Innovative School Principal Development Program Demonstrates Positive Student Achievement Gains

For Release

May 13, 2014

A seven-year study of a national principal-preparation program finds that urban schools where principals received rigorous leadership training and support experienced larger gains in student achievement than schools led by principals who did not participate in the program, according to a new RAND Corporation report.

Evaluating a program created by the group New Leaders, RAND researchers find small, but statistically significant and important, gains in student academic achievement. The study used an approach that isolates the effect of New Leaders principals themselves from other conditions in the districts that might also influence student performance.

At the lower grade levels, spending at least three years in a school with a New Leaders-trained principal resulted in achievement gains of 0.7 to 1.3 percentile points. At the high school level, students in schools where the New Leaders principal had three or more years of experience saw gains in reading achievement of about 3 percentile points.

“These results demonstrate that principals who receive high-quality training can positively affect student achievement — despite the fact that principals do not interact with students on a daily basis,” said Susan M. Gates, lead author of the study and a senior economist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

Because the analysis compared New Leaders principals with other principals in the same districts, RAND researchers say findings may underestimate the full effect of the program. Reasons that could cause an underestimate are that district-wide changes provide benefits to all principals, not just New Leaders principals, and the fact that some non-New Leaders principals received preparation similar to that offered by New Leaders.

Formed in 2000, New Leaders is a nonprofit organization with a mission to ensure high academic achievement for all students by developing outstanding school leaders to serve in urban schools. The group's premise is that a combination of preparation and improved working conditions for principals — especially greater autonomy — would lead to improved student outcomes.

New Leaders began recruiting and training prospective school leaders in 2001 in New York and Chicago. As of 2013, New Leaders had active partnerships related to its program for aspiring principals in Baltimore, the Bay Area of California (Oakland Unified School District and Aspire Charter Schools), Charlotte, Chicago, Memphis, Greater New Orleans, New York, Prince George's County (Maryland), and Washington D.C. New Leaders also had a partnership with Milwaukee from 2006 to 2011.

As part of the partnership, the New Leaders program provided carefully selected and trained principals who could be placed in schools that needed principals, and provided coaching and other support after their placement. In 2006, New Leaders contracted with RAND to conduct an evaluation of the program. The RAND evaluation spanned seven years and is the most comprehensive evaluation of a principal preparation program conducted to date.

While schools with New Leaders principals did experience achievement gains, the magnitudes of achievement effects varied across districts.

In addition, the report found that New Leaders had worked with districts to modify the program to meet local needs and to address changes in local context over time.

“One key factor for the successful implementation of the New Leaders program is the flexibility to adapt the program to specific school and district needs,” said Laura S. Hamilton, a senior behavioral scientist and report co-author.

The report, “Preparing Principals to Raise Student Achievement: Implementation and Effects of the New Leaders Program in 10 Districts,” can be found at Other authors of the report are Paco Martorell, Susan Burkhauser, Paul Heaton, Ashley Pierson, Matthew Baird, Mirka Vuollo, Jennifer Li, Diana Lavery, Melody Harvey, and Kun Gu.

New Leaders is a nonprofit organization with a mission to ensure high academic achievement for all students by developing outstanding school leaders to serve in urban schools.

This research was conducted by RAND Education, a division of the RAND Corporation. Its mission is to bring accurate data and careful, objective analysis to the national debate on education policy.

About the RAND Corporation

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