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REL Central Ask A REL Response

Educator Effectiveness

April 2021


What factors support the success of early career school leaders, particularly Black female principals?


Following an established research protocol, REL Central conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles to help answer the question. The resources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic databases, and general Internet search engines. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. We have not evaluated the quality of the references provided in this response, and we offer them only for your information. We compiled the references from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant sources may exist.

Research References

Bauer, S. C., Silver, L., & Schwartzer, J. (2019). The impact of isolation on new principals’ persistence: Evidence from a southern US state. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 47(3), 383–399. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Isolation has affected the quality of the work experience for employees in education for decades. This study explores the role that isolation plays in impacting the quality of the work experience among new principals. Building on recent studies, the analysis tests whether isolation serves as a mediator in the relationship between factors that are known to affect the work experience of principals (social support; role ambiguity, role overload; administrative experience; and participation in a structured coaching relationship), as independent variables, and persistence of new principals. We find some support for this mediating effect, and support for the role of isolation as a predictor of persistence.”

Elfers, A. M., Plecki, M. L., & Wills, K. (2017, March 16–18). Examining retention, mobility, and career patterns of principals and assistant principals [Paper presentation]. Association for Education Finance and Policy 42nd Annual Conference, Washington, DC, United States. Retrieved from

From the study context:

“The work of a school principal is complex and multi-faceted. Expectations for the role are steadily rising, and questions have surfaced regarding the capacity of principals to meet all of these expectations. As is the case for many states, in recent years Washington has engaged in numerous instructional improvement and accountability initiatives. One of the most prominent initiatives focused on revising the way in which educators are evaluated. A sizable portion of the workload associated with these initiatives rest on the shoulders of school principals and assistant principals. A recent study noted that principals work an average of 59 hours per week (Lavigne, Shakman, Zweig, & Zeller, 2016). While there is an extensive body of literature regarding the teacher workforce, research regarding the characteristics, retention, mobility, and career patterns of school administrators is more limited, especially with respect to assistant principals. This study aims to add to the knowledge base by examining evidence from the state of Washington to better understand the demographics, compensation, assignment, retention, and movement of principals and assistant principals. We explore difference between principals and assistant principals, compare findings with national statistics, and develop predictive models that examine factors associated with the retention and mobility of school administrators.”

Grissom, J. A., & Bartanen, B. (2018). Assessing equity in school leadership in California [Technical report]. Policy Analysis for California Education. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“The quality of a school’s leadership is a key determinant of its performance. Research links effective leadership to a variety of school outcomes, including more positive school learning climates (Sebastian & Allensworth, 2012), lower rates of teacher turnover (Boyd et al., 2011; Grissom & Bartanen, 2018; Ladd, 2011), and greater parental satisfaction (Grissom & Loeb, 2011). These impacts on the school community translate into greater gains in student achievement. Studies using large-scale data in a variety of settings have demonstrated sizable effects providing a school with a high-quality principal on student test score growth (e.g., Branch, Hanushek, & Rivkin, 2012; Coelli & Green, 2012; Grissom, Kalogrides, & Loeb, 2015). Moreover, effective principals and assistant principals are especially important in high-needs schools where the leadership challenges are greatest (Grissom, 2011; Leithwood et al., 2008). The central role that school leaders play in school success makes it essential that California and its school districts ensure not only that they are increasing the overall quality of school leadership in the state, but also that they are getting effective principals into the schools that need them most. This study puts the focus on bringing together some evidence on the distribution of leaders across schools with historically different levels of need. Evidence from other states, including some research that has been conducted by the authors of this article suggests that high-needs schools–such as those with large numbers of low-income and low achieving students–are less likely to be led by effective principals than their more advantaged neighbors. This research report documents a number of pressures that combine to create inequities in the distribution of leadership across relatively advantaged and disadvantaged schools. Among these, principal turnover appears to be a particularly important culprit. Principal turnover rates in high-needs schools are substantially higher, meaning that leadership vacancies in such schools arise more often. Districts tend to fill these vacancies with less qualified, less experienced principals. Because on-the-job experience is a primary means through which principals increase their efficacy in the role, turnover and the transition to a new school leader represents a loss of essential human capital. In addition, there is also some evidence that principals in high-needs schools may improve at lower rates than principals in other schools, perhaps because the skills for leading challenging schools take longer to obtain or because they have less access to opportunities for support and development (Grissom, Bartanen, & Mitani, 2018). This study pulls together available data in an attempt to document patterns of leadership sorting in California and provides insight into these patterns. Implications, conclusions, and recommendations, going forward are discussed in detail.”

