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Principals and school leadership
Principals are widely seen as a key influence on the educational environment of schools, and nearly all principals have experience as teachers. Yet there is no evidence on whether we can predict the effectiveness of principals (as measured by their value added) based on their value added as teachers, an issue we explore using administrative data from Washington. Several descriptive features of the principal labor market stand out. First, teachers who become principals tend to have higher levels of educational attainment while teaching and are less likely to be female, but we find no significant differences in licensure test scores between those teachers who become principals and those we do not observe in the principalship. Second, principal labor markets appear to be quite localized: about 50 percent of principals previously taught in the same district in which they assumed a principalship. We find positive correlations between teacher and principal value added in reading (ELA) and similarly sized but less precise estimates in math. Teachers who become principals have slightly higher teacher value added, but the difference between the two groups is not statistically significant, suggesting that principals are not systematically selected based on their prior effectiveness when serving as a classroom teacher.
Citation: Dan Goldhaber, Kristian Holden, Bingjie Chen (2019). Do More Effective Teachers Become More Effective Principals?. CALDER Working Paper No. 215-0119-1
An increasing emphasis on principals as key to school improvement has contributed to efforts to elevate principal effectiveness that have taken various forms across the US. The primacy of the state as the focal point of educational reform elevates the value of understanding commonalities and differences among states in characteristics of principals, the distribution of principals among schools and ultimately the policies associated with more effective school leadership, particularly for disadvantaged children. This paper describes major state policies, the distribution of elementary school principals among schools along a several dimensions, and pathways to the principalship to illustrate similarities and differences among six states in the tenure and experience distributions and how these vary by student demographic characteristics and district size. Measurement of principal effectiveness and its relationship with principal characteristics and state policies would be ideal, but complications introduced by the dynamics of principal influences and confounding effects of other factors inhibit this effort. Nonetheless, school value added to achievement provides information on differences in principal effectiveness, and we report within-school variation value added across principal regimes and the associations between value added and principal characteristics. The analysis reveals many similarities and some differences among the states, some of which are related to differences in governance structures. Perhaps the most striking differences relate to the pathways to the principalship including the fraction of principals with experiences as assistant principals and teachers.
Citation: Wes Austin, Bingjie Chen, Dan Goldhaber , Eric Hanushek, Kristian Holden, Cory Koedel, Helen Ladd, Jin Luo, Eric Parsons, Gregory Phelan, Steven Rivkin, Tim Sass, Mavzuna Turaeva (2019). Path to the Principalship and Value Added: A Cross-state Comparison of Elementary and Middle School Principals. CALDER Working Paper No. 213-0119-1
Educators in public schools in the United States are typically enrolled in defined-benefit pension plans, which penalize across-plan mobility. We use administrative data from Missouri to examine how the mobility penalties affect the labor market for school leaders, and show that pension borders greatly reduce leadership flows across schools. Our most conservative estimates indicate that removing a pension border that divides two groups of schools will increase leadership flows between the groups by roughly 100 percent. We consider the implications of our findings for workforce quality in schools near pension borders in Missouri. Our results are of general interest given that thousands of public schools operate near pension boundaries nationwide. See Working Paper 67 for an updated version.
Citation: Cory Koedel, Jason Grissom, Shawn Ni, Michael Podgursky (2012). Pension-Induced Rigidities in the Labor Market for School Leaders. CALDER Working Paper No. 67
Although much has been written about the importance of leadership in the determination of organizational success, there is little quantitative evidence due to the difficulty of separating the impact of leaders from other organizational components – particularly in the public sector. Schools provide an especially rich environment for studying the impact of public sector management, not only because of the hypothesized importance of leadership but also because of the plentiful achievement data that provide information on institutional outcomes. Outcome-based estimates of principal value-added to student achievement reveal significant variation in principal quality that appears to be larger for high-poverty schools. Alternate lower-bound estimates based on direct estimation of the variance yield smaller estimates of the variation in principal productivity but ones that are still important, particularly for high poverty schools. Patterns of teacher exits by principal quality validate the notion that a primary channel for principal influence is the management of the teacher force. Finally, looking at principal transitions by quality reveals little systematic evidence that more effective leaders have a higher probability of exiting high poverty schools.
Citation: Gregory F. Branch, Eric Hanushek, Steven Rivkin (2012). Estimating the Effect of Leaders on Public Sector Productivity: The Case of School Principals. CALDER Working Paper No. 66
Principals tend to prefer working in schools with higher-achieving students from more advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. Principals often use schools with many poor or low-achieving students as stepping stones to what they view as more desirable assignments. District leadership can also exacerbate principal turnover by implementing policies aimed at improving low-performing schools such as rotating school leaders. Using longitudinal data from one large urban school district we find principal turnover is detrimental to school performance. Frequent turnover results in lower teacher retention and lower student achievement gains, which are particularly detrimental to students in high-poverty and failing schools.
Citation: Tara Beteille, Demetra Kalogrides, Susanna Loeb (2011). Stepping Stones: Principal Career Paths and School Outcomes. CALDER Working Paper No. 58
In an era of greater school accountability, leadership matters. For decades, principals have been recognized as vital to the effectiveness of schools, but strong empirical evidence on the extent to which, and the ways in which, school leaders matter has not been available. CALDER researchers have advanced our knowledge in this area by skillfully drawing on rich state longitudinal databases. This brief synthesizes new findings on the effectiveness and distribution of principals, the characteristics of good leadership, and how best to prepare principals for this increasingly demanding job.
