Principal Pipelines: A Feasible, Affordable, and Effective Way for Districts to Improve Schools

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: This study examined the efforts of six urban school districts to put in place systematic processes for the strategic management of school leaders -- a Principal Pipeline Initiative (PPI). The study finds that these programs are feasible, affordable, and effective, with students vastly outperforming their counterparts in non-PPI schools in academic performance and learning measures.

There is copious academic research demonstrating that improving school leadership quality improves student outcomes. One study found that “efforts to improve [school leader] recruitment, training, evaluation and ongoing development should be considered highly cost-effective approaches to successful school improvement."

This study's findings show that such efforts undertaken by committed large, urban districts are feasible, affordable, and effective: feasible because each district was able to put the recommended processes in place, affordable because the cost was less than 0.5 percent of the district budget, and effective because of the resulting impact on student achievement.

It finds that a comprehensive principal pipeline is more effective than business-as-usual approaches to the preparation and management of school leaders. A principal pipeline has four components: 

  1. Leader standards that guide all pipeline activities
  2. Preservice preparation opportunities for assistant principals and principals
  3. Selective hiring and placement
  4. On-the-job induction, evaluation, and support.

The results showed dramatic outperformance for PPI schools: 

  • After three or more years, schools with newly placed principals in PPI districts outperformed comparison schools with newly placed principals by 6.22 percentile points in reading and 2.87 percentile points in math.

  • These statistically significant and meaningful effects imply that a school that received a new principal and whose students would otherwise have been at the median in reading achievement would have scored above the 56th percentile as a result of the PPI.

  • Newly placed principals in PPI districts were 5.8 percentage points more likely to remain in their school for at least two years and 7.8 percentage points more likely to remain in their school for at least three years than newly placed principals in comparison schools.

  • These statistically significant and meaningful effects imply that for every 100 newly placed principals, the PPI is associated with nearly six fewer losses after two years and nearly eight fewer losses after three years.

  • The study found statistically significant, positive effects of the PPI on achievement in elementary and middle schools and some evidence of positive effects for high schools.

  • PPI effects on achievement were positive and statistically significant for schools in the lowest quartile of the achievement distribution and larger than for schools in the second-lowest quartile.

The study found that PPI is affordable, with districts spending about $42 per student per year on pipeline activities during the initiative. The per-student costs of the PPI are small relative to the student achievement benefits, based on a comparison between the academic return on investment (ROI) for PPI and other educational interventions.

Read the full study HERE

Feature Charticle

Change in Student Achievement in Schools that Received a Newly Placed Principal from the Principal Pipeline Initiative

RAND

Findings:

  • After three or more years, schools with newly placed principals in districts with a Principal Pipeline initiative (PPI) outperformed comparison schools with newly placed principals by 6.22 percentile points in reading and 2.87 percentile points in math.

  • These statistically significant and meaningful effects imply that a school that received a new principal and whose students would otherwise have been at the median in reading achievement would have scored above the 56th percentile as a result of the PPI.

  • Newly placed principals in PPI districts were 5.8 percentage points more likely to remain in their school for at least two years and 7.8 percentage points more likely to remain in their school for at least three years than newly placed principals in comparison schools.

Read the full study HERE