William & Mary

W&M professor authors report on principals and the impact of state policy

Principals who are strong, effective leaders inspire and foster excellence in K-12 education, argues Paul Manna in a recent report on state policy and school leadership.

“Such principals,” he wrote, “also tend to retain great teachers and create opportunities for them to take on new leadership roles. In short, principals, through their actions, can be powerful multipliers of effective teaching and leadership practices in schools.”

Paul MannaEarlier this month, Manna - the Isabelle and Jerome E. Hyman Distinguished University Professor of Government - presented findings of the study in a webinar to members of the University Council for Educational Administration, along with staff from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The report, “Developing Excellent School Principals to Advance Teaching and Learning: Considerations for State Policy” addresses the role of K-12 principals in the nation's schools, the environments in which they work and the ways that state policy can improve the chances that excellent principals will lead their schools.

“All organizations need effective leaders to succeed. Schools are no exception, and their principals bear weighty responsibilities,” Manna said in a release announcing the report. “Principals who are strong, effective, responsive leaders help to inspire and enhance the abilities of their teachers and other school staff to do excellent work.  And yet, the principal’s role has received consistently less attention than other topics on state education policy agendas.”

“Developing Excellent School Principals,” which was funded by The Wallace Foundation, highlights three areas for state policy to consider if they are looking for ways to improve the quality of their principals – 1) the education policy agendas in their states, 2) the policy levers they can use –  like performance/leadership standards, active recruitment, professional development opportunities and licensing and 3) the contextual factors influencing the daily work of principals - like governance structures and diverse localities.

Since its release earlier this fall, the report has drawn attention from state policy organizations and Capitol Hill. Just last month Manna conducted a policy briefing in Washington, DC, sponsored by The Wallace Foundation, participated in a panel discussion hosted by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and presented another webinar with members of the National Association of State Boards of Education. In January, he will be a featured guest in a series of meetings with Vermont policymakers, who are using his research to inform the work of their coming legislative session.

Manna, a former K-12 teacher, stressed in the report’s findings that there is no one-fits-all solution for better principal performance.

“There is not a cookbook recipe for policy development or implementation that will work equally well in all states. State and local adaptations will be necessary. Still, there are some useful places for all states to start, regardless of their current conditions,” he said in the report.

Report coverThe report does identifies six policy actions states can take to support principal performance, – including adopting principal leadership standards, altering incentives to draw the best potential principals into the profession, approving and overseeing principal preparation programs, connecting state licensing requirements to principals’ real-world job requirements, better allocating resources to support principals’ professional development and seeking effective principal evaluation techniques.

The findings also include a call-to-action. “In calling for the principalship to be a policy priority across the states, this report encourages state leaders to envision their principals as invaluable multipliers of effective teaching and learning in the nation’s schools,” it says.

Manna, who has been a faculty member at William & Mary since 2003, teaches in both the government department and in the Public Policy Program. He is the author or co-author of three books – Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century: Overcoming the Structural Barriers to School Reform (Brookings Institution, 2013); Collision Course: Federal Education Policy Meets State and Local Realities (CQ Press, 2011) and School’s In: Federalism and the National Education Agenda (Georgetown University Press, 2006). He earned a B.A. from Northwestern University and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Wisconsin.