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Elementary Principals' Group Calls for Focus on Leading Instruction

By: Mark Stricherz
The National Association for Elementary School Principals has released a booklet on what principals should know and be able to do. Learn about their recommendations, including a focus on instructional leadership and six steps to raise test scores.

Principals should primarily be instructional leaders, a booklet released last week says, and delegate administrative tasks to others.

The National Association of Elementary School Principals bills the 96-page publication as redefining the role of principals. Leading Learning Communities: Standards for What Principals Should Know and Be Able to Do recommends that school leaders' top goal should be to raise student achievement.

"Effective principals lead schools in a way that places student and adult learning at the center," it says.

Traditionally, principals have managed schools and overseen budgets, buildings, staff members, and students. At a press conference here, NAESP officials emphasized that principals must be school managers as well, but noted that those tasks can often be delegated to others.

The publication represents a shift in emphasis from two earlier books published by the organization, which focused much more on managing a school. For example, while the 1997 version of Proficiencies of Principals notes that principals should be instructional leaders, it also devotes one chapter to a school's operations. Standards for Quality Elementary & Middle Schools, published in 1996, also included a heavier emphasis on management.

"The words 'delegation' and 'collaboration' leap to mind," Darrell Rud, the president of the Alexandria, Va.-based association, said when asked who would oversee a school's operations. Mr. Rud said he knows of schools with 1,100 students that "have no vice principals, and at that point instructional leadership becomes impossible."

While Mr. Rud called on school districts to spend money on extra assistant principals and more professional development for school leaders, one observer said the organization should have amplified that theme in the book.

"They defined the role to change, but we need to get supports for principals," said Robert C. Rice, the chief operating officer of the Council for Basic Education, a Washington group that advocates a strong academic curriculum.

Education groups and schools must understand that, if principals are to become instructional leaders, cities, counties, and states must also spend money to hire aides to help them, he said.

Six steps

In justifying its redefinition of the principalship, the NAESP booklet cites the achievement gap between poor and some minority students and white students, swift technological change, and the movement for higher educational standards.

But the booklet cautions that the call for greater accountability in schools "is potentially a serious weapon against public schools that fail to help their students reach the standards."

It outlines six steps principals should take to improve test scores, including balancing management and leadership roles; setting high expectations and standards; demanding rigorous content and instruction; fostering a culture of adult learning; using data; and engaging parents and civic groups in schools.

The booklet will be distributed to the association's 28,500 members, local and state school boards, and other policymakers, said Vincent L. Ferrandino, the organization's executive director.

Stricherz, M. (November 7, 2001). Elementary Principals' Group Calls For Focus on Leading Instruction. Education Week, www.edweek.org. Copyright © 2001. Editorial Projects in Education, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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