Until recently, principals have been largely overlooked, with most education policy attention focused on improving teacher quality. Principals play an important role in supporting student achievement as instructional leaders.
Today, New America’s Early and Elementary Education Policy Program is releasing a series of briefs titled, Principal's Corner: Perspectives on Teaching and Learning in PreK-3rd Grade, that explore the role of elementary school principals as early education leaders. This series is based on focus groups of elementary school principals conducted in five U.S. cities.
The six briefs take a closer look at principals’ perceptions of what should take place in pre-K and early grade classrooms, while offering recommendations for states and school districts in regard to building principals’ expertise in this area.
The focus group participants answered questions on the staffing and hiring of teachers, the transition between pre-K and kindergarten, student assessment, professional development, and the role of the principal.
Our big takeaway is principals recognize that pre-K and the early grades are important, but feel they lack what they need to promote high-quality teaching during these years. As one Orlando principal explains, “since I taught fifth grade for so many years I don’t feel as comfortable giving advice to the kindergarten teachers the way I might with a new fifth grade teacher.” Multiple principals in our groups echoed this sentiment.
In the following briefs New America’s Early & Elementary Education team provide analysis of the participant responses:
- Why Elementary School Principals Matter, the introductory brief in the series, by program associate Aaron Loewenberg, establishes the importance of principals as early education leaders.
- A False Dichotomy: Elementary Principals on Academics and Play, by policy analysts Abbie Lieberman and Shayna Cook, focuses on principals’ understanding of developmentally appropriate practice in the early grades.
- Tradeoffs: Elementary Principals on Hiring and Staffing in the Early Grades, by Cook, examines how principals approach the staffing of PreK-3rd grade teachers.
- Connecting Pre-K and the Early Grades: Principals on Transitions, by Laura Bornfreund, Director of the Early Elementary and Education Program, highlights the role principals can play in bridging pre-K and the early grades of elementary school.
- Leading for the Early Years: Principals’ Reflections on the Need for Better Preparation, by Lieberman, highlights the lack of principal preparation in early education.
In the final brief, Bringing It All Together: Elementary Principals are Key to Strong PreK-3rd Grade Classrooms, Bornfreund and Lieberman recommend the following four actions for states and school districts to better support elementary school principals:
- States should incorporate early childhood education into principal preparation.
- States and school districts should provide ongoing professional learning opportunities related to early education.
- States and school districts should invest in opportunities to bring elementary school principals and center directors together.
- States should take advantage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to support this work.
Forty-six educators from public and private schools and pre-K programs participated in the five focus groups convened by the FDR Group, a nonpartisan public opinion research firm. The focus groups took place in San Francisco, New York, Minneapolis, Austin and Orlando between February and April 2015.