Are Highly Effective Principals Born (genes) or Made (Leadership Academy)? How Can We Find and Retain Principals Who Can Lead, Create and Sustain the Best Schools for the Neediests Kids?

Secretary of Education Duncan argues that the single most important factor in erasing the achievement gap and raising pupil achievement is a great teacher in every classroom.

In reality the single most important factor is zip code. Socio-economic status is
by far the single most important factor in determining student success.

The factors within our control are teacher and principal selection.

Over the decades we have moved from one reform wave to another. The late 19th
century reform movement resulted in the creation of a Board of Examiners, an
extension of the civil service reform movement. Principals and teachers had to
pass rigorous examinations and were appointed to positions in rank order from
civil service lists.

In the late 60s the courts questioned whether the exams were discriminatory and
both principal and teacher selection exams were abandoned with decisions made
by local school boards. (See earlier blog post for a detailed historical

New York State approves colleges to offer principal certification programs, candidates are “self-selected,” colleges accept almost all applicants and virtually all earn a certification certificate.

The State Education Department is changing the principal certification process,

School building leader assessment will include simulation task, including video-based teacher observation and feedback using rubrics based on NYS teaching standards.

New York City Department of Education created the Leadership Academy
shortly after Joel Klein became chancellor and added the Leaders in Education
Apprenticeship Program
program a few years later.

Currently 17% of principals are graduates of the programs.

An NYU study found that Leadership Academy principals were placed in demographically more challenging schools and these schools did slightly better than the city averages.

The principal turnover rates are substantial, while about half of all teachers
leave within five years 35% of principals leave in the same time frame.

More than one in three city public schools has had a new principal since 2006, a Post analysis found nearly 35 percent of school leaders, or 464 principals at 1,346 schools, changed during that five-year period — in some cases, multiple times.

In many urban areas around the country school districts are hiring New Leaders for New Schools , a not-for-profit with ties to Arne Duncan, to identify, train and support new principals. Cami Anderson, the former head of alternative school programs in New York City and the new superintendent in Newark partnered with New Leaders.

Her search committee, which included former principals and teachers, recruited andscreened about 90 candidates, two-thirds of whom were brought in for four-and-a-half-hour interviews in which they critiqued videotaped lessons, discussed case studies and wrote essays on the spot.

Teachers and their unions have, at best, been wary, in other cases sharply critical of principals who have come through the new selection process.

The pre-Klein selection process in New York City was totally in the hands of the chancellor, candidates were almost always selected from a pool of assistant principals who had been teachers in the system.

Few principals were removed or left the system, the achievement levels were tied to zip code. High poverty schools had poor achievement. The new data-based system is sanctions based – the lack of growth results in principal removal and school closings.

The core question: Are the 17% of principals who came through the Department sponsored programs, or, the New Leaders program more effective?

Should experience as an assistant principal, or a coach, or a network team member be a prerequisite to becoming a principal?

The Leadership Academy/LEAP programs are rigorous in their selection, intense in their preparation and candidates are dropped out of the program.

In spite of the care given in the process will these candidates become effective schools leaders?

Can leadership be taught, or, is it inherent?

Have you ever watched a sports and a dance coach?

Great coaches are great teachers and great leaders. They make their team members better; they build highly cohesive teams who work closely to achieve their goal.

Scientists are beginning to explore and identify evidence of a genetic contribution to leadership.

Since its inception in the early 20th century, management science
has been dominated by …. the standard social science model (SSSM). This
assumes that most behavioral differences between individuals are explicable by
culture and socialization, with biology playing at best the softest of second

Richard Arvey, the head of the NUS business school’s department of
management and organization, has been looking into precisely how genes interact with different types of environment to create such things as entrepreneurial zeal and the ability to lead others.

Inborn leadership traits certainly do exist, but upbringing, he
found, matters too. The influence of genes on leadership potential is weakest
in boys brought up in rich, supportive families and strongest in those raised
in harsher circumstances. The quip that the battle of Waterloo
was won on the playing fields of Eton thus seems to have some truth.

Don’t be surprised when you turn up for that interview for an assistant principal or principal job they begin by taking a swab with a Q-tip.

What the department has failed to do is identify schools that have shown substantial progress, i.e., student growth, and explore the reasons.

What are the qualities of the highly successful school leader?

Are effective leaders “made” by the quality of the leadership program or
are these qualities inherent or “learned” through their own life

Are “bastards” or “nurturers” better leaders?

Is effective “leadership” sustainable from year to year?

Hopefully someone is exploring the mystery of the “great school leader.”

Next post: the “great teacher” conundrum.


One response to “Are Highly Effective Principals Born (genes) or Made (Leadership Academy)? How Can We Find and Retain Principals Who Can Lead, Create and Sustain the Best Schools for the Neediests Kids?

  1. There is no shortage of thoughtful, innovative school leaders within and beyond our schools. We simply have not succeeded in creating the kinds of schools and conditions that would attract and retain them by allowing them to be thoughtful and innovative.


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