Download eBook for Free

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 1.1 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.


Purchase Print Copy

 Format Price
Add to Cart Paperback124 pages $28.00

Research Question

  1. What are the estimated resources and expenditures of developing and operating principal pipelines?

States and districts are embarking on efforts to improve school leadership as a lever to promote school improvement. Such efforts have a solid base of research attesting to their effectiveness, and some view them as particularly cost-effective because principals "can be powerful multipliers of effective teaching and leadership practices in schools." Although the logic of this perspective is sound, in truth, very little is known about the resources required to improve school leadership.

This report fills an important gap in the literature on school leadership by presenting an approach for understanding the district resources and expenditures required to put in place and operate comprehensive principal pipelines — pipelines for preparing, hiring, supporting, and managing school leaders — and by presenting estimates of those resources and expenditures. All districts that employ more than a few school leaders devote at least some resources to these activities and might find some value to our approach. RAND Corporation analysts estimated school district costs for putting in place and operating principal pipelines based on data they collected from six urban districts that participated in The Wallace Foundation's Principal Pipeline Initiative. These estimates could aid districts in making strategic choices about investments to improve and strengthen their principal pipelines.

Key Findings

Overall, principal pipelines were not a big-ticket item for school districts participating in the Principal Pipeline Initiative. Districts contributed less than 1 percent of their total district expenditures to pipeline efforts.

Efforts Supporting Leader Standards Development and Refinement Had a Relatively Low Cost

  • Although districts devoted small shares of total pipeline costs to leader standards, districts devoted resources to leader standards in each year of the initiative.
  • Most leader standards costs reflected personnel efforts to develop and refine the standards.

Districts Varied Widely in the Resources Devoted to Preservice Preparation

  • Districts devoted substantial shares of total pipeline resources to preservice.
  • A little more than three-quarters of all costs for the preservice component were devoted to the delivery of preservice preparation programs.

Selective Hiring and Placement Efforts Had Relatively Low Associated Costs

  • Districts devoted small shares of total pipeline resources to selective hiring and placement, nearly half of which were devoted to investments in revisions to hiring systems.

Districts Consistently Devoted Considerable Resources to On-the-Job Support for School Leaders

  • On average, districts spent nearly half of all pipeline resources to on-the-job support and evaluation, most of which supported the delivery of on-the-job supports for principals and APs.
  • Main costs for on-the-job supports included costs for professional development, principal supervision, and coaching and mentoring.

Participating Districts Also Contributed Resources and Expenditures to Cross-Cutting Activities Supporting All Pipeline Components

  • The development and maintenance of LTSs was the largest contributor to costs for the cross-cutting activities that supported all pipeline components.


  • Findings from this study suggest that districts can do substantial work to put in place and operate principal pipelines at a relatively low cost. Some elements of the Principal Pipeline Initiative that districts regarded as essential — leader standards development and revision of hiring and placement — did not have high costs.
  • On the other hand, our work also demonstrates that district personnel time — a scarce resource — made up a substantial portion of principal pipeline spending in districts. Given evidence that principal leadership matters for school outcomes, districts might want to consider how to reconfigure offices and staff position to focus more personnel time on support and oversight of school leadership if they wish to build comprehensive principal pipelines.
  • This study also developed a comprehensive list of principal pipeline activities through examination of all the resources and expenditures participating districts devoted to their pipelines. This list can serve as a practical resource to other districts by helping them identify what pieces of their principal pipelines are already in place in their districts and what additional activities they might consider undertaking in their contexts.
  • Coupled with information generated by a future study of the initiative's effects, these estimates will aid districts in making strategic choices about investments to improve and strengthen their principal pipelines.

The research described in this report was funded by The Wallace Foundation and conducted by RAND Education.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.