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Impact Evaluation of Support for Principals

Contract Information

Current Status:

Analyses and evaluation brief writing are underway.

Duration:

July 2014 – January 2020

Cost:

$12,489,265

Contract Number:

ED-IES-14-C-0028

Contractor(s):

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

Contact:

Title II, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides funding to improve the quality and effectiveness of educators. The program includes a broad array of allowable activities for principals and teachers such as intensive professional development. Helping principals improve their leadership practices is one way to improve instruction and student achievement. This evaluation assesses one approach to supporting principals' instructional leadership — primarily through principals conducting structured observations of teachers' classroom instruction and providing targeted feedback based on those observations.

  • 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 and principal retention and student achievement of providing principals with structured and intensive professional development?

Within 10 districts, the study team randomly assigned a total of 100 elementary schools to receive the professional development program or 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 competitively selected and provided the professional development program during the 2015–16 and 2016–17 school years. The professional development supported principals' instructional leadership — primarily through principals conducting structured observations of teachers' classroom instruction and providing targeted feedback based on those observations.

Data collection in both years of implementation includes: 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 document teacher retention and student outcomes — such as achievement, behavior, and attendance.

  • Principals' practices did not change in ways intended by the program. Although the program was implemented as planned, principals did not increase the number of times they observed teachers. 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 positive perceptions of the usefulness of the feedback provided.
  • 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.

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

An evaluation brief on principal time use is expected in 2020 and will be announced on https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/.