'Principal Pipelines' Cut Turnover, Benefit Students, Study Finds

'Principal Pipelines' Cut Turnover, Benefit Students, Study Finds

"Principal pipelines," a strategic approach to the hiring, preparation, evaluation, and support of school leaders, can help school districts improve student achievement, a study by the RAND Corporation, with support from the Wallace Foundation, finds. 

The report, Principal Pipelines: A Feasible, Affordable, and Effective Way for Districts to Improve Schools (156 pages, PDF), evaluated outcomes at six large urban districts that participated in the foundation's six-year, $85 million Principal Pipeline Initiative, which helped fund the cost of setting up principal pipelines and strengthening the skills of principals' supervisors. The evaluation found that schools with newly placed principals outperformed comparison schools after three years — by 6.22 percentile points in reading and 2.87 percentile points in math, with lower-performing schools benefiting the most. The report's authors "found no other comprehensive district-wide initiatives with demonstrated positive effects of this magnitude on achievement."

The study also found that new principals in participating districts were 5.8 percentage points more likely to stay in their jobs for at least two years than were new principals in comparison schools, and 7.8 percentage points more likely to stay in their jobs for at least three years. The report also notes that implementing a principal pipeline approach is affordable, with districts participating in the initiative spending $42 per pupil per year, or less than 0.5 percent on average of their annual budget, to operate and enhance a pipeline — including activities that districts had implemented prior to the initiative.

"Our study provides compelling evidence that when districts set clear leadership expectations and used those standards to hire, develop and support strong leaders, then principals, schools, and students benefited," said Susan Gates, lead researcher on the report and a senior economist at RAND. "The positive effects were remarkably widespread across grade levels and across districts."

"This study has important implications for school districts trying to improve student achievement," said Jody Spiro, the Wallace Foundation's director of education leadership. "The findings show that the achievement effects were notably large for the lowest performing group of students. That means states and districts could use federal Title 1 money to promote pipelines in their statewide school improvement plans."

"'Principal Pipelines' Benefit Students, Reduce Principal Turnover." Wallace Foundation and RAND Corporation Press Release 04/08/2019. "Principal Pipelines: A Feasible, Affordable, and Effective Way for Districts to Improve Schools." RAND Corporation Report 04/08/2019.