IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Principals as Instructional Leaders and Managers—Not an “Either-Or”

Recently Morgaen Donaldson (University of Connecticut) and Madeline Mavrogordato (Michigan State), Peter Youngs (University of Virginia), and Shaun Dougherty (University of Connecticut) presented early results from their IES-funded study on principal evaluation policies at the AERA national conference. We asked the team to share their preliminary findings.

What is the purpose of your study?

There is widespread agreement among researchers, policymakers, and practitioners that principals play a critical role in providing high-quality education to students. The role of principals may grow even larger under the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, which grants districts and states more flexibility regarding how to promote effective principal leadership. However, we know remarkably little about what school districts can do to improve principals’ leadership practices.

Given the importance of principals and the relative dearth of research on how to improve their leadership, we have been studying the extent to which principal evaluation systems focus on learning-centered leadership, one promising conception of leadership, in 22 districts in Connecticut, Michigan, and Tennessee. We are examining associations between the types of leadership emphasized in principal evaluation policies, the leadership practices that principals implement in their schools, and student performance.  

What is the major focus of principal evaluation policies?

To date, through document analysis we have found that district principal evaluation policies heavily emphasize instructional leadership, which focuses on teaching and learning issues, and de-emphasize managerial leadership, which concentrates on administrative tasks such as budgeting and overseeing school facilities. Similarly, in interviews and surveys superintendents and principals report that their evaluation systems focus on instructional leadership. For example, one Michigan superintendent said, “the emphasis on education right now [is] to take the principals away from being a manager to being an instructional leader.”

How are administrators actually interpreting the policies?

Further investigation revealed a more nuanced relationship between written district policies and administrators’ interpretations of these policies, however. We found no relationship between written policies’ emphasis on instructional leadership and principals’ survey responses regarding whether their district focused on this type of leadership. Principals’ perceptions of their district’s focus on managerial leadership was related to the emphasis of this type of leadership in the policies, however. Thus, when districts placed a higher emphasis on managerial leadership in their written evaluation policies, principals reported that they perceived a stronger emphasis on this type of leadership.

Moreover, we found that holding constant the written policy’s emphasis on managerial leadership, there was an inverse relationship between the written policies’ emphasis on instructional leadership and the principals’ perceived policy emphasis on managerial leadership. Thus, the greater the written emphasis on instruction, the less principals perceived that their policy emphasized management.

In addition, interview data reveal that although superintendents state that they emphasize instructional leadership they in fact weigh managerial leadership quite heavily. In superintendents’ framing, a principal’s competence in managerial leadership enabled him or her to practice instructional leadership. Superintendents asserted that when principals addressed managerial concerns, they could progress to exercising instructional leadership. If principals were unable to address managerial issues, superintendents reported that they moved rapidly to intervene and potentially remove principals.

What are the next steps for your IES research project?

These preliminary findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting a complex interplay between managerial and instructional leadership. They also reflect a longstanding tension between the two dominant conceptions of principal leadership among practitioners.  We plan to further examine the multifaceted relationship between instructional and managerial leadership as we continue our work on this project. We are currently surveying teachers about the types of leadership principals exercise in their schools and conducting a second round of interviews with superintendents to understand their perspectives in greater depth. In the next stage of the project, we will examine associations between the types of leadership emphasized in principal evaluation policies, the leadership practices that principals implement in their schools, and student performance in grades 3-8. 

Katina Stapleton, NCER Program Officer, oversees the project described in this blog post, and provided a framework for their responses.

Computerized Preschool Language Assessment Extends to Toddlers

Identifying young children with language delays can improve later outcomes

Language is a core ability that children must master for success both in and out of the classroom. Extensive studies have shown that many tasks, including math, depend on linguistic skill, and that early language skills are predictive of school readiness and academic success. Being able to quickly identify children at early ages with language delays is crucial for targeting effective interventions.

Enter the QUILS.

In 2011, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) at IES funded a 4-year grant to Dr. Roberta Golinkoff (University of Delaware) and Drs. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek (Temple University) and Jill de Villiers (Smith College) to develop a valid and reliable computer-based language assessment for preschoolers aged 3-5 years old. The resulting product was the Quick Interactive Language Screener (QUILS), a computerized tool to measure vocabulary, syntax, and language acquisition skills. The assessment ultimately measures what a child knows about language and how a child learns, and automatically provides results and reports to the teacher.

The preschool version of QUILS is now being used by early childhood educators, administrators, reading specialists, speech-language pathologists, and other early childhood professionals working with young children to identify language delays. The QUILS is also being utilized in other learning domains. For example, a new study relied on the QUILS, among other measures, to examine links between approaches to learning and science readiness in over 300 Head Start students aged 3 to 5 years.

