A new study of New York City’s vaunted training program for principals finds that schools led by the program’s elementary and middle school leaders made gains in English-language arts at a faster pace than other city schools led by new principals.
Conducted by New York University’s Institute for Education and Social Policy, the analysis looks at average test scores for schools run by graduates of the first two cohorts trained by the Aspiring Principals Program. The principals took the helm of their schools in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years.
Those results were compared with the performance of other new principals in the city who started at the same time.
The study—the first independent examination of the program’s effectiveness—includes principals who remained at the same school for three or more years. Using the data from those years, researchers compared the scores of the average student in each of those schools with the citywide grade-level average.
The Aspiring Principals Program is run by the New York City Leadership Academy, an organization launched with backing from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, but independent from the school system.
The 14-month principal-training program was launched as the 1.1 million-student district looked for ways to increase the pipeline of strong principals, particularly at low-performing schools, amid a move to create a system that gave principals more autonomy over how their schools are run. (“Academy in N.Y.C. Prepares Principals for Toughest Jobs,” Dec. 7, 2007.)
Principals trained by the program now number nearly 230 and make up about 15 percent of the principal force in the school district. The program has been criticized for its cost—it now has a $10 million annual contract with the New York City Department of Education. And a May analysis by The New York Times found that schools run by principals who went through the program were not earning as high grades as schools with more traditionally prepared principals on the city’s report card accountability system.
“These were schools no one wanted. This program successfully placed those principals in those schools,” said Sean P. Corcoran, an NYU professor of educational economics and a co-author of the study. “From what we are able to tell, they were able to begin to reverse the academic decline these schools were in. And that’s a very significant thing.”
The corps produced by the program has brought a different demographic to the city’s principal ranks. Its school leaders are younger, more likely to be black, and less likely to have been assistant principals than other new principals.
The study also confirms that the principals trained by the Aspiring Principals Program were more likely to be placed in schools that were among the city’s lowest-performing than other schools that received a new principal during the same time period.
Amy B. McIntosh, the school system’s chief talent officer, said the study confirms the academy’s work is meeting its goals.
“We have this pool of diverse, prepared, ready-to-tackle-the
hard-challenges [people] taking on schools that are failing, that are in decline and turning them around,” she said. “Turnaround is different work than carrying on the legacy of a moderately or very successful principal.”
In the early years after the newly trained principals took over, the schools run by other principals were doing better in mathematics, although the difference was not statistically significant, Mr. Corcoran said.
By the third and fourth years of their leadership, however, the comparison schools fell further behind the city’s average, while schools led by APP-trained principals continued an upward trend, showing a statistically significant difference by the third year.
Results for high schools were inconclusive, because of a relatively small sample, Mr. Corcoran said.
In future studies, the New York City Leadership Academy wants to examine how school-level decisions by principals affect teacher efficacy and student achievement, said Sandra J. Stein, the academy’s chief executive.
Studying the “theory of change” in each building will give the academy a better understanding of what leadership practices bring the best outcomes, she said.
“The academy is meeting that purpose of going into schools that previously had been hard to staff because people didn’t want to go into the turnaround schools,” she said. “We can see in our preparation, and carry it through to our results, that they are changing the trajectory of the schools.”
A version of this article appeared in the August 26, 2009 edition of Education Week as Principal Program in N.Y.C. Linked to Student Test Gains