License Grade Span
Some research suggests that teacher preparation programs covering a broad grade span are less likely to prepare teachers well to work with any specific age group. The same logic can be applied to principal preparation programs, which are largely designed based on state principal licensing requirements. In theory, the difference between an elementary-specific license and a secondary school license or a broad PreK–12 license is the opportunity to focus on content pertinent to working with elementary school students and teachers.
Running an elementary school is different than running a middle school or high school; instruction should look very different for young children, who learn best through play and limited whole group instruction. Broad licenses may not give principals the opportunity to focus on the unique challenges and opportunities associated with the development of young learners, a group that spans from pre-K through third grade.
While both the K–12 and PreK–12 licenses are extremely broad, the PreK–12 license, by including the word segment “pre” somewhere in the label, does acknowledge the fact that elementary principals oversee pre-K classrooms. However, a 2014 review of principal licensure standards by the Center for Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes found that, “although many states include pre-K in the scope of principal licensure (PreK–12, for example) the extent to which that involves any childhood content or experience is varied, but generally extremely limited.”New America’s Finding:
Most states offer only a general K–12 principal license or PreK–12 principal license. Twelve states offer a specific elementary principal license. Five of these twelve states offer both an elementary-specific license and a broader K-12 or PreK-12 license for principals.