In Depth

Pre-K Leader Policy Scan

How State Policies for Center Directors and Principals Leading Pre-K Programs Differ, and Why They Shouldn’t

The quality of an early childhood education program is largely dependent on an often overlooked group of professionals: school or program leaders. After teachers, research shows that school leaders are the greatest in-school factor impacting student achievement.

Depending on the setting that children attend pre-K, their programs may be run by a child care center director or an elementary school principal. While workdays may look similar for center directors and elementary school principals and while their programs are serving some of the same kinds of students, the state policies and standards that establish requirements for their roles look very different.

New America conducted a scan of state policies on leader preparation requirements, licensure, professional learning, and compensation. This project sheds light on the current expectations for center directors and principals, identifies areas for improvement in state policy, and highlights states that are leading on leaders. We found that requirements are not only inconsistent across states, but also that disparate requirements for center directors and principals lead to different challenges for each. Past research shows that principals too often come into their jobs without a strong understanding of how young children learn, and center directors tend to have limited training in instructional leadership. State policies are doing little to address this. Despite the similarities in their jobs, center directors are held to much lower standards and often given less support than elementary school principals.

This in-depth project explains our methodology, discusses each of the indicators collected, reports findings, and provides recommendations for steps states can take to better support early childhood education leaders. For this project, we define pre-K as any early care and education program serving three- and four-year-olds, whether publicly or privately funded, whether located in public schools or community-based settings.

The full report can be found here.


Importance of Leaders in Pre-K

The existing requirements for training and certifying both principals and center directors in most states fall short.

Pre-Service Requirements

Being a strong early childhood education leader takes specialized knowledge and skills developed over time.

In-Service Requirements

Principals and center directors already in the field also need opportunities to learn and improve their skills.

Compensation and Retention

tate policies around compensation and work supports can influence whether leaders stay in the field.

Leader Diversity

All students, but especially those from culturally and racially diverse backgrounds, benefit from having diverse teachers and leaders.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Identifying some of the primary challenges that early education leaders face and offering solutions for states.

Methodology and Acknowledgements

How New America and the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership collected and analyzed data on early education leaders.