Cover: Preparing Principals to Raise Student Achievement

Preparing Principals to Raise Student Achievement

Implementation and Effects of the New Leaders Program in Ten Districts

Published May 13, 2014

by Susan M. Gates, Laura S. Hamilton, Paco Martorell, Susan Burkhauser, Paul Heaton, Ashley Pierson, Matthew D. Baird, Mirka Vuollo, Jennifer J. Li, Diana Catherine Lavery, et al.


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Research Questions

  1. What are the features of the New Leaders program for aspiring principals?
  2. How was the New Leaders program implemented in partner districts?
  3. Did New Leaders principals affect student achievement in their schools?
  4. What factors might help explain the observed relationship between New Leaders principals and outcomes?

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. Its premise is that a combination of preparation and improved working conditions for principals, especially greater autonomy, would lead to improved student outcomes. Its approach involves both preparing principals and partnering with school districts and charter management organizations (CMOs) to improve the conditions in which its highly trained principals work. As part of the partnerships, New Leaders agrees to provide carefully selected and trained principals who can be placed in schools that need principals and to provide coaching and other support after those principals are placed. The districts and CMOs agree to establish working conditions that support, rather than hinder, the principals' efforts to improve student outcomes. This report describes how the New Leaders program was implemented in partner districts, and it provides evidence of the effect that New Leaders has on student achievement.

Key Findings

The New Leaders Aspiring Principals Program Has Three Core Features

  • The New Leaders program to prepare high-quality principals includes the following elements: selective recruitment and admissions, training and endorsement, and support for principals early in their tenures. Since its inception, New Leaders has set high, outcome-oriented standards; monitored performance against those standards; and modified the program as needed in response to the performance data.

New Leaders Works Differently with Each Partner District

  • New Leaders began with three district partnerships in 2001 and added more in subsequent years.
  • Partner districts vary widely in terms of their needs, concentration of New Leaders principals, access to other principal preparation resources, and their ability to fulfill the commitment to providing principals with a high level of decisionmaking authority.
  • New Leaders has customized its approach in each district in response to district needs and conditions.

New Leaders Principals Affect Student Achievement in Their Schools

  • Students who attended schools led by New Leaders principals experienced slightly larger achievement gains on average than similar students in schools led by non--New Leaders principals.
  • The magnitudes of achievement effects varied substantially across districts. They also varied across principals.

A Variety of Factors Could Explain the Observed Relationship Between New Leaders Principals and Outcomes

  • Most of the differences in principals' effects could not be easily explained by school or district conditions.
  • New Leaders principals tended to rate their teachers as having lower capacity and their district working conditions as less adequate than other principals in their districts did.
  • On average, New Leaders principals were slightly more likely than other newly placed principals to remain in their schools for three or more years.
  • School and district conditions varied within districts, as well as across districts.


  • The fact that we observed a statistically significant program effect in a comprehensive evaluation of a national training program for school principals is consistent with the growing body of research that suggests that principals and principal-training programs matter.
  • Districts considering partnerships to improve school leadership must recognize that high-quality training is only part of the story. It is equally important to create the conditions for high-quality leaders to be successful in the district. Our evaluation of New Leaders provided detailed information on the program and its implementation, but our ability to make clear policy recommendations on working conditions is limited by the focus on a single program and by a lack of detailed information on the school and district conditions that might have influenced the performance of both New Leaders principals and comparison principals.
  • Those who are seeking to partner with an external provider should consider that the program may induce district-wide improvement beyond the benefits to staff members who directly participate in training and program activities.
  • New Leaders' willingness to modify its approach in response to changes in districts' needs and local contextual conditions appears to have strengthened its partnerships with districts. These changes, including to the structure and content of the training and support, were informed by frequent communication between districts and New Leaders, along with feedback from the formative evaluation. When districts form partnerships with external program providers, both the districts and the providers are likely to benefit from frequent communication about what is working well and where changes might be needed.

The research in this report was produced within RAND Education, a unit of the RAND Corporation. The research was sponsored by New Leaders.

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