NISL's Advanced Credentialing System for Principals

A transparent, codified and respected leadership development system for school principals.

Explore NISL's Advanced Credentialing System for Principals

NISL Advanced Credentialing System for Principals

U.S. Department of Education SEED grant funds large-scale pilot across three states.

NISL is implementing a national advanced credentialing system that aims to revolutionize the principalship in America. The project’s goal is more than to simply identify and credential high-performing principals but also to create large numbers of them.

The initiative is being piloted in partnership with state departments of education in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Mississippi under a three-year, $10.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education through its highly competitive Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant program.

NISL is building the advanced credentialing system based on two major research findings. First, numerous studies have pointed to the importance of a strong principal in accelerating student learning, particularly in low-performing schools. Second, based in large part on international benchmarking research conducted by its parent organization, the National Center on Education and the Economy, several of the highest-performing education systems in the world use a similar strategy to leverage school principal leadership development as a foundation of their improvement approach.

NISL’s advanced credentialing system will give principals a transparent, codified and respected leadership development system that supports and rewards them as they progress through their careers—as it does in the world’s top-performing education systems.

The advanced credentialing system will empower principals, building their capacity as instructional leaders to improve teacher effectiveness and increase student achievement—across whole schools and whole districts.

Why a Credentialing System?

There is now clear evidence that strong school leadership is required to turn around low-performing schools and that improving school leadership leads to improved student learning. Improving school leadership is also a cost effective way to improve the education system as a whole because a single principal impacts dozens of teachers and thousands of students during their careers.

So what is the best way to improve the quality of principals across an entire district? Research from NCEE’s Center on International Education Benchmarking shows that many of the top-performing countries in the world—as well as many high-performing organizations in other fields—systematically identify and nurture the talents of their leaders.

In high-performing education systems, this often takes the form of an advanced credentialing system along with a career ladder and an aligned professional development system.

These systems are particularly powerful as they are designed to not only identify strong leaders, but also create them. NISL’s advanced credentialing system is similarly designed to create strong leaders in two ways. First, it will make the credential valuable—for principals, for superintendents, and for policy makers. States may then create policies to increase the number of credentialed principals, superintendents can use the credential in hiring and promotion decisions and principals strive to obtain their credential.

Second, NISL’s system will have aligned and integrated support systems to help principals obtain their credentials. The support system is a combination of training, coaching and strong leadership development practices that accelerate a principal’s development into a highly effective leader. The cascading coaching model, where nearly all principals are receiving coaching from their more-accomplished peers, creates a “virtuous cycle” where the development of one principal benefits others.

About the Advanced Credentialing System

In late 2015, the U.S. Department of Education awarded NISL a $10.9 million Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant to create an Advanced Credentialing System for Principals. The highly competitive SEED grant program aims at creating learning and career growth opportunities for aspiring and current educators serving students in high-need schools.

As the sole school leadership program among the 12 recipients in the 2015 SEED grant cycle, NISL has engaged 160 districts across Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Mississippi to create an Advanced Credentialing System for Principals. The three-state effort has already enrolled some 1,100 principals serving more than 500,000 students.

Based on NISL’s years of research into the leadership development strategies and structures in the world’s best education systems and organizations, the SEED grant-funded initiative will include:

  1. Designing an advanced credentialing system, enlisting the expertise of an international team of educators and researchers that is supported by a two advanced credentials and an aligned professional development system.
  2. Piloting of the system in partnership with three states and 160 school districts.
  3. Conducting a “gold standard” evaluation of the pilot, in partnership with the RAND Corporation, to document the impact of the support system on principal leadership and to provide feedback to implement future improvements to the system.
  4. Building capacity at the state and district level to sustain the advanced credentialing system after the grant period is over.

NISL has convened a panel of experts to award the initial credentials to deserving educators. The initial criteria for a Distinguished Principals will include the following:

  • Professional Experience
  • Proven Leadership Success Relating to Student Achievement
  • Capacity for Strategic Leadership Including:
    1. High-quality aligned instructional systems
    2. High-quality teachers and teaching
    3. High-performance organization and management
    4. Equitable distribution of school resources

Distinguished Principals that have demonstrated they can improve the practice of school leaders earlier in their career will then be eligible for the Master Principal credential, a designation reserved for the most accomplished and influential school leaders in the profession.