QUILS is now being revised for use with toddlers. In 2016, the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) funded a 3-year study to revise the QUILS for use with children aged 24-36 months. The researchers have been testing the tool in both laboratory and natural (child care centers, homes, and Early Head Start programs) settings to determine which assessment items to use in the toddler version of QUILS. Ultimately, these researchers aim to develop a valid and reliable assessment to identify children with language delays so that appropriate interventions can begin early.

By Amanda M. Dettmer, AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow Sponsored by the American Psychological Association Executive Branch Science Fellowship

NCES Researchers to Give Presentations and Trainings at the American Educational Research Association’s Annual Meeting

NCES staff will give 14 presentations during the American Educational Research Association (AERA) 2018 Annual Meeting on topics ranging from Peer Victimization and Digital Learning to Higher Education and International Comparisons. The meeting takes place from April 12 to 17 and NCES staff will share their expertise in both research presentations and training sessions.

AERA is the nation’s largest professional organization devoted to the scientific study of education, and its annual meeting is the largest gathering of scholars in the field of education research.

The research presentations and training sessions involving NCES staff are listed below. In addition, the NCES booth will be featured at the exhibit hall where attendees can “ask an NCES expert,” learn how NCES data can support their research, or pick up publications and products.


Follow us throughout the conference on twitter using @EdNCES and the hashtag #AERA2018.


We hope you’ll join us whether in New York or online! A listing of all presentations by NCES staff is shown below. The first three sessions listed are trainings. Registration for the trainings is still open, but space is limited.



9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Training: Data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011) at NCES by Jim McCarroll

Sheraton New York Times Square, Lower Level, Flatiron Room

Training: Analyzing Data from International Large-Scale Assessment Using R by Emmanuel Sikali

Sheraton New York Times Square, Lower Level, Bowery Room



8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Training: Using NAEP Data on the Web for Educational Policy Research by Emmanuel Sikali

Sheraton New York Times Square, Lower Level, Chelsea Room

12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

The Feasibility of Collecting School-Level Finance Data by Stephen Cornman

New York Hilton Midtown, Third Floor, Rendezvous Trianon

Roundtable: Use of Research Evidence in the Era of the Every Student Succeeds Act

A Cross-National Comparison of Teacher Attrition in the United States and the Netherlands International Teachers by Lauren Musu-Gillette

New York Hilton Midtown, Third Floor, Trianon Ballroom              

Roundtable: International Teachers



10:35 a.m. – 12:05 p.m. 

Relationships Between Peer Victimization and Children's Academic Performance in Third Grade by Lauren Musu-Gillette

Crowne Plaza Times Square, Room 1503

Paper Session: Early Childhood Social-Emotional Issues

4:05 p.m. – 6:05 p.m.

Career Opportunities Outside Academe and Consultation Allowing Educational Research and Influences on National Policies: The Ronald D. Henderson Topical Table by Peggy Carr

New York Hilton Midtown, Third Floor, Trianon Ballroom

Panel Discussion


Implications of Study Findings for the Use of Multimedia-enhanced Stimuli in Assessments by Jing Chen

NCME, Westin New York at Times Square, Room TBD

Symposium: Towards Understanding the Facilitators and Inhibitors in Writing Tasks Containing Multimedia-Enhanced Stimuli



8:15 a.m. – 9:45 a.m.

An Overview of Findings from PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) and ePIRLS 2016 by Peggy Carr

New York Marriott Marquis, Fourth Floor, Brecht

Symposium: Findings and Implications from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2016

U.S. Achievement on PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) in the Context of NAEP Fourth Grade Reading Achievement by Eunice Greer

New York Marriott Marquis, Fourth Floor, Brecht

Symposium: Findings and Implications from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2016


A Deeper Look at PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) and ePIRLS 2016 Results: Status and Trends by Sheila Thompson

New York Marriott Marquis, Fourth Floor, Brecht

Symposium: Findings and Implications from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2016

10:35 a.m. – 12:05 p.m.

National Academy of Education Report on Methods and Policy Uses of International Large-Scale Assessments by Peggy Carr

New York Hilton Midtown, Second Floor, Nassau Suite B

Invited speaker

10:35 a.m. to 12:05 p.m.

Meet the Institute of Education Sciences Leadership by James Lynn Woodworth, National Center for Education Statistics/IES, U.S. Department of Education

New York Hilton Midtown, Second Floor, Murray Hill Room West

Invited speaker

6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Statistics in the Age of Ed Tech: Seeking a Deeper Understanding of America’s Digital Divide by Tom Synder

New York Marriott Marquis, Seventh Floor, Harlem

Panel discussion


Statistics in the Age of Ed Tech: Seeking a Deeper Understanding of America’s Digital Divide by Halima Adenegan

New York Marriott Marquis, Seventh Floor, Harlem

Panel Discussion



8:15 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.

