Press | New Report Calls for State Reforms to Principal Licensure and Preparation Program Evaluation

New York, NY – With the increasing national focus on state leadership in education policy reform, New Leaders’ latest publication, Change Agents: How States Can Develop Effective Leaders, makes the case that now is the time for states to improve the preparation and licensure of principals.

Based on the latest research as well as New Leaders’ experience preparing more than 1,000 school leaders over the last decade, the paper describes concrete policy recommendations for states that want to move forward in addressing these critical levers to improve education for all.

There is not enough great talent leading our schools and our classrooms – particularly in low income communities and communities of color. The 16,000 high-poverty schools in the United States are more likely to be led by ineffective principals, and principal turnover rate in high-need schools is 70% (compared to the national average of 30%). More than 60% of superintendents in urban areas have shared that they have trouble finding qualified principal candidates. The principal readiness gap may be exacerbating this challenge. Ninety-six percent of principals believe their on-the-job experience was better training than their graduate programs and 66% indicate that their preparation programs were disconnected from the skills they need.

States play a critical role in approving principal preparation programs and setting the bar for licensure decisions. Recent reports from the Alliance to Reform Education Leadership and the Center for American Progress highlight the critical role states play in ensuring highly effective principals are entering the pipeline. This paper helps states take the ideas raised in those publications and put them into practice.

Report highlights:

  • The importance of leadership: The principal is the best positioned person to ensure successive years of quality teaching for each child and is critical to the success of any school-level reform.
  • Principal readiness gap: There is an urgent need to overhaul the current approach to principal preparation in order to accelerate the pace of improvement.
    Weak licensing requirements: Most state licensure systems lack rigor, are not closely aligned to the expectations for principals, and are disconnected from job performance.
  • Outcomes-focused school leadership: Now is the time for states to take action to improve their own process for principal preparation and licensure in order to get the best candidates into our schools.


This work is critical for the future of education in the country. Principals can be true change agents in schools across this nation, having a powerful multiplier effect in their impact on student success. Leadership is the only solution that ensures effective teaching, learning and impact at scale. The only way to ensure great teachers in every classroom every school year is by having an excellent leader that attracts, supports, motivates and retains high quality teachers.

Kerri Briggs, Director of Education Reform at the George W. Bush Institute and Cynthia G. Brown, Vice President of Education Policy at the Center for American Progress, said of Change Agents: “Our two organizations applaud the release of this timely report that will help states to ensure that a high-caliber principal leads every school in the nation… This report and the accompanying companion guide build on New Leaders’ experience in the field and give states tools and strategies to reframe policies to bolster the principal talent pipeline.”

Arthur Levine, President of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, said of Change Agents: “In the face of dramatic demographic, economic, technological, and global change, the demands being made upon schools, and the principals and superintendents who lead them have changed profoundly. Current school leader preparation programs, traditional and nontraditional, have not kept pace with the changes. States have the greatest capacity to change this through their approval of preparation programs and their licensure of school leaders. This report offers a set of excellent recommendations that states can implement to accomplish both. It needs to be read and acted upon by governors, chief state school officers, state higher education executive officers, legislators and professional associations.”

Principals are the lynchpin of effective implementation of any school-level reform and critical to student success. The Change Agents concept paper calls on states to rethink the way principals are recruited, prepared and licensed – and the companion guide provides first steps on the path to action that will ultimately lead to academic success for students throughout our nation. New Leaders appreciates the support provided by Bloomberg Philanthropies and America Achieves to make this work possible.