About The Chicago Public Education Fund
The Chicago Public Education Fund (The Fund) is a nonprofit organization working to increase the number of great public schools in Chicago by supporting talented principals and enabling effective educator teams to reinvent classroom learning. Our current efforts seek to more than double the number of top principals in Chicago’s public schools by 2018 and to enable the city’s best educators to redefine what’s possible for our schools and students.
Visit thefundchicago.org for more information.
A Letter from
Heather Y. Anichini,
CEO of The Chicago Public Education Fund
We must create an environment that allows our best leaders to learn, grow and stay.
In late 2013, The Fund raised $20 million with the goal of increasing the number of top principals in Chicago from 150 to 350 by 2018. At that time, we believed that our core challenges were a lack of great candidates and failure to hire the very best talent into principal roles.
While it’s true that Chicago does not recruit, train or hire enough great candidates to meet the city’s needs, a larger issue quickly became apparent: Chicago’s principals are disappearing. Our data show that principal performance peaks around year five, but Chicago loses 6 out of 10 principals before this milestone. The systems that surround, support and retain principals are broken. That’s bad for our students, teachers and families.
To address this issue, we broadened our strategy. In addition to supporting quality recruitment and hiring, The Fund is now also working to significantly improve the conditions in which principals lead schools. We published our 2014 survey of Chicago’s district and charter principals School Leadership: A Baseline Report. It highlights principals’ widespread desire and need for more differentiated leadership development opportunities and increased flexibility in their roles. These insights built momentum for the second year of the Chicago Principals Fellowship and helped spur Chicago Public Schools’ recent creation of a new Independent Schools Principal Program.
This summer, we surveyed principals again. This time, we heard even more voices from across the city; 423 principals answered us. This represents 65 percent of Chicago’s public schools and is a 50 percent increase over our 2014 survey. The results suggest similar themes, and they provide a deeper look into how we can keep and empower great principals to lead growth and change in their schools.
We have a long way to go: despite high levels of general satisfaction, principals overwhelmingly tell us that their jobs are simply unsustainable. More than 40 percent of top Chicago principals plan to leave in the next three years; 25 percent in the next year. Informed by principals’ own ideas, this report outlines the actions we can take as a city to begin reversing this troubling trend.
Over the next year, The Fund will continue leading this work. Along with members of the Donors Forum Leadership & Human Capital Group, we are renewing our call for principal leadership to be a central focus of Chicago’s education community. We are encouraged that Chicago Public Schools has recently convened a Principal Quality Working Group to examine this issue. The Fund is prepared to consider future investments that align with and advance the Working Group’s recommendations.
To achieve our city’s shared goals for public school excellence, we must make Chicago the best city in America for school leadership. The next step on that path is keeping our top principals for longer. Equipped for the first time with details about what principals need, and ideas on how we might work together to provide it, we believe this goal is within reach.
If we are serious about providing world-class public schools for all of Chicago’s students, we must create an environment that allows our top leaders to learn, grow and stay.
Heather Y. Anichini,
CEO, The Chicago Public Education Fund (The Fund)
Chicago is losing its best school leaders. Four out of every ten of the city’s top public school principals tell us they plan to leave in the next three years. History says we should take them seriously; that number is consistent with the number of principals who did leave in the last three years.
Rapid principal turnover has real implications for all of us – especially our students. Principal departures are associated with declining student achievement, which can persist for up to two years.1 Like leaders in all industries, principals are also uniquely influential in the retention or turnover of their best team members. Even through times of transition or resource reduction, great principals keep great teachers.2 This benefits students, schools and communities.
The top three degree-granting institutions are:
1 Chicago State University
2 Northeastern Illinois University
3 University of Illinois at Chicago
In school year 2014-15, the median principal was responsible for:
Source: Available citywide data for 2014-15 school year.
In 2014, we began surveying all of Chicago’s district and charter school principals with one goal in mind: to understand what they need to continue improving and stay engaged in their jobs. We complement these surveys with principal focus groups and exit interviews, ensuring we hear detailed suggestions and grasp the intention behind the feedback offered.
Over six weeks in the summer of 2015, we conducted our second citywide survey of principals. This report summarizes what 423 of them had to say.
Principals are the instructional leaders of their buildings, but compliance – tasks like completing forms and fulfilling data requests – takes their time and attention away from teaching and learning. Just 45 percent of principals say they spend the majority of their time supporting instruction.
We have to help principals spend their time where it matters most: in classrooms, with teachers and students.
|Decrease time spent on compliance||70.5%|
|Increase individualized professional development opportunities||46.0%|
|Increase control over professional development for staff||30.4%|
|Increase efficiency of the district’s procurement process||23.6%|
|Increase authority over personnel decisions||46.5%|
|Increase support from network||28.9%|
|Increase job perks||21.6%|
More than 70 percent of all principals say that reducing compliance will improve their job satisfaction, by far the top choice among all eight options.
Principals spend almost as much time on compliance as they do working directly with teachers.
State and district policies grant principals in Chicago significant control over their school resources. Nearly half of all principals say they are unable to meaningfully use this flexibility. They do not feel empowered to develop their budget or schedule to dynamically meet needs, and they do not feel equipped to meet higher standards for instruction. Principals, especially new ones, often lack the technical experience required to manage limited resources strategically.
