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Developing Effective Principals: What Kind of Learning Matters?

May 23, 2022

Effective principals can generate better outcomes for the teachers, students and the schools they lead. But great principals don't grow on trees; they receive high-quality development and ongoing support.In this report, researchers synthesize two decades of research on principal pre-service preparation and professional development and describe results of their own additional studies. They find that high-quality learning programs for future and current principals are associated with improved outcomes such as principals' feelings of preparedness, teacher satisfaction and retention, and student achievement.  Evidence also suggests that a focus on equity-oriented leadership has the potential to improve principals' ability to meet the needs of diverse learners.The research was led by Linda Darling-Hammond, who was also lead author of an influential report, released 15 years ago, describing the key characteristics of effective principal preparation and professional development.  The report finds that high-quality pre-service preparation programs have common elements:Rigorous recruitment of candidates into the program;Close school district-university partnerships;Groupings of enrollees into cohorts;Experiences where candidates apply what they learn, guided by experienced mentors or coaches; andA focus on important content, with the five most important areas being leading instruction, managing change, developing people, shaping a positive school culture and meeting the needs of diverse learners.Mentoring and coaching were influential and valuable for current principals, along with collegial learning networks and applied learning, the report finds.Researchers found via a national survey that principals' access to high-quality learning opportunities appears to have improved over the last decade, with more than two-thirds of principals today reporting having had at least minimal access to learning across the five key content areas. At the same time, there are clearly gaps. One example: "Few principals have access to authentic, job-based learning opportunities during preparation, and high-quality internships are still relatively rare," the report says. In addition, access to learning opportunities varies greatly across states and by school poverty level, an indicator that also tends to reflect the racial demographics of a school. Principals in high-poverty schools were much less likely to report that they had professional development on important topics including redesigning schools for deeper learning and designing professional learning opportunities for teachers and other staff, for example. And only 10 percent of principals in high-poverty schools reported having had a mentor or coach in the last two years versus 24 percent in low-poverty schools.Across the country, most principals reported wanting more professional development in nearly all topics, but faced obstacles in pursuing learning opportunities, including lack of time and insufficient money.The authors emphasize that state policies can make a difference in the availability and quality of leadership preparation programs. In states and districts that overhauled standards and used them to inform principal preparation, learning opportunities, and assessment, there is evidence that the quality of principal learning has improved.To foster high-quality principal learning, the authors suggest that policymakers can:Develop and better use state principal licensing and program approval standards;Fund statewide efforts, such as leadership academies, paid internships and mentor training; andEncourage greater attention to equity by, for example, allocating professional development resources to schools that need them most or funding high-quality preparation for prospective principals of high-poverty schools.The report is the third of three research syntheses commissioned by Wallace. The first, released in February 2021, examined the critical role of principals in student learning and other outcomes. The second examined the increasingly important role of assistant principals and was released in April 2021. 

From Access to Equity: Making Out-of-School-Time Spaces Meaningful for Teens From Marginalized Communities

April 14, 2022

This brief summarizes findings and ideas that emerged from a Wallace-commissioned literature review and set of interviews with experts in the field to identify major challenges to—and leading practices toward—equity in out-of-school-time programs. The effort was led by Bianca Baldridge, a researcher and former youth worker, now at Harvard University, who examines out-of-school-time programming and the intersection of race, class and power. The other research team members were Daniela K. DiGiacomo of the University of Kentucky, Ben Kirshner of the University of Colorado Boulder, Sam Mejias of Parsons School of Design, and Deepa S. Vasudevan of Wellesley College.Using a social justice perspective, Baldridge and her team conducted a review of pertinent research from the past 20 years; interviewed experts in out-of-school-time research, policy and practice; and conducted focus groups with professionals in the field. They also launched a research project, carried out by high school and college students, to examine young people's views of equity in and access to out-of-school-time programs. A summary of the youth-led research accompanies this brief.  Baldridge and her colleagues divided their high-level conclusions about out-of-school-time programs into two categories—those regarding marginalized youth and those regarding frontline workers. For the former, the team found that although many out-of-school-time programs seek to address inequity, programs also can perpetuate a "deficit-oriented" approach, in which Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian American and Pacific Islander youth are positioned as "at risk" and in need of being "fixed." The alternative, research suggests, is a "strengths-based, humanizing, and dignity-based approach." Practical measures that programs can take include ensuring the hiring and retention of program leaders and staff members who are more representative of the racial and cultural backgrounds of the program participants and engaging young people in actively addressing inequities in their communities.  Additionally, the researchers found that out-of-school-time staffers, many of whom come from the same backgrounds as program participants, reported experiences of tokenization or marginalization on the job. Further, although they often care deeply about their work, they frequently struggle with remaining in their positions because of low wages, job instability and other unfavorable conditions. A number of steps could change this picture, from paying youth-field workers a livable wage to offering them a clear pathway to leadership positions.

Principal Leadership in a Virtual Environment

December 2, 2021

Commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, which supports efforts to promote effective school leadership, this report sets out to define what high-quality, equitable learning looks like in a virtual environment. It poses questions for school district leaders to ask if they want to develop principals who can lead their schools to this type of learning. It also describes strategies for districts to consider in efforts to develop a whole pipeline of principals adept at high-quality, equitable virtual learning—using a definition of an "aligned, comprehensive principal pipeline" that emerged through research and field work funded by The Wallace Foundation. The report is based on an examination of research literature supplemented by interviews with 11 principals and administrators knowledgeable about virtual learning. It also draws on Digital Promise's experience in working with schools and school districts. The final chapter looks at topics that merit further exploration in the areas of virtual learning, equity, and school leadership.

