To offer guidance to states, districts, and schools looking to hire alternatively licensed principals as a response to the difficulty in attracting qualified candidates for the principalship.


Increasing shortages in the numbers of qualified candidates applying for the principalship has contributed to more widespread use of alternative approaches to principal preparation and licensure. Numerous state legislatures have passed laws supporting alternative routes to the principalship, and new proposals continue to be offered at the state and federal levels Most of these initiatives seek to attract candidates from outside of the education profession on the premise that anyone with a background in business or management is a quality candidate for the principalship. The shortage of qualified candidates has also contributed to a “shortened path to the principalship” by which individuals have fewer years of experience in an educational profession to aid in their development as school leaders. This situation has resulted in creating a gap between licensed to serve and ready to serve.

NASSP Guiding Principles:

  • Selection of principals must be based on instructional leadership capacity rooted in established knowledge, skills, and dispositions that result in developing and maintaining effective instructional practice that leads to student learning.
  • Principals, as professionals, are charged with the coordination, facilitation, and implementation of instruction, curricula, pedagogical practice, and assessment in the service of teaching and learning.
  • A principal must demonstrate the instructional leadership skills and exercise the instructional acumen necessary to promote school-based reform, equity, and excellence for every student.
  • Principals, as instructional leaders, understand best practices and participate with instructional staff in high level conversations about teaching and learning toward improved student achievement.
  • Experience in the field of education along with leadership, management, and administrative skills are needed for effective school operation and school reform.
  • Quality principal candidates should be identified and “grown” from within the professional teaching ranks within the school district; mentoring and ongoing professional development programs must be established and resources allocated by district, state, and the federal government for this purpose.
  • Characteristics of highly effective principals were detailed in an NASSP board position statement released in November 2007.

Recommendations for states, districts and schools looking to hire alternatively licensed and certified principals:

  1. Initiatives focusing on alternative routes to the principalship should meet the Educational Leadership Policy Standards: ISLLC 2008
  2. Initiatives focusing on alternative routes to the principalship must ensure that candidates gain full understanding of the teaching and learning process before serving as practicing principals.
  3. Initiatives focusing on alternative routes to the principalship must ensure that candidates serve in an internship program under the guidance of an accomplished principal, and engage in a core set of formal developmental experiences that provide knowledge and understanding of being an instructional leader.
  4. Alternative principal candidates must attain a demonstrated understanding of educational research, and knowledge about how to effectively work and communicate with diverse audiences including students, parents, teachers, and the community.
  5. An appraisal of performance and progress must be conducted and reviewed on all alternative principals during the first two years at quarterly intervals.
  6. Discussion and use of alternative routes to the principalship must not distract from significant issues related to the recognition of commensurate pay and working conditions for principals.
  7. Regardless of the route to certification, principals must demonstrate understanding of the human growth and development aspects of students in the age range served by their schools.
  8. Principals who have come into the position via alternative routes must demonstrate effective observation, supervision and evaluation of teachers and the ability to develop others in order to increase the school’s capacity to better serve students.
  9. Principals who have come into the position via alternative routes must demonstrate effective supervision and support for student activities.


CCSSO. (2007). Educational Leadership Policy Standards: ISLLC 2008 as adopted by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration on December 12, 2007. Washington, DC: Author.

ERS, NASSP, NAESP. (2000). The Principal Keystone of a High-Achieving School: Attracting and Keeping the Leaders We Need. Reston, VA: Author.

Grossman, T. (2009) Building a High-Quality Education Workforce. A Governor’s Guide to Human Capital Development. NGA Center for Best Practices. Washington, DC

Herrington, C. D.; &Wills, B. K. (Jan/Mar 2005). Decertifying the Principalship: The Politics of Administrator Preparation in Florida. Educational Policy, v19 n1 p181-200.

Mitgang, L. D. (2007). Getting Principal Mentoring Right: Lessons from the Field. Perspective. New York, NY: Wallace Foundation.

NASSP. (November 2007) Board position statement on Highly Effective Principals.

Potter, L.; Devito, J.; Kinsey, R. (May 2004). Empowered Professional Training.Principal Leadership, v4 n9 p40-43.

Whitaker, K. (November 2006). Preparing Future Principals. Principal Leadership, v7 n3 pp. 38-42.