Investing in school principals can have a significant impact on students and teachers, a research review commissioned by the Wallace Foundation finds.
The study, How Principals Affect Students and Schools: A Systematic Synthesis of Two Decades of Research (137 pages, PDF), draws on more than two hundred studies over twenty years and argues that school principals are an even more important factor in student success than previously believed and that investments in successful strategies to better prepare and support them often lead to large payoffs.
The report identifies four principal behaviors linked to positive school outcomes: a focus on high-leverage engagement around instruction, including teacher evaluation, feedback and coaching, and the creation of data-driven instructional programs; establishing a productive school climate in which all staff spend their time engaging in or supporting effective instruction; facilitating collaboration and professional learning communities; and using personnel and resource management processes (including resources such as time and social capital) strategically. The report's authors underscore the importance of reorienting the work of principals toward educational equity and offer a vision of how the four behaviors can be implemented with an equity focus.
The report also found that while women comprised 54 percent of all principals in 2016, compared with 25 percent in 1988, and the ranks of school principals are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, there is a growing racial/ethnic gap between principals and the students they serve, especially Latinx students. "These representation gaps raise concerns in light of the research we review linking principal demographic diversity to better outcomes for students of color, including test score gains and non-achievement outcomes, such as higher likelihood of receiving gifted services," they write. "Principal diversity also affects teacher outcomes, including the likelihood that teachers of color are hired into a school and their likelihood of staying."
"We have a school leadership corps that is nearly 80 percent white and a student body that is only 53 percent white," said Constance A. Lindsay, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a co-author of the report. "The context of school leadership has changed significantly, and to address these patterns, schools and districts should reconsider their human resources policies and practices."