Wallace-Funded Work Impacts Role of Principal Supervisors

Research is virtually unanimous that principals play an important role in student achievement, but there is less agreement on whether that is the case for the men and women who supervise these school leaders.

One reason for this is that the role of principal supervisor varies widely across school systems and is too often focused on ensuring compliance with local and state regulations. However, some recent studies indicate that principal supervisors can positively impact student achievement by aiding the development of principals as instructional leaders.

To that end, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) released in December 2015 a set of standards for principal supervisors. The council calls the voluntary standards the first ever for supervisors of school principals. The Wallace Foundation funded the work to develop the 2015 Model Principal Supervisor Professional Standards. A team of educators spent more than a year developing the new standards, which include culturally responsive practices to promote student well-being, curricular systems that are coherent and intellectually rigorous, a supportive school community, and promoting the professional development of all school personnel. 

Traditionally, the role of principal supervisor has varied across school systems. Further, many principal supervisors lack the training to help principals become effective instructional leaders. Although most principal supervisors are themselves former school leaders, that is not the same as saying that they have the skills to coach principals.

Principal leadership is a longtime funding interest at Wallace. In 2014, the funder announced a $30 million, five-year, grant to help more than a dozen school systems improve the quality of their central offices so they can better support principals as instructional leaders. The grant emphasized the role of principal supervisors, which Wallace considers a long-neglected position. Other Wallace grants emphasizing school leadership include a series of grants worth $75 million to help six urban school systems develop better school leaders through the foundation's Principal Pipeline Initiative.

Effective school leadership by the principal is second only to quality teachers as the most significant in-school factor affecting students' academic success. Through its continued support of projects and programs to enhance principal leadership, Wallace has shown it is invested in this work for the long term.