals does not meet the demand for them, especially in schools looking to dramatically increase student achievement. While the problem is not a new one, it has been brought to light by the Obama administration’s focus on turning around failing schools. Despite recent proposals to cut school leadership programs and longstanding efforts from Republicans to eliminate federal involvement in favor of state and local control over education issues, it’s clear that local districts are having a hard time solving human capital issues.

Research shows that high quality teachers are instrumental to improving student academic outcomes, and high quality principals are instrumental to retaining good teachers. The Obama administration’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act blueprint rightly prioritizes investments in improving access to effective teachers and school leaders through greater investment in competitive grant programs that support promising practices.

One of the greatest challenges to districts’ capacity to turn around schools is the challenge of finding the school leaders with the skills to do the work. Federal support for recruiting and preparing principals specifically to meet this need is a wise and much-needed investment.