Strong Pipelines, Strong Principals: A guide for leveraging federal sources to fund principal pipelines

December 1, 2021

A comprehensive, aligned principal pipeline is a systematic approach districts can use to develop and support school principals – one that researchers have termed a feasible, affordable and effective way to improve student achievement. This guide shows how federal funding sources can be used to help cover its cost, which is estimated at less than half a percent of a large district's annual budget.

How Can State Policy Support Local School Districts as They Develop Principal Pipelines?

October 6, 2021

State policy contributes to the overall environment that affects how school principals emerge, develop, and lead their schools. School districts are most proximate to the work that principals do and therefore have the most direct, regular engagement with candidates for the principalship, principals in training, and principals on the job. As a result, to understand the multiple processes that bring excellent principals into schools and support them on the job—metaphorically, the "principal pipeline"—one must account for local and state forces. This paper examines the nexus where state and local actions come together to develop and support excellent principals. It describes key policy levers that state officials can pull as they support the work of local officials as they work to develop comprehensive and aligned principal pipelines. Along the way, the paper offers key questions that state and local officials and their policy partners can ask in order to assess their strengths and weaknesses as they work together, leveraging their comparative advantages, to ensure that all schools have excellent principals.

Policies Seven States Enacted to Promote School Principal Effectiveness

August 3, 2021

In 2016, The Wallace Foundation launched the University Principal Preparation Initiative to help seven universities strengthen principal preparation and to help each state develop policies to improve principal effectiveness statewide. This chart summarizes which of seven policy levers were more often in place.

The Role of Assistant Principals: Evidence and Insights for Advancing School Leadership

April 1, 2021

Over the past 25 years, the number of assistant principals has been steadily increasing, as has the number of principals with prior experience as an assistant principal. However, the knowledge base on assistant principals has not grown in parallel with their increased presence in schools.Policymakers, practitioners, and researchers have not reached consensus on what the assistant principal role should entail, how to best prepare and support assistant principals, and how to effectively prepare them for success as principals. There is also little discussion about how the assistant principal role can promote equity and diversity in the pathway to the principalship as well as contribute to equitable experiences and outcomes for students, teachers, and staff.In this report, we present the results of a systematic synthesis of 79 empirical research studies on assistant principals published since 2000, including both quantitative and qualitative studies. To address gaps in this research base, we supplement the synthesis with new analyses of national data and data from two states, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. This report provides a descriptive portrait of the assistant principal role. It then addresses two important issues: diversity and equity among assistant principals and assistant principals' influence on student and school outcomes.

How Principals Affect Students and Schools: A Systematic Synthesis of Two Decades of Research

February 1, 2021

This groundbreaking synthesis of research on school principals finds that effective principals have positive impacts on student achievement and attendance, as well as teacher satisfaction and retention. Among key findings and recommendations:Studies using new data and methods show that the importance of principals may not have been stated strongly enough in earlier work, given the magnitude and scope of principals' impacts on students and schools.A principal in the 75th percentile of effectiveness yields an increase in student learning in reading and math of about three months, nearly as much as the four months of increased learning generated by a teacher at the 75th percentile, but across an entire school. The principal's effects on students are largely indirect, coming in good measure through teachers, with the principal influencing factors including teacher hiring and development as well as the conditions for sound learning.Evidence links four domains of principal behaviors to positive outcomes for students and schools—and they include but go beyond engagement with instruction.The principalship needs continued reorientation toward educational equity.Given the strength and scope of the impact of an effective principal, investing in successful strategies is likely to have a very large payoff.We need renewed attention to supporting a high-quality principal workforce.The report serves as a wide-ranging update to a landmark 2004 literature review, How Leadership Influences Student Learning, which helped establish the importance of principals after concluding that school leadership was second only to classroom instruction in school-related impacts on student learning. Both reports were commissioned by The Wallace Foundation.The updated synthesis draws on 219 high-quality research studies about school leadership published in the 20 years since 2000, the latter end of the period covered by the earlier review. Among the studies are six, all published since 2012, that examine principal impact by taking advantage of school and principal longitudinal data unavailable 20 years ago. It was through their analysis of these studies that the authors reached their conclusions about principal effects on student achievement.

Raising the Barre and Stretching the Canvas: Implementing High Quality Arts Programming in a National Youth Serving Organization

May 18, 2018

Experiences of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America suggest that large, multidisciplinary youth organizations can establish high-quality arts program.

Summer Learning Recruitment Guide

December 3, 2017

Research shows that students with high attendance in quality summer learning programs gain an advantage in math and reading. But getting kids to sign up for voluntary summer learning programs isn't easy. In this guide, you'll learn from five school districts how to launch a summer learning recruitment effort.

Raising the Barre and Stretching the Canvas: Implementing High Quality Arts Programming in a National Youth Serving Organization, Executive Summary

October 1, 2017

Experiences of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America suggest that large, multidisciplinary youth organizations can establish high-quality arts program.

School Leadership Interventions Under the Every Student Succeeds Act: Evidence Review - Updated and Expanded

December 13, 2016

This RAND analysis offers guidance to states and districts on how they can choose to use the Every Student Succeeds Act to help achieve their school improvement goals by supporting principals and other school leaders.