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Margaret Terry Orr, 212-875-4546,
Teri Battaglieri: (248) 444-7071;

Center for American Progress Report on School Leadership is Poorly Researched and Misleading, says New Review

Report on improving school principals' preparation ignores data, common practices, and common policies

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Jan. 10, 2012) – A  new review of a recent report that proposes a range of state policies designed to make school principals more effective ignores existing research on the subject, lacks evidence for the approaches it advocates, and sidesteps both state and professional policies that directly address the sorts of problems it purports to remedy.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) report, Gateways to the Principalship: State Power to Improve the Quality of School Leaders, was reviewed for the Think Twice think tank review project by Margaret Terry Orr, a professor at Bank Street College of Education and director of the College's Future School Leaders Academy.  

The review was produced by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Gateways to the Principalship focuses on policies concerning the preparation, licensure and retention of school principals. The report  identifies eight states it considers "lagging" and eight it considers "leading," asserting that the "leading" states employ practices that the "lagging" states and others like them should adopt in order to improve the performance of school principals. The lagging states are Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington. The leading states are Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, New York, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.

Professor Orr's review finds that the report makes assertions without evidence and arguments without foundation. Further, she writes, the report appears to be unaware of scholarship and common practices on the subject it seeks to address.

Particularly glaring omissions include not using policy-related reports from the Wallace Foundation (not referenced), the Education Commission of the States (not referenced), and the National Conference of State Legislators (referenced but never used), each of which have in various ways addressed how to improve school leadership. Each of these has also taken note of what policymakers are actually doing to improve the education of principals.

Further, the report's identification of 16 focus states is never adequately explained. It does not define what it means when it labels eight states as "lagging" in their eligibility requirements for candidates admitted to principal-preparation programs. Similarly, it selects eight "leading" states in this area for their adoption of other policies the report's authors favor, yet it never compares the two groups of states on similar types of policies.

"Very little in the way of supporting data is presented to justify [the report's] claims," Orr writes. For example, of the sources cited, only one is from a peer-reviewed journal; the rest are from organizations and foundations whose claims and assertions are often weakly supported and poorly argued—yet are accepted uncritically in the CAP report.

"The report has little utility for policy or practice," Orr concludes. Instead, she writes, it merely "distracts from more relevant and potent policy strategies to improve leadership preparation."

Find Margaret Terry Orr's review on the Great Lakes Center website at:

Find Gateways to the Principalship: State Power to Improve the Quality of School Leaders by Gretchen Rhines Cheney and Jacquelyn Davis on the web at:

Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policy makers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The review is also available on the National Education Policy Center website at:


The mission of the Great Lakes Center is to improve public education for all students in the Great Lakes region through the support and dissemination of high quality, academically sound research on education policy and practices.

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