To help principals make the most of their resources, we must provide them with coaching and tools they can use.
Principals want frequent feedback from their managers and the ability to choose from differentiated professional development opportunities. So much so that they are 3 times more likely to rate a development opportunity “excellent” if they choose it themselves. Unfortunately, the traditional model too often offers just one option, meeting few principals’ needs.
If we’re serious about supporting and retaining our school leaders, we must enable them to choose their own professional development.
2 out of 5 principals seek development opportunities from providers outside of their district or charter network.
Principal responses are highly dependent on their manager. In one CPS network, less than 20 percent of principals reported receiving regular feedback to improve their practice, compared with nearly 90 percent in another network.
All principals should receive regular feedback from their managers, as well as growth opportunities that are differentiated for them.
Each day, hundreds of top principals across the city strive to do more for their students. Like most top-performers, they are motivated by new challenges and continual learning, and they work with their teachers and students to light the path to world-class public schools.
We must empower principals by providing opportunities that allow them to keep learning while redefining what’s possible for students in all our schools. Specifically, top Chicago principals ask for:
“Schools need dynamic leaders, and those leaders need cultivation to become their very best. I need to be free to make the decisions that improve my school, but I also need a network of peers to share ideas. ISP has given me both that flexibility and that network.”
ISP provides successful, experienced principals with the opportunity to run their schools with limited oversight and management from CPS central office and more flexibility to innovate.
Principals served: 28 since 2015
“Being a principal is a lonely job, and sometimes the solutions you need come from your colleagues, not central office. The Fellowship helped me dive back into what leadership is all about. Having those conversations with my colleagues and business professors elevated my professional development and added tremendous value to my learning.”
The Fellowship is a rigorous, year-long executive leadership program designed by Northwestern University to support and retain top public school principals citywide.
Principals served: 41 since 2014
“As a leader, programs like Breakthrough Schools: Chicago challenge me to model behaviors and transform my practices to reflect my expectations for my team and to show what innovation should look like in classrooms. I implemented flipped meetings and personalized professional development to give teachers more agency and ownership, resulting in significant professional gains.”
Breakthrough Schools: Chicago is a local-national partnership awarding competitive planning and implementation grants that allow innovative principals to begin re-shaping their schools to better meet student needs.
Principals served: 22 since 2014
“After leading an elementary school for nine years, I was ready for a new challenge. I gained perspective on how my skill set might be applicable in a new school environment through the Chicago Principals Fellowship. When the opportunity arose to lead a high school, I saw it as a logical next step in my career.”
Master Principal Program
Top principals want to pilot new approaches that expand their leadership in Chicago, including coaching and mentoring other principals or leading in more challenging school settings.
Principals served: A pilot could serve up to 15
Over the last three years, almost half of Chicago principals quietly disappeared. Without fanfare, they made the decision to retire or resign from their roles. Among current principals, 44 percent – many of them top performers – plan to go just as quietly in the next three years. If this pattern holds, it will cost the 150,000 students and 7,000 teachers in their schools dearly. What’s more, it will undercut the progress our city has made to ensure every school is led by a great principal.
Since 2013, the number of great principals in Chicago has increased by 33 percent – from about 150 to more than 200. With the right investment of time, talent and resources, the city remains on track to 350 principals by 2018. This is the result of the hard work of so many in the school, nonprofit and funding communities; uniting to recruit stronger talent, to help high-potential principals develop and achieve more, and to encourage principals to pioneer innovations that redefine what’s possible for the students we serve.
If we want to accelerate our progress toward 350 and move beyond it, we must address the urgent challenge of keeping our top principals in schools for longer. Short of that, we’ll merely replace existing strong principals with new ones, unable to advance from a place where little more than half our students have access to great leaders in their schools.
To serve every student well, we must minimize the time principals spend on compliance, help them leverage their school resources, meet their individual development needs, and provide challenging opportunities that keep them engaged. That work cannot be done alone.
But it can be done.
Chicago can be the best city in America to lead a public school.
The future of our public schools and the fabric of our great city depend on it.
Parents and community members can recognize great principals in their schools. Thank principals for their tireless work or ask how you can support them – no effort is too small.
Nonprofits can continue to improve professional training and resources for principals. Modify your offerings to ensure all principals receive the personalized support they need.
CPS and charter networks can remove unnecessary burdens on principals’ time, recognize principal achievement and growth in meaningful ways, and plan for effective succession of school leaders.
Philanthropies can accelerate principal quality efforts. Build on investments in principal training by expanding funding to include individualized support and retention efforts.
We would especially like to thank Fund team members Nelson Gerew, Matt Lyons, Destiny B. Ortega and Lauren B. Rapp for their contributions to this report. Additionally, we are grateful to the principals featured in this report and to all of the principals who participated in our 2015 Principal Engagement Survey.
Tyre, Peg. “Why do more than half of principals quit after five years?,” The Hechinger Report (2015). [September 26, 2015].
New Leaders. Leadership Matters (2015). [April 5, 2015].
Bryk, Anthony S., Penny Bender Sebring, Elaine Allensworth, Stuart Luppescu, and John Q. Easton. Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. Print.
Unless otherwise cited, all data in this report comes from analysis of CPS data and/or The Fund’s surveys and focus groups.