Similar to trends in the teaching profession, states are battling turnover in school leadership and working to increase the number of highly trained, quality principals in schools. In the midst of a changing education landscape, state policymakers continue to explore ways to ensure school leaders are equipped to guide today’s students and teachers. Recent research has shown that effective school leadership is one of the greatest factors impacting student learning. To strengthen and increase the number of quality school leaders, state policymakers have developed policies around principal preparation and licensure that are grounded in school leadership standards.

Education Commission of the States has researched school principal certification and preparation policies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to provide this comprehensive resource.

Key Takeaways

  • At least 47 states and the District of Columbia have adopted leadership standards. Commonly adopted standards include academics/curriculum (42 states), mission/vision (38 states) and teaching/learning (32 states).
  • All 50 states and the District of Columbia require principal preparation programs to be aligned with state performance standards or national standards.
  • At least 39 states require practical experience, such as internships, residency or job experience, as part of principal preparation programs.
  • At least 16 states offer an alternative route to initial certification and at least 12 states allow specified entities to create an alternative route to initial certification.
  • At least eight states have established specific requirements for the certification of assistant principals.
  • At least seven states currently offer financial incentives to recruit or retain principals.

Click on the topics below to see how all states approach different aspects of school principal development and certification through state policy, guidance and practice. To view a specific state’s approach, visit the individual state profile page.


  1. Has the state adopted leadership performance standards?
  2. What are the state leadership performance standards for principals?


  1. Does state policy require school leader preparation programs to align with adopted performance standards?
  2. Does state policy require practical experience as part of school leader preparation programs?
  3. Does state policy allow for innovative or experimental preparation programs?
  4. Does the state have a mentorship program for upcoming/new principals?


  1. What are the school principal certification requirements for in-state candidates?
  2. What are the requirements for school principals licensed out-of-state?
  3. Is there an alternative route to initial certification?
  4. Does the state have a specific certification for assistant principals?

Financial Incentives

  1. Does the state have financial incentives for recruitment and/or retention bonuses for principals?
  2. Does the state have a salary schedule or salary minimums for school principals?

Click here to see all data points for all states.

Principal Development as a Strategy in School Improvement

Elevating School Leadership in State Policy

 PUBLISHED: September 20, 2023

 AUTHOR(S): , , ,



 STATE(S): Nationwide

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