The chart below illustrates the structure of the SEED grant-funded advanced credentialing system for principals both within the principal ranks and in the context of a broader educator career ladder.

SEED Ladder

Two advanced credentialing levels will be employed in the system design. Broadly speaking, the credentials will be awarded as follows:

  1. Distinguished Principal: Designates that the principal has established a track record of running a successful school over multiple years.
  2. Master Principal: Designates that the principal has obtained a Distinguished Principal credential and has also been able to improve the success of other principals through coaching, mentoring, supervision or training.

Importantly, the credential would be awarded once the track record has been established. NISL will administer a second credentialing process in 2017/2018. Distinguished Principal credentials will be awarded to a second cadre of educators as well as award our first Master Principal credentials.

NISL is committed to going beyond this pilot project to fully implement the credentialing system in the participating states and across the country. NISL’s goal is to create a valuable credential that provides benefits to districts and state education departments as well as to its holder like preferential hiring and promotions, first consideration for challenging opportunities in state and district programs, professional esteem, additional financial compensation.

Contact us to learn more about the SEED initiative.

News and Updates

For the most up-to-date news regarding NISL’s advanced credentialing system and distinguished principals, please click here to read more.

October 13, 2016
NISL’s CEO Discusses Distinguished Principals

Jason Dougal, CEO of NISL, discusses principals who have been awarded with the Distinguished Principal credential. Principals from Rankin, Harrison, Madison, Winona, Gulfport, Grenada, Sunflower and McComb school districts in Mississippi have been recognized.

Listen to the discussion on Super Talk Mississippi (discussion begins at 28:45).

June 10, 2016
NISL Launches Advanced Credentialing System for School Principals in KY, MS and PA

Some 1,100 school principals from Kentucky, Mississippi and Pennsylvania became the first educators eligible for the first-ever National Advanced Credential for School Principals as the National Institute for School Leadership launched its three-state effort this week.

Funded through a three-year $10.9 million Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) Grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the initiative is based on NISL’s years of research on the leadership development strategies and structures in the world’s best education systems and organizations.

“This initiative will keep our most talented principals in a field that desperately needs them,” said NISL CEO Jason Dougal. “Advanced credentials will empower principals with the ability to train and coach early-career colleagues, strengthening school leadership at scale and increase the future pool of candidates for advanced credentialing.”

A respected, international team of school leadership experts has been convened to advise NISL through the course of the project. A top research team from the RAND Corporation, using a rigorous, random control trial design, will study the impact of the advanced credentials on student achievement and growth, teacher effectiveness and school climate.

To learn more, please contact us.


Download Kentucky Distinguished Principal Candidates Institute Information

Download Mississippi Distinguished Principal Candidates Institute Information

Download Pennsylvania Distinguished Principal Candidates Institute Information (Cohort 1)

Download Pennsylvania Distinguished Principal Candidates Institute Information (Cohort 2)

How NISL Can Support Districts or States to Dramatically Improve School Leadership

NISL is prepared to support states and districts interested in dramatically improving their corps of school principals. NISL can offer technical assistance to deign and implement a sequenced rollout for school leadership credentialing and support systems. We can also provide the same support components found in our SEED-funded initiative.

These include:

  • Rigorous professional development for all school leaders: NISL’s Executive Development Program provides a foundation of research-proven leadership development to school leaders at every stage of their career.
  • Targeted training for experienced principals: Intensive leadership institutes focused on critical issues, including:
      1. Targeted Student Populations: English Language Learners, Students with Disabilities, Early Childhood
      2. Areas of Leadership: Instructional Coaching, Parent/Family/Community Engagement
      3. High Priority School Goals: College and Career Readiness
  • Train-the-Trainer certification for Advanced Credentialed school leaders so that they can scale and sustain rollout of the EDP and Targeted Institutes.
  • Coaching Training for Advanced Credentialed school leaders so that they can better support principals earlier in their career. This training program equips coaches with a research-based coaching model and empowers them to use the EDP framework and tools to advance instructional leadership in their coachees.

To see how NISL can support your school or district, please contact us.