What Makes a Successful Principal?

Incorporating School Principal Background in State and District Policy

by Ashley Pierson

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School principals' education and professional experience shape their approach to school leadership and how successful their students will be. However, it is not clear from existing research which aspects of principal education and professional experience are related to student outcomes and principal retention. This dissertation explores aspects of a potential principal's education and professional experience that states and school districts should look for and cultivate in candidates for the position of school principal. The work was guided by two research questions: 1) how are principals' education and professional experience related to student outcomes and principal retention? and 2) how can state certification and district hiring policies better incorporate information about a principal's education and professional experience to improve principal effectiveness? Using information on principals trained by the New Leaders program and school-level data from four large urban districts, I analyzed the relationships between principal education and professional experience and student outcomes and principal retention. I examined state certification and district hiring policies for the four urban districts used in the analysis and conducted a survey of 33 districts regarding their hiring policies and practices. From this research, I provide recommendations designed to inform state certification policy, district hiring policy, and training program curricula.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Background

  • Chapter Three

    Data & Methods

  • Chapter Four

    Results of Analysis

  • Chapter Five

    Review of Current State and District Policy

  • Chapter Six

    Policy Recommendations and Conclusions

  • Appendix A

    Principal Hiring Survey

  • Appendix B

    Coding Rules and Variable Description

  • Appendix C

    Additional Results

Research conducted by

This document was submitted as a dissertation in September 2014 in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the doctoral degree in public policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. The committee that supervised and approved the dissertation consisted of Susan Gates (Chair), Francisco (Paco) Martorell, and Lynn Scott.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation dissertation series. Pardee RAND dissertations are produced by graduate fellows of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, the world's leading producer of Ph.D.'s in policy analysis. The dissertations are supervised, reviewed, and approved by a Pardee RAND faculty committee overseeing each dissertation.

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