Urban school districts aren't doing enough to recruit and pay great school leaders, according to a new study by the Thomas Fordham Institute titled "Lacking Leaders: The Challenges of Principal Recruitment, Selection and Placement."
The DC-based education research and advocacy group (funded by the usual list of reform philanthropies) studied five urban districts that have been working to improve their principal processes. I was guessing Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools might be among them, especially since the institute teamed up with Public Impact of Chapel Hill, which has worked with CMS. But the descriptions of districts, which are given pseudonyms such as Reformville and Urbanopolis as part of an anonymity agreement to ensure candor, don't match.
The researchers conclude that the five districts, which they describe as pioneers, are too quick hire from within, rather than making an energetic and systemic search for the best candidates from other districts and sectors. Some officials told researchers they'd had limited success with finding outsiders who understand the local culture and stick around, while others said tapping outsiders over assistant principals in the district hurts morale.
The Fordham Institute and the Broad Foundation issued a 2003 "manifesto" urging districts to look for noneducators with strong leadership skills. The latest report also pushes the idea that a strong corporate leader could make a great principal, so long as there's an instructional expert on the administrative team.
"We acknowledge that private firms do not face the same licensure constraints as school districts, so cross-sector recruitment in public education is apt to be harder" than in corporate hiring, the report says. "But policymakers could change those licensure rules. And the takeaway is the same: great leaders can succeed across sectors."
I don't think I've seen CMS recruit a principal from outside education, and the district had some setbacks with a couple of HR directors hired from corporate America. Superintendent Heath Morrision does seems to be searching outside CMS for principals: A scan of announcements this spring and summer shows seven from within CMS, three from adjacent districts and one from Tennessee.
The report also calls for compensation that's more in line with corporate pay, turning principalships into "phenomenal job opportunities."
"Districts should also see the principal’s job as the year-round position that it is and treat — and
compensate — it more like the executive role that it’s become," the report says. "Too costly, you say? Think of it this way: the United States employs roughly 100,000 principals. If we gave each of them a $100,000 raise, the total price tag would amount to $10 billion—obviously not chump change. But that’s less than 2 percent of the K–12 public school budget—and $5 billion less than the total new cost estimated to fund President Obama’s pre-K plan."
Update: The Wallace Foundation, which has been working with CMS on its "principal pipeline" since 2011, announced today that it will provide additional money to support principal supervisors in hopes of developing a larger corps of strong principals.