Kruse, R. A., & Krumm, B. L. (2016). Becoming a principal: Access factors for females. Rural Educator, 37(2), 28–38. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Guided by Standpoint Theory, researchers conducted this case study to identify factors influencing access to Oklahoma’s secondary school principalship for four female first-time principals. Regardless of equity legislation and increasing numbers of females with advanced degrees, the numbers of men and women who hold secondary school administration positions continue to be disproportionate to their numbers in the teaching profession. Three standpoints emerged: In the transition from teacher to administrator, each participant was nurtured by another individual; male sponsors were their primary encouragers; and participants had strong emotional investments in the schools and communities of their employment. Aspiring female principals should cultivate strong support systems, seek out mentors, and strengthen their professional networks. Accepting stepping-stone administrative positions may be an essential starting point for aspiring female secondary principals; administrative skills can be gained through internships, assistant principal positions, and administrative positions in lower grade levels.”

Maina, N., & Davila Valencia, J. C. (2019). Study of school principals in Montgomery County Public Schools: Exploration of factors associated with turnover and attrition. Montgomery County Public Schools. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“The goal of this study is to: (1) provide an overview of the characteristics of 2018-2019 MCPS school principals at each school level (elementary, middle, and high school); (2) examine the factors associated with principals leaving their positions; (3) explore the turnover of school principals in the last nine years in MCPS and its relationship with specified school factors; and (4) investigate if there is a relationship among specific school factors and principal tenure (new or veteran). This study addressed four questions: (1) What are the demographic characteristics of 2018–2019 MCPS school principals? Do these characteristics differ among schools with different levels of poverty and student demographic composition (school complexity)?; (2) What is the principal attrition rate in MCPS? What principal and school characteristics are associated with the likelihood of a principal leaving the position?; (3) What is the extent of principal turnover across MCPS schools? Do school factors (such as poverty, complexity, academic performance, and climate) differ between schools with three or more principals and schools with two or fewer principals in the last nine years?; and (4) Is veteran principal status associated with school factors, such as school climate, classroom teacher turnover, and academic performance in literacy and mathematics? Does this association vary by school complexity? Descriptive analyses were used to summarize information on demographic characteristics, principal attrition by type of exit (retirement, promotion, transfer, or resignation/termination), and the distribution of schools by principal turnover. Further, Chi-square tests, binary logistic regression, or factorial analysis of variance procedures analyses were used to examine the relationships between principal and school characteristics.”

Osler, J. E., & Webb, R. L. (2014). An in-depth qualitative and quantitative analysis to determine the factors that affect the existence of African American women superintendents in the North Carolina K–12 public school system. Journal on School Educational Technology, 10(2), 17–40. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“The purpose of this study is to study how race, gender, values, attitudes and power perceptions of leaders contribute to the recruitment, retention, and training of African American female superintendents. This study is focused on African American female superintendents and their experiences that led to the acquisition of the position. The overarching question in this study is: how do race, gender, values, attitudes and power perceptions influence the success of African American female superintendents? The data collection tools for this qualitative study include observations, focus group with African American women from the same state who are in the Education field but not superintendents, and interviews with current and former African American female superintendents and those who report directly to them. Through the lenses of critical race and social power theories, the researcher seeks to identify commonalities amongst the experiences of the participants to extract key elements that affect their success. With these key elements to success identified, they can be incorporated into the journeys of future leaders and increase the number of African American females who can successfully attain this position of power in the Southern State in this study. The implications of this study show that there is a need for a change in the way and timing of the way African American women are trained to lead.”

Robinson, A. D. (2014). Personal, professional, and sociocultural experiences of African American female school leaders. Alabama Journal of Educational Leadership, 1, 1–11. Retrieved from

From the executive summary:

“The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore and gain an in-depth understanding of the personal, professional, and sociocultural experiences of ten African American female school leaders serving as assistant principals, principals, and central office administrators in four suburban school districts in the southeast region of the United States. By exploring the lives of these school leaders, greater insights may be gained to open the door to this underrepresented population. This research may be valuable for professional development planning and educational leadership programs with the objective of recruiting and retaining more African American female suburban school leaders.”

Sampson, P. M. (2018). Female superintendents’ longevity: Their experiences. Leadership and Research in Education, 4(Special Issue), 114–126. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“This paper describes a qualitative research study of the experiences of Texas female superintendents with longevity. Specifically, five superintendents with tenure of at least six years in one school district were interviewed to hear their voices. Findings show that a strong working relationship with their boards, a solid connection with their communities, a commitment and passion for the position, as well as a sense of achievement were factors in their longevity.”

Wiley, K., Bustamante, R., Ballenger, J., & Polnick, B. (2017). African American women superintendents in Texas: An exploration of challenges and supports. Journal of School Administration Research and Development, 2(1), 18–24. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“School superintendents who are African American women are understudied. In this study, researchers explored the lived experiences of African American women superintendents in the state of Texas. The purpose of the study was to identify the challenges, supports, and personal background characteristics that participants believed influenced their ascension to superintendent positions. A phenomenological research approach was used, and data were collected through individual interviews with superintendent participants. Data were analyzed and interpreted using Moustakas’ (1994) phenomenological reduction approach. Three major themes emerged in the results: (a) desire to impact others at various levels, (b) sources of personal strength, and (c) external support systems. Subthemes were identified and described for each larger theme. Findings suggest a need to expose aspiring African American women administrators to the challenges and rewards of superintendent positions and increase mentorship opportunities and quality preparation programs.”

