- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2011

More investment from the federal government into internship programs is critical to getting better principals in schools across the country, according to a new report released Wednesday by the nonprofit Wallace Foundation. But securing that funding likely will be a struggle, given the nation’s fiscal situation and recent rhetoric from both Republicans and Democrats about the need to cut spending.

The foundation released its report, “The Principal Factor in School Improvement: Implications for Federal Policy,” during a briefing for congressional staffers and educators on Capitol Hill. Education researchers have long focused on the importance of principals both in boosting students’ test performance and in recruiting strong teachers.

The Obama administration has also highlighted the role of principals in its blueprint for education policy reform released earlier this month. The administration and Congress are poised for a major debate this summer over the future of federal education policy.

The report’s authors voiced support for principal internships funded in part by federal grants, though some in the audience questioned whether an influx of taxpayer cash for such a program is practical given the current budget realities.

The internship programs would allow teachers or other educators on the path to becoming a principal to take time away from their jobs and be mentored by experienced, successful leaders. Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University who worked on the report for a decade, said while some states such as North Carolina and Mississippi have experimented successfully with such programs, implementing them on a large scale would require lots of cash.

“We need that stream of funding and the federal government is the place that it likely needs to come from,” she said.

If significant federal funding for internship programs doesn’t come through, an alternative could be for districts to fund scaled-back versions.

Michael Copland, chairman and associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies in the College of Education at the University of Washington, said school districts should try to identify prospective principals years in advance. Mr. Copland said those men and women could then, over a period of years, take a small part of their day to observe and learn from those with more experience.

While more money for some programs could help, other members of the panel argued that education funds already allocated are simply going to the wrong places.

Federal education funds are too often directed to standardized tests for students, not on training programs for teachers and principals to better prepare them to lead, said Paul Pastorek, Louisiana’s superintendent of education and another contributor to the Wallace report.

“We block-grant this money out, we get very little results. As a taxpayer, I’m asking, Where’s the beef?” Mr. Pastorek said. “We add more and more low-quality tests to a system that is already overburdened.”

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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