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The Influence of School Leadership on Instruction and Student Learning: A Longitudinal Examination of Leadership in Chicago Public Schools

Year: 2012
Name of Institution:
University of Chicago
Goal: Exploration
Principal Investigator:
Allensworth, Elaine
Award Amount: $940,874
Award Period: 3 years (9/1/2012 - 8/31/2015)
Award Number: R305A120706


Co-Principal Investigator: James Sebastian

Purpose: School leadership is often conceived of as a key lever for school reform and improving student achievement. However, despite four decades of research, principals have little information to guide them on how best to focus their efforts to maximize their impact on student performance. In this project, researchers propose to analyze a comprehensive set of school district data to understand how school leaders influence teaching and learning. Specifically, researchers will examine the relationships between principal and teacher leadership practices, school processes, classroom instruction, and student outcomes (such as standardized test scores, grades, absenteeism, and graduation).

Project Activities: Researchers examine a wide range of processes through which leaders affect student outcomes (e.g., improving the learning climate, professional development), in order to identify processes (or combinations of processes) that are most critical for improving instruction and student outocmes. For example, researchers will examine how aspects of classroom instruction (e.g., student behavior, academic demand) are affected by specific leadership practices and processes, and the ways in which context (grade levels, probation/turnaround status, new principal) moderates the ways in which leaders influence instruction and student outcomes. While student test scores are key outcomes of interest, researchers will also study the ways in which principals are able to influence other student outcomes such as grades, absenteeism and graduation rates.

Products: The products of this project will be evidence of the relationship(s) between principal and teacher leadership practices, school processes, classroom instruction, and student outcomes, as well as peer reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study participants are located in a large urban school district in Illinois.

Sample: This study utilizes a large, comprehensive longitudinal database for an urban school district that combines district administrative data on personnel, student outcomes, and school context with a biennial survey data of teachers and students in elementary and high schools, using over eleven years of data (from 2003 to 2013). The school district is one of the largest school systems in the country and serves 88% racial-ethnic minorities. Around 85% of district students are from low-income families.

Intervention: In this exploration project, researchers are examining a wide array of leadership practices and school processes through which principals are hypothesized to affect student learning.

Research Design and Methods: The study utilizes a mixed-method design employing multilevel Structural Equation Modeling (SEM), mixture modeling, and in-depth case studies.

Control Condition: There is no control condition for the quantitative analyses. For the qualitative analyses, researchers will compare successful schools to control schools with similar leadership profiles but declining student achievement.

Key Measures: In this study, leadership practices are operationalized through measures of instructional leadership, teacher-principal trust, and teacher influence. School processes are grouped into four broad areas—instruction, professional capacity, school learning climate, and family and community involvement. Researchers measure classroom instruction through surveys of teachers and students on academic demands, student behavior, teacher support, course clarity, and student engagement. Student academic outcomes include gains on standardized tests, GPAs, absences and graduation rates.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers are using SEM to examine which among multiple school organizational factors are most important in improving student academic outcomes and determining which organizational structures are most important in mediating the influence of school leadership on student achievement. Using growth mixture modeling techniques, researchers will utilize latent variables to indirectly model relationships between leadership, mediating factors, instruction, and learning. Researchers will use a case-study approach to compare of schools with similar leadership profiles but different student achievement trajectories to distinguish between leadership practices that actually lead to higher achievement versus practices that may seem to lead to higher achievement but do not.

Related Project: Evaluation of a Training Program to Promote Effective School Leadership


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Sebastian, J., Allensworth, E., and Huang, H. (2016). The Role of Teacher Leadership in How Principals Influence Classroom Instruction and Student Learning. American Journal of Education, 123 (1): 69–108.

Sebastian, J., Allensworth, E., and Stevens, D. (2014). The Influence of School Leadership on Classroom Participation: Examining Configurations of Organizational Supports. Teachers College Record, 116 (8): 1–36.

*This grant was originally funded through the Improving Education Systems topic in the 2012 Education Research Grants (84.305A) program.