School & District Management

Study: New Leaders-Trained Principals Boost Student Scores in Some Schools

By Denisa R. Superville — May 15, 2014 3 min read
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Adding to a growing body of research on the effects of principal training on student achievement, a RAND Corporation analysis of the New Leaders Aspiring Principal program has found that students who attended schools helmed by New Leaders-trained principals had slightly higher achievement scores than similar students in schools headed by principals who were not in the New Leaders program.

The findings lend further support to reformers who have been calling for better principal and leadership training programs as a way to improve student outcomes.

The study, which looked at 10 districts in which New Leaders’ principals were placed, found that in the lower grades (K-8), the typical student in a school with a New Leaders-trained principal saw achievement gains on state assessment tests of 0.7 percentile points in reading and 1.3 percentile points in math.

In high schools where New Leaders principals had served for at least three years, the gains were about 3 percentile points in reading for a typical student, but were not statistically significant in math.

The student outcome results differed in the 10 districts. In Memphis, Milwaukee, Prince George’s County, Md., and New Orleans, however, researchers saw statistically negative results in at least one subject area in the lower grades in schools where New Leaders principals had been in place for less than three years. And in New York and Chicago, the effects were small and statistically insignificant. Both cities had principal preparation programs in place that were similar to the Aspiring Principal Program and that may explain the results in those cities, according to the report.

Still, the report concludes that the program has the potential to improve student achievement and that “effective principals positively affect student achievement—despite the fact that principals do not necessarily interact with students on a daily basis.”

The effects on student outcome was only one aspect of the seven-year study, which examined the Aspiring Principal Program and its implementation in traditional and public charter schools.

The report, “Preparing Principals to Raise Student Achievement: Implementation and Effects of the New Leaders Program in 10 Districts,” was released this week.

The study was commissioned by New Leaders, a New York City-based nonprofit established in 2000 that trains principals for jobs in urban schools. Principals undergo a tough admission process and one-year residency training, in which they are matched with a mentor principal in a school district that participates in the program. The program also provides continued support—including coaching and additional mentoring—for principals in their early years on the job.

The program is based on the presumption that principals who are prepared and afforded better working conditions, such as more autonomy, can improve student outcomes. But the study, which analyzed data from approximately 400 New Leaders principals serving 160,000 students, found that there was no clear pattern that explained the difference in achievement among students based on district conditions.

In the districts that saw the strongest positive effects from the program, the New Leaders principals reported below-average levels of autonomy. Whereas in places such as New York and Chicago, where the results were mixed or statistically insignificant, New Leaders principals reported above average levels of autonomy.

Researchers also found that a higher rate of teacher capacity was positively related to higher student outcomes in reading, while additional time on instructional leadership led to better outcomes in math.

New Leaders principals were likely to stay in their jobs longer than other newly placed principals, with particularly notable differences in retention in Milwaukee, Oakland, Baltimore, and New Orleans, where there was a 78 percent retention rate for New Leaders’ principals compared with 18 percent for those not in the program.

Training was only part of the story, researchers said, urging greater attention on districts’ working conditions and the role of building autonomy in principal success.

The program operates in Baltimore, Md.; Charlotte, N.C; Memphis, Tenn.; Greater New Orleans; New York; the San Francisco Bay Area (Oakland Unified School District and Aspire Public Schools); Prince George’s County, Md.; and Washington. It operated in Milwaukee, Wis., from 2006 to 2011.

The full report can be viewed here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.