Citation: Jennifer King Rice (2010). Principal Effectiveness and Leadership in an Era of Accountability: What Research Says. CALDER Working Paper No.
This paper uses data from New York City to estimate how the characteristics of school principals relate to school performance, as measured by students' standardized exam scores and other outcomes. There is little evidence of any relationship between school performance and principal education and pre-principal work experience, but some evidence that experience as an assistant principal at the principal's current school is associated with higher performance among inexperienced principals. There is a positive relationship between principal experience and school performance, particularly for math test scores and student absences. The experience profile is especially steep over the first few years of principal experience. Finally, there is mixed evidence on the relationship between formal principal training and professional development programs and school performance, with the caveat that the selection and assignment of New York City principals participating in these programs make it hard to isolate their effects. The positive returns to principal experience suggest that policies which cause principals to leave their posts early (e.g., via early retirement or a move into district administration) will be costly, and the tendency for less-advantaged schools to be run by less experienced principals could exacerbate educational inequality.
In this study authors use longitudinal data from one large school district – Miami-Dade County Public Schools, to investigate the distribution of principals across schools. They find schools serving many low-income, non-white, and low-achieving students have principals with less experience, less education, and who attended less selective colleges. This distribution of principals is partially driven by the initial match of first-time principals to schools at the beginning of their careers and is exacerbated by systematic attrition and transfer away from these schools. Supplementing these data with surveys of principals, the authors find principals' stated preferences for school characteristics mirror observed distribution and transfer patterns. Principals prefer to work in easier to serve schools with favorable working conditions which also tend to be schools with fewer poor, minority and/or low-achieving students.
Citation: Eileen Lai Horng, Demetra Kalogrides, Susanna Loeb (2009). Principal Preferences and the Unequal Distribution of Principals Across Schools. CALDER Working Paper No. 36
While the importance of effective principals is undisputed, few studies have addressed what specific skills principals need to promote school success. This study draws on unique data combining survey responses from principals, assistant principals, teachers and parents with rich administrative data to identify which principal skills matter most for school outcomes. Factor analysis of a 42-item task inventory distinguishes five skill categories, yet only one of them, the principals' organization management skills, consistently predicts student achievement growth and other success measures. Analysis of evaluations of principals by assistant principals confirms this central result. The analysis argues for a broad view of instructional leadership that includes general organizational management skills as a key complement to the work of supporting curriculum and instruction.
Citation: Jason Grissom, Susanna Loeb (2009). Triangulating Principal Effectiveness: How Perspectives of Parents, Teachers, and Assistant Principals Identify the Central Importance of Managerial Skills. CALDER Working Paper No. 35
School principals have complex jobs. To better understand the work lives of principals, this study uses observational time-use data for all high school principals in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. This paper examines the relationship between the time principals spent on different types of activities and school outcomes including student achievement, teacher and parent assessments of the school, and teacher satisfaction. Time spent on Organization Management activities is associated with positive school outcomes, such as student test score gains and positive teacher and parent assessments of the instructional climate, whereas Day-to-Day Instruction activities are marginally or not at all related to improvements in student performance and often have a negative relationship with teacher and parent assessments. This paper suggests that a single-minded focus on principals as instructional leaders operationalized through direct contact with teachers may be detrimental if it forsakes the important role of principals as organizational leaders.
Citation: Eileen Lai Horng, Daniel Klasik, Susanna Loeb (2009). Principal Time-Use and School Effectiveness. CALDER Working Paper No. 34
Much has been written about the importance of school leadership, but there is surprisingly little systematic evidence on this topic. This paper presents preliminary estimates of key elements of the market for school principals, employing rich panel data on principals from Texas State. The consideration of teacher movements across schools suggests that principals follow patterns quite similar to those of teachers – preferring schools that have less demands as indicated by higher income students, higher achieving students, and fewer minority students. Looking at the impact of principals on student achievement, there are some small but significant effects of the tenure of a principal in a school. Moreover, the variation in principal effectiveness tends to be largest in high poverty schools, consistent with hypothesis that principal ability is most important in schools serving the most disadvantaged students. Finally, principals who stay in a school tend to be more effective than those who move to other schools.
When given the opportunity, many teachers choose to leave schools serving poor, low-performing, and minority students. While substantial research has documented this phenomenon, far less effort has gone into understanding what features of the working conditions in these schools drive this relatively high turnover rate. This paper explores the relationship between school contextual factors and teacher retention decisions in New York City. The methodological approach separates the effects of teacher characteristics from school characteristics by modeling the relationship between the assessments of school contextual factors by one set of teachers and the turnover decisions by other teachers within the same school. Teachers' perceptions of the school administration have by far the greatest influence on teacher-retention decisions. This effect of administration is consistent for first-year teachers and the full sample of teachers and is confirmed by a survey of teachers who have recently left teaching in New York City.
Citation: Donald Boyd, Pamela Grossman, Marsha Ing, Hamilton Lankford, Susanna Loeb, James Wyckoff (2009). The Influence of School Administrators on Teacher Retention Decisions. CALDER Working Paper No. 25