States need, among other things, to build detailed longitudinal data systems for principals like the ones they use to track teachers and students. But in some places those types of systems are still a long way off. In the meantime, system leaders can examine the administrative data they already have to paint a basic picture of their principal workforce, one that can help prompt deeper questions and discussions about the challenges and opportunities they face.
This Principal Concerns brief offers an example of this type of analysis for Wisconsin. Why should Wisconsin be concerned about its principal workforce? After all, by some measures, the state's schools are doing well. Wisconsin's NAEP scores, for example, are consistently higher than the national average.
Yet there is still much work to be done to ensure that all students achieve at high levels, and strong leadership is key to that success. Under the state's recently revamped accountability system, 266 schools across the state are not meeting performance expectations. In Milwaukee Public Schools, the state's largest school system, only 21 percent of schools met or exceeded the state's expectations.
Wisconsin will need to pursue a range of strategies and levers to improve results for all of its students. One important improvement strategy is to ensure that districts are recruiting, developing, and retaining good principals. Where there are many early- to mid-career principals, states need to emphasize professional development. But where there is an approaching wave of retirements, states should focus more heavily on recruiting and preparing new leaders.
To identify Wisconsin's specific needs, we need to answer these questions: How many principals are near retirement eligibility? How is retirement eligibility distributed across schools and locations? How are experienced and new principals distributed across school types?