Strong Leaders Strong Schools:  2009 State Laws

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Strong Leaders Strong Schools: 2009 School Leadership LawsIntroduction

Leadership matters. A lot. A growing body of evidence confirms that teachers and leaders are the two most significant school-based factors in improving student achievement, particularly in low performing schools. Landmark research commissioned by The Wallace Foundation in 2004 also suggests that there are virtually no documented instances of schools being turned around without strong leaders. Leadership undoubtedly is a catalyst to school improvement.

Effective leadership is the main reason teachers are attracted to and remain in the most challenged schools. Surveys on working conditions for teachers continue to find supportive school leaders as one of the most—if not the most—important factor in retaining good teachers, often trumping financial incentives. Principals are uniquely positioned in their schools to ensure that excellent teaching and learning spread beyond single classrooms. Investing in school leadership is a cost-effective way to improve teaching and learning, and targeted investments in principals can significantly affect student achievement.

The focus on effective school leadership has elevated considerably since the U.S. Department of Education made improving educator effectiveness the single most important eligibility criterion for states that are seeking grants under the federal Race to the Top program. This program, a $4.35 billion fund created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, is the largest competitive education grant program in history. To increase the chances of winning federal funds to reform education, states are re-examining their teacher and leader policies.

As states face historic budget gaps and acute state and federal accountability requirements to dramatically increase student achievement, the need to invest in cost-effective ways to improve teaching and learning is imperative. More than ever, states need to develop and use comprehensive strategies to ensure today’s leaders have the skills, knowledge and support required to guide the transformation of schools and raise achievement for all students.

Lawmakers have responded by crafting legislation and policy to recruit, prepare, support and retain effective school leaders. At least 23 states enacted 43 laws to support school leader initiatives during the 2009 legislative sessions. The laws address:

  • Roles, responsibilities and authority;
  • Preparation programs;
  • Licensure and certification;
  • Professional development;
  • Evaluation;
  • Compensation and incentives;
  • Data systems; and
  • Governance structures.

This publication is the third annual report featuring state legislative efforts to support school leaders and provides a snapshot of legislation. It is not intended to focus on all areas of state-level activity, including the role of the governor, chief state school officer or state and local school boards. Included again this year are examples of fiscal appropriations to provide a more complete picture of how states are strengthening school leader initiatives.