Additional Resources to Consult

Hansen, M., & Quintero, D. (2018). School leadership: An untapped opportunity to draw young people of color into teaching. Brookings. Retrieved from

From the article:

“Given the importance and visibility of school leaders, it is important to consider the racial and ethnic diversity of this group of educators. Administrators of color bring a number of unique strengths: More frequent exposure to people of color in authoritative positions can replace stereotyping and unconscious biases with acceptance and trust; leaders of color have a distinct advantage when interacting with community members that share their racial or ethnic background; and finally, leaders of color can contribute nuance and perspective for academic programs targeting students of color. As public schools increasingly serve more students of color, states and districts should also make a diverse corpus of principals a priority. In this installment of our ongoing teacher diversity series, we examine diversity among school leaders. Because leading a classroom is nearly a universal prerequisite to leading a school, we were unsurprised to see large diversity gaps between principals of color and the students they serve, roughly mirroring what we observe among teachers.”

Policy and Program Studies Service. (2016). The state of racial diversity in the educator workforce. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“Diversity is inherently valuable. Research shows that diversity in schools, including racial diversity among teachers, can provide significant benefits to students. While students of color are expected to make up 56 percent of the student population by 2024, the elementary and secondary educator workforce is still overwhelmingly white. The most recent U.S. Department of Education Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), a nationally representative survey of teachers and principals, showed that 82 percent of public school teachers identified as white. Improving teacher diversity can help all students. Teachers of color are positive role models for all students in breaking down negative stereotypes and preparing students to live and work in a multiracial society. A more diverse teacher workforce can also supplement training in the culturally sensitive teaching practices most effective with today’s student populations. The purpose of this report is to provide a current snapshot of the racial diversity of educators in our nation’s elementary and secondary public schools. While not comprehensive, the report reviews trends in the diversity of students, teachers, and education leaders; it examines the teacher pipeline from enrollment in postsecondary education, hiring, and teacher retention. This examination spotlights Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), as well as participation in alternative certification programs. The report also includes statistics on postsecondary completion, placement, and retention of new teachers of color in the workforce. While the focus of this report is on racial diversity, the Department acknowledges that other forms of diversity such as socioeconomic background, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, religion, and multilingualism are also important and should be examined. Finally, the report provides examples of places that are working to address the diversity issue in a variety of ways; other communities may find these efforts instructive.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

Education Leaders of Color:

From the website:

“We are Education Leaders of Color. We are a membership organization dedicated to elevating the leadership, voices and influence of people of color in education and to leading more inclusive efforts to improve education.

Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC) aims to break through the polarizing divides that have consumed efforts to improve public education. Only by forging a third way can we stem the backlash facing even the most innovative, effective solutions and forge the alliances needed to realize and sustain EdLoC’s vision of providing low-income children of color expansive and substantive opportunities for the highest levels of academic and economic attainment.”

ducator Effectiveness Alliance:

From the website:

“The REL West Educator Effectiveness Alliance (EE) is a regional group of state education agency (SEA) leaders, from Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, that originally came together in 2010 to collectively learn about ways to advance federal priorities around educator effectiveness, including strengthening observation and feedback for teachers and administrators. Today, these SEA leaders are seeking to continue to refine and/or expand their systems of professional support for educators, and, in turn, improve retention among their teachers and principals. This is especially salient given shortages in particular schools and/or subject areas. Education leaders are interested in using federal Title II Part A funds more strategically and for greater impact, including understanding ways to design and implement effective, efficient, and technology-enriched supports for teachers and leaders.”


Keywords and Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “African American leadership”
  • “African American leadership” + women
  • “African Americans” + administrators”
  • “African Americans” + “beginning principals”
  • “African Americans” + “beginning principals” + women
  • “African Americans” + principals
  • “African Americans” + principals + women
  • “African Americans” + “women administrators”
  • “Black feminist theory” + principals
  • “Critical theory, race” + principals
  • “Gender bias” + leadership
  • Leadership
  • “Leadership training”
  • “Racial bias” + leadership
  • “School leaders”

Databases and Resources

REL Central searched ERIC for relevant references. ERIC is a free online library, sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences, of over 1.6 million citations of education research. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and Google.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching for and reviewing references, REL Central considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the Publication: The search and review included references published between 2011 and 2021.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority was given to ERIC, followed by Google Scholar and Google.
  • Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were used in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types, such as randomized controlled trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive analyses, and literature reviews; and (b) target population and sample.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Central Region (Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Central at Marzano Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Central under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0005, administered by Marzano Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.