A New Option to Identify Neighborhood Poverty Measurement of Socioeconomic Status and Related Constructs in Education Contexts by Douglas Geverdt

Westin New York at Times Square, Ninth Floor, Pearl Room

Symposium: Measurement of Socioeconomic Status and Related Constructs in Education Contexts

Serving as Discussant William Ward

Westin New York at Tim Measurement of Socioeconomic Status and Related Constructs in Symposium: Measurement of Socioeconomic Status and Related Constructs in Education Contexts

12:25 p.m. – 1:55 p.m.

State Capacity for Data Use: Findings on the Development and Implementation of Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems by Nancy Sharkey

New York Hilton Midtown, Fourth Floor, New York Suite

Paper Session: Examining the Capacity for Data Use


NCES Welcomes a New Commissioner

We are excited to welcome Dr. James Lynn Woodworth to his new position as Commissioner of NCES. Dr. Woodworth comes to the Center with a range of experience in the field of education. Before joining NCES, Dr. Woodworth worked as lead quantitative research analyst at the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. His areas of research include charter schools, online education, and school closures.

Prior to his work at CREDO, Dr. Woodworth served as a Distinguished Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, where he earned a doctorate in Education Policy. Dr. Woodworth also has a master’s degree in educational leadership and a bachelor’s degree in music education. He was a public high school teacher for 11 years before pursuing a research career.

Career Pathways Programming in Adult Education Programs: What We are Learning from Three Cities

As part of our series recognizing the IES investment in Career and Technical Education (CTE) research, we interviewed Esther Prins, Professor at Pennsylvania State University, about her NCER-funded project, Career Pathways Programming for Lower-Skilled Adults and Immigrants: A Comparative Analysis of Adult Education Providers in High-Need Cities.  This Researcher-Practitioner Partnership involves researchers at Pennsylvania State University working in collaboration with adult education providers in Chicago, Houston, and Miami to better understand how adult education programs are incorporating career pathways into their delivery models.

What is the education issue you and your partners trying to address?

Millions of U.S. adults have been left behind by the economy and rising education requirements for even minimum-wage jobs. Career pathway (CP) programs help adults prepare for employment and postsecondary education. Although recent federal policy (e.g., WIOA) has encouraged CP programming among adult education providers, there is little research to help guide practice and few opportunities for providers to learn about how their peers organize CP programs, who they serve, what outcomes they measure, and other program features.

What are career pathway programs in adult education?

CP programs develop adults’ basic math, reading, and English language skills, while concurrently preparing them to enter postsecondary education or jobs in specific fields like healthcare or manufacturing. These programs can be run through many kinds of institutions, including community colleges, workforce development organizations, and community-based organizations. The adults seeking CP classes may vary in their skill levels, but our project focused on the adults with greatest barriers to education and employment: those who did not graduate from high school or who have low math, reading, or English language scores.

What are some of the specific concerns your practitioner partners have?

Some practitioners are concerned that requirements programs must meet may unintentionally reward programs for enrolling higher-level students—the ones who are most likely to find a job or enroll in college—rather than serving students with the greatest need. They also want to know about what non-academic supports programs may need to provide, so we are exploring the role of wraparound support services. These are important because many adult learners experience poverty and related challenges such as transportation, childcare, housing, and financial instability.

What are some of the major findings thus far?

First, CP programming is widespread: more than 90% of the surveyed organizations offered or were developing CP classes in 2015. However, there are no shared program outcome measures, and this hinders comparison and documentation of programs’ collective impact. Coordination within cities primarily occurs on a small scale between a subset of organizations; citywide coordination across organizations and funding streams is less common.

Second, the majority of CP classes require students to meet minimum entry requirements such as passing a reading, math, or language test and/or possessing a high school degree. These requirements limit access for adults with the greatest barriers. To address these issues, programs are trying different options. For example, some programs offered multiple entry points (e.g., bridge classes) to enable adults with skills gaps to advance from lower-level to higher-level CP classes.

Third, agencies offer a variety of wraparound support services to meet students’ non-academic needs. Some programs bundle support services, meaning they require participation in at least two support services. These include screening for income supports and access to financial services, financial coaching and literacy, and job coaching.

The report on the survey is available online.


How are the findings being used?

Building on the findings from this study, the Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition formed a group of 13 adult education providers to staff a Career Navigator at their local American Jobs Center to address issues such as forming shared program metrics, helping adults with lower skills, and connecting adults to support services available at the American Jobs Center. 

What other issues need to be studied?

Practitioners are interested in better understanding the long-term effects and trajectories of students in CP programs. For example, they’d like to know more about postsecondary and employment outcomes and whether certain individual characteristics, program supports, or instructional approaches lead to better outcomes. Additional research could help shed light on these issues.

Meredith Larson, NCER Program Officer, interviewed Esther Prins 

The figures above are from an infographic prepared by the research team and summarize the data gathered by the team.