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Evaluation Studies of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance

Impact Evaluation of Support for Principals

Contractors: Mathematica Policy Research, American Institutes for Research, Pemberton Research, Vanderbilt University, Social Policy Research Associates

Background/Research Questions

Title II, Part A, the Improving Teacher State Formula Grants program, is the primary federal funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to support high quality educators. The program, funded at $2.3 billion in FY 2014, targets high poverty districts and funds a broad array of allowable activities for principals and teachers such as support for certification, teacher mentoring and induction, intensive professional development, recruitment, retention, and merit-based teacher and principal pay strategies as well as class size reduction. Through the School Leadership Program, the US Department of Education also provides grants to support the development, enhancement, or expansion of innovative programs to recruit, train, and mentor principals for high-need LEAs. This evaluation studies professional development for principals and thus provides an important source of information for these programs.

Principals through a collective focus on instructional and organizational leadership and human capital management have the potential to greatly influence the quality of instruction. However, there is limited evidence about the effectiveness of principal professional development programs and their ability to improve principals' leadership skills and school quality. The study addresses the following research questions:

  • What are the professional development experiences of principals?
  • What are the initial impacts on school climate and educator behaviors of providing principals structured and intensive professional development?
  • What are the impacts on teacher retention, the effectiveness of instructional staff, and student achievement of providing principals with structured and intensive professional development?


The study team will randomly assign within approximately 10 districts a total of 100 elementary schools to a treatment or control group. Treatment group principals will be offered intensive professional development provided by the University of Washington's Center for Educational Leadership (CEL) during the 2015–16 and 2016–17 school years. CEL was competitively selected to provide the professional development focused on in this study. The professional development includes a heavy emphasis on instructional leadership activities including support in conducting school walkthroughs and classroom observations with constructive feedback to facilitate teacher growth focused on improving student achievement. Control group principals will receive supports normally offered by the district. Data collection will include: information about the professional development delivered and experienced by the participating principals; teacher and principal surveys and periodic logs of principal daily activities to document intermediate outcomes such as principal behaviors and school climate; administrative records to document student outcomes (e.g., achievement, behavior, attendance) and teacher outcomes (e.g., retention of effective teachers, quality of newly hired teachers).

Cost/Duration: $12,198,695 over 5 years (July 2014–June 2019)

Current Status: Implementation of the professional development and data collection will occur during the 2015–16 and 2016–17school years. The first report is scheduled to be released in Spring 2018 and will be announced on