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Impact Evaluation of Support for Principals

Contract Information

Current Status:

This study has been completed.


July 2014 – June 2021



Contract Number:



Mathematica Policy Research
American Institutes for Research
Pemberton Research
Vanderbilt University
Social Policy Research Associates


Principals are increasingly required to be instructional leaders, not just managers, as schools seek to improve their academic climate and performance. States and districts can provide professional development to help principals become more effective in this role, with new opportunities to use funds from the federal Title II, Part A program of the updated Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Given this recent shift in federal policy and the limited information about how to help principals improve, this evaluation assessed the effects of one promising, intensive professional development and coaching approach. It primarily helps principals conduct structured observations of teachers' classroom instruction and provide targeted feedback based on those observations. Providing this type of support is expected to boost teacher effectiveness and, in turn, student achievement. The principal professional development also encouraged creating more supports and a more supportive environment for teachers overall, which was intended to improve school climate and reduce both teacher and principal turnover.

  • What are the impacts of intensive principal professional development on the practices used by principals to provide or arrange supports for their teachers? Does it improve school climate and reduce teacher and principal turnover?
  • What are the impacts on student achievement?
  • What are the professional development experiences of principals?

Within 10 districts, the study team randomly assigned a total of 100 elementary schools whose principals either received the professional development program or did not. All principals continued to have access to any regular, district-provided professional development. The University of Washington's Center for Educational Leadership (CEL) was selected to provide the professional development program during the 2015–16 and 2016–17 school years.

Data collection in both years of implementation included: information about the professional development delivered and experienced by the principals participating in the intervention; teacher and principal surveys and periodic logs of principal daily activities to document intermediate outcomes such as principal behaviors and school climate; and administrative records to address teacher retention and student achievement, behavior, and attendance.

The study report, titled The Effects of a Principal Professional Development Program Focused on Instructional Leadership, was released in October 2019.

Other products from this study are listed below.

Time to lead: An illustrative look at how elementary school principals spend their workweek, A study snapshot that provides information from 100 principals about the extent and nature of instructional support to improve teacher practice.

A restricted-use file containing de-identified data is available for the purposes of replicating study findings and secondary analyses.

  • Principals' practices did not change in ways intended by the professional development program. Although the program was implemented as planned, principals did not increase the number of times they observed teachers, one of the key program objectives. In fact, teachers whose principals received the professional development reported receiving less frequent instructional support and feedback than teachers whose principals did not receive the professional development. In addition, teachers whose principals received the program were no more likely to report that the feedback provided was useful.
  • The program did not improve students' achievement. On average, students had similar achievement in English language arts and math whether they were in schools that received the principal professional development or not. Students in each group scored near the 40th percentile on their state assessments in each subject.